Click here to go back to the home page Click on this link to view the screenreader friendly and text only version of this website

Holiday Children's Book List 2018


National Louis University’s Toby Rajput suggests outstanding books children will learn from and love

Gift-givers who want to nudge children and teens toward a life-long love of reading can start this holiday season by giving quality books. National Louis University’s Toby Rajput, Assistant Professor, University Library and Children’s and Young Adult Librarian, specializes in children’s books and literature.

Her 2018 annual list of book recommendations for gift-giving include some that inspire delight for younger children, open middle-grades children’s eyes to the larger world and challenge young adults to learn, absorb and think. 

This year’s list includes some amazing finds. One author in the young adult category researched the original property owners’ records of 11 slaves, then contrasted the bitterness of being valued at a dollar amount with the hopefulness of their dreams and humanity. 

Rajput has taken many of these selections from the New York Time Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year, as well as Caldecott and Newbery medalists and honor books.

“I categorized some books as 'younger,' 'middle grades' and so on, but I feel that many 'younger' readers can and would enjoy 'middle grade' and middles could easily move up to the older category,’ Rajput commented, advising parents and nurturers to use their best judgment as to what a child would enjoy.



  • A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2018
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “In this tale of children who discover an abandoned house, Lane Smith’s deftly layered and lyrical pictorial world shimmers with a whirr of woodland color and line work that caroms from wispy to razor sharp.”


  • On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “On a rainy weekend in the countryside -with no electronic devices allowed – a young girl feels irritated until she steps outside and into the deep satisfactions of time spent in nature. Alemagna’s dense and textured illustrations feature exuberant pops of color, capturing the natural world’s immensity and creating a multilayered mood that allows for both introspection and wild flights of joy.


  • The Way Home in the Night by Akoko Miyakoshi
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “A sleepy little bunny is carried home through the city by her parents, ending up safe in her own bed. With their cinematic feel and charmingly anthropomorphic animals, Miyakoshi’s pencil and charcoal drawings capture the ever-changing delights of nighttime city life while evoking almost physical feelings of comfort, support and family love.”


  • Plume by Isabelle Simler
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “A cat named Plume stalks this compendium of birds, each page a careful study of one species and the details of its feathers. Elegant and playful, Simler’s meticulous digital renderings of birds and their plumage invite close inspection, offering as well a chance to figure out where the cat is lurking within the clever composition of each page.”


  • Little Red by Bethan Woollvin
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2016
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “This reboot of the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” gives us a heroine who’s wised up from the start to the wolf’s trickster ways. Woollvin’s ingeniously minimalist illustrations use bold shapes and a palette of blacks, whites and grays with strategic pops of bright red, creating a jaunty and confident trip to the dark side and back.”


  • Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “Leo, a little ghost drawn touchingly by Robinson as an improbably sweet and hopeful-looking crayoned outline, feels unwanted in the house he is haunting. So, he moves to the city, where he befriends a girl who thinks he’s strictly imaginary. After Leo thwarts a robbery, his real – that is, ghostly – status is affirmed.  Reviewer Marjorie Ingall praised Robinson’s ‘exciting” art…Black, white, gray and various shades of moody blue, in a mix of acrylic paint and chunky construction-paper collage.”


  • The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “A nameless narrator, wearing a tuxedo, is trailed by a mysterious skunk, even while taking a cab, attending the opera, going to a carnival and visiting a graveyard. We never learn why, though like the narrator, we come to see the skunk as more adorable than menacing. The book’s witty retro look is done in a limited palette of black and white with pale peach, gray and a little red.  Reviewer Bruce Handy said, The great Patrick McDonnell’s drawings are, perfect down to the last scratchy line.


  • The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by JooHee Yoon.
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “Thurber’s 1956 comic fable about a power-made tiger who starts a deadly war is vibrantly illustrated by Yoon in a dense, blocky print style, all in an electric red, a cool blue-green, black and white. Each page teems with evocative images of animal life. The effect is ferocious and ravishing, capturing the beastliness of war along with emotions that include pride, boredom, shock and sorrow.”


