’Tis the season to give the gift of reading. We’ve combed through the picture books published this year and selected our favorites – never an easy task. Our 2012 picks appear in order of age appropriateness suggested by the publisher, but many can be enjoyed by the entire family for years to come. Our reviewers all have a love of children’s literature and ample experience reading to little ones: Felicia Barman, Julie Bookman, Sherry Crawley, Kirsten Gromatzky, Anne Nettles and Kate Wallace.

Board Books

Now I Am Big! I Can Do It Myself! by Stephen Krensky (Abrams Appleseed, ages 1-3, $6.95)
These board books celebrate various milestones of children growing older and exerting their independence. For example, children and parents alike rejoice when kids can pick out their own clothes and even blow their own noses! The simple illustrations have an old-school look and feel, and the short sentences should nicely suit beginning readers. The easygoing rhymes help tie these relevant achievements together in a clever manner. – FB

Chomp! by Heather Brown (Accord, age 2 and older, $8.99)
The “crocodile smiles,” the “leopard growls,” the “polar bear yawns.” Young kids are sure to squeal and roar with delight. With the turn of each page, the tot in a reader’s lap gets to pull a super-sturdy tab to enact the growl, the yawn, and so on. An especially fun and enjoyable effort. – JB

Preschool to Early Elementary

Blue Sky by Audrey Wood (Blue Sky/Scholastic, all ages, $16.99)
From the much-loved author-illustrator of Weird Parents and Silly Sally (among many others) comes another gem. Find a new sky splashed across each double-page spread: from a “sun sky” or “rainbow sky” to a “storm sky” or “wish sky.” Filled with joy and wonder, Wood’s mood-perfect pastel skies make for a dreamy choice at bedtime. – JB

Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith; illustrations by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow Books, ages 2-5, $16.99)
This sweet, soothing story will be a great addition to the bedtime routine. As the rabbit settles into his burrow and prepares to sleep, “moonlight slides like butter” and covers the streams, animals and trees while melting into rabbit’s dreams. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this lyrical, magical tale will help your child wind down for the night. – AN

ABCers by Carole Lexa Schaefer (Viking, ages 2-5, $16.99)
This is no ordinary ABC book where “A is for apple.” Instead, readers are in for a treat as a diverse group of friends, otherwise known as the “ABCers,” take us on an adventure-filled day in the life of their neighborhood. The author goes outside of the box by using fun activities to name the alphabet – like “D is for dog walkers,” “M is for monkey climbers,” or “W is for water splashers,” among other exciting neighborhood happenings. – FB

Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack (Chronicle Books, ages 2-6, $16.99)
This adorable, funny (and adorably funny) book tells the story of an optimistic rabbit and his pessimistic mouse friend as they spend the day together on a picnic. For every bad thing that happens, rabbit finds a positive spin. Using only four words and with such hilarious illustrations, this is truly a one-of-a-kind find. – KG

No Ghost Under My Bed by Guido Van Genechten (Clavis, ages 2-6, $17.99)
Preciously illustrated and warmly told, this is the loving story of a daddy penguin trying to convince his little boy that there are no ghosts in his room. Most parents can relate to this bedtime routine in one form or another. For children listening and fixating upon the charming illustrations, they’ll be reassured that they’re not alone in their fears. – KG

One Two That’s My Shoe! by Alison Murray (Disney Hyperion, ages 2-6, $16.99)
This twist on the “one, two, buckle my shoe” ditty is a counting book that bounces along as a frisky pup heads out with his owner’s shoe: “three, four, out the door.” Will pup come back with that shoe? Oh, boy, what do you think will happen? In a lovely palette of sea blues and reds, Murray’s masterful artwork has a strong nostalgic flavor – the look and feel of a classic. – JB

Cock-a-Doodle Who? by Martine Perrin (Albert Whitman and Co., ages 3 and older, $12.99)
Filled with vibrant illustrations throughout, this clever book will likely become a family favorite. The cutouts and intricate patterns will have you and your child guessing about what lies ahead in this game of hide-and-seek on the farm. – AN

