26 of the best kids' books of 2019

These favorite books of 2019 are sure to please any young reader.
Cute schoolgirl smiling & balancing stack of books on the head at library
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By Lisa Tolin

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If you’re searching for memorable gifts for kids or something to please a picky teenager, there’s no better place to start than a bookstore.

We asked the authors of some of our favorite children’s books of the year to make their own picks for the best kids' books of 2019, from picture books to graphic novels, young adult and nonfiction.

Authors Elizabeth Acevedo (“With the Fire on High”), Kwame Alexander (“The Undefeated” and “How to Read a Book”), Mac Barnett ("Just Because" and "The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown"), Jerry Craft (“New Kid”), Kate DiCamillo (“Beverly, Right Here”) and Jeff Kinney (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Wrecking Ball”) shared their top kidlit picks for 2019 with TODAY.

With favorite books chosen by our favorite authors, we know these books are sure to please any young reader.

Best Picture Books of 2019

Alexander's Pick: "¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market," by Raúl the Third

"Raúl is the next Richard Scarry. And 'Vamos' is his BusyTown."

("¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market" is also featured in 14 beach reads to keep kids reading all summer.)

Barnett's Pick: "Pokko and the Drum," by Matt Forsythe

"A fine specimen of modern picturebookmaking—astonishing artwork, terrific writing."

("Pokko and the Drum" is also featured in our gift guide for 3-year-olds)

Craft's Pick: "Octopus Stew," by Eric Velasquez

"One of my favorite picture books ever! An Afro-Latino boy uses his intellect and talent to save his grandmother in this funny, imaginative tale."

DiCamillo’s Pick: “Wild Honey from the Moon,” by Kenneth Kraegel

“A luminous fever dream of a book about the lengths a mother will go to to make her sick child well."

Kinney's Pick: "High Five," by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

"A hilarious interactive book about a high-five competition, featuring fantastic monsters — and you!"

Best Chapter Books or Early Readers of 2019

Alexander's Pick: "The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!" by Mo Willems

"The comedy, the heart, the pure genius of Mo Willems is irresistible."

("The Pigeon HAS to go to school" is also featured in books to cure back-to-school jitters.)

Barnett's Pick: "Dory Fantasmagory: Tiny Tough," by Abby Hanlon

"The fifth installment of the best chapter book series going. Nobody makes me laugh more than Abby Hanlon, and she has a deep connection to childhood that’s rare in adults (even adults who write for children)."

("Dory Fantasmagory" is also featured in our gift guide for 7-year-olds.)

Craft's Pick: "Dear Justice League," by Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte

"The Justice League saves the world. While also saving time to answer kids' emails. Great art! Great story! And lots of laughs."

("Dear Justice League" is also featured in our best graphic novels for kids.)

DiCamillo’s Pick: "Chick and Brain: Smell my Foot!" by Cece Bell

"Laugh-out-loud funny. Welcomes new readers with big laughs, and funny, smellable (not really, but it was fun to say it) art."

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Best Middle Grade of 2019

Acevedo's Pick: "For Black Girls Like Me," by Mariama J. Lockington

"'For Black Girls Like Me' is such a poignant story about a young adoptee trying to navigate race and girlhood. It blew me away."

Alexander's Pick: "How High the Moon," by Karyn Parsons

"Equal parts mystery, historical fiction, and coming-of-age, this is a story full of warmth and light and drama that will captivate you. That will haunt you. And that will ultimately enlighten you."

Craft's Pick: "Focused," by Alyson Gerber

"The story of Clea, a young girl diagnosed with ADHD. A story full of charm, compassion, and empathy."

DiCamillo’s and Kinney's Pick: "Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks," by Jason Reynolds

"One day, ten stories, turns into a symphony of empathy and imagination; voice and heart," says DiCamillo.

"An innovative, engaging, and arrestingly funny book that explores the stories and characters that populate ten city blocks," says Kinney.

(The panelists did not know who else was on the panel, so where they have chosen each other's books or agreed, those choices were made independently.)

Best Graphic Novels of 2019

Alexander's Pick: "New Kid," by Jerry Craft

"My kid just started middle school, and this book has been her guidepost. And my sanctuary. Between the two of us, we've read it eleven times."

