A new year means 365 new days to spend reading—and in 2020, we even get an extra day because it’s a Leap Year! We could read a new book every day and still not read all of the wonderful books for young readers that will be published this year, but we’ve managed to narrow down this list to the 20 titles we’re the most excited for.
The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Norton | January 7
W.W. Norton launched its first books for young readers just last year, entering the arena with thoughtful offerings such as Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch and a picture book from No, David! author/illustrator David Shannon. Now they’re starting 2020 with a bold, distinctive debut picture book from the sibling duo of Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey. I have to say, if The Old Truck is a herald of what awaits picture book readers this year, it’s going to be a very good year indeed.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Crown | January 7
Blockbuster YA author Nic Stone (Dear Martin, Jackpot) makes her pitch-perfect middle grade debut with Clean Getaway, and it’s a road trip story! Eleven-year-old Scoob and his grandmother travel through the South in G’ma’s new RV and uncover lost pieces of the past.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora
Schwartz & Wade | January 7
The pairing of critically acclaimed children’s biographer Rita Lorraine Hubbard (Hammering for Freedom) and Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora (Thank You, Omu! and Saturday) is a match made in picture book heaven, and the resulting book is simply divine. As imagined by Hubbard, the life of Mary Walker—born into slavery and lived through more than 20 presidencies—is a testament to the human spirit and the power of the written word.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Katherine Tegen | January 14
A family story wrapped up in a mystery, Janae Marks’ first book kicks off a year that promises to be full of great debuts. Zoe Washington’s dad has been incarcerated for her whole life, but on her 12th birthday, she receives a letter from him in which he asserts his innocence—and asks her to help prove it.
Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Tundra | February 4
There’s a kind of picture book where the text reads a bit like a poem, and the illustrations create a new narrative that’s more than just a literal interpretation of the words on the page. I love books like this, because they remind me of the tremendous potential of the picture book as an artistic form. Kyo Maclear’s gorgeous, meditative text, paired with Rashin Kheiriyeh’s deceptively simple illustrations does exactly this in The Story Boat, and the result is not to be missed.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar
Scholastic | February 4
Kacen Callendar’s 2018 debut novel, Hurricane Child, was one of the most exquisitely crafted middle grade novels I’ve ever read. Sensitive, lyrical and fearless in its exploration of emotional authenticity, it left me eager for Callendar’s next book. King and the Dragonflies will tell the story of 12-year-old Kingston, who is convinced that his brother, Khalid, isn’t dead but has instead turned into a dragonfly.
Chirp by Kate Messner
Bloomsbury | February 4
At this point, I’ve lost count of the number of bookseller and librarian friends who’ve told me I cannot miss Kate Messner’s latest middle grade novel, Chirp. The story of 12-year-old Mia, who’s trying to help save her grandmother’s cricket farm while grappling with the aftermath of a secret she’d rather forget, Chirp is a timely and nuanced depiction of a girl finding her voice over the course of one life-changing summer.
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
Balzer + Bray | February 4
I’m not often left speechless by a book, but four years after reading it, I still find articulating my love for Sara Pennypacker’s Pax difficult. Regardless, I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what Pennypacker would write next, and with the February publication of Here in the Real World, my wait is finally over. The book follows two misfits who find friendship in an abandoned lot and then must fight to save it.
The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion
Random House | February 18
A little boy joins his parents at their job as the night janitors in an empty office building, and their imagination transforms the mundane into a magnificent and magical adventure. Thanks to debut author Helene Ku Rhee’s masterful characterizations, brought to life by illustrator Pascal Campion, The Paper Kingdom shines with the power of creativity—but also with the love shared between parents and their child.
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
FSG | February 25
I love novels that interweave the past and the present, and Phil Bildner’s latest looks downright excellent. Sixth grader Silas is doing a report on Glenn Burke, who was the first major league baseball player to publicly acknowledge being gay, and is struggling to keep his own truth a secret from his teammates. Bildner’s Rip and Red series has established him as a master of kid-friendly heart and humor, so I’m looking forward to seeing him dive into deeper waters in A High Five for Glenn Burke.
My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Chronicle | February 25
We’re going to see a lot of children’s books addressing global climate change and themes of environmentalism this year, from biographies of figures working to address the issue to encyclopedias of endangered wildlife to guides for young people about steps within their power to enact change. One of the most enticing offerings is My Friend Earth, from Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Francesca Sanna, who has quickly made a name for herself with exquisite and distinctive titles including The Journey and Me and My Fear. A celebration of Earth and all the ways she supports the lives of the plants, animals and people who call her home, My Friend Earth features kid-friendly production elements like die-cuts that are sure to make it a storytime hit.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little, Brown | March 3
Jewell Parker Rhodes is one of the most vital voices writing for young readers today, period. She returns to shelves this spring with Black Brother, Black Brother, her first novel since 2018’s devastating masterpiece, Ghost Boys. The book will explore the relationship between two brothers, one who presents as black, the other as white, as they navigate the complex world of a private prep school.