You Are My Wonders by Maryann Cusimano Love; illustrations by Satomi Ichikawa (Philomel Books, ages 3 and older, $16.99)
“I am your teacher; you are my school child. I am your welcome; you are my running wild.” So begins this sweet book from the pair behind You Are My I Love You. Brimming with stunning illustrations, this charming rhyming story honors one of the most significant relationships for a child – that with his or her teacher.  – AN

Pugs in a Bug by Carolyn Crimi; illustrations by Stephanie Buscema (Dial, ages 3 and older, $16.99)
Counting? Check. Rhyming? Check. Colorful illustrations, silly situations and loads of fun? Check! This book has it all. Six adorable dogs (pugs) go on a road trip in a green car (bug). There’s even a doggie parade! Spoiler alert: A squirrel causes some mayhem. A bright, entertaining book for kids just learning to count and read.  – SC   

Dog In Charge by K.L. Going; illustrations by Dan Santat (Dial, ages 3 and older, $12.99)
Are you a cat person or a dog person? You might just say both after reading this adorable book. Dog’s family goes out and leaves him in charge of the house, including five pet cats. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s just say it all ends well. Little ones will have fun looking for the mischievous kitties and rooting for Dog to save the day. – SC 

When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker (Dial, ages 3-5, $16.99)
Goofy dads of the world will rejoice in this celebration of eternal youth. The amusing artwork plays an important role in conveying just how silly dads can be. Little ones will giggle as they see dads drinking milk through a straw, racing with shopping carts, getting stuck on playground equipment – and other such shenanigans. – FB

There Was a Tree by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 3-5, $16.99)
The gorgeous landscape of Africa is the setting for this entertaining and picturesque book that invites us to sing a familiar tune about “the prettiest tree that you ever did see…” The scenes are vibrant, and the lyrics are catchy enough to inspire readers to want to chime in. A note to musicians: Sheet music is included at the back of the book (so the fun can continue). – FB

How To Be Friends with a Dragon by Valeri Gorbachev (Albert Whitman, ages 3-6, $16.99)
“It’s not a good idea to play tricks on a dragon. Dragons don’t just breathe fire, they sneeze fire,” learns curious Simon, the young boy who yearns to be friends with a dragon. The adventurous story centers on the do’s and don’ts of befriending a dragon. – KW

Toot and Pop by Sebastien Braun (HarperCollins, ages 3-6, $12.99)
This sweet book tells the story of Pop, a cheerful tugboat, and Toot, an enormous new boat that arrives at the harbor one day. Toot declares he does not need help from a little boat, but when he tries to go to sea on his own, he realizes he needs Pop after all. Just right for youngsters who are eager to assert their independence.  – SC   

The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf; illustrated by the Brothers Hilts (Putnam, all ages, $16.99)
The Insomniacs move 12 time zones away and cannot adjust their body clocks. They eventually decide to embrace the mystery and beauty of nighttime and slumber during daylight hours. Alive with whimsy, the dark-toned illustrations – achieved with charcoal, pencil and computer technology by brothers who work collaboratively – are among the most original and delightful we’ve seen this year. – JB

Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins and G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade, ages 3-7, $16.99)
Children may discover their entrepreneurial spirit with this cute story about a brother and sister who are determined to sell lemonade – in the middle of winter. Their experience becomes an impromptu business lesson as they learn about advertising, pricing and counting money. The children eventually see how sweet it is to share the fruits of labor after a hard day’s work. There’s also a handy cheat-sheet at the back of the book where kids can learn neat ways to remember each coin. – FB

Buglette the Messy Sleeper by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Tricycle Press, ages 3-6, $15.99)
This whimsical story follows Buglette, the tidiest of bugs with one big exception: She is the messiest sleeper. In her dreams, she rides tractors, swings on a trapeze through the air, and kicks a ball over the moon, all of which leads to one big mess of blankets and pillows in the morning. When the scary Crow pays Buglette’s family a visit, she proves that her bravery and courage extend from her dreams into her waking life. The charming illustrations and sweet story will appeal to all ages. – AN 