("New Kid" is also featured in our best graphic novels for kids.)

Craft's Pick: "Guts," by Raina Telgemeier

"Probably my favorite of all of her books. And that's saying something. A really nice story that put a "smile" (pun intended) on my face."

("Guts" is also featured in our best graphic novels for kids.)

Craft's Pick for Illustrated Novel: "Just Jaime," by Terri Libenson

"I really love this series for so many reasons. But mainly because they always make me laugh."

DiCamillo’s Pick: "Best Friends," By Shannon Hale and Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

"This is honest, heartfelt both in art and words. Kids (and adults) will find it comforting and illuminating."

Kinney's Pick: "White Bird," by R.J. Palacio

"A deeply moving tale of a young woman’s ordeal through the Holocaust. White Bird explores the importance of kindness, even when the stakes are life and death."

Best Young Adult Books of 2019

Acevedo's Pick: "Color Me In," by Natasha Diaz

"'Color Me In' is such an honest and nuanced novel; Diaz does a fantastic job depicting Harlem and the intricacies of being raised mix-raced/interfaith."

Alexander's Pick: "The Marrow Thieves," by Cherie Dimaline

"Everyone has lost the ability to dream. Well, everyone except the Indigenous. They harvest their dreams in their bone marrow. So, you know what happens next, right?"

Craft's Pick: "With the Fire on High," by Elizabeth Acevedo

"One of my favorite authors ever! No matter what life throws at Emoni, there is always hope, and joy, and laughs, and love. My only sorrow was that it ended."

("With the Fire on High" was also featured in 20 beach reads you won't want to put down.)

DiCamillo’s Pick: "Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind them All," by Laura Ruby

"This is a ghost story and a love story and historical fiction all wrapped up in one—an utter delight."

Best Nonfiction of 2019

Alexander's Pick: "She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman," by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

"I saw the movie (and you should too), and it was riveting. Now, I want to read everything about her (and, you should too)."

Barnett's Pick: "Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion," by Jia Tolentino

"I’ve loved reading Tolentino for years — her rigorous thinking, stylish sentences, and funny jokes. This collection has all that, but I’m also happy to report that its fourth essay contains some of the best writing about children’s books you’ll find anywhere."

Craft's Pick: "Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré," by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar

"I know of the Pura Belpré Award, but never knew who it was named after, or why. Now I do, thanks to this beautifully written picture book."

DiCamillo’s Pick: "Best American Essays 2019"

"The Best American Series (Short Stories, Essays, etc.) has been giving me so much pleasure for so many years I'd like to give the whole series a shout-out here. These essays are the perfect way into a lifetime of non-fiction reading."

Books by our Panelists

Thanks to the authors on our panel, who wrote some of TODAY’s favorite children's books of 2019.

“With the Fire on High,” by Elizabeth Acevedo

This follow-up to Acevedo's National Book Award-winning novel in verse, "The Poet X," features a high schooler who is struggling to care for a daughter, with dreams of becoming a chef. (Featured in 20 beach reads you won't want to put down.)

"The Undefeated," by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson

Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, this poem is a tribute to black life in America, with moving art to bring it to life. (Featured in our gift guide for 7-year-olds.)

"Just Because," by Mac Barnett and Isabelle Arsenault

Humorous answers to perennial kid questions will delight young readers. (Featured in our gift guide for 4-year-olds) Barnett's"The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown" is also in our gift guide for 8-year-olds.

“New Kid," by Jerry Craft

Jordan is one of the only kids of color at his new private school. He’ll have to navigate the fancy hallways while staying true to himself. (Featured in our best graphic novels for kids.)

“Beverly, Right Here," by Kate DiCamillo

In the final book in her "Raymie Nightingale" trilogy, Beverly buries her dog and needs a fresh start. At 14, she runs away. (Featured in our gift guide for 8-year-olds.)

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball," by Jeff Kinney

In the 14th book in a series that has sold more than 200 million copies, the Heffley family embarks on a troubled home renovation. (Featured in our gift guide for 8-year-olds.)

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