The Stars of the Show: Top Titles of 2020

By Tom Czech

Studded with starred reviews and awards, this list of books from Lerner Publishing Group is the cream of the crop! Check out our best titles from 2020 below.

Picture Books

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing after the Oklahoma City Bombing

All of a Sudden and Forever, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Nicole Xu, is a profoundly inspiring nonfiction picture book about tragedy, hope, and healing.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, survivors shared experiences and began to heal. A nearby elm tree began to heal as well. Named the Survivor Tree, it stands as a memorial and symbolizes strength to people grappling with tragedy and loss.

⭐️ “An affecting story of loss . . .” —starred, Kirkus Reviews

⭐️ “[A] sensitively written and thoughtfully illustrated resource.” —starred, School Library Journal

  • School Library Journal Best Book Award
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books
  • National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Award Commemoration

A Bowl Full of Peace, A True Story

A Bowl Full of Peace, written by Caren Stelson and illustrated by Akira Kusaka, tells Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and her message of peace to young readers everywhere.

Just half a mile from where the bomb was dropped on that fateful day in 1945, Sachiko’s home was ground to dust, nothing left but a single bowl. Once holding their daily meals, it now holds memories of the past and serves as a vessel of hope for the future.

⭐️ “[A] symbol of survival. . . . Kusaka’s illustrations effectively focus on Sachiko’s family and the ways they used the bowl to create an orderly family life even in the midst of, and after, a devastating war.” —starred, The Horn Book Magazine

⭐️ “A heartbreaking but essential perspective on war and survival.” —starred, Kirkus Reviews

⭐️ “A powerful entry point for discussing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the importance of peace and disarmament. Stunning.” —starred, Booklist

  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books

A Girl Like Me

#OwnVoices picture book A Girl Like Me empowers young readers to embrace their individuality, reject societal limitations, and follow their dreams, bringing together a poem by acclaimed author Angela Johnson and Nina Crews’s distinctive photocollage illustrations to celebrate girls of color.

⭐️ “[A] rallying cry for girls to reject limitations others might place on them and their dreams.” —starred, The Horn Book Magazine

  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
  • New York Public Library (NYPL) Best Books for Kids
  • The Horn Book Magazine Horn Book Best Books of the Year

The Most Beautiful Thing

Illustrated by Khoa Le, The Most Beautiful Thing draws upon award-winning author Koa Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee. A warmhearted and tender true story, this inspiring #OwnVoices picture book tells a tale that you won’t want to miss.

⭐️ “A sincere narrative that centers on the power of family love.” —starred, School Library Journal

⭐️ “A deep and moving reflection on enduring hardship and generational love. . . . Poignant storytelling with stunning visuals.” —starred, Kirkus Reviews

  • Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books
  • National Public Radio (NPR) Best Books of the Year
  • New York Public Library (NYPL) Best Books for Kids


On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

“Snowmen droop, cardinals swoop, rabbits bounce, foxes pounce.”

From author Buffy Silverman, On a Snow-Melting Day uses high-impact photos and simple rhyming to capture the melting snow, the growing plants, and the animals stirring to life in a celebration of spring’s long-awaited arrival.

⭐️ “[C]lever, thoughtful, and engaging.” —starred, Kirkus Reviews

  • National Council of Teachers of English NCTE Notable Poetry List

Where Have All the Bees Gone?: Pollinators in Crisis

Award-winning author Rebecca E. Hirsch delivers a strong message in Where Have All the Bees Gone? This nonfiction young adult title tells the story of bumblebees, the main pollinators for many of our food products . . . and they’re disappearing.

Hirsch chronicles the evolution and the history of bees, examining their role in food production and natural habitats, and digs into the serious threats they are facing. Calling on young readers to act, she outlines specific steps they can take to study, understand, and protect bumblebees in this highly important title.

⭐️ “An important resource for all libraries.” —starred, Booklist

  • Booklist Top 10 Books on the Environment for Youth

Middle Grade

The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off

Winter can put anyone in a frosty mood, and the Wolf is no different. In The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off, written by Wilfrid Lupano and illustrated by Mayana Iotïoz, the animals and critters roaming around the freezing woods try their best to deal with the cold and learn a few lessons along the way!

This title perfectly blends silliness and thoughtfulness into a story that is both socially relevant and family friendly.

⭐️ “Lupano’s message of kindness and perception shines. . . . [A] must-read.” —starred, Kirkus Reviews

  • Texas Library Association Texas Little Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z

In Dictionary for a Better World, authors Irene Latham and Charles Waters beg readers to ask themselves one question: how can we make this world a better place? Using welcoming words like ally, empathy, and respect, each entry to the dictionary urges radical kindness and compassion.

With everything from poems and quotes to anecdotes and activities, this expressive collaboration combines the stunning artwork of Mehrdokht Amini with the rhythmic writing style of its authors to create an important learning experience for middle grade readers.

⭐️ “Creates multiple pathways for engagement.” —starred, Publishers Weekly

  • National Council of Teachers of English NCTE Notable Poetry List

Young Adult

Like Spilled Water

Written by acclaimed Chinese-American author Jennie Liu, Like Spilled Water is a thrilling page turner set in modern China that explores gender norms, family dynamics, and the pressure to conform in a compelling, sensitive manner.

Na has always been in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. And he wasn’t the only one with secrets.

⭐️ “[A] powerful tale of a brave young woman who dares to question when others simply accept.” —starred, Booklist

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