Best Picture Books 2023 | SLJ Best Books

From a glittering party in Harlem to a dazzling parade in Tokyo, from a baba's small patch of soil to a cadre of children learning to love who they are or stand up for others, the very best of 2023's picture books invite readers into pages to meet the world head on.


Arnaldo, Monica. Mr. S. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063003958.
K-Gr 3–Is it a mystery? A story of classroom rebellion, or even a coup? When a silent but imperious sandwich on their teacher’s desk seems to substitute for the day, the students are only too willing to comply—or else. A sidesplitting take on classroom dynamics.

Becker, Aaron. The Tree and the River. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536223293.
PreS-Gr 2–Nature bites back after a tree and a river cohabit in a bucolic and wordless setting as humans overbuild. A catastrophic event wipes the slate clean, while tiny acorns reboot the process by the last page. This meditation on time, climate change, and humanity presents an otherworldly command of watercolor-like paintings for children.

Brown, Tameka Fryer. That Flag. illus. by Nikkolas Smith. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063093447.
K-Gr 4–It’s the Confederate flag, a point of pride for one family, but tragedy and heartbreak for the other at the center of Brown’s book. How two children find the grace, good will, and courage to have a conversation is a lesson that readers will not see coming. Important in a polarized world.

Charles, Tami. We Are Here. illus. by Bryan Collier. Scholastic/Orchard. ISBN 9781338752045.
K-Gr 3–If All Because You Matter was an anthem to Black childhood, this companion piece is a march of ancestral pride, highlighting how Black history is one with world history, and that the long, steady train of accomplishment continues. Luminous paintings, glorious writing.

Dwivedi, Avani. My Bollywood Dream. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536228427.
PreS-Gr 3–Nothing about this book should have worked, yet just as Bollywood musicals come together to celebrate spectacle and love, so does Dwivedi’s story. Her aspirations to direct the tale of her life have begun, in colorful pages in and out of the cinema, cast with everyone she encounters in her daily life.

Evans, Gabriel. A Human for Kingsley. Little Hare. ISBN 9781760506919.
PreS-K–Kingsley, a large hairy dog, has decided to “own” a human and goes out in search of the right one. He becomes intrigued by a girl in a red beret who needs him just as much as he needs her. A funny and unique tale.

González, XelenaRemembering. illus. by Adriana M. Garcia. S. & S. ISBN 9781534499638.
PreS-Gr 3–When a family’s dog dies, the family gathers stories, photos, and the dog’s favorite things to create an ofrenda for Día de Muertos. A gorgeously illustrated book that acts as both a thank-you and a celebration for the animal friends that have passed on.

Gorman, Amanda. Something, Someday. illus. by Christian Robinson. Viking. ISBN 9780593203255.
PreS-Gr 3–A child notices trash piles and resolves to do something about them to help beautify the community. With delightful collage illustrations, this book reminds readers that everyone has the power to come together and make a change.

Gray, Gary R., Jr. I’m From. illus. by Oge Mora. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063089969.
K-Gr 2–A Black boy asked the question “Where are you from?” answers in the best way possible by highlighting his home and culture, as well as all the things that make him who he is. Heartfelt text and vibrant illustrations work together in this beautiful story about embracing one’s identity.

Harrison, Vashti. Big. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316353229.
PreS-Gr 2–Being called a “big girl” was once a compliment, but starts to feel less so when a girl gets mocked for her size. After she tells people that their words hurt her, she says proudly that she likes herself the way she is. A lovely proclamation of self-love and speaking up for yourself.

Kazi, Natasha Khan. Moon’s Ramadan. HarperCollins/Versify. ISBN 9780358694090.
PreS-Gr 3–The Moon travels around the globe from Egypt to New Zealand showing how different countries observe Ramadan and Eid. An insightful look at the significant traditions and practices.

Lee, Sophia N. Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store. illus. by Christine Almeda. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781534494473.
Gr 1-4–A Filipina girl fondly remembers summers spent helping her grandfather run his corner sari-sari store. The store provides more than nostalgia, however; when the girl moves to the United States, these memories help her find ways to connect with her new community. Illustrations brim with love and connection.

Leung, Julie. The Truth About Dragons. illus. by Hanna Cha. Holt. ISBN 9781250820587.
Gr 1-2–Gorgeous illustrations full of detail and movement present the adventure of a child learning about dragons from his diverse family background incorporating Eastern and Western dragon folklore. A wonderful embrace of both traditions in one child’s identity.

