Best of 2023: Kids & picture books

Oak Park’s Best of 2023 is back! Our annual librarian-curated selection of titles features some of the titles most requested and checked out by Oak Parkers.

See our kids and picture books favorites on this page or browse more using the links below.

Adult fiction: General | Adult fiction: Romance, lives & relationships | Adult fiction: Mystery, thriller, sci-fi & fantasy | Adult nonfictionTeen fiction | Teen nonfiction | Kids booksPicture books | TV shows | Movies | Music

Kids books

Alebrijes by Donnna Barba Higuera

Why you should try it: "A little sci-fi, a little dystopian future, a little political, a lot of heart. Sometimes the climax of a book leaves you wanting more, but this one delivered on its promise to the very end."—Genevieve, Children's Services Supervising Librarian

Description: When 13-year-old Leandro takes the fall for his sister and is exiled into an ancient drone, he embarks on a perilous journey beyond the city's walls where he encounters mutant monsters, wasteland pirates, and fellow outcasts as he tries to save his sister and fellow Cascabeles from the oppressive regime.

Find it in the catalog »

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith

Why you should try it: "Edward Gorey meets Tim Burton meets classic Old English literature. A wild band of children in their treehouse fort fight against the scourge of growing up. The language is pitch perfect, the art is gorgeous, it's silly and serious and so much fun to read."—Claire, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian

Description: Somewhere in a generic suburb stands Treeheart, a kid-forged sanctuary where generations of tireless tykes have spent their youths making merry, spilling soda, and staving off the shadow of adulthood. One day, these brave warriors find their fun cut short by their nefarious neighbor Grindle, who can no longer tolerate the sounds of mirth seeping into his joyless adult life. As the guardian of gloom lays siege to Treeheart, scores of kids suddenly find themselves transformed into pimply teenagers and sullen adults! The survivors of the onslaught cry out for a savior—a warrior whose will is unbreakable and whose appetite for mischief is unbounded. They call for Bea Wolf.

Find it in the catalog »

Bridges by Marc Majewski

Why you should try it: "I've always been fascinated by bridges, so I thought this was a lovely book. I hope to visit all these bridges in person someday!"—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Bridges can be high or low, long or short, straight or curvy. Some are designed to blend in, while others stand out. But each one tells a story: a reminder of our history, a testament to ingenuity and engineering, an invitation to imagine the possibilities of the future. Literally and symbolically, bridges connect us—to new places, new cultures, and new people. Marc Majewski delivers a unique, accessible look at bridges from all around the world.

Find it in the catalog »

Bunny & Tree by Balint Zsako

Why you should try it: "A tender tale of the journey of an unusual friendship."—Megha, Youth & Family Outreach Specialist

Description: Bunny and Tree first meet when the tree observes a ferocious wolf threatening the bunny and comes to its protection. From that moment on, there is a bond of trust between the two, which flowers not only into friendship, but amazingly, into a road trip adventure, when Bunny, who's looking for his rabbit friends, convinces Tree that it's time to uproot and see the world.

Find it in the catalog »

A First Time for Everything: A True Story by Dan Santat

Why you should try it: "I related to this so much, and Santat's art is always wonderful. Pro tip: Don't miss the QR code at the beginning that links to a Spotify playlist from the creator!"—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Dan's always been a good kid. The kind of kid who listens to his teachers, helps his mom with grocery shopping, and stays out of trouble. But being a good kid doesn't stop him from being bullied and feeling like he's invisible, which is why Dan has low expectations when his parents send him on a class trip to Europe. At first, he's right. He's stuck with the same girls from his middle school who love to make fun of him, and he doesn't know why his teacher insisted he come on this trip. But as he travels through France, Germany, Switzerland, and England, a series of first experiences begin to change him—first Fanta, first fondue, first time stealing a bike from German punk rockers...and first love.

Find it in the catalog »

Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt

Why you should try it: "This book is pretty much sheer perfection, and I almost cried the whole time. Seeing autistic Selah finally understand and appreciate herself and her sensory needs, especially through people like her in fandom and cons, was just brilliant. This book has helped more than one parent start conversations with and understand their autistic kid."—Shelley, Children's Services Librarian

Description: Selah knows her rules for being normal. She always, always sticks to them. This means keeping her feelings locked tightly inside, despite the way they build up inside her as each school day goes on, so that she has to run to the bathroom and hide in the stall until she can calm down. Selah feels like a dragon stuck in a world of humans, but she knows how to hide it. Until the day she explodes and hits a fellow student. Selah's friends pull away from her, her school threatens expulsion, and her comfortable, familiar world starts to crumble. But as Selah starts to figure out more about who she is, she comes to understand that different doesn’t mean damaged. Can she get her school to understand that, too, before it’s too late?

Find it in the catalog »

Hope in the Valley by Mitali Perkins

Why you should try it: "You think this book is about taking action and speaking up, but every story is actually about grief and being stuck, too. It's very easy to draw a line from events in 1980 California to the present day, and I love that Pandu's poems are the author's childhood poems!"—Shelley, Children's Services Librarian

Description: 12-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul deals with change, grief, friendship, and growing up in a community facing a housing crisis.

Find it in the catalog »

Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir by Pedro Martin

Why you should try it: "As a Mexican-American it's nice to see myself in the stories that I read."—Andrea, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Pedro Martin has grown up in the U.S. hearing stories about his legendary abuelito, but during a family road trip to Mexico, he connects with his grandfather and learns more about his own Mexican identity in this moving and hilarious graphic memoir.