Mossy by Jan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, ages 3 and older, $17.99)
You can’t help but appreciate all that nature has to offer in this touching tale by the top-drawer Brett (The Mitten and many more) about a beloved Eastern box turtle named Mossy who grows an intricate, colorful garden on her shell. No sooner does she befriend another turtle named Scoot when she is suddenly captured and put on display in a nearby museum. As Mossy becomes homesick and lonely at the museum, readers will root for her return to her natural habitat where she can enjoy life as she once knew it. – FB

Oh, No! by Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann (Schwartz & Wade, ages 3-5, $17.99)
Caldecott Medal-winning author-illustrator Rohmann and Texas Bluebonnet Award winner Candace Fleming have created a fun, suspenseful jungle tale that is a lot of fun to read aloud. First, frog falls into a hole, then mouse tries to help and tumbles in, too. More kind-hearted critters follow until they are all trapped together, with a hungry tiger staring down upon them. Eye-catching illustrations make this an especially fine experience to share with your child. – KG

If All the Animals Came Inside by Eric Pinder (Little Brown & Co., ages 3-6, $16.99)
Illustrated by Marc Brown, creator of the hit PBS Kids’ cartoon Arthur, this fun book takes the reader on the adventure of what happens when wild animals invade your house! Elephants are in the living room, octopus is in the bath, and panda is raiding the fridge. What starts out as fun quickly becomes mayhem and the children realize that maybe the pets they already have are quite enough. – KG

Neville by Norton Juster (Schwartz & Wade, ages 3-6, $17.99)
By the author of The Phantom Tollbooth, here’s the story of a little boy forced to move to a new neighborhood. Neville is miserable and worried about starting at a new school and making new friends. His mom tells him to take a walk around the new neighborhood and see what there is to see. He begins walking and calling out his name – and good things start to happen. – KG

Apple by Nikki McClure (Abrams Appleseed, ages 3-6, $12.95)
One season turns gently to the next as we consider the life course of an apple. A single word appears every two pages – words such as “sneak,” “forget,” “plant.” McClure today is a prominent paper-cut artist with a focus on environmental stewardship. Her masterful black-and-white scenes (only the apple is bright red) convey a depth of feeling. This is a long-awaited hardbound edition of a handmade book the artist self-produced (just 200 copies) when just embarking on this amazing craft in 1996. Starting with the sly and subtle expressions on the faces of the children, there’s plenty for lap listeners to ponder in each scene. – JB

Rat and Roach: Friends to the End  by David Covell (Viking, ages 3-6, $12.99)
Why might folks want or need to stick together even when they drive each other crazy? So it is with Rat and Roach, who live together under Avenue A. They bug each other constantly. Example: “Rat makes a mess and Roach makes things too pretty.” Still, they can’t imagine not being best buds. The playful text is witty and refreshingly gutsy at times. The illustrations are quirky, whimsical, terrifically original – oh, and hysterical. A standout of the season. – JB

Pre-K to Elementary School

Red & Yellow’s Noisy Night by Josh Selig (Sterling Children’s Books, ages 4-7, $14.95)
The Red and Yellow characters are family favorites among those who’ve seen their animated shorts on the Nick Jr. channel. These beloved creatures who share their home with Olive Tree always have a problem to solve. In this story, they struggle to come to an agreement over Red’s loud musical instrument while Yellow is trying to sleep. See how they work together in harmony to come up with a solution. – FB

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems (Balzer & Bray, ages 4-8, $17.99)
Fans of Mo Willems (Knuffle Bunny) won’t be disappointed with his latest kooky foray into classic fairy tales as we follow precocious Goldilocks on her latest adventure. Of course, he puts his own comical spin on the girl’s fate as she encounters the home of three dinosaurs, who seem to anticipate her arrival. The detailed illustrations give parents plenty to wink about, and the text is open to unexpected interpretation. – FB

