Announcing the Debut of Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids List (2017)

November 17, 2017

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids! Just in time for the holiday season this list provides books of mystery, science, poetry, hilarity, sorrow, and more. There’s bound to be something perfect for the child in your life. This year’s list contains books chosen by our librarians from the thousands published in 2017.

In its very first year, this list reflects the diversity and beauty of Evanston’s readership. You’ll escape the destruction of Mars, get a ride to Havana in a classic car, snap photos of the brightest stars of the Harlem Renaissance, and discover once and for all which is more treacherous: dragons or middle school. There are books for kids who are always looking for the newest comics, stories of facts and history for nonfiction loving children, gorgeous picture books for the youngest ages, and hilarity found in works of poetry, early readers, fairy tales and more.

All of these books are available through Evanston Public Library. Be sure to reserve your copies or, if you’re interested in purchasing them, download the PDF of the Children’s Books 2017 Booklet for a nice printed version to share with family and friends.

Special thanks to the committee members that spent countless hours all year reading, considering, discussing, rejecting, and ultimately selecting the best books that you will find on this list. They are Laura Antolin, Betsy Bird, Hilda Gonzalez, Jessica Iverson, Leigh Kennelly, Kerry Littel, Renee Neumeier, Paula Shapiro, Ranea Surbrook, Bridget Sweeney, Jennifer Wasilewski, and Brian Wilson.



  • Picture Books (for Children Ages 2-7)
  • Folktales and Fairy Tales
  • Easy Books (for Children Ages 4-6)
  • Early Chapter Books (for Children Ages 6-9)
  • Middle Grade Fiction (for Children Ages 9-12)
  • Poetry (for Children Ages 7-12)
  • Comics (for Children Ages 7-12)
  • Nonfiction (for All Ages)


Picture Books

For Children Ages 2-7

Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi

Lola the armadillo has just caused a magnificent accident. But is running away to live in the library forever really the best solution to her problem?

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat

We all know the story of how Humpty Dumpty fell down. But did anyone ever tell you about how he climbed his way out of his fears afterwards?

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, ill. Mike Curato

Cuban-American award winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of a boy, a classic car, and a family trip into the heart of Havana.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, ill. The Fan Brothers

When a fox with too many question joins a seaworthy crew of deer and pigeons, be prepared for a lush, eye-popping adventure like none you’ve ever seen before.

Be Quiet by Ryan T. Higgins

Ruper the mouse wants to star in a wordless picture book (they’re more artistic that way) but his plans are upended when his friends just won’t. stop. TALKING!!!

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

A quiet, contemplative, lovely little book about an old cat, a new cat, and what happens when one cat has to leave the other.

The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler

Take a trip to the magic hour between sunset and nighttime, when all the world is awash in radiant, breathtaking blue.

Boo! by Ben Newman

The perfect hilarious read aloud story for large crowds or one-on-one lap reads. Each animal that struts onto the page thinks that IT is the bravest. Can you prove them wrong?

Claymates by Dev Petty, ill. Lauren Eldridge

Told entirely in the medium of clay, this rollicking tale of two best friends is the very definition of wacky, kooky fun.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, ill. Gordon C. James

This magnificent book from Evanston publisher Agate Press is getting on ALL the Best of the Year lists, and for good reason. Let this young man’s strut, pizzaz, and pride show you what happens when you get a truly great haircut.

Double Take: A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood, ill. Jay Fleck


Far more than your usual opposite book. When it comes to opposites, there’s a lot to be said about perspective and point of view. A simple story, but a necessary one.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

This introduction to earth by the author to his son has all the gentle humor, poignancy, and customary wit we’ve come to expect in an Oliver Jeffers book.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

We see lots of stories about overcoming your fears, but few are as sweet, real, and honest as this charmer of a picture book.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, ill by Adam Rex

An epic tale forged in the heat of battle. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!

Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, ill. Alyssa Bermudez

Who says girls can’t be superheroes? With the aid of her abuela’s luchadora costume, Lucía is transformed into the hero of the playground. But with great power comes great responsibility.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Jill Davis

What parent hasn’t quailed in terror of those two most horrid words emanating from a kid’s mouth, “I’m boooored!” In this tale a rainy day proves to be far more exciting than anything screen time can conjure up.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli, ill. Mariachiara Di Giorgio

An utter charmer. In this wordless tale a crocodile prepares for the day and his regular commute to work. Elegant in its simplicity.

The Ring Bearer by Floyd Cooper

Blended families and nervous jitters come together in this utterly sweet tale. When Jackson finds a way to save new stepsister Sophie at Mama’s wedding, he ends up saving the day (and forgetting his worries too).

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, ill. Eugene Yelchin

A message of non-violent resistance in the face of oppressors lies at the heart of this clever fable about a rooster and the dictatorial mayor that seeks to shut him up.

Spunky Little Monkey by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, ill. Brian Won

Get out your dancing shoes cause this little monkey is ready to shine. A perfect read aloud for large groups, we dare you not to bop along to the wake-up instructions highlighted in this book by the author of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, ill. Sydney Smith

Thoughtful, haunting, moving and marvelous is this glimpse of a day in the life of a boy and his father in a maritime mining town.

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi

Snuggled tight on mama’s shoulder, a child peeks in the windows of her neighbors and wonders what their lives are really like.

What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, ill. Tim Mack

Convinced that all her other friends already have superpowers, Nalvana tries to figure out what it is that makes her special.

Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan, ill. Floyd Cooper

Bottled up, brimming with energy, and always on the move, it isn’t until he goes on a class trip to the great outdoors that Rodney finally finds a place where he can truly be himself.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

A marvelous near-wordless tale of a girl, a wolf cub, and the ways in which we can transcend our own little bubbles and reach out to those that are different from us.

Folktales and Fairy Tales

The Crane Girl adapted by Curtis Manley, ill. Lin Wang

Based on a classic Japanese folktale, Manley weaves the tale of a boy who aids an injured crane, and the beautiful girl that rewards him tenfold.

The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais

A sweet little wolf in a red cape sets off through the woods but is warned to watch out for sneaky little girls with murder on their minds. Sound familiar?

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, ill. Jeffrey Alan Love

Fans of Thor, rejoice! This gorgeous compendium of Norse myths is rife with all the best tales, and is accompanied by lavish illustrations that complement the storytelling perfectly.

Pattan’s Pumpkin : A Traditional Flood Story From Southern India by Chitra Soundar, ill. by Frane Lessac

Flood stories around the world abound, and this tale of a great big pumpkin that saves a man, his family, and all their animals from certain destruction is one to remember.

La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, ill. Juana Martinez-Neal

The Hans Christian Andersen classic is recast in Peru where a lonely prince finds his princess in an unexpected manner. Filled with Spanish words and bright colors, this is a fresh reimagining of a classic.

Easy Books

For Children Ages 4-6

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, ill. Emily Hughes

Small, slight, delightful little adventures of two brothers abound in this book. Comparisons to Frog and Toad would not be surprising.

King and Kayla (The Case of the Missing Dog TreatsThe Case of the Mysterious MouseThe Case of the Secret Code) by Dori Hillestad Butler, ill. Nancy Meyers

Get a dog’s eye view of how to solve mysteries with King, Kayla’s pet and a very good detective (if he does say so himself).

Meet Woof & Quack by Jamie A. Swenson, ill. by Ryan Sias

Woof and Quack want to play a game of fetch but not in the way you might expect. Warning: Watch out for flying cake!

Snail and Worm Again by Tina Kugler

These two best friends may not have a backbone between them, but when it comes to wings, mirrors, and good old-fashioned envy, they’re there for one another.

There’s a Pest in the Garden! by Jan Thomas

Sometimes the simplest words are the funniest. Hold onto you turnips. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Early Chapter Books

For Children Ages 6-9

Coyote Tales, by Thomas King, ill. Byron Eggenschwile

Everyone’s favorite trickster is back, and this time he’s stealing everybody’s fur and insulting the moon while he’s at it.

