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. “

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

See the Cat by David LaRochelle

See the Cat cover image

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

In this hilarious easy reader, the main character is a dog. But the narrator of the story has other ideas. The first story is simply called “See the Cat” and the dog must insist he certainly is not a cat, definitely not a blue cat in a green dress, and most definitively not riding a unicorn. Still, there’s a nice twist in the end that ends with an embarrassed “red dog.” In the second story, the dog is happily snoozing when the narrator announces that you can “see the snake.” The snake is under the dog, and then gets quite angry. But before the snake can bite the dog, the way the narrator says, the dog comes up with his own solution involving a pencil. In the last story, the reader is told to “see the dog” but then the dog is ordered to spin, jump and even fly or else he will get sat on by a hippo! In the end though, the dog does some bargaining and can go back to napping with no snakes or hippos in sight.

LaRochelle’s easy reader is very funny, just the right sort of humor for young children. The pacing is great with the page turns adding to the moments of reveal and drama. The text is very simple, with the humor playing up the format of an easy reader and it’s straight-forward language. 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.

The art suits that of an easy reader too, done in simple lines and nice large formats. The dog’s expressions are classic cartoon and add to the humor of the book. When things like the snake and hippo appear, it increases the merriment.

A great addition to easy readers, this one is a hoot! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty's Travels All Aboard by Kelly Starling Lyons

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

Ty loves adventures and most of all he wishes his family would play with him. But his father is busy making dinner, his mother is folding the laundry, and his big brother is doing his homework. Ty spots an empty box and knows just what to do with it. Soon he has built a train engine and begins a journey down the tracks. At the first stop, someone is waiting! It’s Daddy, who climbs aboard. At the next stop, it’s Momma who comes aboard in time to see the city go by. The next stop has his big brother join in. The last stop comes eventually and they are back home just in time for dinner.

There is real challenge in writing a good easy reader and Lyons meets that challenge head on here. With her story of a supportive and playful family, she has a story that can be told simply. It has plenty of action and motion to keep the story moving forward in a way that is paced perfectly for new readers.

The illustrations by Mata are friendly and use the white space on the page nicely. They support the text on the page, offering new readers just the right amount of support visually. She also shows the imaginary journey clearly using crayon and simpler graphics that are done in a childlike style.

This series is a great pick for new readers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins. 

 

What About Worms? by Ryan T. Higgins

What about Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

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

Part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series, this easy reader is about a tiger who is big and brave. In fact, he’s not afraid of anything… except worms. Worms are slimy and wiggly and confusing. Tiger loves flowers, but wait! Flowers grow in dirt, and you know that worms live in dirt. Tiger throws the flowerpot into the air and breaks it. No worms there though. Tiger also loves apples, but wait! Worms love apples too. He throws the apple into the air, splat. No worms in the apple. Then he finds a book, that just might be all about worms. It’s too much for Tiger to take, and he runs off. Now the worms come out of the ground. They discover the dirt, the apples and a nice book. They are scared of tigers usually, but this one seems to have left them all their favorite things. Time for a worm hug to thank him!

Higgins sets just the right pace and tone in this easy reader. The page turns are well done, allowing some sentences to hang between pages, building the suspense. He creates plenty of angst and drama here with so few elements, just flowers, apples and a book. It’s a remarkable feat to have so much emotion about worms.

Higgins’ art is marvelous. With nods to Calvin and Hobbes, Pigeon that appear occasionally, and even a likeness of himself and Willems on the back of the book that should not be missed. Tiger’s emotions show not only in his facial expressions but through his entire body, emoting clearly on the page and drawing children in.

Smart, funny and fast, just what you want in an easy reader. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Hyperion Books for Children.

Best Elementary Fiction 2019

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Fun and frustrating at the same time, much to everyone’s delight.

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works.

Gittel's Journey An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates

A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child.

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want.

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story.

This Is MY Fort by Drew Daywalt

This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

A wild and interesting new easy reader series.

Review: Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni (9781338318548)

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story. The book has five individual stories, each a stand-alone tale which also makes this a great pick for smaller and shorter reading sessions. The book begins with a box left at someone’s door full of items for stories. Those objects are then the basis of each tale. There is a scary house and dare to enter it. There are neglected toys that seek revenge. A scratchy throat proves to be something truly awful. A statue insists on being warm. Scratching at the window may not be a tree branch after all.

The easy text works really well here, the simplicity of the words building a sense of not quite being told the entire tale and details being held back from the reader. Brallier builds suspense nicely in each story and readers will notice a nod to classic scary story tropes in the tales that doesn’t impact the delicious scariness of them at all. The illustrations are used liberally throughout the book and also will appeal to older readers. Their dark shadows add to the shivery nature of the book. It’s also great to see a diverse cast of characters in the stories.

A great pick to use in reading classrooms and to offer parents looking for easy readers for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Just Like Beverly by Vicki Conrad

Just Like Beverly by Vicki Conrad

Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn (9781632172228)

Growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, Beverly spent her days on the family farm with animals for friends. She only had two books growing up, so she made up her own stories instead. When her mother got a children’s library created in Yamhill, Beverly finally had access to more stories. After moving to Portland, Beverly started school, determined to learn to read in class. Numbers were easy for her, but reading was hard. It didn’t help when she had to stay out of school for weeks due to smallpox. It wasn’t until the following year that she got a teacher who put in extra effort with Beverly to help her learn to read. Soon she was writing too and eventually became a librarian. When Beverly heard children asking for stories about kids like them, she was inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books!

Conrad has created an engaging biography where readers can see Cleary’s inspiration from her own childhood reflected in her books for children. The difficulty that Cleary had learning to read is shown in great detail, echoing the immense effort it took to learn. It is inspirational for children who may be having difficulty learning to read to see someone who eventually became one of the most famous children’s authors of all time having the same problems.

The art by Hohn is bright and friendly. The use of period clothing really helps place the book in the past visually and keeps the bright-eyed Beverly from feeling too modern. It also shows the great sense of humor that Cleary had throughout her life.

An inspiring story of triumph and achievement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce's Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368022811)

Nibbs, the mouse, wants Bruce to have a fun day, but Bruce doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Breakfast in bed turns into a messy disaster. The long walk is exhausting. A picnic turns into a feast for the ants. The boat ride is wet, particularly when Nibbs uses Bruce himself as the boat. They do make it back home in time for supper, but supper is too dainty and fancy for Bruce and dessert is even worse. By the time they are in bed, Bruce is very, very grumpy. Which is really nice, since Bruce loves to be grumpy. It might have been the perfect day out after all.

Higgins cleverly turns his picture book series about Mother Bruce into an easy reader format. His use of limited vocabulary is done seamlessly with the story. It helps that there is zany action on many of the pages that can be explained in Higgins’ rather dry tone in just a few words. The illustrations help too. Done in full color and with Higgins’ signature style, they show the story playing out on the page with great clarity and additional moments of silliness.

A great addition to easy reader shelves, this one is big fun. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.