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Best Kids Books of the Year 2020

There were so many wonderful books for young readers published in 2020. Here are the ones that our staff selected as the best of the year. Don't miss our other Best Books of the Year lists here.

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How the Stars Came To Be Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9781849766630
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tate Publishing - March 24th, 2020

To call this book beautiful is an understatement: this lovely fable’s illustrations are breathtakingly gorgeous, pulsing with such life and detail I felt I discovered something new each time I looked at them. The story itself—of how stars ended up in the sky—is simple yet elegant and has the cadence perfect for putting a young one to sleep. Take a look for yourself and you’ll discover the wonder of the night sky all over again. —JAX


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I Am Every Good Thing Cover Image
By Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9780525518778
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Nancy Paulsen Books - September 1st, 2020

With a beautiful spirit, the Black boys in this stunning picture book declare their truth: they are a myriad of good things. The Caldecott medal-winning team of Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James creates a perfect harmony of poetic words and lively illustrations that show the breadth of creativity, talent, curiosity, bravery, and hope in each child. A timely message of Black Lives Matter, these boys declare to readers: “I am worthy to be loved.” Can’t get any clearer than that. —Noreen, Michelle, & Stephanie


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I Talk Like a River Cover Image
By Jordan Scott, Sydney Smith (Illustrator)
$18.99
ISBN: 9780823445592
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Neal Porter Books - September 1st, 2020

When a boy’s stutter isolates and embarasses him, his dad says, “Let’s go somewhere quiet,” and takes him to a river. Based on his own childhood experience, Jordan Scott’s prose is full of beautiful imagery, and the quiet love the father shows is deeply touching. Sydney Smith’s gouache and watercolor paintings deftly capture the boy’s emotions from loneliness to anxiety to tranquility. The perfect pick for those looking for #OwnVoices stories of disability infused with pride and strength. —Molly


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In a Jar Cover Image
By Deborah Marcero, Deborah Marcero (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9780525514596
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers - January 21st, 2020

This magical ode to friendship warmed my heart! I loved how Llewellyn collects experiences in jars, allowing him and his best friend, Evelyn, to continue to share their lives, even when she moves away. The illustrations are as utterly charming as the story itself, which is full of the magic of the ordinary. A perfect read-aloud for any and everyone! —Stephanie


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Lift Cover Image
By Minh Lê, Dan Santat (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781368036924
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - May 5th, 2020

Poor harangued older sister Iris always finds joy in pushing elevator buttons, until one dark day when the elevator-button enthusiast is usurped by her toddler sibling. When the word “BETRAYAL” appears above Iris’s head in the illustration, I laughed out loud. And that wasn’t my last laugh in this hilarious, fantastical story that highlights both the creativity of the illustrator/author team and the love/frustration sibling bond. A great choice for creative-minded readers who enjoy a good laugh. —Stephanie


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Miriam at the River Cover Image
By Jane Yolen, Khoa Le (Illustrator)
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ISBN: 9781541544000
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Kar-Ben Publishing (R) - February 4th, 2020

A young girl sets her baby brother, Moses, in a basket to float down the Nile River to an uncertain future. Not everyone thinks about Miriam and how she felt losing her brother, but this book does. Every page is worthy of a frame—the art is that good, it gave me goosebumps, and the beautiful poetic text brought tears to my eyes. While religious in origin, this story touches on universal fears, hopes, and dreams. —Ivy


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My Friend Earth: (Earth Day Books with Environmentalism Message for Kids, Saving Planet Earth, Our Planet Book) Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780811879101
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Chronicle Books - February 25th, 2020

In this lovely, spirited ode to the majesty of nature, Sanna’s illustrations are graceful and whimsical, with beautiful color choices and entertaining cut-out features. Mother Earth is a dark-skinned youth with round cheeks and long, flowing black hair who starts the book asleep under a bed of snow, then wakes to celebrate her way through the seasons, before settling in for her winter nap. An excellent read-aloud for nature-loving families looking forward to Earth Day, which turns 50 this year! —Molly


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Our Little Kitchen Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781419746550
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Abrams Books for Young Readers - September 22nd, 2020

