Well, 2020 was a year. (As Sloane Crosley wrote in The Clasp, “Was there a worse compliment than the one with no adjective?”) At many times during the year, the only good news was news from the publishing world: wonderful new books from debut authors and illustrators, and eagerly- (impatiently-) awaited new books from established authors and illustrators.
As always, I read many new books this year, as well as many new-to-me books published in previous years. In this post, I’m going to highlight only my favorites published in 2020, because this was a tough year for authors and illustrators and I want to cheerlead their books as best I can. Betsy Bird at SLJ is doing a superb and even more detailed/themed job of this over on her blog; see “31 Days, 31 Lists.”
Here’s my 2019 reading wrap-up. And now, on to 2020’s reading:
Total number of books read: 619. Fewer than last year! But we did a lot of re-reading.
Partially read/started-didn’t-finish: 12. Some cookbooks, some poetry, some children’s books that were over the head of the kiddo so we only read sections, or I skimmed.
Picture books: 324. There were so many outstanding picture books published this year. We also re-read many of the picture books we discovered last year and the year before, but I’m focusing on 2020 titles especially:
- My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
- One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole
- Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
- Maud and Grand-Maud by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Kenard Pak
- If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall
- On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
- Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le
- Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton
- Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
Early readers: 31. I still love Laurel Snyder’s Charlie & Mouse with my whole heart. We also discovered Saadia Faruqi’s fabulous Meet Yasmin this year. (If you are in charge of a school library or children’s section of a public library and don’t have Yasmin – get them!!) Mo Willems’ perpetually popular Elephant & Piggie books are even more fun now that the kiddo reads, so we each choose a part (I’m usually Gerald) and read aloud together.
Chapter books: 21. Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory was a huge hit with everyone in our family this year, in audio and print. We also read Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, more Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (with illustrations by Sophie Blackall), and the Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty.
Middle grade (some overlap with YA): 88. A few standouts published in 2020:
- The Thief Knot (A Greenglass House Story) by Kate Milford
- Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
- Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
- The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
- Wink by Rob Harrell
- We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
- When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
- Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (novel in verse)
- Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
- A Place at the Table and A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi (of Yasmin fame)
- The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman
- Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar
- Three Keys by Kelly Yang (sequel to Front Desk)
- Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap
- King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (National Book Award)
YA/teen (some overlap with MG): 41.
- Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
- Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (graphic novel memoir)
- Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X, With the Fire on High)
- Parachutes by Kelly Yang
- Again, Again by E. Lockhart
- Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone
Adult fiction: 51 (including about 16 romance novels, because if there was ever a year where a HEA was required, it was this one).
- The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
- Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
- The Book of V by Anna Solomon
- A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
- Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
- The Searcher by Tana French
- The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
- The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
- Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
- Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)
Nonfiction: 35ish (some overlap with other categories; not including 9 how-to books; 87 total nonfiction books, including books written for children). A few standout 2020 titles in this category:
- Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
- How You Say It by Katherine D. Kinzler
- You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
- The Genius of Women by Janice Kaplan
- The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantú
- The Black Friend by Joseph Frederick
- The Story of More by Hope Jahren
- How to Be A Conscious Eater by Sophie Egan
- It’s Not About the Burqa, edited by Mariam Khan (2019)
- Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner (middle grade)
Graphic novels: 17. I heard New Kid author Jerry Craft speak (virtually, of course) and he mentioned that there are several storylines that are only depicted in the illustrations of his books, not in the text at all; careful readers (or re-readers) will pick up on those. Visual literacy is literacy! A few more 2020 titles to mention:
- Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm) by Lucy Knisley (middle grade)
- Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (middle grade)
- Twins by Varian Johnson (middle grade)
- When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson (MG/YA)
- Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (MG/YA)
- Class Act by Jerry Craft (MG/YA)
- Flamer by Mike Curato (YA)
Short stories/essay collections: 14. I have a whole separate post about this coming up, but to highlight just a few more 2020 titles:
- Disability Visibility, edited by Alice Wong
- A Map is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary
- A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
- Why Did I Get a B? and Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge by Shannon Reed
- Come On In, edited by Adi Alsaid
- Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
Audiobooks: 15. We also do a lot of re-reading on audio – for example, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, narrated by Jessica Almasy; the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, narrated by Stockard Channing; the Dory Fantasmagory series by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson; the Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale, narrated by Julia Whelan.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 132. And our reading life – and life-life – is so much deeper and richer for having these mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. More faces, more stories, more variety.
Five-star ratings: 17. (There are an awful lot of 4.5 and 4-star ratings as well.) Several of these were picture books, but there’s also a cookbook (Pastry Love by Joanne Chang, which I happened to have checked out from the library when everything shut down in March and kept – and baked from – for months) and Alix E. Harrow’s smashing new novel, The Once and Future Witches.
Re-reads: 8 according to LibraryThing, but I don’t have an accurate way of tracking this, other than to note “re-read” in my review. It was definitely more than eight, but they were mostly picture books, early readers, or chapter books. I did read Seanan McGuire’s In An Absent Dream twice this year – it’s my favorite of her Wayward Children series. And I’ll likely re-read Kate Milford’s Greenglass House or one of its companions between now and New Year’s, as is my December tradition – I just bought a copy of Bluecrowne.
None of us can be sure what 2021 holds, but I feel reasonably certain that whatever else, there will be books. Thank you to everyone involved in that process: the authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publicists, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers.