Best Books of 2021
Curl up with a good book this holiday season! Our top picks for the year will amuse, amaze and inspire kids of all ages to keep reading.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson and Nikkolas Smith (Kokila)
A young Black student gets an assignment to draw a flag of her ancestry, but she’s stuck. This book offers that Black history is rich and worthwhile and reaches back many generations before slavery. Written in verse with beautiful illustrations, this story is sure to interest kids curious to learn more about history and ancestry.
A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty and Wendy Leach (Running Press Kids)
One small act of kindness spreads through a small community of kids and teachers in this sweet picture book. Readers will learn small ways one can be kind to those around them.
The Barnabus Project by Terry Fan, Eric Fan and Devin Fan (Tundra Books)
Beneath Perfect Pets, where children can buy genetically engineered “perfect” creatures, there’s a secret lab of Failed Projects where Barnabus and his friends live. With a lot of courage, Barnabus sets out on an adventure to find freedom and a place of acceptance for him and his friends.
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long (Viking Books for Young Readers)
You might know Amanda Gorman as the youngest presidential inaugural poet, but did you know she wrote a children’s book? As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn they have the power to make big and small changes in their world, their communities and themselves.
Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki (Norton Young Readers)
A dad and his daughter play, read, garden and bake together. This book was inspired by Yamasaki’s work with formerly incarcerated people and the organizations who help them get back on their feet, with the author’s note at the end sharing more.
Dear Librarian by Lydia M. Sigwarth and Romina Galotta (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Young Lydia has never felt like she has a permanent home, but she discovers a new sense of belonging when her mom takes her to the library. Lydia and her librarian friend travel to joyous worlds beyond their own and cultivate a love of books and reading.
Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us by Paris Rosenthal and Holly Hatam (HarperCollins)
We all have a story of an educator who made a lasting impression on our lives. This book is a heartfelt letter of appreciation to teachers, coaches, leaders, role models, mentors and heroes who have made a difference in little ones’ lives and would be a perfect holiday gift!
Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison and Daniel Wiseman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Doug doesn’t like hugs – he’d rather receive a high five, low five, side five, double five or spinny five. This fun story will spark discussions about bodily autonomy and consent, showing kids it’s OK to ask others whether or not they like hugs and to set their own boundaries.
Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion by Stephen W. Martin and Dan Tavis (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Fluffy McWhiskers is so adorable that anyone who sees her spontaneously explodes into balls of sparkles and fireworks! Not wanting to hurt anyone, Fluffy runs away. This clever and comedic tale is a spin on the message of self-acceptance and friendship.
Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham (Chronicle Books)
Rainy days can feel dismal when kids are stuck inside, but this book shares all the reasons to love rain – blooming flowers, pretty umbrellas, puddles, hot chocolate and books! Alliteration and rich vocabulary will make this a fun book to read aloud as you follow the girl and her dog during a rainy day.
I Am a Bird by Hope Lim and Hyewon Yum (Candlewick Press)
Each day, as a little girl rides to school on the back of her father’s bike, she spreads her arms like wings and sings her bird song. But she gets too nervous around an elderly neighbor to continue this tradition. This cute book celebrates intergenerational friendships and teaches young readers not to make assumptions about others.
If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle Books)
Inspired by children the author met on her world travels, “If You Come to Earth” is a heartfelt depiction of the many different types of people in the world. With beautifully detailed illustrations that draw readers in, this book reminds us to take care of Earth and each other.
Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens by Elizabeth Lilly (Neal Porter Books)
Good meals bring families together, and this book celebrates the author’s two distinct cultures with a look at her different customs and traditions and is perfect for diverse families. The family visits Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s house for sausage and blackberry jam, before driving to Abuela’s for tostones, arroz and flan.
The Lost Package by Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook Press)
Give your kids a behind-the-scenes look at the post office in this sweet tale of friendship that proves distance isn’t a factor. Starting as an empty box, this package was packed with great care and given a personal touch, but it loses its way! The touching author’s note shares Ho’s father was a dedicated USPS employee for more than 30 years.
The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Giorgio (Candlewick Press)
At a nighttime fairground, wild animals emerge from the forest to explore the fun of the fair. With gorgeous illustrations, this wordless book details what animals might be up to when humans are asleep.
Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
On a long subway ride, Milo likes to view those around him and imagines stories of their lives, but when one of his imagined subjects gets off at the same stop, he realizes you can’t know anyone just by looking at them.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Follow the life of Nina Simone as she makes the journey from child piano player to acclaimed singer and civil rights activist. Engaging artwork complements Nina’s story as she overcomes setbacks and racism with determination and a love of music.
The Night Walk by Marie Dorléans (Floris Books)
What happens when we’re asleep? One family ventures out on a nighttime adventure, experiencing the wonders of nature in the darkness. Beautifully illustrated, this book reminds readers that the journey can be just as exciting as the destination.
