I don’t think our annual roundup of the best children’s books of 2020 could come at a better time. As we’re heading into a winter of quarantining in 2021, my goal is to turn off the TV more and open up more books.

This is my sixth year compiling all the year’s best-of lists for children’s books, all in one convenient place for you. Bookmark this post, so you have it for quick reference whenever your kids are looking for the next good book to read. I even bookmark it!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this article is always a huge labor of love, and it’s my favorite one to write every year. It takes days for me to read through all these lists of the best children’s books of 2020, read more of them myself, and to highlight the ones I think our readers will love.

So, from picture books to early chapter books to YA novels I love to read even without my kids, I present the best children’s books of 2020.

(Note: some of the 2020 lists include books from 2019, but you can never have too many good book recommendations, in my opinion.)

And as always, keep en eye out for lots of new children’s book recommendations throughout the year, too.

One last thing: We’ve always believed that it’s important to support small business at Cool Mom Picks, and in 2021 more than ever. So we’re linking to the CMP Indiebound shop through Bookshop.org, which shares profits with independent bookstores on every purchase. Yay! If you prefer shopping at Amazon, just click the (Amazon) link after each title. Or of course, visit your own local bookseller in your neighborhood. I’m sure they’d love the business…and even help you find more terrific new children’s books for you shelves.

This post contains affiliate links, and purchases may generate a small commission that helps support our team at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

The Best Children’s Books and Award Winners of 2020

Contents:

The Caldecot Medal
The Newbery Medal
The Coretta Scott King Awards
The Pura Belpré Awards
The Stonewall Awards
The 2020 National Book Awards
The New York Times Best Children’s Books of 2020
Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2020
Amazon Editors’ Best Chidlren’s Books of 2020
NPR Best Children’s Books of 2020
Brain Pickings Favorite Children’s Books of 2020
Brightly Editors Best Children’s Books of 2020
Parents Magazine Best Children’s Books of 2020
Good Reads’ Choice Awards of 2020

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Past “Best Children’s Book Lists of the Year” posts

The best children’s books of 2019
The best children’s books of 2018
The best children’s books of 2017
The best children’s books of 2016
The best children’s books of 2015

2020 ALA Book Awards

The American Library Association (ALA) hands out the biggest awards in children’s publishing every year, but they also partner with more niche groups, like the American Indian Library Association, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, and the Association of Jewish Libraries (PDF) to recognize important books in those categories too.

The best children's books of 2020: The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander is the Caldecott medal winner.

The 2020 Caldecott Medal, for outstanding illustration

This year’s Caldecott Medal goes to The Undefeated (Amazon) illustrated by the incredible Kadir Nelson, and written by Kwame Alexander. It’s on nearly every best children’s books of 2020 list, and has won numerous awards for its depiction of the strength of the Black contribution to American society. Start here for a must-have book for your collection at home, no matter how old your kids.

 

The best children's books of 2020: New Kid by Jerry Craft is the Newbery medal winner

The 2020 Newbery Medal, for outstanding writing

I’m fascinated to see a graphic novel win the Newbery Medal this year, but the numerous awards that New Kid (Amazon) by Jerry Craft received, make it clear that this book is something special. It’s about a middle school boy who loves to draw, but struggles to fit in at his new prestigious high school where he’s one of the few children of color in his grade.

The 2020 Coretta Scott King awards, for African-American authors and illustrators

This year, the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott each received the Coretta Scott King writing and illustration awards as well. Doubly honored, and well deserved!

Related: 5 must-read new children’s books about Black history in 2020

The best children's books of 2020: The Pura Belpré award winners

The 2020 Pura Belpré awards, for Hispanic authors and illustrators

We’ve shared our affections for Dancing Hands (Amazon) by Rafael López, and I’m so happy to see it take the Pura Belpré Award for best illustration. This lovely biography of pianist Teresa Carreño opened my eyes to an inspiring figure in Hispanic history who I hadn’t previously known.

