My Favorite Books of 2020!
I meant to write this a few days ago, but of course I was still finishing up my last book of the year this morning, so here we are. I've been seeing other year-end lists floating around, and I'm reminded by how impossible it is to read everything out there, no matter how hard I tried. Even after making it through over 150 books this year, there's still so much I just didn't get to. Oh well... I imagine a lot of people have a reading stack they'll never finish. Sigh.
While there was a lot that was terrible about 2020, it was an AMAZING year for books!! So many wonderful stories were published this year, and as hard as it was to narrow down my finalists, here are my very, very favorites:
- We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom & Michaela Goade - An allegory about the preciousness of a clean water source and the need to protect it at all costs. Water is life!
- Lift by by Minh Lê & Dan Santat - These two create magic on paper. It turns out an elevator button and a great imagination can take you anywhere.
- I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes & Gordon C. James - An important book about self-esteem and empowerment. I love everything by Derrick Barnes.
- Outside In by Deborah Underwood & Cindy Derby - A beautiful and necessary reminder that humans were meant to connect with nature!
- Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry & Juana Martinez-Neal - Just the sweetest story of an unlikely friendship with beautiful illustrations; reminded me of Pixar’s Up.
- Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor - Adorable and hilarious! I was laughing out loud while reading this to my kids, and we were all rooting for the snail to get across the road.
- You Matter by Christian Robinson - A simple and inclusive message for all readers, and I just love Christian Robinson’s drawing style.
- Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina & Sonia Sanchez - The main character is sad that her best friend's moving, so they spend her last day saying goodbye to the neighborhood together.
- Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond & Stephanie Fizer Coleman - As a bird lover myself, I really enjoyed this simple story about a girl and her mom going on a wintertime bird count with other nature enthusiasts.
- Unstoppable by Adam Rex & Laura Park - Everything by Adam Rex cracks me up, and this book didn't disappoint. Amidst the giggles is a good message about not giving up, even when it means lobbying to your elected officials.
- How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi & Yao Xiao - A powerful message about perseverance from a real-life role model!
- Yasmin the Writer by Saadia Faruqi & Hatem Aly - I love the whole Yasmin series, but this is my favorite yet! Great lesson about brainstorming and the writing revision process.
- Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo - This illustrated picture book reminded me of Winnie the Pooh, and I really enjoyed reading it out loud with my kids before bed.
- Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian - The first book in a new illustrated series, Omar and his adventures will surely have readers laughing.
- Albert Hopper, Science Hero by John Himmelman - Kids can learn about STEM topics along with Albert on his quest to get to the center of the Earth!
- Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Waston - I adored this story. Ryan King and her family will quickly endear themselves to you — and the next book in the series comes out in 2021!
- The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier & Olga Demidova - Auggie is tasked with taking care of a variety of fantastical creatures in this new adorable series by one of my very favorite authors.
- Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake & Jon Klassen - Our family laughed out loud while also having a great discussion about the power of our words to both hurt and heal. A very dry sense of humor that might not appeal to all, but we loved it.
- Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri - My favorite book of the year! Gorgeous storytelling weaves together old family tales from Iran and the author’s experience as a refugee in America. Somehow both funny and poignant, often on the same page.
- From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks - Zoe is shocked to receive a birthday card from her father, who has been in prison since she was a baby. Is it too late for a relationship — and for Zoe (and the world) to finally find out the truth about what happened?
- The Land of Cranes by Aida Salazar - A heartbreaking tale of a family being separated and detained at the U.S. border with beautiful illustrations throughout.
- King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender - One of the most beautiful stories about loss and identity that I’ve ever read. King is still reeling from the death of his brother Khalid when a boy from school goes missing, and King knows more about his disappearance than he'd like everyone to know.
- The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf - Suraya is gifted a ghost by her witch grandmother, with whom she quickly becomes inseparable. But her ghost has a dark side, and will hurt anyone who threatens Suraya... or their friendship. Dark, magical, and bittersweet.
- Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - Two sisters learn to cope and defend themselves after being abused by their mother's boyfriend in this powerful and necessary book — Bradley handles a sensitive topic so well for younger readers.
- The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling - I recommend a lot of Dusti Bowling’s books, but this novel in verse about a girl fighting for her life is my favorite one yet! Strong themes of life after loss and survival.
- The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert - Alberta has always been the only Black girl in school, that is, until Edie moves in across the street. The two bond over solving a decades-old mystery after Edie discovered clues in her attic.
- A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner - Silas struggles with how to come out to his family and teammates, but is inspired by the story of Glenn Burke, a gay baseball player who invented the high five. Funny, heartfelt, and gut-wrenching, all at the same time.
- Clean Getaway by Nic Stone - Scoob and G’ma set out on the adventure of a lifetime in Nic Stone’s middle grade debut. I devoured this one in one sitting and my students have loved it too.
- Three Keys by Kelly Yang - This sequel to Yang's hugely popular book Front Desk tackles anti-immigration sentiment and racism head-on, drawing attention to dangerous policy that is threatening to pass in their upcoming election.
- Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson - This is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel in verse about how a son deals with his football star father’s forgetfulness and emotional outbursts after a traumatic brain injury.
- Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo - Camino and Yahaira are sisters who never knew of the other’s existence until their father’s untimely death. Their separate and then shared experiences had me sobbing by the end of this beautiful novel in verse by the author of The Poet X.
- You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson - Even though Liz Lighty the last person people expect to be named prom queen, she decides the scholarship money is worth the trouble and enters the race. This is the sweet rom-com we need in 2020!
- How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi - Amir runs away to Rome the morning of his high school graduation after he is blackmailed by a bully who threatens to tell his traditional Iranian family his biggest secret — that he’s gay. Once in Italy, Amir meets a group of friends who help him realize it’s okay to be himself.
