Best new books for young kids

Turn your preschooler through second grader onto this season's top new page turners.

By Susan Freinkel


By Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Maria Frazee

Ages: 3 and up

This sweet ode to stars begins and ends with the night sky. In between, Stars explores all sorts of other places where stars can be found, both literally and figuratively: on pajamas or school papers; in snowflakes or the flowers in a pumpkin patch. A star can transform a stick into a magic wand or a kid into a sheriff. Ray’s simple prose and Frazee’s playful illustrations combine to create a lovely stream-of-consciousness feel that encourages a child's mind to wander and wonder.

Bottom line: Reading with your child is sure to spark conversation and inspire star-related crafts and a star hunt of your own.

I Want My Hat Back

By Jon Klassen

Ages: 4 and up

In I Want My Hat Back ($8.79), Bear has lost his beloved hat. He visits various animals, politely asking if they have seen it. Each says no and it looks like Bear will go hatless until a deer replies with a simple question that jogs his memory and he renews his search — now looking for the culprit who stole his hat. Spoiler alert: Bear ends up eating the offender. This sounds horrifying but actually isn't, partly because Bear exacts his revenge out of sight and partly because the dialogue and illustrations have such a droll, deadpan humor. The twist at the end, which is admittedly a little twisted, will leave all but the tenderest readers laughing.

Bottom line: The words and drawings leave so much unsaid that much of the fun in reading this with your child is teasing out what's going on.

Grandpa Green

By Lane Smith

Ages: 5 and up

Grandpa Green used to remember everything. Now he sometimes forgets, but luckily his garden never does. This charming and poignant story follows Grandpa Green's great grandson through the garden where the old man has carved memories of key events in his life — large and small — into fantastic topiaries. Grandpa has shaped trees to reflect growing up on a chicken farm, his time at war, meeting the love of his life, even his fourth-grade bout with chicken pox. (That would be the topiary with the red berries.) The artwork is exquisite: the boy and old man are drawn with simple, expressive lines, while the trees are rendered in lush watercolors, oil paints and digital art.

Bottom line: Grandpa Green is a perfect book for reading with a grandparent or special elder.

The Jewel Fish of Kranak

By Graeme Base

Ages: 5 and up

In ancient Egypt, two greedy and not-so-smart thieves, Ibis and Jackal, have been caught stealing in the town market. The Cat Pharaoh offers to pardon the two friends if they will journey up the Nile and retrieve a precious jeweled fish sculpture taken by the Crocodile Prince, but she warns the pair not to steal and not to let the fish get wet. Needless to say, the two ignore the warnings and disaster follows.  Base's drawings are sumptuous and the book is packed with Egyptian lore. But the real treat is the puzzle he's built into the story with Hieroglyphic tablets and an ingenious mechanical device on the back cover that holds the final key.

Bottom line: The Jewel Fish of Kranak is the ideal book for young puzzle-lovers.


Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time

By Steve Jenkins

Ages: 4 and up

Time is more than the ticking of a clock. In simple, readable language, Jenkins explains that the time measurements taught in school are human inventions and that there are many other ways to measure a second, a minute, an hour, a year. Jenkins's exquisite paper constructions illustrate interesting and often surprising time factoids from the natural and human-made world. Who knew, for instance, that in one second a jet travels 800 feet? Or that in an hour of feeding on its mother's milk, a baby blue whale gains ten pounds?

Bottom line: Pre-schoolers will enjoy the beautiful pictures in Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time ($11.55), but children who have started learning to tell time will get the most out of it.

Everything On It

By Shel Silverstein

Ages: 6 and up

Here's why we love Shel Silverstein:

“There are kids underneath my bed,"
Cried little baby monster Fred.
Momma monster smiled. "Oh, Fred,
There's no such things as kids," she said.

Want another reason? Check out the cover illustration, where the hot dog that comes with "everything on it" is piled high with umbrellas, a bicycle wheel, chairs, a nightstand, a trombone, hats, and a python. Silverstein’s family members and long-time editor culled through the trove of unpublished poems and drawings he left behind after his 1999 death to assemble this collection. It offers the same mix of whimsy, wit, and wisdom found in Silverstein’s classics, Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Bottom line: Everything On It demands to be read aloud — delighting children and adults equally.

Susan Freinkel is the author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and has written for the New York Times, Discover, Smithsonian, Real Simple, and other national publications.