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.”

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

111 Trees by Rina Singh

Cover image for 111 Trees

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer (9781525301209)

Part of the Citizen Kid collection, this nonfiction picture book explore the story of how one village in India came to celebrate the birth of girls. Sundar grew up walking with his mother to get water through the heat. until she is killed from a snake bite. After this, Sundar takes comfort in hugging trees, thinking of his mother. Sundar grew up and taught his children to love nature as much as he does. He works for a mining company and grows so worried about what they are doing to the local environment and their unwillingness to plant trees to help that he leaves his job. He runs for election and becomes the head of the village. When his daughter dies, he plants trees in her memory. He has an idea, declaring that every girl born in the village will be welcomed by the planting of 111 trees. Sundar is mocked for this idea that goes against customs, but he does not give up. He steadily speaks with people, convincing them of the impact they could have on the local environment by planting these trees. As the trees grow, life in the village changes. Now the women don’t have to walk long distances to get water, the fruit of the trees help feed the children and families, and girls can go to school with the boys as the gender inequality is overturned.

Singh builds her story with care, showing Sundar’s childhood with his mother and then his loss of her as the deep inspiration for his idea. She demonstrates how one man’s quest to fix the environment can make an enormous difference not just for him but for an entire community, the future of the girls that grow up there, and the quality of life for all. Singh does not lecture, instead showing how resilience and perseverance can eventually pay off. The Author’s Note at the end of the book offers more information on Sundar and the other customs that he has ended, including child marriage.

The illustrations show the changing landscape as the trees are planted. From a desert-like wasteland, the steady increase in trees transforms the landscape and the pages to lush green. The images focus on the interplay between human and nature, showing a community that even when skeptical continued to listen.

An inspiring picture book that tells the true story of one man’s quest to bring back trees and stop gender inequality. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns

Cover image for You’re Invited to a Moth Ball

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

Combining detailed instructions, plenty of encouragement and vivid photography, this book invites families and classes to create their own nighttime moth ball. The first steps are understanding moths and then putting together the supplies and tools you will need: including a sheet, rope, UV collecting light, and your own camera and flashlight. Prepare the screen and then also make sure you have a snack, one for the moths of course! Now you have two types of bait: light and nectar. Patience is part of the process, as more moths will come as the night gets later and darker. Take your time, be gentle, and marvel at these creatures that live all around us.

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. Her encouragement to do research is appreciated, dedicating time in her set up of the moth ball to model reading books and learning about the creatures you are going to view. Her instructions are child-centered, creating a process that children can do themselves and participate in directly.

The photographs also center on the children managing the entire process themselves. When night falls, the magic in the photos happens as children carry their own lights, the moths arrive and the real party begins. The images of the moths themselves show their proboscis, furry bodies and amazing wings.

A grand project to immerse children and families into wildlife, insects and spending the night outside. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Me and the World: An Infographic Exploration by Mireia Trius

Cover image for Me and the World

Me and the World: An Infographic Exploration by Mireia Trius, illustrated by Joana Casals (9781452178875)

Through a series of eye-catching infographics, this book introduces readers to the world. The infographics focus on personal things like family structure, most popular names, living spaces, and breakfast foods. It also looks more broadly at things like world population, city populations, traffic in cities, schools and homework. There are more light hearted infographics too like most popular dog breeds, summer vacations, sports and birthdays.

This book is worth exploring closely. Each double-page spread offers an infographic with layered information and an intriguing look at what data can show us about ourselves and about our world. The infographics are done in a modern flat style that works well with the numbers that are designed into the images. The images and numbers are carefully selected to be of interest to children and also easily understood by them.

A fascinating glimpse into our world from a variety of points of data. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt

Cover image for A Long Road on a Short Day

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (9780544888364)

One January morning, Samuel’s mother mentioned that she wished they had a cow. His father smiled, took his best knife, and invited Samuel to come along to find a cow for his mother. So the two headed out into the cold and snow. At the Snow’s place, they traded the knife for two tin lanterns. Samuel got to play with their dog a bit too. At the Perry’s house they traded the lanterns for a book of poetry. Samuel got to visit some kittens in the barn and got a doughnut too. They traded the book to Widow Mitchell for a pitcher, then the pitcher for a sheep when Dr. Fulton went by. At the general store, the sheep was traded for a pocket watch after Samuel struggled to get it into the pen. He was glad they weren’t keeping the sheep! The pocket watch was traded for a pony and cart. With the storm brewing and night coming on, they almost stopped, but decided to keep trying for a cow. Soon Samuel was picking out a cow in trade for the pony and cart, and he got to choose something else besides!

Schmidt fills this simple story of trading with neighbors with so many small details that the entire small community is populated with characters. Each has a reason for needing to make the trade and often a treat for Samuel along the way. While the road is long and cold, it is also filled with a merry sense of community and shared responsibility. When Samuel makes the hard choice to not keep the little pony and cart, he is rewarded with more than a stubborn sheep for his sacrifice.

Yelchin’s illustrations are done in full-color in this chapter book. They show Samuel meeting each animal along his travels, each animal (except the sheep) one that he longs to keep with him. The illustrations have a marvelous old-fashioned, country quality to them.

A great wintry chapter book with lots of animals and a series of marvelous smart trades. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.

6 Great Children’s Books Coming in December

The Dog Who Saved the World by Ross Welford

Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang

History of the World in Comics by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, illustrated by Adrienne Barman

Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy by Melissa de la Cruz

Pirate Stew by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

The Smartest Kid in the Universe by Chris Grabenstein

Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata

Cover image for Saucy

Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata (9781442412781)

Becca is a quadruplet which makes it hard to be unique. Her three brothers all have their own thing that makes them special: sports, music or science. Becca doesn’t have anything, though she keeps on searching for it. So when she finds a piglet with a bad case of mange on the side of the road, she thinks she may have found it. After a long stay at the vet, Becca is the owner of a pig, one that will grow to 600 pounds! She knows that eventually she will need to donate the pig to a sanctuary, but for now Saucy lives with her and her family. Saucy though has her own ideas about how to live in a house. They involve flipping chairs to ask for more food, rooting around in the refrigerator at night, and needing Becca to sleep in the kitchen on the floor with her. Becca must wrestle with losing Saucy as she grows bigger and bigger. Then Becca decides that she must find out where Saucy came from, something that will involve her entire family, just like caring for Saucy did.

Kadohata has written award-winning books that are heart wrenching. Here, she offers readers a light and fresh read that is just as well written as her previous books. Just having a pig in a book changes it for the better, offering humorous moments that the pig brings on their own. Saucy is a pig that readers will fall for just as hard as Becca and her family does. There is an underlying question throughout the book about factory farms and the treatment of farm animals that Kadohata takes on directly in a way that shows that children can make a difference even about such large topics.

The characters are great from all of the brothers with their unique attitudes and personalities to Becca herself who is seeking to discover who she really is and clearly does by the end of the book. The adult characters are well done too, including a grandmother who is quite prickly but also smitten with Saucy. Then there is Saucy herself, who makes her own sort of noises and pushes her humans around very effectively.

Funny with real depth, this novel will have you falling in love with Saucy too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.