This picture book, loosely based on Jillian Tamaki's experience working in a community kitchen in Brooklyn, did not disappoint! It's a warm hug—a magnificent snapshot of a diverse cast coming together for one night a week to cook and share a meal. Every inch of the paper is utilized. Tamaki’s signature style is met with charming, rhyming prose. In a world of rough individualism, this is the perfect addition to any child's library to promote an invaluable sense of community. —MJ


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Starcrossed Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780358153955
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HMH Books for Young Readers - October 27th, 2020

This book utterly charmed me! Denos’s story and art are nothing short of magical. I loved Eridani and Acamar’s long-distance, interstellar friendship, as well as their sheer delight when they swap places (if you’re a dog-lover like me look for star-boy Acamar hugging Eridani’s dog—I WEEP). The ethereal, whimsical art makes this story magic in book form. Perfect for any reader with stars in their eyes and a longing for adventure in their heart (and don’t miss the author’s note!)! —Stephanie

 


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We Are Water Protectors Cover Image
By Carole Lindstrom, Michaela Goade (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781250203557
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Roaring Brook Press - March 17th, 2020

This book bursts with strength and vibrancy, reminding us of our roles as stewards of the earth and its inhabitants. Poignant in even the best of times, the examples of community and tenacity are good reminders of how connected we all are in this seemingly large world. With appeal to artists, animal lovers, outdoorsy types, and more, this is a wonderful addition to any activist’s library, no matter what age. —Rachel


You Matter Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781534421691
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers - June 2nd, 2020

A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story Cover Image
By Caren Stelson, Akira Kusaka (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781541521483
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Carolrhoda Books (R) - August 4th, 2020

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Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars Cover Image
By Gary Golio, E.B. Lewis (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781524738884
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Nancy Paulsen Books - August 25th, 2020

Beautiful watercolors are used in this biographical picture book to tell the story of Blind Willie Johnson, one of the most iconic blues musicians to have ever lived. Using the little information we have on Johnson’s life, author Golio tells his own story to Johnson—leaving the reader feeling as though they have peeked into an intimate conversation describing the impact Johnson’s music would someday have on the world. A truly touching story, perfect for budding musicians. —MJ


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Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera Cover Image
By Candace Fleming, Eric Rohmann (Illustrator)
$18.99
ISBN: 9780823442850
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Neal Porter Books - February 4th, 2020

Not only is the book gorgeous—the illustrations themselves as light and airy as a bee’s flight—the prose strikes that perfect balance between lyrical and educational. Follow along with a honeybee named Apis as she grows up and explores the world (not as saccharine as it sounds, I promise). Perfect for budding naturalists and entomologists* (*people who study insects!). —Rachel


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Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1) Cover Image
By Amy Timberlake, Jon Klassen (Illustrator)
$18.95
ISBN: 9781643750057
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Young Readers - September 15th, 2020

Badger’s Important Rock Work must take a backseat when Skunk knocks on the door of his brownstone. Yet Skunk is much more than an unwelcome distraction, and by morning has served up the first of many antidotes to Badger’s solitary grumpiness. Odd-couple stories! It’s so easy to identify with the traits of one while yearning to be more like the other. Klassen’s earthy illustrations supply the details in this frolicking tale to read aloud or together, with more adventures promised. —Michelle


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Before the Ever After Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780399545436
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Nancy Paulsen Books - September 1st, 2020

ZJ’s dad is famous, like football-star famous, but he’s suffering from headaches and doctors don’t know what’s wrong. Told in Woodson’s iconic beautiful poetry, we get a firsthand account of a loving father-son relationship growing as it faces adversity. Woodson’s way with words takes my breath away every time, and this book is a stark reminder that kids see more than we think. Perfect for sports fans, of course, but also anyone looking for stories about strong family bonds. —Ivy


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Echo Mountain Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780525555568
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dutton Books for Young Readers - April 21st, 2020

