The Central Children's Department Best Books for 2023

By Administrator RSS Wed, December 27, 2023

The Parkway Central Children’s Department has a fun tradition of giving our favorite books very specific awards crafted just for them, and here they are! These are our best reads of 2023. What did you enjoy reading this year?


Person wearing mask holding up a children's picture book in front of bookshelves

Naomi S. - Children’s Librarian


Naomi's Awards


Most 2023

This award goes jointly to two picture books. Big Kids No Everything and Wombat, the Reluctant Hero. In both, there are un-fun tasks to be done, and both of our lovable characters’ responses are deeply relatable and inspiring. So 2023. 

Big Kids No Everything by Wednesday Kirwan

From silly to serious, "no" can have many meanings but above all shows that little ones are getting bigger in this funny and empowering board book behind every kid's favorite two-letter word! "No" is not always a bad word — it's just part of growing up! Because when kids learn to hear and say the word "no," they'll learn when to say "yes."

Wombat, the Reluctant Hero by Christian Trimmer

This is a heartwarming and playful adventure that will inspire young readers to be a good neighbor and friend, based on the brave actions of the Australian wombat.


Most Rolicking

There Might Be A Kazoo Emergency. You never know what might happen on the way to school. You might meet a new friend, or a dinosaur, or have a kazoo emergency!

Runners Up: The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels, and Oh No, the Aunts Are Here.

There Might Be A Kazoo Emergency by Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Gregory likes to be equipped for any situation and carries several essential items in his backpack like a feather duster, a colander, and even a kazoo! "There might be a kazoo emergency," Gregory explains to his new friend, Lola, on their way to school. Not long after, their school bus gets into trouble! As the bus gets tangled in a rope hanging from a hot air balloon and crashes into a dinosaur, Gregory wonders if this is just the kazoo emergency he's been waiting for!

The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln

On the day they are born, every Swift child is brought before the sacred Family Dictionary. They are given a name and a definition. A definition it is assumed they will grow up to match. Meet Shenanigan Swift: Little sister. Risk-taker. Mischief-maker. Shenanigan is getting ready for the big Swift Family Reunion and plotting her next great scheme: hunting for Grand-Uncle Vile's long-lost treasure. She's excited to finally meet her arriving relatives — until one of them gives Arch-Aunt Schadenfreude a deadly shove down the stairs. So what if everyone thinks she'll never be more than a troublemaker, just because of her name? Shenanigan knows she can become whatever she wants, even a detective. And she's determined to follow the twisty clues and catch the killer. Deliciously suspenseful and delightfully clever, The Swifts is a remarkable debut that is both brilliantly contemporary and instantly classic. A celebration of words and individuality, it's packed with games, wordplay, and lots and lots of mischief as Shenanigan sets out to save her family and define herself in a world where definitions are so important.

Oh No, the Aunts Are Here by Lian Cho, Adam Rex

A girl experiences a tumultuous and overwhelming visit from her aunts, but when they finally say goodbye she discovers that the uncles are on their way to visit.


Best Depiction of Grief

Beneath. A gentle book about feeling multiple emotions at once, and seeing oneself reflected in nature.

Runners Up: West of the Sea, and The Wishing Balloons.

Beneath by Cori Doerrfeld

Finn is in a bad mood, so his grandfather takes him on a walk in the forest and tells him about all the things that are beneath the surface of plants and animals — and even people.

West of the Sea by Stephanie Willing

When her mom disappears from their small Texas town, paleontology-loving Haven is determined to find her. But as she uncovers truths about her mom's identity, Haven also uncovers a monstrous family secret. Her mom can take the shape of a human and, in the right environment, also turn into an amphibious creature known as a kitskara. And now that she's growing up, Haven is discovering she has this ability, too. This newfound identity is her only clue to help her track her mother and bring her back home. And so she, her older sister Margie, and her new friend Rye set off on a road trip across Texas's Gulf Coast to her late grandparents' abandoned home, where they're sure her mom has disappeared to ... along with plenty of family secrets.

The Wishing Balloons by Jonathan D. Voss

A young girl named Dot is overjoyed when the moving truck arrives at the house down the street, and even more excited when a boy her age steps out, offering the prospect of a new friend. But Albert looks sad, and he won't reveal why. After many attempts to cheer him up, Dot walks away defeated. That night, a balloon with a note tied to its string taps her window. Unfolding the note, Dot finds a wish that Albert has written. This is her chance to make Albert happy -- she will (creatively) grant his wishes. Though each wish becomes harder to grant, Dot learns the powerful lesson that sometimes being a friend means waiting until the people you care about are ready to reach out.


Most Heartwarmingly Creepy

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale, lost in the forest, help and befriend a lonely skull? It is a strange and dark little book, delighting my inner baby goth.