  • Draw by Raul Colon
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2014
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. Based on his own childhood, beloved and award-winning artist Raul Colon's wordless book is about the limitless nature of creativity and imagination. A boy named Leonardo begins to imagine and then to draw a world afar--first a rhinoceros, and then he meets some monkeys, and he always has a friendly elephant at his side. Soon he finds himself in the jungle and carried away by the sheer power of his imagination, seeing the world through his own eyes and making friends along the way. (annotation from


  • Where’s Mommy? By Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2014
    Audience: Younger, Primary Grades. “Companion to the acclaimed picture book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, Maria (Mary's daughter) and Mouse Mouse (Mouse's daughter) are looking for their mothers. They're not in their bedrooms, their car and cart are still in the driveway, and they are not in the gazebo or under the mushroom! Where could they be? Well, turns out Mary and the Mouse are great friends--just like Maria and Mouse Mouse--and soon the new generation is in on the old generation's secret, and vice versa. Sparingly told and beautifully illustrated…kids will pore over the minute details of a mouse's parallel world.”


  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
    Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor 2018
    Audience: Middle Grades. The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother's hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly…a high-spirited, engaging salute to the beautiful, raw, assured humanity of black boys and how they see themselves when they approve of their reflections in the mirror.


  • Feather by Remi Courgeon
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Middle Grades. “A girl named Paulina takes up boxing so she can beat her older brothers at arm wrestling and free herself of the household chores they assign her when she loses. With its bold colors and vivacious lines, Courgeon’s stylish, poster-like art is full of small, exquisite details that reveal poignant aspects of Paulina’s story, creating a deep emotional connection with a heroine who’s a fighter in more than one sense.”


  • King of the Sky by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin.
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Middle Grades. “Starting life in a new country much colder and darker than his homeland, an Italian boy is forlorn until he meets an older man who keeps and races pigeons, helping him bridge his old and new worlds. With soft and smudgy yet deliberate mixed-media art that seems at once modern and timeless, Carlin’s warm, nostalgic images find a surprising visual connection between a northern mining region and a sunny southern land.”


  • Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk.
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Middle Grades. “Born McKinley Morganfield, the great bluesman Muddy Waters went from a poor Mississippi Delta childhood to the center of the Chicago music scene. Shifting his color palette for each setting of Muddy’s life, Turk captures the legendary musician’s proud originality with his own dazzling virtuosity on the page, incorporating materials including old newspaper clippings, printer’s ink and paint.


  • A River by Marc Martin
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Middle Grades. “Gazing out her window, a girl imagines being swept away on the river she sees, into a series of interesting and adventurous landscapes. As they recreate an imaginative journey, Martin’s immersive gouache and watercolor paintings find complex and beautiful patterns everywhere, documenting the meandering splendor of a river as well as the striking variety of environments humans have created.”             


  • The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, Illustrated by Peter McCarty
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2016
    Audience: Middle Grades.“The famous tree that stood in the courtyard outside Anne Frank’s window bears witness to the Frank family’s long hiding and Anne’s capture by the Nazis during World War II. Using only brown ink and tiny, patient strokes, McCarty juxtaposes the tree’s growth with the somber realities and flashes of joy in Anne’s constrained young life, creating pages of devastating intensity and heartbreaking detail.”


  • A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2016
    Audience: Middle Grades. “A British doctor named Jeffries and a French balloonist named Blanchard undertake a daring balloon flight – accompanied by their dogs, an English and a French bulldog, of course. Blackall’s exquisite watercolor and pencil illustrations of well-dressed people, dangerous waters and soaring balloons, done in creamy pastels and moody grays, have a winking vintage look, both witty and elegant.”


  • Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2016
    Audience: Middle Grades. “Sweet and powerful rhymes count down the days from Monday to Sunday, when the enslaved people of New Orleans were allowed to join free blacks for a day of music, socializing and commerce. ‘Christie’s art is, as always, breathtaking, uniting fo9lk art and sleek modern gestures with a graceful dynamism that balls to mind Jacob Lawrence and Benny Andrews,’ reviewer Maria Russo said.”


