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Still shopping for the little ones? Here are 10 kids' books we loved this year

NPR

If you've found yourself reading the same picture book over and over (and over and over) to a small but determined audience we see you and salute you! Perhaps you'd like to add a few new titles to the mix? Every year we ask our staff and book critics for recommendations for Books We Love — NPR's annual, year-end books guide. Here are some of the 2023 picture books they selected — to see the full list, including books for older kids — head over to Books We Love.

Beneath by Cori Doerrfeld

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A young child named Finn is sad and does not want to get out from beneath their blanket (we've all been there, haven't we?). His loving grandfather gently convinces him to go for a walk, and Finn gradually emerges from his shell as the grandfather points out "what's beneath" all the things they see. Beneath the surface of Cori Doerrfeld's quiet story lies a deep emotional intelligence, and like her other bestselling book The Rabbit Listened, this one will open up important conversations between readers of all ages. — Minh Lê, author of Drawn Together and Enlighten Me

Big by Vashti Harrison

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Vashti Harrison's distinctive, charming illustrations underscore the powerful message of this book: that girls – especially girls of color – have a right to take up space and be embraced as they are. In it, a sweet-faced little girl with afro puffs grows and outpaces societal expectations of her body, causing those around her to project their feelings, fears, judgments, and aspersions onto her. Powerfully, the girl gives those painful words back to the adults and kids who tried to constrict her, confident, strong, and capable as she is. — Tayla Burney, director, Network Programming and Production

I'm From by Gary R. Gray Jr., illustrated by Oge Mora

Balzer + Bray

"Where are you from?" is one of those loaded questions that can feel like more than a simple inquiry. Gary R. Gray Jr. acknowledges the thorniness of the phrase, but transforms it into an invitation to kids to explore and celebrate their unique backgrounds. Oge Mora's captivating artwork bounces effortlessly between emotions, deftly moving from the bustle of a school bus to the cold isolation in class to the warm embrace of a loving family. Many of us are so focused on what's next, it's helpful to be reminded that before we can know where we're going, we have to understand where we're from. — Minh Lê, author of Drawn Together and Enlighten Me

The King Penguin by Vanessa Roeder

Dial Books

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Percival the penguin may not be Henry IV, but he is a king penguin, so he wears the crown, doesn't he? In Vanessa Roeder's charming and pun-filled picture book, Percival rules over his subjects with an iron wing (he takes all their fish for taxes!), and soon enough, they revolt. What's a king penguin to do when he loses his subjects? Look for new ones, of course! But it turns out seals, polar bears and even sardines don't want to put up with Percival's haughtiness. Can Percival be a king penguin without being king? — Juanita Giles, executive director, Virginia Children's Book Festival

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, illustrated by Maya Fidawi

Dial Books

The fun of playing under your grandmother's big chador is front and center in this delightful rhyming tale. Samira is finally old enough to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, but it isn't long before shyness sets in. Yet each time she asks to hide under a different part of her grandmother's chador, she's told what kind of silly animal they'd be imitating. Set unofficially at Tehran's Tajrish Bazaar, this lighthearted book is a magnificent storytime read aloud, full of high jinks, humor and satisfyingly authentic details. — Betsy Bird, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus

My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

If you think that Shel Silverstein is the king of poetry for kids, it could be that you just haven't read a book by Chris Harris yet. Bold words? Come at me! Harris indulges readers with 96 poems of elderly cavemen, nail-clipping fairies, AWOL buffaloes and more in this laugh-out-loud triumph of a book. Even the page numbers are funny! It is also, quite possibly, the cleverest book for kids out this year. You don't quite know what's going to happen in this collection. You only know that children are going to freakin' love it. — Betsy Bird, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus

Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang

Holiday House

A recent arrival to New York from China, a lonely young girl is feeling "gray as a pigeon." Though her grandmother and parents are always working, this rainy Saturday they will all be together for dinner. Accompanying her mother to Chinatown, grocery shopping turns the dreary day into a glorious adventure. Delighted by the familiar foods, spices, and sweet treats, her joy shines through in the simple prose and exuberant watercolor, colored pencil, and crayon images. At home, her father cooks up a delicious feast, and as the family gathers we are reminded that after the rain comes a rainbow. — Lisa Yee, author of Maizy Chen's Last Chance

Remember by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Random House Studio

How could a pairing by the U.S. poet laureate (a beloved Mvskoke poet) — and a Caldecott medalist (a beloved Tlingit artist) not result in a gorgeously resonant picture book? Yet, it still completely blew away my starry expectations! This book is a blessing to our children, to ourselves, to creation. The sparse, heartfelt text is kid friendly. Flowing illustrations underscore our infinite connectedness. Together, they serve as a quiet call to honor all of our relationships on Earth and beyond. It's my go-to gift book of 2023. Especially recommended to fans of Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee's All the World. — Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Harvest House and author-curator of Heartdrum

Twenty Questions by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Candlewick Press

The point of this book – from a pair of children's literature all-stars – is conversation. "Which of these children is dreaming of peaches?" prompts one of the assembled queries from author Mac Barnett. Some of the questions are simple, some complex, and all are paired with provocative, often whimsical, and engaging illustrations from Christian Robinson. The pairings inspire discussions of why you came up with your answer, which may be profound and bias breaking, or silly and belly-laugh inducing. — Tayla Burney, director, Network Programming and Production

A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Neal Porter Books

A grieving boy, mourning the loss of his father, follows a treasure map into the woods they used to visit together. Nikki Grimes' powerful, yet tender language is an ideal complement to Jerry Pinkney's loose, softly saturated art. Honest, healing – this is a memorable story of strength and solace. It's the kind of book you'll want to keep forever and revisit for its comforting cadence and loving wisdom. The end notes, honoring Jerry Pinkney and his legacy, are a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about children's books and the best among us who create them. — Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Harvest House and author-curator of Heartdrum

This is just a sampling of the titles in the Kids' Books section of Books We Love. Check out all of this year's selections, and stick around to browse picks from the last 11 years.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Beth Novey is a producer for NPR's Arts, Books & Culture desk. She creates and edits web features, plans multimedia projects, and coordinates the web presence for Fresh Air and Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!