(Frédéric Benaglia/For The Washington Post)

Reviewers from The Washington Post share their thoughts on the best of this year’s kids’ fiction, nonfiction and picture books.

Middle-grade fiction

The Crossover

By Kwame Alexander.

237 pages, ages 9 to 12, $16.99.

Score! This fast-paced novel has the snap and bounce of narrator Josh’s favorite game: basketball. Through rap and poetry, Josh reveals big changes in his family and his team’s drive for the championship.

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

By Tom Angleberger.

205 pages, ages 8 to 12, $13.95.

In the final book in the hilarious “Origami Yoda” series, Tommy and his friends make “Star Wars” figures from snack food and get in trouble on a school field trip. Look for the clever “twist” at the end!

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

By Sheila Turnage. 368 pages, ages 10 and older, $16.99.

What’s behind the ghost that haunts an old Southern inn? Spunky Mo LoBeau and her best friend, Dale, are determined to find the answer in this funny, suspenseful mystery.


By Deborah Wiles.

544 pages, ages 8 to 12, $19.99.

In 1964, the South had separate swimming pools, movie theaters and water fountains for blacks and for whites. A white girl and a black boy struggle to create change during a tense summer in this powerful historical novel.

The Witch’s Boy

By Kelly Barnhill.

384 pages, age 9 and older, $16.95.

Several stories weave together in surprising ways in this eerie fantasy. Ned and Aine deal with an enchanted forest and their tricky parents, Sister Witch and the Bandit King, as they try to figure out what to do with the world’s last magic.

Mary Quattlebaum


Brown Girl Dreaming

By Jacqueline Woodson.

336 pages, age 10 and older. $16.99.

In this award-winning memoir, Woodson explores the nature of storytelling, memory, individuality, family and friendship in poems that are both playful and powerful.

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery

By Peter Sis.

48 pages, ages 5 to 8. $18.99.

The man who wrote “The Little Prince” was born to fly, according to Peter Sis’s new biography. Full of both facts and fancifully detailed illustrations, the book conveys Saint-Exupery’s lifelong love of adventure and storytelling.

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won!

By Emily Arnold McCully.

288 pages, age 12 and older. $18.99.

A pioneering journalist, Ida Tarbell produced important exposés of corporations and politicians. McCully presents her in stark contrast to the money-mad, turn-of-the-past-century business leaders.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

By Candace Fleming.

304 pages, age 12 and older. $18.99.

This story of Russia’s final czar (pronounced “zar”), or leader, and his family has all the
elements of a fictional thriller — political repression, figures of evil, a drawn-out war, endangered children — but they are woven into a fascinating work of history.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

By Steve Sheinkin.

208 pages, ages 10 to 14. $19.99.

In this vivid account of a huge explosion and an awful miscarriage of justice during World War II, Steve Sheinkin honors 50 African American men who were wrongly convicted of mutiny, which means refusing to obey orders.

Abby McGanney Nolan

Picture books

Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual

By Kate Samworth.

32 pages, ages 8 to 11, $17.99.

Will real live birds be passé by the year 2031? Never mind, this gorgeous pretend catalog of bird parts invites young readers to assemble their own exotic pets, a neat idea that helps raise the question of just where our environment is headed.

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

By Lynne Cox;
illustrated by Brian Floca.

48 pages, ages 5 to 8, $17.99.

A big city welcomes an unusual resident in this tale based on the real life of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, an enormous elephant seal determined to live in the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand. Brian Floca’s illustrations shimmer with sunshine, shadows and magic.

Firefly July

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko;
illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

48 pages, ages 6 to 9, $16.99.

Breeze through the seasons with this deftly selected collection of 36 poems, each embedded like a jewel in one of Melissa Sweet’s gloriously textured mixed-media illustrations.

My Teacher Is a Monster

By Peter Brown.

40 pages, ages 5 to 7, $18.

Not all kids see their teachers as monsters, but young Bobby is pretty sure that Ms. Kirby’s smile reveals fangs and that those fingernails look a lot like claws . . . especially when her reaction to a measly paper airplane is to take away his recess! How Bobby goes from hopeless to hero is the stuff that second-grade dreams are made of.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

By Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen.

40 pages, ages 5 to 8, $16.99.

Shovels in hand and dog at their heels, Sam and Dave are on a mission to find “something spectacular,” but it’s their four-footed companion who knows a good thing when he sniffs one. Who cares about gems the size of a tractor-trailer when there’s a bone to be unearthed?

Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo talks about books and shares her picks for the holidays.