Best of 2021: Children's Books

Updated: February 7, 2023

The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving! More books for children are at LAPL Kids Path.

Book cover for All You Knead is Love
All You Knead is Love
Guerrero, Tanya
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 6: A beautiful and insightful novel about 12-year-old Alba, who is shipped off to Barcelona to stay with her grandmother, who she does not know. This is so that Alba's mom can gain the courage to leave her abusive husband. There are surprises for the young girl as she develops a love for the city and her grandmother. She makes new friends, gains a love for baking, and discovers herself. When the bakery might have to close, Alba sets out to save it with some help.

Book cover for Amari and the night brothers
Amari and the night brothers
Alston, B. B.
Call Number: x

Grades 3 - 7

This is an action-packed first book in a new series about a young girl, Amari, who wants to find her brother who disappeared. When a ticking briefcase appears, her world is turned upside down. Landing at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari must sort through friend and foe in order to figure out what happened to her brother--before the same thing happens to her.

Book cover for Be strong
Be strong
Miller, Pat Zietlow
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 2

Worried that she isn't strong enough to tackle a climbing wall, a little girl questions her parents and grandmother and learns how to be strong in a variety of ways - by simply showing up, being persistent, continuously trying, and working to make the world better for everyone. This book charms while offering concrete suggestions and achievable goals.

Book cover for Boogie Boogie, Y'all
Boogie Boogie, Y'all
Esperanza, C. G.
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2: The exuberant illustrations and bouncing text in this picture book invite us to notice and appreciate the many forms of art, music, and dance that surround us in the city. A celebration of urban culture from a child’s point of view.

Book cover for Circle under berry
Circle under berry
Higgins, Carter

Grades Pre-K - K

At its surface a simple book of shapes, colors, and prepositions, the book deals in metamorphoses. A berry transforms into a scarlet diamond, a brown square into a bear, an emerald rectangle into a grasshopper and back again. Striking in its simplicity, inherently readable thanks to its gentle rhymes and lilting rhythms, and a beautiful homage to what becomes possible with a little creativity and imagination. 

Book cover for El Cucuy is Scared, Too!
El Cucuy is Scared, Too!
Higuera, Donna Barba
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 3: The cucuy in this story, instead of scaring the child, helps Ramón to work through his fears about starting at a new school. Juliana Perdomo’s adorable illustrations portray the bilingual monster, who lives in a cactus pot, as a comfortable and reassuring presence despite his fangs and horns.

Book cover for Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
Ho, Joanna
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - K: A beautifully illustrated picture book about a girl whose eyes "kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea." This is a celebration of heritage and diversity, perfect for readers of all ages.

Book cover for Finding Junie Kim
Finding Junie Kim
Oh, Ellen
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7

This heartbreaking, beautiful book was inspired by the author’s mother’s experiences during the Korean War.  After constantly being bullied, Junie Kim wants to fit in by not drawing attention to herself. When racist graffiti appears all over her middle school, she must look inside herself and decide if she should be silent or act. While working on a history project, she interviews her grandparents, who lived through the Korean War, which makes Junie Kim understand and appreciate the courage and strength they had to survive. This gives her the courage to do the right thing.


Book cover for Fred gets dressed
Fred gets dressed
Brown, Peter, 1979-
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 1

When Mom and Dad find Fred dressed in Mom's clothes and trying out makeup and jewelry, they join in. A joyous look at a family reveling in play and exploration.

Book cover for Grandpa Across the Ocean
Grandpa Across the Ocean
Yum, Hyewon
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 2: A child’s visit to his grandfather in Korea gets off to a rocky start, until they realize how much they have in common. This cute and quirky picture book will appeal to anyone who has had the experience of reaching across cultures or generations to make a new friend.

Book cover for Healer of the Water Monster
Healer of the Water Monster
Young, Brian
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 6: Nathan has his own reasons for wanting to spend the summer with his grandmother on Navajo lands, instead of going to Las Vegas with his father and his father’s girlfriend. He doesn’t realize that befriending a sick water monster in the desert will lead him on a journey beyond the world he knows. Along the way spiritual challenges interact with family, social and environmental issues, in a story that continually chooses hope over despair.

Book cover for Laxmi's mooch
Laxmi's mooch
Anand, Shelly
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - K

Laxmi's got a "mooch"--a mustache, which her classmates make fun of her for having.  Ashamed of her body hair, Laxmi learns that her body hair is normal and she's wonderful the way she is.

Book cover for The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
Gauld, Tom
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 3: Fairy tale elements give this adventure a familiar and timeless feel, but at the same time the sensibility is clever and new. This picture book would make a great bedtime story for little robots and princesses everywhere!

Book cover for The longest storm
The longest storm
Yaccarino, Dan
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 3

Dad, three kids, and a dog find themselves trapped together inside the house during a long and terrible storm (which could easily be read COVID-19). Things go from bad to worse, but eventually they pull together as a family. Familiar and hopeful, and beautifully told in both words and pictures.

Book cover for Milo imagines the world
Milo imagines the world
de la Peña, Matt
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 5

To soothe his nerves on a long subway ride, Milo draws the people around him, imagining what their lives are like. This quiet story packs a meaningful message: that you can never really know someone by looking at them. Robinson’s bright, playful illustrations are packed with plenty of kid appeal. Together with de la Pena’s gift for storytelling, this book will become an instant classic.

