Best Children’s and YA Books of 2020
Wow. 2020 was a year, wasn’t it? January always reminds me of a time to just a take a deep breath and start fresh. But for this January, I guarantee you that breath will be a whole lot deeper. I might even take a several deep breaths. Even so, not everything in 2020 was bad – in fact one of the brightest spots of the year was all the amazing books published! Now, New York Times (and a dozen other organizations) have created much longer “bestseller” lists for 2020. However, I don’t have that much room. So, for now, here are the top five picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction titles of 2020 (with a link to check them out from our library catalog!) Enjoy!
If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall is a glorious guide to our home planet, and a call for us to take care of both Earth and each other.
“If you come to Earth, there are a few things you need to know… We live in all kinds of places. In all kinds of homes. In all kinds of families.
Each of us is different. But all of us are amazing. And, together, we share one beautiful planet. ”
What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing.
In I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, a young boy who stutters feels isolated, alone and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like. And it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice.
Melody, the littlest sea princess, is not content just to sing in the choir of mermaids like her sisters. She is an explorer who wonders about what lies above the water’s surface… especially the young girl she has spied from a distance. But to meet her requires a terrible sacrifice: she trades her beautiful voice for a potion that gives her legs, so that she may live on land instead. It seems like a dream come true at first. But when trouble stirs beneath the ocean, Melody faces another impossible choice – stay with her friend, or reclaim her true identity and save her family.
In this captivating re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic, The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney conjures a poignant friendship story and an epic tale of redemption – the definitive new version for our time.
In You Matter by Christian Robinson, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored – from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.
When the babysitter is unable to come, Daniel is woken out of bed and joins his parents as they head downtown for their jobs as nighttime office cleaners. But the story is about more than brooms, mops, and vacuums. Mama and Papa turn the deserted office building into a magnificent kingdom filled with paper. Then they weave a fantasy of dragons and kings to further engage their reluctant companion – and even encourage him to one day be the king of a paper kingdom.
The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee expresses the joy and spirit of a loving family who turn a routine and ordinary experience into something much grander.
In this companion to New Kid by Jeffy Craft, Class Act focuses on Jordan’s friend Drew who takes the center stage in another laugh-out-loud funny, powerful, and important story about being one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school.
Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?
To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it’s hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn’t know how to keep the group together. As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson is the first in a new middle grade series about Ryan Hart, a ten-year-old girl who is pure spirit, kindness, and sunshine.
Ryan Hart has a lot on her mind – school, self-image, and especially family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means some changes, like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. As her brother says when he raps about her, she’s got the talent that matters most: it’s a talent that can’t be seen, she’s nice, not mean!
Ryan is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend. But even if her life isn’t everything she would wish for, when her big brother is infuriating, her parents don’t quite understand, and the unexpected happens, she always finds a way forward, with grace and wit. And plenty of sunshine.
Acclaimed author Renee Watson writes her own version of Ramona Quimby, one starring a Black girl and her family, in this start to a charming new series.
In Mananaland, Pam Munoz Ryan’s latest, Maximiliano Cordoba loves stories, especially the legend Abuelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.
If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated futbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papa won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret – involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety – he decides to seek answers on his own.
With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Abuelo’s legends as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.
From bestselling and award-winning Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney comes Loretta Little Looks Back, an innovative, beautifully illustrated novel that delivers a front-row seat to the groundbreaking moments in history that led to African Americans earning the right to vote.
Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B., members of the Little family, each present the vivid story of their young lives, spanning three generations. Their separate stories – beginning in a cotton field in 1927 and ending at the presidential election of 1968 – come together to create one unforgettable journey.
Through an evocative mix of fictional first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths, gospel rhythms and blues influences, Loretta Little Looks Back weaves an immersive tapestry that illuminates the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South. Inspired by storytelling’s oral tradition, stirring vignettes are presented in a series of theatrical monologues that paint a gripping, multidimensional portrait of American’s struggle for civil rights as seen through the eyes of the children who lived it. The novel’s unique format invites us to walk in their shoes. Each encounters an unexpected mystical gift, passed down from one family member to the next, that ignites their experience in what it means to reach for freedom.
Kwame Mbalia’s epic fantasy Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In the Sky is set in a richly-imagined world populated with African American folk heroes and West African gods.
Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy.
But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steal Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it – is that a doll? – and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world.
Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price.
Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X, presents With Fire on High, another dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions – doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela.
The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates. Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe… which is now filling with blood.
Isabelle tried to fit in. She cut away the pieces of herself in order to become pretty. Sweet. More like Cinderella. But that only made her mean, jealous, and hollow. Now she has a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.
Evoking the darker, original version of the Cinderella story, Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly shows us that ugly is in the eye of he beholder and the trademark wit and wisdom send an overlooked character on a journey toward empowerment, redemption… and a new definition of beauty.
Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography – fate – introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War – as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of a difficult decision to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.
Master storyteller, Ruta Sepetys uses Fountains of Silence to once again shine light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love, repercussions of war, and the hidden violence of silence – inspired by the true postwar struggles of Spain.
In On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled as a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral… for all the wrong reasons.
Soon Bri finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
In Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch…
A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm.
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunk mates.
A smart-mouth tech whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder.
An alien warrior with anger-management issues.
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering.
And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem – that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from inter-dimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.