5 Best Poetry Books in 2020

Here are my favorite five poetry books from 2020. I found it more difficult to enjoy poetry on a screen. There’s something about poetry on the paper page that really connects for me, so I read less of it this year than previous years.

Cast Away Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)

“A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious.”

Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780063013452)

“Perhaps Nye’s greatest quality is her refusal to speak down to children or to simplify her poetry for them. She asks them to stretch to understand them, but not in confusing ways or using esoteric language. “

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)

“Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages.”

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

“Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare.”

Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari

Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Jonathan Voss (9780399548420)

“Through her series of haiku poems, Gianferrari creates moments that build on one another into a full story of the first months of egg laying and owlets growing up.”

10 Best Elementary Fiction Books of 2020

It was a great year for elementary fiction. Below you will find easy readers and chapter books that I consider the best of the year:

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)

“It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.”

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon (9780062962522)

“There is a wonderful sneakiness to it, inviting children to scheme along with the narrating voice about how to stop reading.”

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin (9780375974328)

“Take those lines from untold stories and pair them with images that create something incredibly moving, bright glimpses into one story and then the next. These are tales you long to be completed, where girls perch on the moon and libraries are filled with music and animals.”

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)

“Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates.”

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)

“Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable.”

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536204278)

“The result is a book that is silly and a delight, something that could be read again and again by new readers who will giggle every time.”

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (9781643750057)

“Cracking this book open and reading the first page will have even the most jaded readers of children’s books realizing that they are reading a new classic.”

Ty's Travels All Aboard by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata (9780062951120)

“There is real challenge in writing a good easy reader and Lyons meets that challenge head on here.”

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson (9781547600564)

“A rival to Ramona, get this one in the hands of young readers.”

What about Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

What About Worms? by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368045735)

“Smart, funny and fast, just what you want in an easy reader. “

20 Best Graphic Novels of 2020

Here are my favorite 20 graphic novels from 2020. They cover a wide variety of topics and age levels. Enjoy!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

“Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. “

Astronauts Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks (9781626728776)

“A stellar look at gender in space and science that is inspiring. “

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

“This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids.”

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

“Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

“Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. “

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

“Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly…”

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Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

“Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating.”

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

“Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive.”

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (9781250314116)

“There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking.”

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

“Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor.”

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert (9780062990471)

“The art and story flow together seamlessly, creating a world that shines with golden light. He creates vistas in his world so that readers can view the expanse of the continent.”

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Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

“Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art.”

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

“It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation.”

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (9780062981172)

“Smith has created a madcap race of a book. Filled with all sorts of puns about peas and bees, the book’s writing is pure silliness.”

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (9780525552857)

“Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.”

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

“The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.”

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

“Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction.”

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

“Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood.”

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

“Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world.”

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

“Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted.”

Best Board Books of 2020

The pandemic seems to have hit this category the hardest. Most of the books I read this year were digital rather than in print. I don’t know that board books work particularly well for me in digital format, because so many of them play with textures, flaps and movable elements. Here are the four board books that managed to catch my attention in 2020:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Play with Your Plate! by Judith Rossell

Play with Your Plate! by Judith Rossell

Clever and fun, you won’t be able to stop playing with this one.

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes

The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

The Scary Book by Thierry Dedieu (9783791374642)

Expect a mix of giggles and gasps as children explore this one.

15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020

This is one of the categories I do that has a mix of ages, since I don’t read a lot of nonfiction overall. Here are my picks for the best nonfiction of 2020:

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu (9781541526693)

Barton writes with such empathy here. He allows the story to be told in all of its anguish and pain, and yet makes sure that hope has its place there as well.

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood (9780763691561)

Two Coretta Scott King winners collaborate to create this powerful book about courage, resilience and freedom.

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham, illustrated by Yuko Shinizu (9781984813787)

Readers will celebrate his victories with him on the pages, marveling at how one person could help so many.

Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini 

In their personal stories, the authors make it alright to make mistakes, take responsibility and continue to move forward. 

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad (9780593116296)

Throughout the book, there is a merry sense of adventure, acknowledgement of the dangers, and a deep appreciation for life on the road.

Honeybee The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (9780823442850)

A great science and nature book, there’s plenty of buzz about this one!

How to Solve a Problem The Rise and Falls of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao (9781524773274)

“…each step is executed in front of the reader where they can feel the muscle strain, see the skill that Ashima uses, and also use the approach of falling and learning from those falls, to dust off and try again.