The writing award went to the first boo in a new sci-fi series for kids, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (Amazon) by Carlos Hernandez, which the publisher describes as a “mind-blowing novel gift wrapped with love and laughter.” Sci-fi written with Cuban influence? Sounds amazing.

 

The best children's books of 2020: The Stonewall Youth award winners

The 2020 Stonewall Book Awards, for LGBTQ+ topics 

A novel-in-verse, The Black Flamingo (Amazon) by Dean Attas is a fierce coming-of-age story about a Greek-Cypriot/Jamaican boy in London who finally “finds his place” at The Drag Society. Thus, the Black Flamingo is born.

2019’s When Aidan Became a Brother (Amazon) by Kyle Lukoff and Kaylani Juanita is a first-of-its-kind picture book about a trans boy about to become a big brother. It’s a reassuring story for any child who concerned about “making everything perfect” for a new younger sibling, and will be especially meaningful for trans children who who don’t yet have much representation in children’s books.

Related: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo: Because love is love. Even for bunnies.

The 2020 National Book Awards

The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is a highly respected award, given to a literary book generally suited to the reading levels of our older teens. Or, you know, us. Because we love YA books too.

The best children's books of 2020: King and the Dragon Flies by Kacen Callender

The 2020 National Book Award winner for young people’s literature is King and the Dragonflies (Amazon) by Kacen Callender. For a teen who’s emotionally mature enough to handle difficult themes about grief and abuse, this is a powerful and important story. Set in a Louisiana bayou, it centers on 12-year-old Kingston James who grapples with his brother’s death and his friend’s disappearance amid rumors that he’s gay. It’s been compared to The Stars Beneath Our Feet, but reminds me of The Bridge to Terebithia.

The New York Times Best Children’s Books of 2020

Among the New York Times list of best children’s books each year, we tend to find thoughtful books with stunning art. You’ll need a NYT account to see their full list, but I’ve picked some of my favorites here.

The best children's books 2020: The New York Times best children's books picks.

On the New York Times Editors list of the best children’s books of 2020, I’m excited to find Jerry Pinkney’s modern adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale made extra popular by Disney, The Little Mermaid (Amazon). This gorgeous picture book features all Black characters, and what’s more, Melody befriends a human girl instead of falling for a boy. Lovely.

In Outside In (Amazon) by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby, Outside is patiently waiting to reveal all her gifts, from healing to inventing to playfulness, to the reader. Pack this one up on a picnic and read it outside with your kids.

Particularly resonant for these times, There Must Be More Than That! (Amazon) by Shinsuke Yoshitake is a witty but empowering books for kids. It follows a young girl, after her brother tells her their future is doomed! To cope, she imagines many possible scenarios rather than only good or bad outcomes, and learns that she has the ability to make choices.

When You Look Up (Amazon) by Argentinian artist/illustrator Decur (Guillermo Decurge) is a stunner of a graphic novel and just so perfect for the digital age. The hero is a cell-phone obsessed boy who moves to a new home, when he discovers a mysterious notebook in a secret compartment of a desk, that sends him off on an adventure.

 

The best children's books of 2020: The New York Times selections for best YA books.

From The New York Time’s Best YA Books, I want to highlight Mañanaland (Amazon) by Pam Muñoz Ryan, which has garnered a slew of starred reviews. In this magical realism novel, we join a young boy in his perilous quest into the haunted ruins that once hid refugees from a neighboring dictator.

In The Silver Arrow (Amazon) by Lev Grossman, 10-year-old Kate asks her rich uncle for a lavish birthday gift and gets it: a silver train full of talking animals. This eco-fable shows how kids like Kate might be able to save the world, after all — and I know so many kids in my life who would appreciate this gift.

A best children’s book of 2020 that I’ve seen on many lists this year, Everything Sad is Untrue (Amazon) by Daniel Nayeri is an autobiographical novel. It describes Nayeri’s midnight flee from Iran with secret police close behind, followed by time in a refugee camp in Italy, and finally a brutal shift to a fifth grade classroom in Oklahoma.