From the author of Wolf Hollow and Beyond the Bright Sea comes a fresh take on an old story: one family’s struggle to survive during the Great Depression. Through young Ellie’s eyes, we see both the hardship and the great freedoms that her family’s move to Echo Mountain presents. Ellie’s resilience, cleverness, and profound honesty keep us rooting for her from beginning to end. This novel made me believe that I was running up and down the mountain alongside her. —Michelle


Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story) Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781646140008
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Levine Querido - August 25th, 2020

Flying Over Water Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781338617665
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Press - October 20th, 2020

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The Land of the Cranes Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781338343809
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Press - September 15th, 2020

Babita knew that one day she, Papi, and Mami would fly to El Norte like the cranes, then “bad men could not harm them, and Abuelita would not worry.” Years later in the U.S., Papi is swept up in an ICE raid. When Babita and Mami are held in detention, Babita uses her picture stories to help her family find one another. This powerful novel in verse is affirming for immigrant children and those wanting to grow their empathy and worldview. —Noreen


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Prairie Lotus Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781328781505
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Clarion Books - March 3rd, 2020

Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park deftly evokes a historical setting familiar to many of us, while imbuing it with sorely needed—and historically accurate—diverse and representative perspective, giving us a new hero to follow over the prairie. A book perfect for any kid (or adult) who hungers for tangible historical fiction, celebrates friendship triumphing over adversity, and yearns for heroes who don’t shy away from confronting challenges both practical and cultural to survive and thrive. —Jocelyn


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Race to the Sun Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781368024662
Availability: Not On Our Shelves, But Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Rick Riordan Presents - January 14th, 2020

Nizhoni Begay can see monsters no one else can see. So when her father’s kidnapped by his new monster boss, it’s up to her—with the help of her brother Mac and best friend Davery—to travel to the land of the Dinétah to save him. This story’s filled with action, humor, and adventure, with a focus on family and respecting the environment. Fans of Percy Jackson are sure to enjoy this newest addition to Rick Riordan Presents based in Navajo belief. —MJ


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Show Me a Sign Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781338255812
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Press - March 3rd, 2020

What an intriguing book! Deaf and hearing readers alike will love meeting Mary, a 12-year-old deaf girl who lives on Martha’s Vineyard in 1805. The author, herself a deaf librarian, takes us back in history and opens our eyes to the world of the hearing impaired. I’m impressed with the author’s ability to weave themes of cultural pride, intolerance, racism into the story. A great read for the history buff with a growing, compassionate heart. —Noreen


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Class Act Cover Image
By Jerry Craft, Jerry Craft (Illustrator)
$12.99
ISBN: 9780062885500
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Quill Tree Books - October 6th, 2020

Newbery Medalist Jerry Craft does it again. This companion to New Kid focuses on Jordan as well his friend Drew who, unlike light-skinned Jordan, faces othering based in colorism. How Craft takes serious subject matter and makes it hilarious remains a mystery to me, but I was literally laughing out loud while reading, just like I did with New Kid. A great choice for fans of the first installment, school stories, socially conscious books, and those who—like me—love to laugh! —Stephanie


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Go with the Flow Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9781250143174
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: First Second - January 14th, 2020

Four friends are fed up with their school not providing necessary menstrual supplies and decide to make a change. This brilliant graphic novel shows readers how to raise up the people they care about, be honest about their feelings, and talk openly about their own bodies. For anyone who has (or will have) a period or those who just love a great friendship story! This is everything I want a book to be—empathetic, educational, and entertaining! —Tori


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Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian Cover Image
By Tim Probert, Tim Probert (Illustrator)
$12.99
ISBN: 9780062990464
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperAlley - September 1st, 2020

Bea, a young girl who has intense anxiety, and a Galdurian, a species assumed extinct, team up to find Bea’s missing and increasingly infirm grandfather. Traveling through Irpa (their world), they discover beautiful wonders and creeping dangers. A wildly inventive start of what is sure to be an exciting graphic novel series, I couldn’t put it down for anything. I can’t wait for the next installment! Fans of Amulet and Mighty Jack take notice, this one's for you. —Ivy


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The Magic Fish Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781984851598
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Graphic - October 13th, 2020