  • The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2014
    Audience: Middle Grades. On a mean street in a mean, broken city, a young girl tries to snatch an old woman's bag. But the frail old woman, holding on with the strength of heroes, says the thief can't have it without giving something in return: the promise. It is the beginning of a journey that will change the thieving girl's life -- and a chance to change the world, for good. Here is the story of a magical discovery that will touch the heart and imagination of every reader, young and old. In an exciting collaboration, author Nicola Davies joins forces with illustrator Laura Carlin to create a contemporary tale inspired by Jean Giono's 1953 story, L'homme qui plantait des arbres. (annotation from


  • Haiti: My Country by Haitian Schoolchildren, illustrated by Roge
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2014
    Audience: Middle Grades. For several months, Quebec illustrator Roge prepared a series of portraits of Haitian children. Students of Camp Perrin wrote the accompanying poems, which create, with flowing consistency, Haiti, my country. These teenaged poets use the Haitian landscape as their easel. The nature that envelops them is quite clearly their main subject. While misery often storms through Haiti in the form of earthquakes, cyclones, or floods, these young men and women see their surrounding nature as assurance for a joyful, confident future.


  • Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
    Newbery Honor 2017
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away. Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as...a lantern. You, an object. An object to sell.
         In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN'T be bought or sold--dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his "workers", Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry he imagines and interprets each person's life on the plantation, as well as the life their owner knew nothing about--their dreams and pride in knowing that they were worth far more than an Overseer or Madam ever would guess. Visually epic, and never before done, this stunning picture book is unlike anything you've seen.


  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Johan Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2017
    Audience: Junior high, young adult.
    “The life of the Supreme Court justice is a story of a girl who overcame the overt and covert sexism of her time to follow her drive to fight for equality. Innerst uses paint, ink and collaged elements like notebook paper to create a playful yet magisterial documentary effect, bringing subtle emotion to carefully composed scenes that resonate with the humane, controlled power of R.B.G. herself.


  • Madame Eiffel: The Love Story of the Eiffel Tower by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Csil
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. “In this imaginative telling of the story behind the Eiffel Tower, the engineer Gustave Eiffel is inspired by his love for his ailing wife, Cathy. With a strict palette of black and white with dabs of light rosy red, Csil’s intricate, lacy pen-and-ink illustrations convey Eiffel’s keen attention to detail, along with the allure of Paris and the high-flying ambition of his tower. The effect is romantic and utterly charming, invite you to look and look at the pages.”


  • The Only Child by Guojing
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    “A small child is left alone all day to fend for herself. She dozes off on a city bus and wakes in an unknown forest, a silvery fantasyland up in the clouds where she bonds with a flying deer, enormous whales and a seal pup…Reviewer Samantha Hunt was enchanted by this ‘dreamy, wordless debut,’ loving illustrated with smoky, mystical-looking pencil drawings. ‘The dark current flowing under such lush imagery,’ Hunt wrote, ‘is the loneliness of childhood under China’s one-child policy.’”


  • Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. “This biography of the legendary con man who once managed to sell the Eiffel Tower bursts with cheeky wit and verve. We follow Tricky Vic, as he was known, from his birth as Robert Miller in what is now the Czech Republic to his death in a federal prison in Missouri. In one of many comic touches, a thumbprint stands in for Tricky Vic’s head. ‘Pizzoli’s jocular, simple but graphically sophisticated collage illustrations draw readers even further into a story it would be hard to be bored by,’ wrote Maria Russo.”


  • The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born in France in 1900, when airplanes were just being invented. Antoine dreamed of flying and grew up to be a pilot--and that was when his adventures began. He found a job delivering mail by plane, which had never been done before. He and his fellow pilots traveled to faraway places and discovered new ways of getting from one place to the next. Antoine flew over mountains and deserts. He battled winds and storms. He tried to break aviation records, and sometimes he even crashed. From his plane, Antoine looked down on the earth and was inspired to write about his life and his pilot-hero friends in memoirs and in fiction. Peter Sis's remarkable biography celebrates the author of The Little Prince, one of the most beloved books in the world. (annotation from


  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calavaras by Duncan Tonatiuh
    NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2015
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. “This biography of the Mexican artist, who popularized Calaveras both as a form of political protest and a popular entertainment, integrates Posada’s own prints with Tonatiuh’s winsome, cleverly layered compositions. ‘Befitting its subject, the book communicates through its visual aesthetic,’ wrote Maria Russo. ‘Tonatiuh’s eye-catching earth-toned digital collages, with occasional blasts of dusky purple or blue, feature people who look like the swoopy, postmodern descendants of Mexican folk figures.’”