Lindstrom, Carole. My Powerful Hair. illus. by Steph Littlebird. Abrams. ISBN 9781419759437.
K-Gr 4–Hair carries a powerful legacy and connection in Native/Indigenous cultures. Lindstom’s sparse, poetic language (“Our ancestors say: Our hair is our memories. Our source of strength”) and Littlebird’s bright palette capture both serenity and hope.

Mehra, Namita Moolani. The Light Within You. illus. by Kamala Nair. Two Lions. ISBN 9781 542039123.
PreS-Gr 3–A Diwali story that also tackles the hardship faced when a child has to move to another country. The sparkle of light on the pages brings an energy and a sense of wonder. A positive message about the light within that transcends the holiday.

Meza, Erika. To the Other Side. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063073166.
Gr 2-4–A splendidly rendered migrant story that is awash in contrasts: light and dark, white space and ghostly shadows, bright colors and stark fences, peril and hope. Siblings play what begins as a game with three overarching rules: “Avoid the monsters. Don’t get caught. And keep moving.” Relatable and child-centered.

Norman, Lissette. Plátanos Go with Everything. illus. by Sara Palacios. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063247789.
Gr 2-4–Yesenia is a small girl who narrates everything plátanos stand for in her family from the Dominican Republic. Of course, Norman and Palacios ensure that readers are desperately hungry when they close this book, but they also elevate a comfort food to a cultural icon, a path to memory, and a welcome home.

Niebuhr-Siebert, Sandra. Mina Belongs Here. illus. by Lars Baus. Floris. ISBN 9781782508113.
PreS-Gr 2–A young immigrant’s experience starting at a new school in a new language is captured in expressive illustrations that use a slow introduction of color to mimic how Mina adapts to her new life. As she grows more comfortable, her world becomes more vibrant and less isolated.

Quang, Phùng Nguyên. My Grandfather’s Song. illus. by Huynh Kim Liên. Random. ISBN 9780593488614.
K-Gr 3–A unique book about migration sprinkled with Vietnamese mythology as seen through the eyes of a little boy and his grandfather as their special relationship unfolds. Breathtaking illustrations steal the show as the significance of animals, family, and nature are captured on each page.

Raúl the Third. ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Read. HarperCollins/Versify. ISBN 9780358539360.
Gr 1-4–A book festival celebration presented in a graphic novel style as English and Spanish words are intertwined throughout. This story is a great representation of all the wonderful services a public library can offer, from a map room and books on tape to video games and everything in between.

Reynolds, Jason. There Was a Party For Langston. illus. by Jerome Pumphrey & Jarrett Pumphrey. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. ISBN 9781534439443.
K-Gr 2–This brilliant story shares the positive impact Langston Hughes had on so many—big and small—through music, dance, and, of course, words. The Pumphreys strike again as they expertly weave text through their illustrations like streams of poetry in this incredibly eye-catching picture book.

Scott, Jordan. My Baba’s Garden. illus. by Sydney Smith. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823450831.
K-Gr 2–A little boy visits his Polish grandmother, Baba, every morning, and although there is a language barrier, they communicate beautifully through the simple acts of sharing food, humming, and gardening. Iridescent art amplifies a heartwarming intergenerational gem.

Takahashi, J.P. Tokyo Night Parade. illus. by Minako Tomigahara. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063224964.
K-Gr 3–Little Eka anxiously awaits the the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, her favorite celebration in her native Japan. Tomigahara’s stunning illustrations capture the whimsical night and what makes a good and bad spirit. A truly fascinating cultural experience for readers.

Weissman, Elissa Brent. Hanukkah Upside Down. illus. by Omer Hoffmann. Abrams. ISBN 9781419762963.
K-Gr 2–Cousins Nora and Noah live in opposite parts of the world. As Hanukkah approaches, the two begin a friendly battle over who will celebrate it best. This glowing book shows family connections across the globe and remains true to the traditions of the Jewish holiday.

Wilkins, Ebony Joy. Zora, the Story Keeper. illus. by Dare Coulter. Penguin/Kokila. ISBN 9781984816917.
K-Gr 3–Zora’s love for Aunt Bea’s storytelling runs deep in this beautifully crafted picture book about family and keeping memories alive between different generations. Warm but heartbreaking, Coulter’s bold illustration technique complements Wilkins’s graceful ability to tackle the subject of death through her delicate words.

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