This book is a gift. In it, Nguyen offers readers a beautiful tale of immigration and coming out that weaves fairy tales, both Vietnamese and Western, into something magical and deeply moving. The art is nothing short of gorgeous. Being the daughter of immigrants myself, Tiến’s struggle to connect with his refugee parents resonated deeply with me, but this is a story that anyone can sink into and appreciate. I can’t wait to read what Nguyen does next. —Stephanie


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When Stars Are Scattered Cover Image
By Victoria Jamieson, Omar Mohamed, Victoria Jamieson (Illustrator), Iman Geddy (Illustrator)
$12.99
ISBN: 9780525553908
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dial Books - April 14th, 2020

For this excellent graphic novel memoir, Victoria Jameison worked closely with Omar Mohamed, a Somali refugee (and founder of the nonprofit Refugee Strong), to tell his story of growing up in a refugee camp, including caring for his younger brother, Hassan, who’s developmentally disability. The characters are deeply relatable presenting the reality of refugees without being overwhelming or melodramatic. A great choice for fans of nonfiction and historical fiction graphic novels like March and White Bird. —Molly


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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780316453691
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - March 10th, 2020

This book should be required reading for everyone. Jason Reynolds is a genius: he takes a complex issue (the history and modern day manifestations of anti-Black racism in the U.S.) and makes it accessible for any reader, and I love the emphasis on how to be actively antiracist. Also a great choice for adults daunted by the 608-page original! —Stephanie


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Clap When You Land Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780062882769
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Quill Tree Books - May 5th, 2020

National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo returns to verse in this meditation on the complexities of themes including grief, betrayal, family, secrets, identity, class, and toxic masculinity. Featuring Acevedo’s stellar characterization (the two main characters--sisters--have very distinctive voices) and I was particularly struck by how it highlights the way men’s choices have a profound impact on the lives of women and girls around them. —Stephanie


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Date Me, Bryson Keller Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780593126035
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Books for Young Readers - May 19th, 2020

I loved this book! Protagonist Kai is utterly lovable as is his named-in-the-title love interest, Bryson. What a wonderful thing: a queer coming-out love story free of trauma and full of good feelings. This sweet romance kept me smiling from the first page to the last—chances are it’ll do the same for you. —Stephanie


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Early Departures Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780062748409
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Katherine Tegen Books - September 22nd, 2020

Justin A. Reynolds has created a lovely modern-day fairy tale of friendship and family and finding the most perfect moments in life in the midst of grief. With the same real-world heart as Nicola Yoon, Reynold’s characters are real and likeable, as are their connections that evoke the friendships of John Green’s books. The brilliant days they create for each other in the face of loss filled me with the same fun and joy the characters themselves embrace. —Jocelyn


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Felix Ever After Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780062820259
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Balzer + Bray - May 5th, 2020

Felix attends a very prestigious art school and while struggling with his identity, he gets targeted by an anonymous transphobic bully and everyone becomes suspect. I really appreciated Felix’s candor as he worked through the various threads of his life. Being a teenager is hard and Felix doesn’t always get it right. This is a must read for all teens, but especially anyone trying to find their place in the world. —Ivy


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A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope Cover Image
By Patrice Caldwell (Editor)
$18.99
ISBN: 9781984835659
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Viking Books for Young Readers - March 10th, 2020

This book is Black Girl Magic in written form! It includes sixteen #ownvoices fantasy and science fiction short stories that are as diverse as the Black experience. Established authors like Elizabeth Acevedo, Dhonielle Clayton, Justina Ireland, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Ibi Zoboi share space with up-and-coming and debut authors, creating a well-rounded collection. Magical and real, these well-spun stories run the gamut from lighthearted to intense and are a great choice for readers of any background! —Stephanie


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Punching the Air Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9780062996480
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Balzer + Bray - September 1st, 2020

Every so often I come across a book that I want to buy a hundred copies of and give it to everyone I know, and maybe a few strangers. These are usually the hardest to review as I am simply at a loss for words. Punching the Air, a novel in verse about a wrongfully imprisoned Black teenager, co-written by one of the Exonerated Five, is one of those books—incomparably beautiful, radical, poignant, and so much more. Don't miss it! —Ksenia