Another highly recommended book this year, The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth (Amazon) edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, features essays, stories, poems, and many engaging illustrations, cartoons and more to help kids understand and explore the topic of racism from more than 30 contributors. It’s emerging as a very important read for raising anti-racist kids.

Related: Meena Harris on the importance of diversity in children’s books, and raising kids who care

Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2020

Publisher’s Weekly is an industry magazine, with the primary purpose of giving bookstores reviews of new books each year. Getting a starred review from PW is any author’s goal, and making their best-of list is a true honor. The books you find on their list are both critically excellent but also commercially successful.

The best children's books of 2020: The Publishers' Weekly picks for best children's books.

In their best picture books of 2020, the books I am going to check out first from my library are The Blue House (Amazon) by Phoebe Wahl, an emotional depiction of having to leave a house that you love.

Hiroshi Osada’s Every Color of Light (Amazon), translated by David Boyd and illustrated by Ryōji Arai, is gentle and lyrical, with a story that inspires children to find their own relationship with nature and the night sky.

The non-fiction book, Honeybee (Amazon), by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann, explains the life cycle of this critically important insect for children. It’s a particularly great pick for homeschooling and for classrooms.

And I’m a huge fan of past Caldecott-winner Carson Ellis’s folksy illustrations, so I’m excited to explore the idea of halves with her new In the Half Room (Amazon).

The best children's books of 2020: The Publisher's Weekly picks for best middle grade books.

In PW’s Best Middle Grade Books of 2020 category, I’m excited about Echo Mountain (Amazon) by Lauren Wolk, which has been on many of the best-of lists this year. It’s set in the untamed wilderness of Echo Mountain following the Great Depression and is a stunning story of resilience and friendship.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a favorite author of mine, and her new Fighting Words (Amazon) tackles the difficult topic of child sexual abuse and the strength of the sister-bond.

On the lighter side, Skunk and Badger (Amazon) by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by CMP favorite Jon Klassen, received so many starred reviews this year, I had to include it here. It’s billed as a sort of Wallace and Gromit meets Winnie-the-Pooh tale featuring a classic odd-couple friendship.

Finally, When Stars Are Scattered (Amazon) by Victoria Jamieson (author of the wonderful Roller Girl) and Omar Mohamed is a graphic novel about heartbreak and hope set in a refugee camp, clearly a setting a lot of top children’s authors want to explore this year.

The best children's books of 2020: Publisher's Weekly picks in the YA category.

Finally, in PW’s Best YA books of 2020, you’ll find Cemetery Boys (Amazon) by Aiden Thomas, a paranormal Latinx novel about a trans boy who is determined to prove himself to his family accidentally summons a ghost in the process.

We’ve seen several critically acclaimed sports-themed books in the last few years, which I always look for because they can pull reluctant kids into reading through subjects they love. I’m hoping the graphic novel Dragon Hoops (Amazon) by Gene Luen Yang, about a high school basketball team’s attempt to win a state championship, can do just that for fans.

The Inheritance Games (Amazon) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the first in a two-book series centered on Avery Grambs, a high school student who just wants to do better in life by getting a good scholarship to a good college. But when an unknown billionaire dies and leaves his fortune to her, the story turns into a mysterious, twisted riddle that I imagine will be a hit with teen fans of Knives Out.

Brimming with female empowerment, Red Hood (Amazon) by Elana K. Arnold is a truly modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that’s perfect for teens. It’s a dark, bloody tale of one girl’s journey to regain her power — all set in the moody forests of Seattle.

Amazon Editors’ Best Children’s Books of 2020

Amazon’s list is decidedly more “commercial” than the other lists we feature, but over the last few years we’ve seen them include more of the kinds of books we tend to recommend. This year, we’ve chosen some of our favorites from their very broad categories of “children” and “YA,” but if you click through they also break down their list into smaller age groups too.