Jasmine Toguchi:  Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence, ill. Elizabet Vukovic

Everyone says Jasmine is too small to pound mochi, but she’ll show them! The power of determination in a somewhat small package.

The New Kid by Karen English, ill. Laura Freeman

Third-grader Gavin is 100% convinced that new kid Khufu was the thief who stole his new bike. But what happens when you let your assumptions run away with you?

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, ill by Brian Floca

Overscheduled Princess Cora just wants a little time to herself and maybe a dog. What she gets is a naughty crocodile with a penchant for cream puffs and nipping royal ankles.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers by John Dougherty

It’s Monty Python for the third grader set. Two siblings set off to save the kingdom from a pack of malicious badgers with the help of a shopping cart named Eric, a cat, and a king who often poses as his own butler.

You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke

This latest tale in the amazing Anna Hibiscus series takes a serious turn when Anna’s beloved grandfather dies and she and her siblings process their grief in both good and bad ways.

Middle Grade Fiction

For Children Ages 9-12

Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley

Road trip time! Two sisters set off in a car headed to Asheville, NC to spread their mama’s ashes (even though they’re really not supposed to have the ashes or the car or even each other anymore).

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

All the people in town are nice to Crow but they refuse to touch her and seem downright scared of her. Why? And what does it have to do with that mysterious man on the nearby island digging lots of holes?

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

When Bat’s mother brings home a baby skunk that needs care she warns her son not to get attached. Uh-huh. Guess what. He gets attached.

Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao, ill. Helen Wang, translated by Helen Wang

A marvelous sweeping tale set in China during the Cultural Revolution. When Sunflower is suddenly orphaned in the middle of the country, a boy named Bronze and his family come to her aid and the two kids become a true brother and sister.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, ill. Freya Hartas

A chocolate-loving dragon transforms into a human girl with one clear desire: to become an apprentice in a chocolate house. How hard could it be?

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

What’s worse than having an alien welded to your DNA? Having to navigate middle school, the boy you like, and an upcoming surgery to remove the (rather sweet) alien from your body, that’s what.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Chicago-native Perez introduces readers to Malú, a punk-loving Mexican-American kid forced to move with her mom to Chicago. Will she find like-minded friends in this great big city? Will she find her voice?

Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird

Evanston librarian Betsy Bird wanted an anthology of some of the funniest women writing for kids today, so she made one herself. Contains such luminaries as Rita Williams-Garcia, Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, Carmen Agra Deedy, Libba Bray, and more!

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Born without arms, thirteen-year-old Aven finds that when she moves with her family to a dying western theme park there’s a mystery to be solved, and she’s just the gal to solve it.

Jake the Fake Keeps It Real by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach, ill. by Keith Knight

Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Meet Jake. He’s just faked his way into a prestigious Music and Art Academy and he’s pretty sure the jig is up . . . or gonna be soon.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Here’s some advice. When the Earth is slated to be destroyed by a sun that’s collapsing way too soon, be careful when uncovering alien conspiracies. Those things will kill ya.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

Fitted out in the full-body cast, Cuban-Jewish Ruthie doesn’t feel particularly lucky, until she realizes how her friends, neighbors, and love of the arts can help her through this.

Mango Delight by Fracaswell Hyman

From bad best friend to singing YouTube sensation, Mango Delight Fuller’s life is one wild ride where nothing is as simple as it seems.

The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff

Boring, Illinois doesn’t live up its name when eleven-year-old Brian discovers a kooky family and their one-of-a-kind home in the woods. Hijinks ensue in this book by Chicago-native, Graff.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

On an island without adults, the children come and the children go. If they don’t go, the rhyme they chant says “the sky will fall.” You guessed it. Someone stays. A book that worms its way into your brain and makes you think and think.

The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

Getting your school dress code to allow girls to wear pants? Hard. Telling your parents you’re transgender and were meant to be a boy all along? Harder.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Young Patina’s lost a lot of things in her life but she’s never lost a race . . . until now. She’s always been a loner, but all that’s about to change and she’d better be ready.

