From an elephant-filled counting book, to a crazy detective romp with a monkey private eye chasing down clues, to poignant reflections on the immigrant experience, to a STEM-friendly early reader about a budding engineer, the best kids' books of 2018 will draw in readers age 2 to 6 with eye-catching illustrations and compelling stories. They're perfect for read-alouds and can boost kids already on their way to independent reading. And if you're looking for books for older kids, check out our list Best Tween and Teen Books of 2018.
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"Be Kind," by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (3+). A little kid ponders what it means to be kind and finds a way to help a classmate feel better after she's had an embarrassing moment at school. It's a great conversation starter about kindness and empathy.
"Hello Hello," by Brendan Wenzel (3+). With rhyming, rhythmic text and vibrant, colorful art, this visually stunning picture book celebrates a wide variety of animals and introduces the concept of endangered species.
"A Parade of Elephants," by Kevin Henkes (3+). Charming pastel elephants offer lessons in counting and the concepts of up/down, over/under, and in/out. Elephants spraying stars in the night sky at the end make it a perfect bedtime book, too.
"Baby Monkey, Private Eye," by Brian Selznick and David Serlin (4+). Simple language, repetition, and funny drama involving a silly monkey detective struggling to get his pants on makes a funny read-aloud or an engaging book for early readers.
"Carmela Full of Wishes," by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (4+). This poignant story of a young Latina in an immigrant family is by the Newbery Medal-winning team who created "Last Stop on Market Street." Carmela has many relatable wishes, and one specific one: for her father to get "his papers fixed" so he can rejoin the family.
"Dreamers," by Yuyi Morales (4+). This exuberant, magically visual story, based on the Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator's own immigrant experience, follows the path of a mom and her infant son who come to San Francisco from Mexico and find comfort, joy, and language at the public library.
"Julián Is a Mermaid," by Jessica Love (4+). A young boy sees women on the subway dressed as mermaids, tells his grandmother he's a mermaid, too, and has fun dressing up. His supportive abuela contributes a necklace to his — and lots of love and acceptance — in this visually striking picture book.
"Ocean Meets Sky," by Terry Fan and Eric Fan (4+). This magical tale of a boy remembering his late grandfather has dazzling art and a moving, tightly crafted, and satisfying story.
"Otis and Will Discover the Dive of the Bathysphere," by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Katharine Roy (5+). Action-packed art helps drive this riveting nonfiction story of two men hooked on science, engineering, and a passion for exploration who team up to create and operate a record-breaking deep-sea diving tank.
"Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters: The Questioneers, Book 1," by Andrea Beaty (6+). In this fun first chapter book featuring the star of the best-selling picture book "Rosie Revere, Engineer," Rosie designs and builds a painting machine for her wrist-injured great-great-aunt, World War II's Rosie the Riveter.