Best children's books of 2020: Amazon's editors' choices for best children's books.

From Amazon’s list of the best children’s books of 2020, I’d start with I Am Every Good Thing (Amazon) by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, the team behind Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut. This book celebrates what it means to be a Black boy, and it’s beautiful.

In a time when most of our material possessions are just tossed when they’re no longer useful, there’s room for The Old Truck (Amazon). The debut picture book by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey is about a farm girl who restores the beloved family truck as she grows her own farm too.

Black Brother, Black Brother (Amazon) by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a powerful exploration of racism. Here, two brothers — one with fairer skin than the other — experiencing bullying, racism and injustice in the school system.

We get a chance to enter the magical, imaginative world of the Fan brothers again with The Barnabus Project (Amazon) and I can’t wait. It’s a 72-page book about Barnabus, the half-mouse, half-elephant failed experiment of Perfect Pets. It’s a suspenseful and poignant story about being true to who you really are.

Best children's books of 2020: Amazon's editors' picks for best YA books of 2020

From Amazon’s Best YA Books of 2020 list, I want to highlight Punching the Air (Amazon) by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (of the Exonerated Five) is an important novel-in-verse about a wrongly incarcerated sixteen-year-old boy.

One of the bestselling books of the year, Stamped (Amazon) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi is the hallmark book on anti-racism for kids. If you don’t already own it, you’ll want it; Reynolds and Kendi are a remarkable team and we all can’t wait for more from them.

Set in 1940s Scotland, The Enigma Game (Amazon) by Elizabeth Wein is a fascinating story about the women who broke the German Enigma code during the war.

Picture You’ve Got Mail, updated (again) with two unknowing teens who are falling in love, but behind the scenes they’re part of an epic Twitter war impacting their family business. That’s what you’ll get in the charming rom-com, Tweet Cute (Amazon) by Emma Lord.

NPR Best Children’s Books of 2020

NPR’s Best Children’s Books list and best YA books list is wonderfully diverse, with special books that  honor natural rhythms of life, the differences among us, and the achievements of unexpected heroes.

Best children's books of 2020: NPR's picks for best books for children.

From NPR’s list of the best children’s books of 2020I’d like to recommend Ten Ways to Hear Snow (Amazon) by Cathy Camper and Kenard Oak, which celebrates time to pause and honor the quiet spaces in life.

I Talk Like a River (Amazon) by poet Jordan Scott (illustrated by Sydney Smith) is the author’s own experience with stuttering. I found it to be a beautiful, moving message about finding focus and overcoming — and with our new President shinning new light on stuttering over this past year, it’s the perfect time to pick this up.

Kids — and parents — who are passionate about protecting the environment will want a copy of We Are Water Protectors (Amazon) by Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goade. It’s inspired by indigenous efforts to save natural resources, and tells the tale of a dark snake threatening to poison Earth’s water sources.

Fauja Singh Keeps Going (Amazon) by Simran Jeet Singh and Baljinder Kadur tells the incredible story of the Sikh who became the world’s oldest person to complete a marathon at age 100. Whoa.

Best children's books of 2020: NPR's picks for the best YA books of the year.

From NPR’s list of the best YA books of 2020, I wanted to be sure to highlight the critically acclaimed historical mystery, They Went Left (Amazon) by Monica Hesse. Set in 1945 in Germany, it’s a harrowing tale of a young girl desperately trying to find her twin brother after the rest of their family was sent to die in the gas chambers.

Elatsoe (Amazon) by Darcie Little Badger and Rovina Cai is the story of a Lipan Apache girl, a murder mystery, and an America that’s much like ours except for one thing: magic is very real. It’s Darcie Little Badger’s debut speculative fiction work, and I’m excited to start it.

For a light, fun read try Every Reason We Shouldn’t (Amazon) by Sara Fujimura, about a former Olympic hopeful figure skater whose career has ended, presenting her the fresh chance to live a “normal” teen life including romance, roller derby, and Korean pastries.

