Kids have missed out on a lot this year: in-person school, birthday parties, play dates and sleepovers. And while friends and extended family have been kept at a distance, most immediate family members have been closer than ever (maybe closer than anyone ever wanted).
That's why it seems fitting to focus on books about families as we share some of our favorite children's books of 2020 for this year's recommended holiday reading list.
"Lift" by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99; ages 4-8.
Iris always pushes the elevator button. Until the day her little brother beats her to the punch. Frustrated, Iris retreats to her room and finds a mysterious, magic button that opens a door to an amazing new world. But is it more fun to go alone or share the adventure?
Lê's text paired with Santat's striking comic book-style illustrations lead us through Iris' journey from jealousy to empathy.
Her realization that joy can come from sharing something special makes this book perfect for new big brothers and sisters.
"The Bear in My Family" by Maya Tatsukawa; Dial Books; $17.99; ages 4-8.
You think you have it tough? Try living with a bear!
This story's young narrator can't understand how his parents don't see what he sees: The bear is loud, messy, and bossy, yet they still treat it like family.
But when he encounters some bullies at the playground and the bear comes to his rescue, he realizes that maybe the bear isn't so bad after all.
A sweet, charming story about dealing with an overbearing older sibling.
"Everyone's Awake" by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Shawn Harris; Chronicle Books; $17.99; ages 5-8.
This raucous and hilarious bedtime book introduces us to a family that should be sleeping but, instead, is doing everything else:
"The dog's into the eggnog;
Mom's tap dancing to Prince
while Dad is on the laptop
buying ten-yard bolts of chintz."
Their activities get wilder and weirder as the night goes on, leading to waged battles and blimps made out of underpants.
The vibrant illustrations are full of clever details (see if you can find the frogs on every page) and match perfectly with the clever, rhythmic text. This is a book that demands to be read aloud.
"Twins" by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright; Graphix; $12.99; ages 8-12.
Twin sisters Francine and Maureen Carter are used to doing everything together. But as they start middle school, Francine yearns to stand out — choosing a new nickname, new look and new opportunities — while Maureen just wants to fit in. When they wind up running against each other for class president, the competition threatens to tear them apart.
A sweet, authentic graphic novel about twin sisters facing the challenges of middle school, coming into their own, and learning to accept each other for who they are as individuals. Highly recommended for fans of Raina Telgemeier and anyone looking for graphic novels with Black protagonists.
"The List of Things That Will Not Change" by Rebecca Stead; Wendy Lamb Books; $16.99; ages 8-12.
Bea is no stranger to change: Two years ago, her parents divorced after her father came out as gay. Now her dad and his boyfriend are getting married and Bea is thrilled — not just because Jesse is fantastic, but because she'll finally get what she's always wanted: a sister. But Jesse's daughter, Sonia, doesn't share her excitement, and blending these two families may be tougher than Bea imagined.
Stead does a masterful job capturing Bea's worries and anxiety in a relatable way. An uplifting story about family, love and how change can be exciting and terrifying at the same time.
"Black Brother, Black Brother" by Jewell Parker Rhodes; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $16.99; ages 8-12.
A powerful, coming-of-age story about a biracial family where one brother presents as white, the other as Black, and the ways the world treats them differently. Darker skinned than his older brother Trey, Donte finds himself on the receiving end of every joke, microaggression and accusation at their elite private school. When a bully pushes Donte too far, Donte decides to beat him at his own game: fencing.
Rhodes deftly addresses complex topics like colorism and institutional racism in a way that's easily accessible to middle-grade readers. (Bonus points for being the rare, middle-grade sports book about fencing!) An essential read for 2020.
"The Time of Green Magic" by Hilary McKay; Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99; ages 8-12.
Abi's life is turned upside down when her father remarries and she suddenly becomes the middle child in their new, blended family. Sandwiched between sticky-handed Louis and moody teenager Max, Abi retreats into her books as the family moves into an old, ivy-covered house in North London. Before long, magic starts to creep up on them: first, with Abi falling literally into her books and then with a mysterious creature that comforts Louis when his mother is away.
The book is an enchanting blend of realistic fiction and fantasy, but at its heart, this is a story about a family struggling to adapt to a new situation. The parents are stressed and overworked, but trying their best to hold it all together; the kids are fully realized and relatable, but working through their own unique challenges. Any modern family will relate to them.
"A Whale of the Wild" by Rosanne Parry; Greenwillow Books; $17.99; ages 8-12.
Orcas live in a matriarchal society and young Vega is honing her skills so that one day she will be trusted as the family's wayfinder. But when a devastating earthquake separates her and her young brother from the rest of their family, she must rely upon her instincts to lead them back home in this dramatic and emotional story.
Based on the author's own research trips to the Salish Sea, this beautiful book explores family bonds, survival, global warming, and a changing seascape. Perfect for fans of animal stories like Sara Pennypacker's "Pax" or Parry's previous book, "A Wolf Called Wander."