The Best Books of 2016: Bright Horizons Books of Excellence for Children of Every Age

A child reading a book

In 2001, Bright Horizons began to sort through the thousands of the best children’s books published to bring to you the titles that offered the greatest, the funniest, the prettiest, and the most engaging reading experiences for you and your children. Here’s how it happens: Each year, six readers who are passionate about children’s literature read over 100 children’s books recommended by our friends at The Book Vine. We meet and discuss (and sometimes argue about) our favorites, and narrow the list down to a handful of high-quality selections for each age group. It is a labor of love.

This year, we’ve served up our very favorites—the best of the best for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-agers. We hope that you and your children will delight in these old favorites or perhaps discover a new treasure. What is the best children’s book of 2016? Of course it is the one that you and your child come back to over and over again.

By Susan C. Brenner, EdD

Popular Books for Babies & Toddlers

"Waiting," written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes: Like young children often do, the characters in this Caldecott Honor winner are waiting. They wait for rain, snow, wind and the moon, but while they are waiting, interesting things happen. Visitors come and so do gifts, and the characters – bear, pig, rabbit, dog, and owl – use their imaginations to see many wondrous things from their windowsill perch. Then they welcome a new friend who has a surprise of her own. Young readers will be intrigued by the beautiful and thoughtful illustrations that invite interaction throughout.

"Shapes/Numbers," written by Xavier Deneux: In these interactive books, the reader can guide young children’s fingers across colorful pictures to feel the texture of each number and shape. With the flip of each sturdy page, young children will gain early math concepts such as counting and shape recognition.

"How Things Grow," written by Eric Carle: Eric Carle depicts plants and animals with his signature colorful collages on fold-out flaps. When your child opens a flap, she finds an acorn can grow to be an oak tree or a bulb becomes a tulip. Children will love the chance to interact with the fold-out pages in yet another wonderful book by Eric Carle.

Popular Books for Preschoolers

"What Do You Do With An Idea?," written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom: A young boy cannot get rid of something that is following him around. Everywhere he goes, it follows until the boy understands that it is his very own idea that is pursuing him. Once he realizes this and begins to nurture his idea he sees that it can become a reality. This is a story about believing in yourself and having confidence to live your dreams, a story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

"Books With No Pictures," written by B.J. Novak and illustrated by No One!: Actor, author and stand-up comedian, B.J. Novak enters the world of children’s literature with The Book With No Pictures. As the title says, the book is filled with only words, in different fonts, colors, and sizes. Funny, creative, and clever, the book is guaranteed to get a laugh out of children of all ages.

"The Night World," written by Mordicai Gerstein: A young boy explores the night world outside his house at the urgings of his cat, Sylvie. The beautiful illustrations in shades of black, grey, and white guide the reader through the magic of the shapes and shadows of night. Excitement builds as the illustrations gradually burst forth into a world of vibrant color as the sun rises and welcomes a new day.

Popular Books for School-Age Children

"This Book Just Ate My Dog," written by Richard Byme and illustrated by Henry Holt: A simple stroll with her dog turns into a very different affair for Bella. As she walks across the crease in the page, something very strange happens…the dog disappears. When the same thing happens to others, Bella is left with no choice but to investigate herself. She needs the readers help to get everything sorted out. Young readers will appreciate the humor of turning this tale on its end.

"The Fourteenth Goldfish: Believe in the Possible," written by Jennifer L. Holm: This story by a Newbery award-winning author is about 11-year-old Ellie whose grandfather is a scientist experimenting with reversing the aging process, using himself as a guinea pig. In this humorous tale, Ellie learns about the wonders of science, navigates relationships with family and friends, and gains insights into the secrets of life.

"Brown Girl Dreaming," written by Jacqueline Woodson: Brown girl dreaming is a collection of poems that together tell the childhood story of author, Jacqueline Woodson, an African American child born in 1963 near the end of the Jim Crow era. Born just seven years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, the author lived in both the north and the south. Raised by both her parents and grandparents, she gives the reader a picture of growing up Black in 1960 – 1970 (“We walk straight past Woolworth’s because the one time my grandmother went inside they made her wait and wait”). Readers learn of Jacqueline’s and her family’s experiences with racism and her future dreams to be a writer. The author’s use of free verse is very readable and hard to put down. This is a “must read” for all middle schoolers.

"Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event," written by Rebecca Bond: In this true recount of a young boy’s life in a small Canadian town, Rebecca Bond tells the story of the friends Antonio makes at the small lodge his mother runs. One disastrous day, a fire breaks out in the woods. Read this inspiring story of how the people of the town and the animals in the woods came together in an unexpected way.

Books of Excellence for Everyone

There’s something on this list for everyone: something to tickle the funny bone, something to make you ponder, or something to grow your understanding of science, history, and culture. We’re betting you and your child will love these books as much as we do. Happy reading!

More on Reading With Children:

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A child reading a book