- Parachutes by Kelly Yang - Claire and Dani’s parallel by separate struggles are heartbreaking, but also empowering and powerful. This is an important book for teens, but be warned it contains descriptions of emotional abuse and rape.
- Dear Justyce by Nic Stone - Such a powerful follow-up to Dear Martin. Now we hear from Quan, who grew up near Justyce, but under very different circumstances. An important read that’s full of heartbreak and hope.
- The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar - What Nishat comes out to her traditional Bangladeshi parents, it does NOT go well. And then when a classmate tries to steal her idea to start a henna business, Nishat really has to learn to hold her own.
- Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron - This dystopian reimagining of Cinderella’s fairy tale legacy was dark and powerful. Down with the patriarchy!!
- Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas - Yadriel is determined to prove that he’s a brujo, but his family won’t accept that he’s transgender, forbidding him to complete the traditional ceremony. So he takes matters into his own hands, trying to summon his cousin Miguel’s spirit from beyond the grave... but he accidentally brings back the wrong ghost instead.
- The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert - This story about two Black teens who meet in line on Election Day has moments that address important issues about voting rights and racism, but also maintains the lighter vibe of a sweet YA romance. And it also inspires young kids to get out and vote!
- Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson - The queen of YA suspense is back. I love everything by Tiffany D. Jackson, but this one was admittedly hard to read. Based on R. Kelly’s abuse and exploitation of young girls, be warned that this book contains descriptions of rape and opioid addiction.
- Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song - Simple words and short chapters will give early readers confidence through this hilarious story about squirrels and their quest to steal doughnuts. (ages 5 and up)
- Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, & Victoria Ying and Green Lantern Legacy by Minh Lê & Andie Tong - Both of these DC Comics for Kids were very well done! I hope there are more to come. (ages 8 and up)
- Twins by Varian Johnson & Shannon Wright - What happens when a pair of inseparable twins start to grow apart, and both decide to run for class president? I can’t keep this book on our library shelves! (ages 9 and up)
- The Challenger Disaster by Pranas T. Naujokaitis - Some of the History Comics have been hit-or-miss in my opinion, but this one was excellent, telling the story of the crew members and the events leading up to the tragedy. (ages 9 and up)
- When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed - Victoria Jamieson brings the warmth of her other graphic novels to Omar Mohamed’s incredible life story as a refugee from Somalia, caring for his brother with special needs after their father is killed and they are separated from their mother in the chaos of war. (ages 10 and up)
- Class Act by Jerry Craft - This companion to the Newbery-winning New Kid focuses on Drew, while still keeping Jordan as a major character. I especially loved the creative chapter title pages. (ages 10 and up)
- Snapdragon by Kat Leyh - What an adventure! Snapdragon is one of a kind, and she isn’t afraid of anything... especially since there isn’t such thing as witches... right? (ages 10 and up)
- Go With the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann - A necessary message about the stigmas surrounding menstruation — great messages about friendship and speaking up to make change happen. Girl power! (ages 10 and up)
- Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang - My favorite graphic novel this year! Gene Luen Yang is a master storyteller, weaving interviews, his own family life, the history of basketball, and of course, Coach Lou and the players themselves. Can be enjoyed by sports fans and non-sports fans alike. (ages 12 and up)
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds & Danica Novgorodoff - This adaptation of Jason Reynolds’ haunting novel-in-verse about ending the cycle of violence is just as powerful as the original. This story will never leave you. (ages 12 and up)
- Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin - This picture book tackles the complex issue of size and scale, from microscopic organisms to the vast expanses of space. (ages 7 and up)
- Honeybee by Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann - Award-winning author Candace Fleming describes the life cycle of the honeybee in accessible, beautiful language. (ages 8 and up)
- History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner & Dylan Meconis - I love the whole series, and this particular book debunks so much of what we *think* we know about the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. (ages 9 and up)
- This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes by Tanya Lloyd Kyi - Straightforward text about the unconscious biases we all hold and how to combat them. Would be excellent to read and discuss with a student advisory or seminar! (ages 10 and up)
- All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat - I remember this story in the news and being relieved hearing about the rescue, but there are so many details I never knew. Christina Soontornvat’s writing style made for suspenseful and informative storytelling. (ages 10 and up)
- You Call This Democracy? by Elizabeth Rusch - What a fantastic, bipartisan resource to help readers, both young and old, understand our current system of government and its obvious flaws that are acknowledged by both sides of the aisle. (ages 12 and up)
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi & Jason Reynolds - The most powerful book of the year, in my opinion. Jason Reynolds put his own lyrical twist on Ibram X. Kendi’s original text Stamped from the Beginning to bring the conversation about racism and antiracism to young adults. But really, everyone should read this book. (ages 12 and up)
- The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindberg by Candace Fleming - We all know of him as the famous aviator and for the tragic kidnapping of his son, but did you know about his public stance as a Nazi sympathizer, or the THREE secret families he had in Europe?? Fascinating and truly disturbing look at the power of celebrity. (ages 12 and up)
- Our Time Is Now by Stacey Abrams - Stacey Abrams aptly details the history of voter suppression, discusses how it continues today, and provides solutions for a more equitable system. Her writing is powerful and inspirational, yet also accessible. Highly recommend for teen or adult readers interested in politics.
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson - This book explores the similarities of American society to the caste system in India and the takeover of Germany by the Nazis. Isabel Wilkerson researches meticulously, includes anecdotes and interviews throughout to humanize history and statistics, and I find her narrative writing style is so compelling. This one is for an adult audience.
- You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy - Really important book that everyone should read. We *really* don’t listen to each other very often; we mostly react. This book delves into the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening, and shows us how we can develop better habits. Another one for adults.