Posted by John David Anderson

When a public school bans all cell phone activity, the students start leaving old-fashioned Post-It notes as a way of communicating. But what happens when something so simple spirals out of control?

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, ill. Erin Stead

Based on the unfinished notes of Mark Twain, the Steads spin a delightful fable about a book, a chicken, a prince, his parents, and a very very hungry tiger.

The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr

Moxie McCoy (possibly the best named character in the whole of children’s literature) is on the search for a best friend, a missing mascot, and a suspect (not necessarily in that order) with the help of her little brother.

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres

You think your dad’s embarrassing? Imagine if you got picked up every day by a taco truck. A touching, funny tale of friends and family.

This Is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg

If David Da-Wei Horowitz has any more to deal with (his bar mitzvah is coming soon,  his teammates for the upcoming trivia contest do not like each other, etc.) he’s just gonna dig a fallout shelter and never come out again.

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

For fans of tricky puzzles like those in The Westing Game. In an alternate Manhattan where ancient mechanics infuse everyday life, three kids try to crack the puzzles that will save their home and maybe the city itself.


For Children Ages 7-12

Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares Para Cada Dia de la Semana by Francisco X. Alarcon, ill. Maya Christina Gonzalez

This great posthumous work by great Chicano poet Alarcon (who died in 2016) ties together our days our lives our families and our sense of community with vibrant, eye-popping art on every page.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, ill. Lane Smith

Is Chris Harris funnier than Shel Silverstein? Only one way to find out. Let’s just say he gives old Shel a run for his money.

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout, Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia McKissack, ill. Brian Pinkney

A seminal collection of Black poems, games, rhymes, parables, prayers, and more. As an extra added bonus, Brian Pinkney’s art whirls and swirls on the page beautifully.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes  

Grimes takes classic poems from the Harlem Renaissance and then integrates the words into her own, creating something new and vibrant with distinct ties to the past.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, ill. Ekua Holmes

Features twenty poems honoring twenty different poets in twenty new and entirely distinct ways. Come for the poetry, stay for the gloriously colored art.


For Children Ages 7-12

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Eleven-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled her whole life by her Renaissance Faire employed parents. Now she has to attend middle school for the first time, all the while proving herself as a squire at the faire. Penned by the creator of Roller Girl.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

A fox with aspirations of evil attempts to raise baby chickens for the slaughter but finds himself too darn attached to the little blood-thirsty brood that call him “mama”.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

In New York City, no one knows if you’re a dinosaur. A sweet creature from the Cretaceous is discovered by his next door neighbor, and with her help comes to terms with people paying attention to him for the first time.

The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo, ill. Dice Tsutsumi

Behind the dam walls the world is safe and cozy. Outside the walls lies a black fog that means certain death. But when Pig, the dam keeper, leaves his safety for adventure he’ll need to question everything he took for granted before.

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

Fury Road meets Misty of Chincoteague in this gripping tale of aliens, ruthless road warriors, and a girl’s love for her pony.

Real Friends: A True Story about Cool Kids and Crybabies by Shannon Hale, ill. LeUyen Pham

Making friends is never easy, particular when those friends have a tendency to be cruel. A fun but awfully realistic look at what it takes to make and keep a friend.


For All Ages

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome

Spy. Nurse. Activist. Conductor. Told backwards, this incredibly simple text at Harriet Tubman’s life examines her through the lens of all the jobs she held before.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, ill. Man One

Killer art accompanies the true to life picture book biography of Roy Choi, the man who brought high end cuisine and street food together so that everybody could have an equal chance to eat. Special Bonus: Ramen endpapers.

Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh

Tonatiuh does it again! This time he zeroes in on the founder of the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, Amalia Hernández, and what it took for her to beat the odds and create something utterly timeless.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. Victo Ngai

One of the craziest war stories of all time comes to life with colors so bright they’ll knock your socks off. Can you believe there was a time when ships looked like Dali paintings to escape killer submarines. Believe it. Read it.

Germs:  Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline- Ransome, ill. James Ransome

Good and bad bacteria duke it out for ultimate supremacy in this fun and funky battle for a body’s ultimate health.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, ill. Katy Wu

Like your laptop? Then thank Grace Hopper, an early coder, who taught computers to “speak English” and had a keen sense of humor as well.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris

Writing luminary Eggers takes some time away from his adult novels to zero in on Lady Liberty and a very striking fact about her. Did you ever notice that she’s walking? The question is, where is she going?

The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

Intimate and intricate photographs zero in on something that should be ordinary but, because of the closeness of the camera, becomes extraordinary. Simple enough for young ages, fascinating enough for all ages.

How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit On a Plane? Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions by Laura Overdeck

Math kids, rejoice! There’s a hilarious and hopping book for you too. Math guru Overdeck poses ridiculous questions (if you put a cup out in the rain, how many drops would it take to fill it up?) with serious answers.

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy

It’s hard not to like elephants, but were you aware of how meticulously they’re designed? Roy goes beyond the usual elephant tropes to examines the scientific connections behind how their bodies work and why they’re as amazing as they are.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Think you hate sharks? Think again. Williams perfectly delineates why these killers of the deep are an integral part of the greater ecosystem and why we should do everything we can to keep them safe.

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal’d by Mary Losure

Imagine the magic of Harry Potter combined with the science of the ancient past. Issac Newton loved alchemy, but what he’s remembered for today are his scientific theorems. A fascinating biography for older readers.

Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush by Peter Lourie, ill Wendell Minor

Sure, Jack London’s stories are exciting but the crazy thing? His life was even more exciting. It’s Gold Rush of 1897 like you’ve never seen it before. Recommended for older readers.

Keith Haring:  The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay. A Haring, ill. Robert Neubecker

A sensitive picture book tribute to the artist that brought happiness to the world and was gone all too soon.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne  by Carole Boston Weatherford, Elizabeth Zunon

Think you know the story of Lena Horne? Think again. More than just an actress, Weatherford zeroes in on Horne’s civil right activism and bravery at a time when many would have hid their heads in the sand.

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, ill. Brett Helquist

There have been lots of sports rivalries over the years, but few can compare with the showdowns between tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Competitors and friends, this book follows them from beginning to end.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Jeanne Walker Harvey, ill. Dow Phumiruk

Lin was just a college student when she submitted the winning entry selected for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This gentle picture book biography looks at a woman who was as much an artist as an architect.

Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist, Photographer, Chameleon by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

What do you want to be when you grow up? Cindy wanted to be a photographer. Her best subject? Herself! The perfect book for older readers in the selfie generation.

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Being Disabled by Shane Burcaw, ill. Matt Carr

When you’re disabled you have to deal with all kinds of questions on a daily basis. Shane Burcaw shows with his customary wit and wacky humor that you don’t have to pity him. He lives a pretty awesome life. Here are the questions you might have for him.

Older Than Dirt: A Kinda-Sorta Biography of Earth by Don Brown & Dr. M. Perfit

The entire history of the earth done in a comic format, hosted by a worm and a groundhog? Hope you like epic stories because this one’s a doozy!

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in the Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander

Inspirational quotes from famous sport figures are coupled with Newbery winner Kwame Alexander’s true stories of his own attempts to find the right sport in his life.

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, ill. Keith Mallett

If you lived during the Harlem Renaissance, odds are you would have had your studio portrait taken by James VanDerZee. A fun glimpse into the past through art.

Up Up Up Skyscraper by Anastasia Suen, ill. Ryan O’Rourke

How do actually make a skyscraper? Why don’t they just fall to the ground all the time? Written for the youngest readers, this clever picture book goes through all the step you’ll need to go up up up.

What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand

One kid’s monster is another kid’s delight.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

The king of the kooky shows kids how your everyday life gives you all the material you need to be the best writer you can be.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Vanessa Brantley Newton

She was just a kid when she was arrested, but Audrey Faye Hendricks showed guts and bravery at a time when such feelings could be scarce. A great picture book biography.

And that’s all she wrote, folks!  There’s something here for everyone.


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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