Find it in the catalog »

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, A Shocking Heist & the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nick Day

Why you should try it: "I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but if they were all written as entertaining as this, I'd read a whole lot more! I found this fascinating."—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: A narrative nonfiction about how the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, how the robbery made the portrait the most famous artwork in the world—and how the painting by Leonardo da Vinci should never have existed at all.

Find it in the catalog »

Racial Justice in America: Latinx American by Brenda Perez Mendoza

Why you should try it: "All six titles in this bilingual series explore the history, issues, and achievements of the Latinx community in a comprehensive, educational, and honest way! For children, and adults, too!"—Nora, Latine Language & Culture Librarian

Description: The Racial Justice in America: Latinx American series explores the issues specific to the Latinx community in a comprehensive, honest, and age-appropriate way. The series was developed to reach children of all races and encourage them to approach issues of race, diversity, and inclusion with open eyes and minds.

Find it in the catalog »

Search for a Giant Squid: Pick Your Path by Amy Seto Forrester

Why you should try it: "There is endless fun to be had in this exciting pick-your-path story!"—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: A choose-your-own-path style story that guides the reader through the very real job of being a teuthologist.

Find it in the catalog »

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen

Why you should try it: "I enjoy kid stories that dabble in the scary (but fun) adventures and this is one of them."—Andrea, Collection Management Librarian

Description: This is an old story. It is about a girl named Otilla who runs away. It is also about a house in the woods, and a skull who lives there, and a secret the skull has, and the night that Otilla finds out what that secret is.

Find it in the catalog »

Picture books

100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli by David LaRochelle

Why you should try it: "A perfect, silly, read-aloud book for little kids and elementary friends, as well. And when Broccoli has babies (spoiler alert!), take a deep breath and do your best sports announcer line-up call!"—Genevieve, Children's Services Supervising Librarian

Description: High on a mountain live 100 mighty dragons all named Broccoli. When a tremendous wind blows half the dragons away, 10 others sail off to become professional surfers in Hawaii. The oldest and youngest dragons take a train to New York City to start their own heavy metal band. And a mysterious wizard turns four more into a unicorn, a werewolf, a zombie, and a tiny pink poodle. Now how many dragons are left?

Find it in the catalog »

A Day With No Words by Tiffany Hammond

Why you should try it: "I love seeing a non-speaking autistic kid telling his own story and his mother using AAC right along with him! The illustrations are also just beautiful."—Shelley, Children's Services Librarian

Description: This picture book shares what life can look like for families who use nonverbal communication, utilizing tools to embrace their unique method of "speaking." The story highlights the bond between mother and child and follows them on a day when they use a tablet to communicate with others.

Find it in the catalog »

Hair Love ABCs by Matthew A. Cherry

Why you should try it: "Almost like a mini part two of the original Hair Love book, this board book shows the different hairstyles that the main character Zuri wears from A to Z. A great image of representation with the added bonus of incorporating the alphabet for young readers."—Joy, Adult Services Library Assistant

Description: A is for Afro, N is for Natural, and W is for Waves. Letter by letter, follow Zuri and her father in their joy-filled journey through the kinks and curls of Black hair. 

Find it in the catalog »

Just Snow Already! by Howard McWilliam

Why you should try it: "I think Howard wrote this book for/about me (just ask the other librarians!). I completely understand this kid's single-minded desire for snow, and the humor of the detailed illustrations is just delightful. Every time you read, you'll notice something new!"—Shelley, Children's Services Librarian

Description: When the forecast calls for snow, one little boy is thrilled. He keeps peeking outside to see if it's snowing–but he only looks up! His single-minded focus on the sky makes him completely miss the increasingly comical chaos occurring outside his door, which includes a monster truck, a firetruck, escaped monkeys, and carousing clowns.

Find it in the catalog »

An Ofrenda for Perro by Judith B. Valdes

Why you should try it: "I'm a sucker for books about pets."—Andrea, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Benito loves Perro. But when Perro passes away, Benito is heartbroken. During the Day of the Dead celebration, he tries to understand the meaning of the flores de cempasuchil, candles, pan de muertos, photographs, and sharing memories of departed loved ones. By creating his own special altar for Perro, he realizes that his love for his beloved companion, and the happiness Perro gave him, will always remain.

Find it in the catalog »

Sylvester's Letter by Matthew Burgess

Why you should try it: "A beautiful ode to a grandson's love for his departed pickle-loving grandma!"—Megha, Youth & Family Outreach Specialist

Description: Sylvester imaginatively creates a special letter full of loving memories and shared moments for his favorite person, his beloved grandmother, even though she is gone.

Find it in the catalog »

What Do Brothas Do All Day? by Ajuan Maria Mance

Why you should try it: "A surprise find from my old Professor at Mills College! This is her take on Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? Mance has created a book of beautiful illustrations of Black men living their day-to-day lives. These men are drawn working, getting lined up at the barbershop, chatting over coffee, skateboarding, laughing, and loving. Everyday activities, yet still so visually moving."—Joy, Adult Services Library Assistant

Description: A picture book with illustrated portraits of real Black men celebrating the daily lives and activities of African Americans, from visiting the barber shop to exploring outer space.

Find it in the catalog »

When Rubin Plays by Gracie Zhang

Why you should try it: "I love the illustrations in this charming story about prioritizing joy over perfection."—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Rubin loves the beautiful sounds that are played by the orchestra. He wants to learn to play the violin and make his own music. But when Rubin plays, it doesn't sound like he imagines it should. Rubin goes into the forest to practice alone and despite only getting the violin to screech, he finds an unlikely audience that loves his unique style.

Find it in the catalog »