My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Atheneum | March 3
I think most readers have authors (and illustrators, if they’re into picture books or graphic novels) whose name on the spine of a new book is all it takes for them to pick up the book off the shelf at the bookstore or library. In the realm of picture books, Julie Fogliano is one of those writers for me, and has been since her 2012 debut, And Then It’s Spring. She’s been on an absolute roll of late, including 2018’s wistful A House That Once Was and two titles in 2019, If I Was the Sunshine and Just in Case You Want to Fly, that both exemplified the dizzying heights of her abilities. She continues her streak into a new year with the sweet, playful My Best Friend, an ode to the marvel and wonder of a child’s first friendship, with pitch-perfect illustrations by Caldecott Honor illustrator Jillian Tamaki. I’m grinning just thinking about it.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Clarion | March 3
The day that the bookstore I worked at hosted Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park for school visits and a public author event in the evening is one of my most treasured memories from the nearly six years I spent there. Listening to her explain her creative process to auditoriums full of middle school students who hung on her every word filled me with such respect for the challenging, invigorating work of writing for children. Park’s latest finds her in a kind of conversation with one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time, Laura Ingalls Wilder, pushing back against the racism in her books and writing characters who Wilder either ignored or misrepresented back into the story of the American frontier. It’s an ambitious project, but in Park’s skillful hands, it soars.
How to Be a Pirate by Isaac Fitzgerald, illustrated by Brigette Barrager
Bloomsbury | March 3
I’ll be honest: I was surprised when I saw that Buzzfeed Books founding editor Isaac Fitzgerald was making his literary debut by writing a picture book. And then my phone started to buzz: Kidlit friends (booksellers, librarians and plain old enthusiasts) all over the country were reaching out to ask, “Have you seen How to Be a Pirate yet? I LOVED IT.” And then my advance copy came in the mail, and suddenly, I understood. Charming, spirited and with a heart even bigger than the giant red heart on its cover, How to Be a Pirate is a picture book kid-me would have begged to read over and over.
Coo by Kaela Noel
Greenwillow | March 3
Here’s a middle grade debut with a premise I find utterly irresistible: A human baby is raised by a flock of pigeons. As she grows up, her flock is threatened, and she must enter the human world in order to save them. Erin Entrada Kelly, the Newbery Medalist who wrote my favorite middle grade novel of 2019 (Lalani of the Distant Sea), wrote in her blurb that Coo “made my spirit soar.” I can’t wait to take flight with this quirky debut novel.
Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
HarperCollins | March 3
I’m fascinated by picture book re-illustrations for the same reason that I’m fascinated by song covers and movie remakes: I’m always curious to see how distinctive creative personalities will make me see something familiar in a new light. HarperCollins’ recent project of re-illustrating well-known picture books by children’s literature titan Margaret Wise Brown has been fruitful indeed, from Christian Robinson’s take on The Dead Bird to Loren Long’s version of Good Day, Good Night. When I was a youth services librarian, I once built an entire storytime around the Leo and Diane Dillon-illustrated edition of Two Little Trains, so it should come as no surprise that I’m eager to see what Greg Pizzoli brings to the table. Puff puff puff, chug chug chug!
Rick by Alex Gino
Scholastic | April 21
It’s hard to think of a recent debut middle grade novel more groundbreaking or influential than Alex Gino’s George—and hard to believe it’s been half a decade since it was published! At long last, the wait for Gino’s next book comes to an end with the publication of Rick. Middle schooler Rick is struggling to figure out what he believes and who he wants to be, in the face of pressure from family and friends, including his best friend, who Rick has noticed can sometimes be a real jerk. But how do you find your own voice when you can’t hear it over the voices of others?
The Big Book of Blooms by Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson | May 5
I’m not quite sure when Yuval Zommer’s illustrations first caught my eye, but I now firmly consider myself a fan. Oversized catalog-style books for young readers are having quite a moment right now, but the combination of Zommer’s exuberant art and the floral focus of The Big Book of Blooms is sure to set this one apart. I look forward to exclaiming, “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” with each turn of the page.
Hello Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell
Neal Porter | May 5
Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) turns to nonfiction with a biography of Mister Rogers. The question isn’t, “Will this book make me cry?” but rather, “How hard will this book make me cry?” I’ll make sure to have tissues nearby in May.