The New York Times has compiled a list of 25 titles of what it considers the best books of 2020 aimed at young readers. The books range from picture books to books for middle-grade readers to books for young adults. These books, all published in 2020, are available at bookstores and online but also are likely available at a local public library.
The books include a picture book with a retelling of the story of the Little Mermaid with all-Black characters. For middle-grade readers, there’s a graphic novel that chronicles the real-life experience of the 15 years a boy and his little brother spent as Somali refugees in the U.N.-run Dadaab camp in Kenya. Young adults might be interested in a novel about a Polish girl who spent her adolescence in concentration camps and sets out to find her younger brother, the only other member of her family who was not sent to the gas chambers.
Here are just a few of the recommendations:
Our Little Kitchen, by Jillian Tamaki. Based on Tamaki’s experience volunteering at a small community kitchen that feeds the hungry, this color-saturated, mouthwatering whirlwind of a book bursts with energy from the moment its diverse group of characters starts chopping and slicing, whisking and whipping. “Tie on your apron! Roll up your sleeves! Pans are out, oven is hot, the kitchen’s all ready! Where do we start?” Featuring a garden full of produce, a joyfully chaotic kitchen, and a friendly meal shared at the table, Our Little Kitchen celebrates the rewarding fun of creating food together. Recipes at the story’s end will help kids get started in the kitchen. The author has won Caldecott honors.
A Story About Afiya, written by James Berry and illustrated by Anna Cunha. This joyous celebration of childhood, culture, and place by the Jamaican poet (who died in 2017) follows a young girl named Afiya — “health” in Swahili — whose summer frock “collects” what she sees as she dances across an island in motion. Each airy spread is a fresh canvas for its Brazilian illustrator, just as Afiya’s dress is newly washed each morning.
Ways to Make Sunshine, by Renée Watson. Like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, who inspired this heart-wrenching yet delightful new series, the Black fourth grader Ryan Hart is a bright, imaginative girl who specializes in “making a way out of no way” and is described as pure spirit, kindness, and sunshine. “I do not have a boy’s name,” Ryan says. “I have my name. My name is Ryan and Ryan means ‘king’ and that means I am a leader.” The author has won the Coretta Scott King book award and Newberry honors.
Class Act, by Jerry Craft. A Black student from the Co-op City section of the Bronx attends a private middle school in wealthier Riverdale in this moving and often funny graphic novel about the convergence of an awkward age (13 to 14) with another awkward age (America’s racial reckoning). The book is a companion to the Newberry Medal winner New Kid.
Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang. Full of insight about race and ethnicity, this graphic novel intercuts the thrilling wins and crushing defeats of one high school team with basketball’s own turbulent history. The author, who was never much of a sports fan, turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches. The basketball team called the Dragons has the goal of heading to the state championship. Once the author gets to know these young all-star players, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page.
The Talk, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. These essays, stories, poems, letters, and illustrations work to prepare children for a world that can be bewildering and hostile, while also making plain that the hard conversations we all need to have about race are part of a broader national reckoning.
The entire list of all the book recommendations can be found at this link.