This year, we’ve been searching for screen-free entertainment and reading more than ever. Our favorites will amuse, amaze and inspire kids of all ages to keep reading.

Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes by Masha Manapov (Enchanted Lion Books)
Marcus gets his first pair of new shoes, reminding his grandfather of a boy named Ariba, whose shoes took him on multiple adventures. This humorous story features history, family and gorgeous illustrations.

Big Ideas for Little Philosophers by Duane Armitage and Robin Rosenthal (Penguin Randomhouse)
Explore big ideas in a kid-friendly way with historical figures and fun illustrations. Kids will learn about equality, truth, happiness, imagination, kindness and love in an accessible way.

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom and Shane W. Evans (HarperCollins)
A grandfather and grandson travel through time to discover their own African American history. This delightful story discusses what it means to be brave, even when you’re feeling scared.

Bike & Trike by Elizabeth Verdick and Brian Biggs (Simon & Schuster)
Lulu has outgrown her rusty tricycle, Trike, who must learn to get along with the shiny, new Bike in this tale about friendship. These sentient toys have a lot to learn from each other!

The Bug Girl: A True Story by Sophia Spencer and Margaret McNamara (Schwartz & Wade)
This biographical story follows 7-year-old Sophia, who was bullied for loving bugs until hundreds of women scientists rallied around her. This inspiring story encourages all ages to pursue what they love, and it features interesting bug facts and illustrations.

Catching Thoughts by Bonnie Clark and Summer Macon (Beaming Books)
A young girl is weighed down by an unhappy thought and can’t get rid of it, until she faces it and discovers she can fill her mind with whatever she chooses. Perfect for any child with anxiety, this story helps children understand the idea of mindfulness.

The Great Realization by Tomos Roberts and Nomoco (HarperCollins)
This poetry book was written for Roberts’s younger brother and sister in response to the pandemic and shares an inspiring message of hope, resilience and kindness in  a kid-friendly way.

Hurry Up! A Book About Slowing Down by Kate Dopirak and Christopher Silas Neal (Beach Lane Books)
A busy boy is always hurrying to move onto the next event in his life until he stops to take in the world around him. The effective pacing in this book mimics the rush and slowing down, helping kids understand what it means to be in the present moment.

Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick)
Jabari wants to invent a flying machine, but it’s not going like he planned until he reluctantly gets help from his little sister. This second book in a series focuses on perseverance and highlights Black inventors and scientists.

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
This book celebrates all girls with poetry and mini-stories, bright portraits and vibrant colors. Girls will love finding the poems and portraits that resemble them in this empowering book.

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (Nancy Paulsen Books)
This upbeat book features a confident Black narrator who is proud of who he is. This story is filled with positive messages and is perfect for uplifting Black boys.

In the Half Room by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
This whimsical book takes on halves and wholes by exploring a whole room that only shows half of things! Accompanied by surreal illustrations, kids will expand their imaginations by thinking about the phases of the moon, light and shadow.

My Favorite Memories by Sepideh Sarihi and Julie Völk (Blue Dot Kids Press)
In this sweet story, a young girl is moving to a new country and doesn’t understand why she can’t bring all of her favorite items with her. If your family has moved or is planning to move, this book is perfect for explaining the beauty of memories and appreciating things when they aren’t with you.

Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez (Lee & Low Books)
It’s your favorite snack, but did you know how it was created? This book tells the story of Ignacio Anaya, nicknamed Nacho, and how his love of food led to the creation of the popular snack with fun illustrations. Make a plate of nachos to share while reading this story!

The Perfect Birthday Recipe by Katy Hudson (Capstone)
The final story in a seasonal set of picture books follows Tortoise, Bird, Rabbit and Squirrel baking Beaver’s birthday cake, but perfectionist Beaver would rather do it himself. This hilarious tale and the gorgeous illustrations show the value of friendship, even when it’s not quite perfect.

Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers and Lane Smith (Chronicle Books)
Instead of succumbing to the boredom of bedtime, an imaginative young boy explores all the possibilities tomorrow might bring. This cute story is sure to become a new bedtime classic.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook Press)
Inspired by Indigenous-led movements across North America, this book celebrates the beauty and necessity of Earth’s water. This story will lead to thought-provoking conversations about Native Americans, the environment and activism.

What We’ll Build: Plans for our Future Together by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books)
This sweet father-daughter story follows the pair as they use special tools to build memories, a home and love.

You Matter by Christian Robinson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Multiple perspectives from different people are explored in this story. This empathetic and loving book shows that you matter no matter what others think of you.

Zoom Space Adventure by Susan Hayes and Susanna Rumiz (What on Earth Books)
Ava explores the solar system, and the reader will, too, with interactive pages and pop-up surprises. Young readers will also learn more about space with fascinating facts.

Chapter Books

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books)
ZJ’s father, a talented pro football star, has always been his hero, but lately, his dad is having trouble remembering things and is often angry. This story deals with tough subjects, while also showing the importance of love and support in families, friends and communities.

Brave Like That by Lindsey Stoddard (HarperCollins)
Cyrus has never been as brave as his dad, who used to be a football star and is now a firefighter. With the help of his new dog, Parker, Cyrus and readers learn that there are many different kinds of bravery.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Set during the Great Depression, Ellie’s family has lost everything, and she’s determined to help by climbing the top of the mountain to discover a secret that will heal her father. This book explores our connection to nature, casting it as both friend and foe.

Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Esther and her father have fled to Cuba to escape Poland, and until she can be reunited with her beloved sister, Esther resolves to write down everything interesting that’s happened. A look at historical events and hope, this book is inspired by the author’s family history.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books)
Bea’s life has changed in many ways since her parent’s divorce, but she has a list of things that will stay the same in her green notebook. But how will the list help her when her dad remarries and she gets a stepsister? For middle grades, this character-driven book deals with anxiety, divorce and family issues.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books)
In 1880, half-Asian Hanna is determined to get an education, become a dressmaker and make a friend. Learn more about United States history and what life was like on the prairie.

The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest (Candlewick)
Set during WWII, Julie and her sister, Martha, find a baby on the library’s steps. Meanwhile, Bruno is on an errand for his brother who’s a soldier overseas, but when he sees Julie kidnapping a baby, he knows he has to follow her instead. Told from their three perspectives, this historical fiction novel deals with siblings, empathy and what it means to be a family.

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson and Nina Mata (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
The first book in a middle grade series, Ryan deals with school, self-image and her family, all while trying to stay positive and make sunshine. A delightful look at a Black girl’s life, this story is sure to make young girls feel represented.

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar and Tim Heitz (HarperCollins)
This first installment in 25 years of this beloved series about the strange students and teachers at this strange school. These ridiculous and silly stories make it a perfect introduction to chapter books, as kids will zoom through the chapters.

Wink by Rob Harrell (Dial Books)
Ross’ recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer has caused his ability to be a normal seventh grader and blend in to disappear. The story creates a personal view of what it’s like to have cancer, as the author has lived through cancer, but also explores the good things that can happen when you get the chance to explore what it means to be who you are.

– Compiled by Laura Powell and Emily Webb

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