SLJ Book Reviews Editors’ Favorite Books Read in 2023

We've read a lot of books this year. Yet for each of us, one stood out above all the rest. Here are our favorite books we read this year—and why.

With all its ups and downs, 2023 was a great year for books. The reviews editors are taking one last look back at the year by sharing a few "favorites" roundups.

We've read a lot of books this year. Yet for each of us, one stood out among the others. Here are our favorite books we read this yearand why.


Florence Simmons, Associate Editor, Transitional Books, Holidays & Poetry
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat, illus. by Dan Santat.
I inhaled this book in one sitting. I loved everything about it—the setting, the story, the character growth, the art, the nostalgic voice. The book has everything I love: a brave, adorkable boy; a little romance; travel. I loved the quotes and the lessons Dan learned, which could have sounded preachy, but didn’t. This is one I would read again. I wanted to start reading it again as soon as I’d finished it, and I know I will pick it up in the future and re-read my favorite parts. 


Kimberly Olson Fakih, Senior Editor, Picture Books
I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People 
by Anne Broyles, illus. by Victoria Tentler-Krylov.
Those first informal words in the title swept me into the soul of a man I’d never heard of and can never forget. His subjects are nitty gritty city sights, such as factory interiors, but of course the vision of someone who taught himself to read, first, and then to paint, guided him, and now uplifts us. I just knocked Robert Frost off my nightstand. I want to read about this American hero who used observation and a paint palette for social justice to his very last breath.


Jasmine Amiri, Editor, Graphic Novels
In Limbo by Deb JJ Lee, illus. by Deb JJ Lee.
In this poignant memoir, Lee captures the experience of navigating the intricate terrain between worlds and cultures as a first-generation Korean immigrant in the tumultuous landscape of an American high school. I could not put this book down and read the entire thing in one sitting. Each page is an evocative canvas, saturated with the raw emotions and flowing artwork that unravels the complexities of Lee’s experiences with mental well-being, clinging to friendships, and the fragile dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship. A truly moving work of art, this memoir delves into the themes of adolescence, identity, and the ache of solitude with exquisite nuance and elevates comics, as a storytelling medium, to new heights.  


Ashleigh Williams, Associate Editor, Chapter Books & Middle Grade 
The Summer Hikaru Died, Vol. 1 by Mokumokuren, illus. by Mokumokuren.
I am fully absorbed in this manga series that blends horror with rural mundanity and queer yearning. The artwork is stunning and vividly captures teen boy Yoshiki's resigned unease as he grapples with the knowledge that his best friend Hikaru most certainly died...but something is walking around with his body and memories, and isn't this version of him better than no version at all? The exploration of loss is profound, even as tension builds on both an interpersonal and supernatural level. 


Amanda Mastrull, Editor, YA & Audiobooks
The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold.
I could not put this one down. It’s set in the lead up to and during the Holocaust in Czernowitz, Romania, as Rieke, a young Jewish teen, must persevere and survive as her world falls apart around her. Arnold, who based the novel on the experiences of her grandmother, explores love in all its forms—familial, romantic, for the places that shape us—amid persecution, hunger, illness, sexual assault, and the ever-present possibility of death. It was so hard to read at times, but is so compelling and has stayed with me more than any other I read this year.  


Shelley M. Diaz, Reviews Editor
Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson's Creek: How Seven Teen Shows Transformed Television by Thea Glassman.
We read SO MANY kids books. Every now and then, I have to read a fun adult book as a palate cleanser. This exploration of how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, My So-Called Life, Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, The O.C., Friday Night Lights, and Glee transformed modern television showcases some of my favorite shows when I was in high school. Eye-opening, nostalgic, and enjoyable.

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