Book cover for Ophie's ghosts
Ophie's ghosts
Ireland, Justina
Call Number: x

Grade 3 - 7

It is 1922 in Georgia, and Ophelia and her mom quickly leave town during the night, after a horrific event. Now living in Pittsburgh with relatives who aren't so welcoming, Ophie and her mom have gotten jobs as maids in an old manor. As Ophie discovers she is able to see, hear and maybe even help ghosts, she must face what happened that night when her father was murdered.

Book cover for Paletero man
Paletero Man
Diaz, Lucky
Call Number: xz

It’s the hottest day of the hottest month in Los Angeles and one boy is on a mission to get a tasty paleta (ice pop) from his favorite street vendor - Paletero José. Along the way readers may notice some familiar places in Los Angeles and the wide variety of vendors that make up our city’s lively street vending culture. This book teaches the value of kindness and friendship through bright illustrations and lyrical text (there’s even a song version, so you can sing along). Just be sure to have a paleta ready to enjoy with your little one after reading. Recommended for ages 4+.

Fun fact: Michoacán, Mexico is considered the birthplace of the paleta. It even features a statue of a paleta with a globe coming out of it (the countries on the globe are made of more paletas).

Grades Pre-K - 2: A young boy races down 8th Street to buy an icy sweet paleta (popsicle). A celebration of the sights, sounds, community, and flavors of downtown Los Angeles.

Book cover for See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat
See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat
LaRochelle, David
Call Number: xz IR

Grades Pre-K - 2: Cat is willing to play the part of Dog in this sequel to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, until they realize this means they must actually behave like a dog. Dig a hole? Jump in the lake? Maybe with a few creative workarounds... Absolutely hysterical for kids and grown-ups alike.

Book cover for Sunday funday in Koreatown
Sunday funday in Koreatown
Kim, Aram
Call Number: xz

Grades Pre-K - 1 

Yoomi looks forward to her special Sundays in Koreatown visiting her grandmother with her Dad. But this Sunday, everything starts to go wrong. She spills rice cakes on her second favorite shirt. The mobile library doesn't have her favorite book. And someone grabs the last hot dog twist at the bakery! Through the day's series of disappointments, Yoomi learns about resilience. This delightful book includes a recipe for kimbap.


Book cover for Time is a flower
Time is a flower
Morstad, Julie
Call Number: xz

All Ages

A beautifully inclusive exploration of many ways we might notice time ("Time is night for someone. And day for someone else."). Gorgeous illustrations readers will want to visit again and again, with plenty to think and talk about.

Book cover for Tomatoes for Neela
Tomatoes for Neela
Lakshmi, Padma
Call Number: xz folio

Grades Pre-K - 3: Neela and her mother enjoy the splendor of fresh tomatoes. Not only are tomatoes a fruit enjoyed the world over, they also hold histories of the Aztec Empire; they are the product of hardworking farmworkers who grow them, and the personal histories passed down within families. Padma Lakshmi's book explores this wondrous fruit in all its glory and sheds light on the many stories that are held within the round, juicy tomato.

Book cover for Too Bright to See
Too Bright to See
Lukoff, Kyle
Call Number: x

Grades 4 - 7: Stepping into the unknown is nearly always scary, but for those brave enough to inch their way into new territory, they can find unexpected joy as the ultimate reward. Bug is experiencing a summer unlike any other. Her uncle just died, her best friend is preparing for them to share similar experiences when they enter junior high and on top of ALL that, her haunted house is trying to tell her something very important. This is a coming of age tale unlike many others and should not be missed.

Book cover for Too small Tola
Too small Tola
Call Number: x

Grades 1 -3.

Three charming illustrated stories about Tola, who proves herself not too small to make valuable contributions to the lives of her family and friends in Lagos, Nigeria.

Book cover for The traitor's blade
The traitor's blade
Sands, Kevin
Call Number: x

Grades 6 - 9

Adventure, mystery, and intrigue, all continue in this fifth installment of the Blackthorn Key series. Friends Christopher, Tom, and Sally are once again saddled with more dubious letters, puzzles and cryptograms, and this time they must solve them in order to protect the very life of their King. Join these heroes as they navigate London post-Black Plague, and figure out their own futures while also saving the future of England. 

Book cover for Try it! : how Frieda Caplan changed the way we eat
Try it! : how Frieda Caplan changed the way we eat
Rockliff, Mara
Call Number: e-Book

Grades K - 3

This lively picture book biography features Frieda Caplan, who shook things up in the 1950s when she started selling mushrooms at the Seventh Street produce market in downtown Los Angeles. The first woman in the U.S. to own and operate a wholesale produce business, she introduced new and exotic fruits and vegetables to the American palate. A delicious combination of entertaining text and charming illustrations that readers are sure to savor.

Book cover for What's inside a flower? : and other questions about science & nature
What's inside a flower? : and other questions about science & nature
Ignotofsky, Rachel, 1989-
Call Number: x 581 I247

Grades K - 3

Bursting with color and overflowing with information, this introduction to the life cycle of a flower is a pure delight. Detailed illustrations that include a chatty bumblebee cheerfully explain the process from seed and soil to pollination, growth, and decomposition. A treat for nature lovers and budding young scientists.

Book cover for ¡Vamos! Let's Cross the Bridge
¡Vamos! Let's Cross the Bridge
Raúl the Third
Call Number: xz

Grades K - 3: The third entry in the World of Vamos series has Little Lobo and his friends stuck in a traffic jam trying to get to a party. The comic-style illustrations lovingly portray the details of life in a border community, where the interplay of language and culture unites two cities into one city on either side of a bridge. Like the other Vamos books, each page is a delightful look-and-find puzzle of Spanish words and Mexican-American pop culture.