The Best Books of 2017: Bright Horizons Books of Excellence for Children of Every Age

Teacher reading book to toddlers

For the past 16 years, Bright Horizons has been rounding up the best children’s books for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-agers, bringing you high-quality titles that are not only educational, but fun to read.

This year is no different. We’ve sorted through over 100 books, narrowing down the list to titles that both inspire a love of literacy and teach important values. Whether you give the gift of literature this holiday season or simply re-imagine your family's bedtime routine, we hope our 2017 selection helps create joyful memories that last a lifetime.

Popular Books for Babies & Toddlers

"Mommy, Mama, and Me," written by Lesléa Newman; illustrated by Carol Thompson, Infant/Toddler: From daily routines to playing on the playground, this book reveals all the fun that can be had when a day is spent with your two mommies. The reader is drawn in by the colorful illustrations and rhythmic words.

"Daddy, Papa, and Me," written by Lesléa Newman; illustrated by Carol Thompson, Infant/Toddler: In the counterpart to “Mommy, Mama, and Me,” this book highlights how two dads spend the day interacting with their baby. From playing dress-up to racing cars, the reader will be drawn in by the exciting illustrations and rhyming text.

"Peck, Peck, Peck," written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins, Infant/Toddler: One day, daddy woodpecker decides his son is ready to learn to how to peck. He shows his son how to peck a tree and encourages him to do the same. Upon receiving his father’s praise, the little woodpecker decides to practice on his own. He finds that he loves to peck so much that he just can’t stop. Even though the young woodpecker gets a little carried away, his father’s unconditional love shines through to the very last page. Infants and toddlers will truly enjoy sticking their fingers into the holes the woodpeckers make throughout the book.

"Show Me Happy," written by Kathryn Madeline Allen; photographs by Eric Futran, Infant/Toddler: This picture book shows children from diverse backgrounds engaged in simple acts such as helping, sharing and putting things away, coupled with the varied emotions that children experience every day. Children will love the repetition and guessing which emotion is expressed in the photos. The book is a good introduction to social-emotional concepts to help children identify their own feelings.

"Little Chickies/Los Pollitos," written & illustrated by Susie Jaramillo, Infant/Toddler: This charming children’s book is based on a popular Spanish children’s song. Mama hen feeds and warms her chicks until they are ready to sleep. The rhyming and “lift the flap pages” make it an irresistible read. If you don’t know the song “Los Pollitos” yet, you will be singing along by the end of the book.

Books for Preschoolers

"The Water Princess," written by Susan Verde; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Preschool: “The Water Princess” lives in Africa, a world where water is precious and limited. Gie Gie and her mother make the trek daily to fetch water for their family. Despite the strenuous journey, they sing and dance and find joy as they meet with friends who are also there to get water for their families. The story brings attention to a struggle all over the world today, where children don’t easily have access to clean drinking water. The simple message points towards ways children can help.

"A Small Thing. . . but Big," written by Tony Johnston; illustrated by Hadley Hooper, Preschool: Lizzie is afraid of dogs. During a visit to the park, she meets an elderly man who gently introduces her to his dog. In small steps, Lizzie first gives the dog a pat, then walks next to the dog, then holds the leash. Each step is “a small thing. . . but big.” Lizzie eventually walks the dog and is very pleased with overcoming her fear of dogs.

"The Night Gardener," written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, Preschool: William looks out his window one morning to see much hubbub below. As he races outside, he is stopped by the most wondrous site. The tree has been turned into a wise owl. So begins the story of how a poor town is transformed. This beautifully illustrated book will captivate all who want to find out who and what is reshaping the trees and the town.

"The Lorax," written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, Preschool: “The Lorax” is an environmental book that was before its time. It is about a forest of Truffula trees that were cut down to make useless objects. Children are introduced to concepts of conservation and care for the environment.

"Daisy-Head Mayzie," written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, Preschool: “Daisy-Head Mayzie”, in classic Seuss-style, is about a girl with a daisy growing out of her head. It touches on themes of real and unreal; growing and not growing, and accepting differences.

"Best in Snow," written by April Pulley Sayre, Preschool: The crisp photographs and flowing verse in this book pull the reader into the wonders of snow. In the opening lines, “a freeze” and “a breeze” combine to produce light snowflakes that drift from the sky and “land on a squirrel’s nose.” Sayre shows snow swirling around an orange-beaked cardinal and snow settling on drifting brown leaves. Coming full circle, “a freeze” and “a breeze” end the story with a storm that turns everything a sparkling white. With the “Secrets of Snow” section, young readers are encouraged to further explore the science behind how snow is created and the differences in snow, icicles and slush.

"Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood," written by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López, Preschool: Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, this book explores the power of art in the community. Mira, the main character, uses her love of art to spread joy in her neighborhood and inspire others to add color to the world around them. This delightful story brings out the artist in all of us!

Popular Books for School-Age Children

"Lotus & Feather," written by Ji-li Jiang; illustrated by Julie Downing, School-Age: “Lotus & Feather” is an endearing tale of a lonely young girl who has lost her voice. When she rescues a rare, injured crane at a lake near her home, she and her grandfather work to nurse him back to health. Feather, the grateful crane, becomes her first real friend and Lotus learns how to use a reed to play music that “speaks” to Feather. Feather follows Lotus everywhere and entertains children by dancing to the music of the reed. Eventually, Feather heals and both Lotus and Feather have to learn to let each other go. They learn that the friendship between them ends up being the bond that has healed them both.

"It’s a Snap! George Eastman’s First Photograph," written by Monica Kulling; illustrated by Bill Slavin, School-Age: George Eastman’s photography hobby grew into creating early versions of the camera due to his determination and his mother’s support. This is the story of George’s life and how he took what others thought of as crazy ideas and turned them into the great Eastman Kodak Company.

"Wolf Hollow," written by Lauren Wolk, School-Age: Wolf Hollow, Based in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943, eleven year old Annabelle’s life is turned upside down when Betty Glengarry arrives in town. Betty is mean and threatens others by inflicting verbal and physical pain. Annabelle’s friendship with the local drifter, Toby, brings her some comfort knowing that he is quietly looking out for her. The book explores themes of guilt and innocence; safety and protection; and friendship.

"Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White," written by Melissa Sweet, School-Age: From his earliest memory, E.B. White had a relationship with words and writing, nature and animals. He loved adventure and used all that he learned and experienced to fuel his writings, including his classic children’s books, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Interspersed with real photos and hand penned notes, Melissa Sweet brings the reader into White’s life in a most interactive and interesting way.

"Ada’s Violin," written by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, School-Age: This is a true story about a community built around a landfill. Favio Chavez wants to teach the children to play instruments. He and the town folk have little money; however, they do have discarded items in the landfill. Thus is born the recycled orchestra. A town, whose existence is built upon trash, becomes an inspiration for hope around the world.

"Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip through the Motown Sound," written by Andrea D. Pinkney Base, Middle-High School: Rhythm Ride is a highly engaging book which tells the history of the music of Motown through words and photographs. Set in the background of the current events of that time period, Motown stars are featured from the Marvelettes to Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder to Diana Ross and more. With a helpful timeline in the back, this book includes everything you want to know about the music of Motown.

Books of Excellence for Everyone

From science to art to social responsibility – we’re sure there’s something on this list for the whole family. We hope you enjoy exploring these titles with your children as much as we did, and wish you happy reading!

More on Reading with Children:

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Teacher reading book to toddlers