If You Want a Friend in Washington by Erin McGill

If You Want a Friend in Washington by Erin McGill (9780593122693)

Humorous and historical, this glimpse of president’s best friend is a treat.

Jumbo The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall

Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall (9781250155801)

Get ready for a dramatic take off!

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The Next President by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex (9781452174884)

Inviting, interesting and invigorating.

Oil by Jonah Winter

Oil by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter (9781534430778)

The book is a mixture of tragedy and a call to action.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora (9781524768287)

Beautifully, the book doesn’t need to lecture on any of those values, Mary’s life simply speaks on its own.

This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (9780593378526)

“One of the most important books of the year, this brings history and future together in one cry for justice.”

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin (9780823446230)

A marvel of a nonfiction book, it invites us to understand our size in the universe but also how amazing the universe actually is.

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (9781580896863)

Burns offers such a merry invitation to readers in this book, making it feel like a true celebration of insects that we often take for granted or don’t even think about. 

2020 Cybils Finalists – YA Categories

Here are the final lists of finalists (get it?) for the 2020 Cybils Awards. The lists below are focused on books for high school and teens: YA Graphic Novels, Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Speculative Fiction, and High School Nonfiction. Look for the winners of all of the categories on February 14th.

YA GRAPHIC NOVELS

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Flamer by Mike Curato

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gurihiru

That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy

You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, illustrated by Julie Maroh

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

YOUNG ADULT SPECULATIVE FICTION

Burn by Patrick Ness

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (I nominated this one!)

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Laura L. Sullivan

Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights by Karen Blumenthal

The Radium Girls Young Reader’s Edition: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Throw Like a Girl, Cheer Like a Boy: The Evolution of Gender, Identity and Race in Sports by Robyn Ryle

Walk Toward the Rising Sun: From Child Soldier to Ambassador of Peace by Ger Duany and Garen Thomas

2020 Cybils Finalists – Middle Grade Categories

The Cybils are the long-running Bloggers’ Literary Awards given to books for children and teens. I’ll be breaking the finalists into three groupings based on reader age. Here are the finalists in the categories that focus on middle grade books: Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels, Middle-Grade Fiction and Middle-Grade Nonfiction.

ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE-GRADE SPECULATIVE FICTION

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

In the Red by Christopher Swiedler

Mulan: Before the Sword by Grace Lin

Rival Magic by Deva Fagan

Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE GRADE GRAPHIC NOVELS

Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith

Class Act by Jerry Craft

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

MIDDLE-GRADE FICTION

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

The Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

MIDDLE-GRADE NONFICTION

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena Newman and Nathaniel Newman, illustrated by Neil Swaab

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species by Ana Pego and Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho 

STEM in the Final Four by Meg Marquardt

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Drew Shannon

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth by Wade Hudson (Editor), Cheryl Willis Hudson (Editor)

UK Costa Book Award Winners

The Costa Book Awards are given in the UK in five categories with an overall winner picked later in January. One of the categories is focused on children’s books. Here is the winner as well as the other finalists:

WINNER

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

FINALISTS

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (released in April 2021 in U.S.)

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson

Wranglestone (Wranglestone, #1)

Wranglestone by Darren Charlton

2020 Cybils Finalists – Preschool & Elementary Categories

The Cybils are the long-running Bloggers’ Literary Awards given to books for children and teens. I’ll be breaking the finalists into three groupings based on reader age. This first one is for the youngest readers and includes the finalists for Fiction Picture Books, Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books, and Elementary Nonfiction:

FICTION PICTURE BOOK FINALISTS

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Brianne Farley

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero 

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

EASY READERS

The Best Seat in First Grade by Katharine Kenah, illustrated by Abby Carter

Cat Has a Plan by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Fred Blunt

King & Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata (I nominated this one!)

What about Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins

Yasmin the Gardener by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly

EARLY CHAPTER BOOKS

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho

Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo

Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem: Tales from Deckawoo Drive by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

ELEMENTARY NONFICTION

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns 

The Fighting Infantryman by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner and Adam Rex

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History by Lindsay H. Metcalf (Editor), Keila V. Dawson (Editor), Jeanette Bradley (Editor/Illustrator)

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Duane Smith

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Yas Imamura