My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis; illustrated by Laura Cornell (HarperCollins, ages 4-8, $16.99)
There’s a first time for everything indeed as we’re given a delightful peek into a year in the life of adorable Frankie. The detailed, comical illustrations go hand in hand with the witty rhyme scheme as Frankie experiences many “firsts” – some good, some not so good – throughout her life. Young readers and parents will enjoy the full spectrum of events, from riding a bike to telling a lie for the first time. Also appreciated are the central messages in this lighthearted tale: Don’t be afraid to try new things, and remember that everything has a consequence. – FB

I’m Not Tired Yet! by Marianne Richmond (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, ages 4 and older, $16.99)
Six-year-old Ralphie knows all the tricks in the book in his attempts to stay up later and later past his bedtime. Little does Ralphie’s mom know that these delay tactics are just an excuse for him to spend more quality time with her. He uses his imagination to sneak in one last hug, tickle, cuddle and good-night kiss from his good-natured mom. – FB

C.R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir; pictures by Julian Hector (Simon & Schuster, ages 4-8, $15.99)
Variety is not the spice of life for C.R. Mudgeon, a prickly hedgehog who prefers his no-nonsense routine over change. How in the world can he tolerate the energetic squirrel who moves in next door? Paprika plays loud music, likes to dance and eats spicy foods. Unexpectedly, C.R. Mudgeon grows to appreciate his new neighbor and finds that a little change may be OK after all. – AS

Return of the Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy; illustrated by Michael P. White (Peachtree Publishers, ages 4-8, $16.95)
Book lovers will relish this latest tale from beloved Atlanta-based performance storyteller Deedy. Longtime librarian (and dragon) Miss Lotty is set to retire until she discovers that Mr. Mike Krochip has removed all the books to make room for a cyber-library filled with high-tech gadgets and gizmos. Miss Lotty’s library dragon erupts, spewing fire and gobbling up smartboards and other devices that cross her path. The dragon is tamed when she realizes that her replacement, none other than her former pupil, will return the books and create a library that balances traditional books with the latest technology. – AS

Everything Goes on Land and Everything Goes in the Air Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs (Balzer & Bray, ages 4 and older, $14.99 each)
My son, 3, excitedly read one of these books on his own for almost an hour. Enough said. These large books are jam-packed with bright-as-can-be illustrations, informative graphics and short, funny text. Everything Goes On Land chronicles a trip into the city to pick mom up from the train station. In the Air is about going to the airport to ride on a plane. There’s even a big foldout section in the back of each book – magic! – SC    

Wild About You! by Judi Sierra; illustrated by Marc Brown (Knopf, ages 4 and older, $17)
From the team behind Wild About Books comes a tribute to new life and motherhood. Most (though not all) of the zoo animals have just given birth: “Some hatched from their mamas. Some hatched out of eggs. Some walked right away on their long, wobbly legs.” When an endangered egg is delivered to the zoo, who will be its mother? Brown created the richly detailed illustrations on wooden panels with watercolor, gouache and extraordinary colored pencil work. The scenes are big, bold, bright – and bursting with love. – JB

Jangles, A Big Fish Story Written and illustrated by David Shannon (Scholastic/Blue Sky, ages 4 and older, $17.99)
From the author of No, David! and several other award-winning children’s books comes this captivating yarn. When a boy snags a giant fish that was only rumored to exist, he learns that doing the right thing is more important than bragging rights. His good choice is rewarded in the end, and young readers will learn respect for nature and the allure of magic in this fishy fantasy.  – SC   

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson (Penguin Young Readers, ages 4 and older, $20)
Peter Rabbit is 110 years old (see page 33). Here, Peter Rabbit sneaks into Mr. McGregor’s garden, finds a yummy-smelling picnic basket, and hops in to investigate. Full and cozy, he falls asleep and later awakens to find himself bumping along a country road in a wagon and on his way to Scotland! – KG

The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool (Random House, ages 4-8, $16.99)
This is a beautiful book with an important message about greed, our planet’s resources, and the impact that human choices have on the environment. A little village boy weaves a scarf from the clouds using just what he needs and no more. The greedy king admires the boy’s scarf and demands he make the longest ever for him, the king. The boy explains that the king doesn’t need such a long scarf, that it would be wasteful, but the king won’t hear of it and also demands a cloak and dresses for the queen and princess. Pretty soon all of the clouds are gone and the village suffers a drought; with no clouds, there can be no rain. – KG