Runners up: The Carrefour Curse and The Song That Called Them Home.

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen Can Otilla

Jon Klassen's signature wry humor takes a turn for the ghostly in this thrilling retelling of a traditional Tyrolean folktale. In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull. A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons. Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night. Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit — with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author's note — The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.

The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni

When 12-year-old Garnet finally gets to meet her magical extended family she discovers they're all trapped in the ruins of their crumbling manor and Garnet must break a curse that has decimated three generations of Carrefours.

The Song That Called Them Home by David A. Robertson

It is a picture book about two siblings who go on a strange, beautiful adventure while visiting their grandfather.


Best "Little Things That Are Parts of Big Things" Book

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey. A look at biology that gets to smaller and smaller and even smaller bits of matter before going bigger again, showing just how intricately complex our universe is.

Runners up: Small Things and Buzzing (A Graphic Novel).

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey by Jason Chin

This is a book exploring the world of the very small, delving deep into the microscopic spaces just beneath our skin.

Small Things by Mel Tregonning

This is an empowering wordless graphic picture book that gets to the heart of a young boy's anxiety and opens the way for dialogue about acceptance, vulnerability, and the universal experience of worry.

Buzzing (A Graphic Novel) by Samuel Sattin and Rye Hickman

Isaac is a shy boy with OCD, but one day at school he meets new friends who introduce him to role-playing games, which lead him on a journey of self-discovery and growth.


Person holding up a children's picture book in front of bookshelves

Miss Mary - Children’s Librarian


Miss Mary's Awards


The World is Not What It Seems and This Book Ends on a Semi-Cliffhanger

The Vanquishers by Kalynn Bayron

Think family, friends, and vampires!

It's the End of the World and I'm in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds

I’ve got a crush and I’m getting crushed by my unwashed laundry! Oh, and everyone in the neighborhood has disappeared!


Semi-Autobiographical Middle Grade Graphic Novel That Made Me Laugh and Cry

Four Eyes by Rex Ogle and Dave Valeza

Is getting glasses the end of the world? Perhaps it is in middle school.

Squished by Megan Wagner and Michelle Mee Nutter

It’s easy to get lost, and squished, in a big family!

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat

A trip to Europe, a cute girl — memories to last a lifetime!


Board Books I Love For Baby and Toddler Storytime

The Numbers Store by Harold Green III and Deann Wiley

Simple text, colorful illustrations, and numbers!

The Rainbow Park by Harold Green III

More simple text, colorful illustrations, and colors!


Person holding up a children's picture book in front of bookshelves

Scout - Children’s Librarian


Scout's Awards


Favorite Found Families

The House on Sunrise Lagoon: Sam Makes A Splash by Nicole Melleby

I’m so excited that this book is the first in a series! I can’t wait to read the stories about Sam’s siblings. Fun, sweet, and hilarious, it’s also a great short chapter book.

Runners Up: The Drama With Doomsdays by Scott Reintgen (Sequel to last year’s award-winner The Problem With Prophecies!), Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O’Shaughnessy (It will make you hungry, so be warned), and World Made of Glass by Ami Polonsky (This one will also make you cry in public, so brace yourself.)


Favorite Books That Suck (Because They’re About Vampires, Ha Ha)

Don't Want To Be Your Monster by Deke Moulton

Was I expecting to read this many vampire books this year? I was not. Were they, in the grand tradition of monster stories everywhere, also a fascinating look at society and all the ways in which we get it wrong (and right)? Yes, yes they were. This particular one also has a murder mystery, cool worldbuilding, a wonderful found family dynamic, and several laugh-out-loud moments.

Runners Up: The Last Hope In Hopetown by Maria Turead (after reading this book I definitely wanted a vampire best friend), Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting by Roseanne A Brown (Rick Riordan fans, this one’s for you!)


Favorite Books With Characters Who Demand Better

The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni

Creepy, atmospheric, and a heartbreaking and cheer-out-loud look at breaking free from an unhealthy family dynamic. Plus magic!

Runners Up: The First Magnificent Summer by R. L. Toalson (I have never wanted to give a character a hug and a sandwich so much, in that order), What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski (Look, sometimes a barn just needs to be burned down, okay), and Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace (This book deserved a much better title, in this reviewer’s humble opinion.)


Favorite Worldbuilding

Nell of Gumbling: My Extremely Normal Fairy-tale Life by Emma Steinkellner

Imagine living in a fairytale world complete with fairies and magic, only the king abdicated a hundred years ago to turn the castle into affordable housing and also the fairies are a little annoyed that tourists keep trying to take their pictures, and instead of getting your dream internship you get stuck in the archives … with the secret passages … but surely nothing interesting will happen.

