Top 40 Brilliant Children's Books Published this year
This year has been yet another great year for children's books. Some people say we are in a golden age for children's books and I think I agree; the quality of books around is simply astounding. Unfortunately, despite this fact the children's book market seems to be dominated by a small minority of celebrity authors. There are many complex reasons for this but I am thankful for all of the teachers and librarians as well as authors, booksellers and publishers who make it their business to promote the large diverse range of fantastic literature that doesn't get the same marketing and promotion of said celebrity authors. You people make a real difference to children's lives and I thank you for it.
So, having said that I decided to look at the books I have read and enjoyed that have been published this year. I need to credit Simon Smith @smithsmm for the inspiration for this post. I saw him do his own list of great children's books he's read this year and I decided to have a go.
I was going to do a top 10 but then discovered that I had read 40 books that I consider brilliant that have been published in 2020. I have read other brilliant books as well but the 40 that follow are all brilliant books from this year. Most of these books are Middle Grade novels as I do tend to read a lot of these, being a Y5/6 teacher but picture books, non-fiction and poetry all get a small mention as well.
So here is my list of brilliant children's books published in 2020 (there are plenty of other brilliant books that I just don't happen to have read yet. Feel free to recommend some in the comments section). They are in no particular order although I will be posting a top 10 on twitter. (The thread is at the end of this post for anyone interested) I have put links to all the books taking you to bookshop.org or the publisher of the book in case you want to buy any of them and support independent bookshops at the same time.
40 Brilliant Children's books from 2020
Fox: A circle of life story by Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egneus is a fabulous non fiction picture book that is simply beautiful and a great book for exploring life and death in nature.
In the words of the Guardian: 'This is the perfect book for talking to children about death'
Last: the Journey of a White Rhino by Nicola Davies. Is another beautiful picture book that is based on the true story of the last White Rhino. It is a great book for exploring wildlife conservation and it ends on a note of hope for the rhinos. Published by the brilliant Tiny Owl books, it's a great addition for any classroom.
The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook.
Following on with the animal theme at the start of this list, this is a brilliant middle grade adventure story. It has a strong female lead in Chaya (the story will appear to girls and boys) and is set in Sri Lanka. I loved this fast paced adventure story.
Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.
What a book! A perfect, if slightly chilling, middle grade dystopian novel to read during lockdown. This is beautifully written, full of rich vocabulary and themes with real depth. A great book for exploring the issue of humanities relationship with nature.
The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery is a perfect winter read. It evoked memories of stories that I loved in my childhood like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and although is set in the real world involves a journey across war torn Britain for Col with his imaginary friends made real. This book stayed with me for a while and if you haven't read it yet you really must!
Respect: The Walter Tull Story is the first, but not the last book published by Barrington Stoke on my list. I have been interested in Walter Tull for a few years, he is a fascinating and inspirational person that deserved to be better known. As with all Barrington Stoke books, this is a well written, quality text that is accessible for less confident readers.
Boy Everywhere by A. M. Dassu is a debut middle grade novel. It is quite a special book and I think it needs to be in every school. It is raw and harrowing in parts but in essence a story of survival, of family, of bravery ... In a world where we are told to see refugees as the 'other', this story will remind readers that 'they' are also 'us'.
The Lost Child's Quest by James Haddell. Another debut middle grade novel and one I was lucky enough to see before it was published. You can see my full review here: review. But to summarise, I loved the book. A mystery adventure steeped in magic and with real heart (and a love of history!).
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Another book I have written a full review for (here). I haven't read many graphic novels for children yet but this one blew me away. Based on the experiences of Omar Mohammed growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp it is another story that inspires and reminds the reader that refugees are people first. Buy Me
A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. This is the sequel to A Pinch of Magic and I thoroughly enjoyed returning to the Widdershins sisters world. An adventure story with family and friendship at its roots it is well worth a read for anyone who has read the first book in the series.
Daisy and the Unknown Warrior by by Tony Bradman and Tania Rex. Another brilliant story from Barrington Stoke. It's a really engaging story that tells us about the tomb of the unknown warrior through the eyes of Daisy whose father didn't come home from the war. The story is covered with sensitivity and encourages empathy.
Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley. This book isn't widely available in the UK yet (which is why the Buy Me section takes you to an American site). Brilliant story for Y6 and above covering the relationship between two outcast children who both have experience of parents with mental health problems. It is sometimes raw but overall a heart warming story about the power of the imagination and being brave.
Anne Frank: The girl heard around the world by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Aura Lewis. This is a picture book that is a perfect way to tell the Anne Frank story for key stage 2 children. The story is sensitively told and the illustrations add an extra dimension.
The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange is a brilliant middle grade mystery story. There is a hint of gothic spookiness about the story and it has one of the vilest villains I have ever come across in Clarence. Absolutely brilliant story.
The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. For anyone who has read the Lost Words this is a perfect accompaniment. This is such a beautiful book, wonderful illustrations and fabulous words. My first poetry book in this list.
The House of Clouds by Lisa Thompson. Another book by the brilliant Barrington Stoke; this one written by one of my favourite writers, Lisa Thompson. As you would expect this is a brilliant story that is accessible for less confident readers.