The favorite book I bought my dystopian-fiction loving teen this year is Raybearer (Amazon) by Jordan Ifueko, which asks the question, “What if you were sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?” Reviewers are raving about Ifueko’s vivid world-building and excellent pacing — and my teen agrees.

Related: 16 terrifically creepy YA novels for kids (and adults!) who dig dark themes. Boo!

The best children's books of 2020: Brainpickings picks for 2020

Brainpickings’ Favorite Books of 2020

We always find the most gorgeous, thoughtful books from Maria Popova of Brain Pickings and her year-end roundup is always a favorite of all of ours. This year, she’s combined adult and children’s books into one post so you’ll have to scroll a bit to find the kids books, but we’ve highlighted some here.

The two books I’m highlight from Popova’s always thoughtful list are If You Come to Earth (Amazon) by Sophie Blackall and The Unwinding by Jackie Morris. Sophie Blackall seems to appear on her list almost every year, and with good reason. If You Come to Earth is her labor of love after traveling the world with UNICEF, and it calls on us all to take better care of our planet and each other. Morris’s The Unwinding is an enchanting tale of a mysterious woman and a great white polar bear who are bound together by love and their hunt for “wild dreams.” I haven’t yet read this one but by all accounts it’s extraordinary.

Brightly Editors’ Best Children’s Books of 2020

Brightly is all about raising kids who love to read, their curated lists are always engaging books kids will enjoy.

The best children's books of 2020: Brightly's picks for best babies and toddler books.

From Brightly’s list of the best books for babies and toddler in 2020 list, I’m most excited by Families Belong (Amazon) by Dan Saks and Brooke Smart, a playful celebration of the unconditional love of a family.

Also, we can’t get enough of books like Happy Hair (Amazon) by Mechal Renee Roe, which reminds all kids — but particularly children of color — to feel great about who they are.

The best children's books of 2020: Brightly's picks for best picture books of 2020.

In the best picture books of 2020 category, I’m excited to see some of my own favorites, like What We’ll Build (Amazon) by Oliver Jeffers, a beautiful father-daughter story about building the life you want.

A fun pick on this list is Attack of the Underwear Dragon (Amazon) by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald, which features dragons…in underwear.

And another ode to curly hair, Bedtime Bonnet (Amazon) by Nancy Redd and Nneka Myers, is the first-ever children’s book to celebrate Black bedtime hair traditions. If you’re a fan of Matthew Cherry’s Hair Love, as so many of us are, this is a terrific picture book for you.

The best children's books of 2020: Brightly's picks for best tween books.

Their best books for tweens in 2020 list, includes the book I selected for my own son this Christmas: The Last Kids on Earth: Skeleton Road (Amazon) by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate. It’s the fifth book in the series that’s now become a Netflix show, and you know we’re big fans of reading the book if you’re going to watch the movie or TV adaptation!

Wink (Amazon) by Rob Harrell is a funny, heartwarming story about a middle schooler with an unthinkable diagnosis, and it reminds me a bit of RJ Palacio’s Wonder. That’s high praise.

Another book featuring an atypical young hero is Tornado Brain (Amazon) by Cat Patrick. in which a neurodivergent middle schooler seeks out a best friend.

The multi-award-winning Jacqueline Woodson has been recognized on many lists this year for her new novel-in-verse, Before the Ever After (Amazon). This year, she’s exploring the cost of professional sports on athletes from the perspective of a pro-football player’s son.

Related: 5 fabulous children’s books about Black women leaders and activists…all written by Black women

 

The best children's books of 2020: Brightly's best books for teens choices.

In Brightly’s best YA books of 2020 category, I want to highlight Nina LaCour’s gripping, difficult, and incredibly compelling modern ghost story, Watch Over Me (Amazon) which will be a hit with kids who like darker stories.