Runners Up: The Rhythm of Time by Questlove (I would really love to see the movie version of this - it’s so cinematic!), Skyriders by Polly Holyoke (new dream job unlocked: pegasus-mounted courier), Valentina Salazar Is Not A Monster Hunter by Zoraida Cordova (hilarious, and the audiobook is terrific too!)


Favorite Tackling of a Real-World Issue

Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow

This book made me laugh and cry, sometimes within the same page. A beautiful and hilarious look at healing from trauma and getting into shenanigans.

Runners Up: The First Rule of Climate Club by Carrie Firestone (hopepunk! Intersectionality!!), and Morning Sun in Wuhan by Ying Chang Compestine.


Person holding up a children's picture book in front of bookshelves

Tara - Library Assistant


Tara's Awards


Nothing Can Stop Me

Boy by Phil Cummings

The king's battles with the dragon were always mighty and loud . CLING CLANG CLONG! ROAR! Boy lived in a silence and couldn't hear the fighting. But Boy could see the fear around him . and how everyone would be much happier without it.

Song of the Lioness Series by Tamora Pierce

Eleven-year-old Alanna, who aspires to be a knight even though she is a girl, disguises herself as a boy to become a royal page, a learning many hard lessons along her path to high adventure.


Funny Chaos

Bathe the Cat  by Alice B. McGinty

Dad has posted a list of chores for the family to do before grandma comes, including bathing the cat; but the cat does not want a bath, so she mixes up the instructions, and soon the family is mowing the floor, vacuuming the lawn, mopping the baby ... and the house is in chaos.


Language Barriers Won’t Stop Us

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

A boy and his grandfather cross a language and cultural barrier using their shared love of art, storytelling, and fantasy.


Move To Your Own Tune

Starboy: Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of David Bowie by Jami Gigot

A lonely boy feels like a stranger on his own planet until the day his radio bursts to life with the rhythm of stardust energy. Includes notes and facts about David Bowie's life.


Discovering Yourself and Making Good Friends

A-Okay by Jarad Greene

A-Okay is a vulnerable and heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.


Save the World, Chosen One, You're Our Only Hope

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess by Akira Himekawa

Once upon a time, wizards tried to conquer the Sacred Realm of Hyrule. The Spirits of Light sealed the wizards’ power within the Shadow Crystal and banished them to the Twilight Realm beyond the Mirror of Twilight. Now, an evil menace is trying to find Midna, Princess of the Twilight Realm, and the fragments of the Shadow Crystal to gain the power to rule over both the Twilight Realm and the World of Light.


Person sitting at table with a board game

Lynne - Department Head


Lynne's Awards


Books About the Most Interesting People from History You've Probably Never Heard Of

Ice Cream Man: How Augustus Jackson Made A Sweet Treat Better by Glenda Armand and Kim Freeman

Born in Philly in 1801, August Jackson became a chef at The White House, where he perfected the egg-based dessert we now know as ice cream. He returned to Philadelphia to open his own ice cream shop and, due to his ingenious freezing technique, shipped his product all over.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita L. Hubbard and Oge Mora

Born into slavery, Mary Walker learned to read when she was 116 years old!


Humorous and Timely Description of the Importance of Creativity in Education

A Smart, Smart School by Sharon Creech and don’t forget to revisit Fine, Fine School by the same author. Both books revolve around Mr. Keene, a beloved principal, Tillie, her brother, and her dog, Beans.


Most Inspirational and Celebratory Picture Book with the Best Illustrations

We Are Here by Tami Charles; illustrated by Bryan Collier

(Bryan Collier will be visiting The Central Children’s Department in February!). This is a sequel to All Because You Matter.


Best Book in Verse

Aniana del Mar Jumps In by Jasminne Méndez

This is a coming-of-age story exploring the importance of living your own life rather than trying to become the person others expect you to become.


Seated person holding up children's books and smiling

Aileen - Library Assistant


Aileen's Awards


In Space AND on Earth

To Boldly Go by Angela Dalton

Learn all about Nichelle Nichols and her fight for justice on the TV screen and beyond.


Courage + Ice Cream

Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Watch Muhammad build his confidence in this picture book by a favorite Philly author!


When in Paris...

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat

This is a sweet autobiographical graphic novel about studying abroad.


Wait, This All Fits Together?

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

Follow the neighborhood and middle school connections in this "tale told in ten blocks."

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

Leave this field empty

Add a Comment to The Central Children's Department Best Books for 2023

Email is kept private and will not be displayed publicly
Comment must be less than 3000 characters
Thank you so much for the 2023 list of recommended books. I look forward to sharing with my school district partners across the country and reading several of them also. Best wishes for a bright and exciting New Year!
Cynthia Carter
Thursday, January 4, 2024