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries by David Levinthal and John Nickle (Schwartz & Wade, ages 4-8, $17.99)
This humorous take on traditional fairy tales boasts incredibly detailed illustrations. Follow Officer Binky on his investigations to learn what really happened in some favorite fairy tales. Did Humpty Dumpty really fall – or was he pushed? What happens when Hansel and Gretel are questioned about the disappearance of the witch in the deep, dark woods? And plenty more to ponder. – KG      

The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer (Cuento de Luz, ages 5 and older, $14.95)
Celebrating the power of words, this beautifully illustrated and cleverly penned story will enchant young and old alike. An exceptional girl who lives in the sky, Luna loves words and collects them like stamps. When she realizes that words are beginning to disappear and lose their significance, she sets off on a journey across the world to share her words with the people who need them most. This unique tale will have readers linger as they piece together the story and ponder the author’s meaningful message. – AN

Puss In Boots by Jeff Pinkney (Dial Books, ages 5 and older, $17.99)
Caldecott Medal winning writer/illustrator Jerry Pinkney has beautifully retold and illustrated this classic story of ingenuity and trickery. The vivid watercolor illustrations on each page are a joy to look at with your child. Pinkney’s version is the first literary retelling of Puss In Boots since Fred Marcellino’s version published in 1991. – KG

Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Knopf, ages 5 and older, $17.99)
The newspaper headline shouts “Cold Snap!” and the folks in Toby Mills are chilled to their bones. As temperatures plunge lower, the pastor takes his afternoon nap with hot water bottles taped to his feet. Priceman’s gouache-on-watercolor paper illustrations burst with personality and swirling energy.  – JB

Welcome to Cuckooville by Susan Chandler; illustrations by Delphine Durand (Sky Pony Press, ages 5 and older, $16.95)
Do you speak Gobbledygook? Well, here’s your chance to learn. This wonderfully silly book with funny illustrations can help children see that it is our differences that make us stronger. When a misunderstood citizen, Mrs. Gobbledygook, saves the day – with the help of an observant little boy – the people of Cuckooville learn to love her for her uniqueness, and you will, too. – SC   

Molly, by Golly! by Dianne Ochiltree (Calkins Creek, ages 6 and older, $16.95)
History buffs will be enlightened by this action-packed story about Molly Williams, the first known female firefighter in America. We are transported back to the 1800s, when Molly, a talented cook for New York City Fire Company No. 11, must answer the call of duty and help put out a massive fire. Molly’s heroism is admirable, especially during a time when there were no sophisticated ways to fight fires and no women firefighters to follow. – FB

Nasty Bugs Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrations by Will Terry (Dial, ages 6 and older, $17.99)
Who knew you could teach iambic pentameter and fun facts about termites at the same time? This book of just-gross-enough poems is a great way to learn about creepy crawlies among vibrant illustrations. Did you know that lice have been found on Egyptian mummies? Or that bedbugs are nocturnal? Eww! Look forward to more fun facts like these after your kids read this icky but fascinating book. – SC 

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed; illustrations by Barbara McClintock (Houghton Mifflin, ages 6 and older, $16.99)
In a series of 20 thoughtful vignettes, we learn there are many kinds of ice, from the first ice (so thin it breaks in your hand), to frozen-garden ice, to the last ice. We can’t wait for the perfect ice that’s thick enough to skate upon: “no holes, no bumps, no ruts, no scratches.” Even though it’s about something quite chilly, this sweet little book warms hearts in a wonderful way, as do McClintock’s charming pen-and-ink illustrations. – JB

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole (Scholastic, ages 7-10, $16.99)
In this wordless, moving and suspenseful story, a young girl helps the runaway slave hiding in her family’s barn. There’s much going on and even more to imagine and contemplate in the nicely detailed pencil-on-charcoal paper scenes. – JB

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