The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy. Another favourite author, absolutely loved Brightstorm and this is yet another Barrington Stoke book. Another great middle grade adventure story accessible to less confident readers (but a good read for all readers). I love the way Vashti Hardy so effortlessly builds a world and draws you into it.
The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley is a really creative middle grade adventure story. There are some sensitive issues covered in the story with an ill baby and I loved the view of the stone age through modern eyes.
A Secret of Birds and Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. This is one of my favourite writers so I was very excited when her new book came out and it did not disappoint. It is beautifully written as are all of her books and has at its root themes of family and sacrifice. A wonderful read.
The Girl who became a Tree by Joseph Coelho is a verse novel and it is astounding. I love Joseph Coelho's poetry and this story of a girl dealing with grief does not disappoint.
Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend. I feel like I have been waiting for this book for so long. I absolutely love the Nevermoor books and this third instalment did not disappoint. There is a full review here
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson is a brilliantly funny middle grade story. There is a lot of depth to this story and parts of it move from being touchingly emotional to hilariously funny within a few sentences. This is the sort of quality funny books children should be reading! Buy Me
October, October by Katya Balen is a book that is still with me months after reading it. There is a full review here but this is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long time, some of the prose took my breath away.
The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton is a middle grade mystery story full of magic. I have never been to Venice but I wanted to go there after reading this book. It's a great story and it deserves to be more widely read.
The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hicks. This is a debut middle grade scary story and it has been one of the most popular books in my classroom this year. It has a waiting list and it has been passed around the class since I brought it in.
After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside by Tom Palmer is a book that will stay with me for a long time. You can read a full review here It tells the story of 3 boys who spend some time in the Lake District after being rescued from a concentration camp. It is a sensitively told story for middle grade readers and another brilliant book from Barrington Stoke.
The Castle of Tangled Magic by Sophie Anderson is a middle grade fantasy story. Sophie is one of my favourite authors and I love how she reimagines fairy stories and folk tales. You can read a full review of this book here. I have loved all of her books so far and I think she gets better and better.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese is a story for Y6 and above. It is so well told and covers the issue of domestic violence through the eyes of a child. One of the motivations behind the book is to remind readers that they are not alone and they can get help if they are experiencing these sort of issues.
DarkWhispers: A Brightstorm Adventure by Vashti Hardy. This is the second entry from Vashti Hardy on my list and I loved returning to the Brightstorm Universe and seeing what adventures the twins got into. As with Brightstorm there is brilliant world building and amazing animals.
Do You Know Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott is the sequel to 'Can You See Me,' a book that I think every teacher should read. I really enjoyed this next instalment on Tally's journey; this time she goes on a residential and starts to find her tribe. It is an emotional read which is really engaging.
Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum is a middle grade sci fi novel. It is Kirstey's second book after her debut novel 'The Middler' came out last year. This is a really thoughtful sci fi story that looks at friendship and our relationship with technology.
The Infinite by Patience Agbabi is a middle grade sci fi mystery story that tells the tale of neuro diverse Elle who is a Leapling and is able to travel in time. This is a really clever and engaging story; I really enjoyed it.
Gargantis by Thomas Taylor is the sequel to the brilliant Malamander. I really loved returning to Eerie on Sea and joining Herbie Lemon and Violet Parma on their latest adventure. Loved the Star Wars references as well! My Malamander T-Shirt is one of my favourite possessions and I really hope Thomas Taylor makes some Gargantis ones as well.
Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick is another spooky adventure for middle grade readers. It's also another book that is so popular in my classroom that there is a waiting list and it has been passed around all year so far. It has 80's horror movie vibes and is a bit like The Goonies meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Great book to read to Y6's before they go on a residential (if you want to terrify them and thrill them in equal measure!) Buy Me
Wink by Rob Harrell has not has as much publicity as it deserves in my opinion. I heard someone describe it as similar to Wonder, and I can see the comparison but it doesn't have the same sentimentality-it is more gritty, more rock and roll. Absolutely loved it.
The House of One Hundred Clocks by A.M. Howell is a middle grade historical mystery story. It is the second novel by the author after her debut 'The Garden of Lost Secrets' which I also loved. I love the sense of time and place created in the book and the mystery that draws you in from the start. Buy Me
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is a middle grade story about an autistic girl growing up in a small town in Scotland. I love this story so much; it is another book I think every teacher should read. The main character Addie evokes a lot of empathy and one of her teachers made me so angry I actually shouted out loud at the book.
The Ship of Shadows is the debut middle grade novel by Maria Kuzniar. It is a brilliant adventure story that involves a pirate ship run by an entirely female crew. I love the diversity of characters here and the positive female role models-I also think this is a story that will appeal to boys and girls; it's a brilliant adventure story.
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker is such a brilliant book that really resonated with me. It is a heartwarming tale of a an introverted child spending his summer discovering the world and discovering friendship. Such a fantastically written story and it has stayed with me since I read in in the summer.
Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray is a dystopian fantasy story that is an astoundingly good read. There is a point in the story (chapter 15) that was a joy to read to my class as there reactions were brilliant. This book has one of the best opening chapters I've ever read, with a boy coming out of a whale that is found on top of a church. Such a great book.
And if you have made it this far and read through my whole top 40 (well done for persevering!) here is the Twitter feed with my top 10:
I'd be really interested in what your top books this year have been. Feel free to comment in the comments section of the blog or in my twitter feed.