  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd
    Newbery Medal 2008
    Audience: Junior high, young adult.  Maidens, monks, and millers' sons -- in these pages, readers will meet them all. There's Hugo, the lord's nephew, forced to prove his manhood by hunting a wild boar; sharp-tongued Nelly, who supports her family by selling live eels; and the peasant's daughter, Mogg, who gets a clever lesson in how to save a cow from a greedy landlord. There's also mud-slinging Barbary (and her noble victim); Jack, the compassionate half-wit; Alice, the singing shepherdess; and many more. With a deep appreciation for the period and a grand affection for both characters and audience, Laura Amy Schlitz creates twenty-two riveting portraits and linguistic gems equally suited to silent reading or performance. Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Byrd -- inspired by the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript, an illuminated poem from thirteenth-century Germany -- this witty, historically accurate, and utterly human collection forms an exquisite bridge to the people and places of medieval England.


  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
    Michael Printz Medal 2007
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. A tour-de-force by New York Times bestselling graphic novelist Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he's the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny's life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.


  • The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack, Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
    Newbery Honor 2003
    Audience: Junior high, young adult. In that special half-hour of twilight--the dark-thirty--there are stories to be told. Mesmerizing and breathtakingly original, these tales are inspired by African American history and range from the time of slavery to the civil rights era. With her extraordinary gift for suspense, Patricia C. McKissack has created a heart-stopping collection of lasting value, a book not quickly forgotten.


  • * ALA award annotations are from (unless otherwise noted)
  • *NYTimes Best Illustrated Children’s Books annotations are from award committee members (unless otherwise noted)



    NLU’s Chicago campus on South Michigan Avenue occupies five floors of the historic Peoples Gas Building. This landmark building, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park, is easily accessible by train, bus and car and is surrounded by restaurants, parking lots/garages and shops.

    122 S. Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60603
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Conveniently located in a fast-growing business district off I-90 and Route 31, NLU Elgin features 10 classrooms with high-tech media equipment; a computer lab with high-speed Internet access; two conference rooms; and comfortable student lounges. Parking is free at this recently remodeled and upgraded teaching site, which now includes wireless Internet access.

    620 Tollgate Road
    Elgin, IL 60123
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Opened in the summer of 2006, NLU North Shore at Skokie is a state-of-the-art modern campus located just off the Edens Expressway near the Old Orchard Shopping Center. The campus includes 44 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a walk-in lab in the library; six conference rooms; a public café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; and multiple, comfortable student lounge areas.

    5202 Old Orchard Road
    Skokie, IL 60077
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Located just minutes from the East-West Tollway (I-88), NLU Lisle features 42 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a separate walk-in lab in the library; a café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; conference rooms; and six comfortable student lounge areas with wireless access.

    850 Warrenville Road
    Lisle, IL 60532
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Located in one of Chicago's major northwest suburbs, the newly renovated NLU Wheeling includes 20 classrooms with high-tech media equipment, four conference rooms, four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, large student lounge areas with wireless capabilities and interactive video capabilities, and an extensive research library. The site also houses the university library research collection.

    1000 Capitol Drive
    Wheeling, IL 60090
    (888) 658.8632
    Info » | Directions »

    Established in 1988 and located in one of Tampa's major business districts, NLU's Florida Regional Center serves students in 13 counties in central Florida. In addition to its classrooms, the National Louis University Tampa Regional Center features a computer lab, student lounges, and conference room.

    5110 Sunforest Drive, Suite 102
    Tampa, FL 33634
    (800) 366.6581
    Info » | Directions »