Off to See the Sea by Nikki Grimes and Elizabeth Zunon (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)
A little boy is reluctant to take his bath, but his parents turn the chore into a magical underwater adventure, with sea creatures, a waterfall and a search for treasure.
Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham (Roaring Brook Press)
This insightful book takes readers through the changes COVID-19 brought to the world through the eyes of a child’s. Challenges and loss become opportunities to search for silver linings and highlight the value of hope and perseverance.
Poem in My Pocket by Chris Tougas and Josée Bisaillon (Kids Can Press)
A young boy’s poem is scattered during a storm, and the words blow outside, forming new rhymes and silly wordplay. The boy scrambles to capture and reassemble his poem and learns that words can be used in many ways. This allegory of the creative writing process will inspire young poets and writers.
Shy Willow by Cat Min (Levine Querido)
Willow, a very shy bunny, lives in an abandoned mailbox to hide from the busy world. When a boy drops a letter into her box, she goes on an adventure to help make his wish come true. A story of bravery, this book illustrates the value of empathy and selflessness.
Sincerely, Emerson: A Girl, Her Letter, and the Helpers All Around Us by Emerson Weber and Jaclyn Sinquett (HarperCollins)
In this true story, 11-year-old Emerson sends a letter of thanks to her postal carrier and is showered with grateful responses from carriers across the country. She learns the importance of the essential workers we see every day, and that one small act of kindness can have a big impact.
Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler and Loren Long (Dial Books)
Architects, artists and scientists design our bridges, books and amusement parks, but someone has to build them. A tribute to the people who work with their hands, this book explores the behind-the-scenes look at everything – and everyone – it takes to build our world.
Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham and C.G. Esperanza (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
A young boy learns to cook the food for his family’s weekly gathering in this heartwarming story. Guided by his grandmother, he learns to make each dish step-by-step and even adds a contribution of his own. Colorful, mural-style illustrations complement this celebration of family, food and traditions.
Thank You, Neighbor! by Ruth Chan (HarperCollins)
Inspired by Chan’s childhood walks in Brooklyn, this picture book celebrates the value of diversity and community. On a walk, the narrator visits with a variety of neighbors and helpers, depicting the importance of gratitude, connections and valuing others.
We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge)
Twelve students give presentations on the historical struggles and experiences of Native people. Topics like assimilation, language revival and relocation may be new for readers, and each lesson emphasizes the power of strength, resilience and perseverance.
We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers and Woodrow White (Chronicle Books)
In this book celebrating love and the power of imagination, a grandmother and grandson become jaguars and enter a world of nature, danger and freedom. As they return to the real world, readers are left wondering what was real and what was imagined.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? Nursery Rhymes to Empower Young Feminists by Jeanne Willis and Isabelle Follath (Nosy Crow)
These witty retellings of traditional nursery rhymes prove that girls can be heroes, too. Humpty Dumpty’s doctor is female, Bo Peep’s sheep aren’t lost at all, and Georgie Porgie doesn’t dare make the girls cry! This collection is perfect for reading aloud before bedtime.
Wren by Katrina Lehman and Sophie Beer (Scribble)
With a noisy baby in the family, all Wren wants is a little peace and quiet, so he moves to his grandparents’ house in the country. When he starts missing his little sister, he realizes that they may have more in common than he originally thought.
365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (Harry N. Abrams)
Rigel loves living in off-the-grid Alaska hunting rabbits, taking classes through mail and spending time with her family. But her parent’s divorce means she moves to a Connecticut suburb, where she must learn to reconnect with nature in an entirely new way.
Alone by Megan E. Freeman (Aladdin)
Maddie wakes up alone in a town that’s been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned and must learn to survive on her own with her Rottweiler companion and books. She starts to trust her own ingenuity to make it in this deserted place, but she must deal with her crushing loneliness. This book of verse is perfect for fans of “Hatchet” or “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”
The House That Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold (Walden Pond Press)
Alder loves his cozy little house with an walnut tree, but a new family with an annoying girl his own age moves in next door and cuts down the tree. Starting off on the wrong foot, it seems impossible that these two will become friends, but mysterious and magical puzzles start to draw them together.
Peacemaker by Joseph Bruchac (Dial Books)
This historical novel is based on the creation of the Iroquois Confederacy, which many historians have said inspired the U.S. Constitution. On a hunting expedition, Okwaho’s friend is kidnapped, and as The Five Nations of the Iroquois have been at war for so long, he wants to seek revenge for his friend. He meets a stranger who shares life lessons that convince him to help the fighting nations resolve their differences.
Summer of Stolen Secrets by Julie Sternberg (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Grateful for the opportunity to spend three weeks in Baton Rouge away from her friends-turned-bullies, Catarina is finally going to meet her mysterious grandmother. But when the summer isn’t going right, she stumbles onto a secret that her grandmother refuses to speak of. This book offers readers a sweet look into family connections and history.
– Compiled by Laura Powell, Emily Webb and Mary Williams