Fans of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and rom-coms will enjoy the light new novel Super Fake Love Song (Amazon) by David Yoon, about a nerdy teen boy who accidentally finds himself in a lie to impress a girl. The lie? He’s the front man for a rock band!

Nic Stone’s sequel to Dear Martin is getting recognition on lots of lists this year for tackling a really important, timely subject. Dear Justyce (Amazon) take a hard look at the flaws in the juvenile justice system, through a series of letters and flashbacks to Dear Martin‘s protagonist. It’s a terrific read for teens about a subject that’s getting more and more (well-deserved) coverage, of late.

For kids who want a fun read that’s full of drama and excitement, American Royals II: Majesty (Amazon) by Katherine McGee is the one. It’s billed as “Crazy Rich Asians meets The Crown,” as it spills all the juice on America getting its first queen. I’m sold!

The best children's and YA books of 2020: The Parents Magazine picks

Parents Magazine Best Children’s Books of 2020

The editors of Parents magazine choose 30 picture and chapter books they loved this year. It’s a diverse, if “safe,” group of picks.

From Parents’ best picture books for children of 2020 selections, I’d start with Sue Lowell Gallion and Lisk Feng’s Our World (Amazon), which engages kids with info about planet Earth…and the book even turns into a globe, too!

One of my preschooler’s favorite books these days is Stephanie Babin and Ilaria Falorsi’s Who Does What? (Amazon), with heavy-duty sliding tabs revealing workers and their jobs.

As a big Minh Lê and Dan Santat fan, I highly recommend their newest collaboration, Lift (Amazon), an imaginative adventure of a girl and her younger brother with the help of a magic elevator.

From Parents’ nonfiction list, I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of History Smashers: The Mayflower (Amazon) by Kate Messner and Dylan Meconis, which highlights the importance of fact-checking and truth, as it blasts stereotypes and challenges kids to think critically about history — or what we’ve been lead to believe is history.

Linda Sue Park’s Prairie Lotus (Amazon) is billed as a modern take on Laura Ingalls, with a bi-racial teen named Hanna adjusting to life in the Dakota Territory.

Finally, their editors claim that James Ponti’s City Spies (Amazon), a tale full of adventure and intrigue, gives them a Hogwarts vibe. For tens of thousands of kids, that’s definitely a good thing!

Best children's books of 2020: The Good Reads picks

Good Reads’ Choice Awards 2020

Good Reads keeps their picks short and sweet: one winner in four categories, nominated and voted on by Good Reads users. That said, you can click through to see every single nominee from readers in each one too for more ideas.

We’ve seen a lot of praise for their young adult fiction winner, Elizabeth Acevedo’s Clap When You Land (Amazon)—a novel in verse about two girls who discover they’re sisters when their father dies in a plane crash.

In the young adult fantasy category—a category we don’t see in many other lists—Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing (Amazon). This is her final installment in the Folk of the Air series, and a jaw-dropping one at that.

Rick Riordan takes his 10th consecutive win in the Middle Grade and Children’s category with The Trials of Apollo: The Tower of Nero (Amazon). My kids have loved Riordan’s novels based on mythology, and this series is living up to its reputation.

Finally, a favorite of ours this year, Antiracist Baby (Amazon) by Ibram X. Kendi and Ashley Lukashevsky takes the prize for best picture book of the year. And maybe ours, as well. If you don’t yet have this in your collection, we highly recommend you add it — at least if it’s finally back in stock!  And hey, if you’re shopping for a baby or toddler gift right now, it’s one of our favorites.

 

Quick links to all the Best Children’s Books of 2020 Lists

The 2020 ALA Book Awards
The 2020 National Book Awards
The New York Times Best Children’s Books of 2020
Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2020
Amazon Editors’ Best Chidlren’s Books of 2020
NPR Best Children’s Books of 2020
Brain Pickings’ Favorite Children’s Books of 2020
Brightly Editors’ Best Children’s Books of 2020
Parents Magazine Best Children’s Books of 2020
Good Reads’ Choice Awards of 2020

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