Truly good children’s books engage and entertain while also helping young readers come to understand themselves and the complicated world they live in. This is the best picture book, middle grade, and young adult books in 2021. They are able to tackle that task with stories about identity and allyship. Amber McBride’s Me (Moth).The thorny past of oppression and racism in America is confronted. Donna Barba Higuera’s The Last CuentistaChildren are asked to reflect on the dangers of believing in dogmatic ideas without challenging authority figures. Jon Klassen’s The Rock From the Sky His characters are placed in danger, and he challenges them to escape.
Here, TIME and TIME for Kids select the best children’s and young adult books published this year, listed in order of publisher recommended age, from youngest to oldest.
Are You a Gordon Witness?Adam Jay Epstein Illustrated By Ruth Chan
Are You a Gordon Witness? It appears at first to be an old-fashioned search-and-find book with detailed illustrations of busy streets and busy beaches. Young readers will be asked to find a purple tapir called Gordon within the book. However, the plot quickly deviates from that of an activity-book. Gordon is not hidden among the people at the amusement park. He stands out in the open grass. Turn the page, and he’s donned a pink, polka-dotted hat with a propeller on top. It turns out Gordon doesn’t want to hide—he wants to stand out! After agreeing to look for someone else, the narrator settles on Jane the rhinoceros. Jane, however is timid and runs away from each spread. Gordon comes up with an alternative idea. want Where can you find it? This book will keep kids engaged and entertained—but it also offers valuable lessons about boundaries and consent.
Get it now Are You a Gordon Witness? Bookshop | Amazon
The Rock From the Sky, Jon Klassen
The Rock From the Sky, the latest from beloved children’s book author and illustrator Jon Klassen, A collection of stories written for children aged 0 to 5 set in minimalist gray-green watercolors. The first story is about a huge rock falling from the sky and heading towards unknowing creatures. They feel something is wrong but they are too busy with their interpersonal dramas and other petty concerns to take action. The real-world implications of this tale are too numerous to list—suffice it to say, it’s a perfect story for our times.
Get it now The Rock From the Sky Bookshop | Amazon
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
A Black American child is asked to create a family tree at school but can’t finish the assignment—she’s ashamed that she can only trace three generations who lived in the U.S. To reassure the child, her grandmother shares the story of their ancestors: “They say our people were born on the water, but our people had a home, a place, a land before they were sold.” They had happy lives in Africa, she says. The book goes on to describe the Middle Passage in frank—but never graphic—detail, and explains that those who survived the dangerous journey on slave ships resisted their captors in ways big and small: “For 250 years, the biggest resistance of all was that the people kept living.” This collection of poems written by Newbery honoree Renée Watson and Nikole Hannah-Jones, the founder of the 1619 Project, tells an origin story for Black Americans rooted in perseverance and hope.
Get it now The 1619 Project: Born on the Water Bookshop | Amazon
Too Bright to SeeKyle Lukoff
It’s the summer before middle school, and Bug is mourning the death of a beloved uncle, a former New York City drag queen who may now be haunting the family’s house in rural Vermont. Bug has to deal with Moira, a friend who wants Bug to have a girly makeover in order to get to the new school. As Bug deals with the ghost and Moira’s vanity project, something starts to click: Bug is trans, and he starts using male pronouns. A touching portrayal of a young boy who just understands who he truly is, this story about coming-of-age is finalist in the National Book Award.
Get it now Too bright to see Bookshop | Amazon
The Legend of Auntie PouShing Yin Khaor
In a late 19th-century logging camp in the Sierra Nevada, a 13-year-old girl named Mei, the daughter of the man who runs the camp’s kitchen, spins tall tales to entertain the workers. Po Pan Yin (a Chinese matriarch clearly inspired to Paul Bunyan) is her heroine. Mei lives with her family in China under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This law prohibited Chinese workers from entering the country. A National Book Award finalist graphic novel that addresses the timeless themes of discrimination, allieship, and historical fiction. The book’s simple illustrations are rendered in watercolor and have a homey feel.
Get it now The Legend of Auntie Pou Bookshop | Amazon
The Last Cuentista, Donna Barba Higuera
It’s the year 2061 and a comet is headed for earth. Petra and her brother Petra along with their scientists parents will have the unique opportunity to visit Sagan, which is a planet capable of supporting life. It will take approximately 380 years. They will then be placed in stasis, and monitored by several generations. Petra wakes up to discover that the Monitors had created a menacing group known as the Collective over the centuries and erased all of their memories. Due to a glitch, Petra’s memory is still intact, and she works to spark the minds of her fellow passengers by telling them her grandmother’s Mexican folk tales. Donna Barba Higuera’s first novel was this science-fiction tale. Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, was a Pura Belpré honoree, teaches young readers about the danger of dogma and the power of storytelling.
Get it now The Last Cuentista Bookshop | Amazon
Go to the woods: How to Survive a Lost ChildhoodGary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen, a literary legend and explorer in the wild has inspired many generations with his tales about survival and exploring in the wilderness. You can read his stories about survival and exploration in the wilderness here. Go to the Woods, published 10 months before Paulsen’s death in October, he tells his own boyhood survival story. The memoir details a lone train journey, when he was 5 years old, to his aunt and uncle’s Minnesota farm; a trip to the Philippines to visit his father in the wake of World War II, where Paulsen witnessed brutal killings; and his teenage enlistment in the military. Paulsen is a legend whose story will inspire new and old fans alike.
Get it now Go to the Woods Bookshop | Amazon
From a Whisper, to a Rallying ChantPaula Yoo
It’s 1982, and the auto industry is reeling because of competition from Japanese car manufacturers. Anti-Asian American sentiment simmers throughout the country but is particularly strong in Detroit. It’s there that, one night, autoworker Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz get into a bar fight with 27-year-old Chinese American Vincent Chin and beat the young man to death with a baseball bat. They eventually plead guilty to manslaughter charges, but their lenient sentence—a $3,000 fine and three years’ probation—sparks outrage in the AAPI community and inspires an outpouring of activism that eventually This could lead to a civil rights case in federal court. Paula Yoo’s searing account, which was longlisted for a National Book Award, reexamines this famous case using court transcripts, news accounts and interviews with key participants, many of whom spoke on the record for the first time.
Get it now From a Whisper to an Rallying Cry Bookshop | Amazon
Me (Moth).Amber McBride
Moth, who had been a Juilliard dancer and was loved by her loving parents, lost her life after a tragic car accident. Now, she’s living in the suburbs with survivor’s guilt and her grieving aunt, who has developed a reliance on alcohol. When Moth meets Sani, a Navajo musician who is dealing with depression, the two instantly connect, and the teenagers embark on a road trip to visit Sani’s father in Navajo Nation. The two teens stop at various national monuments along their journey through the South in order to remember the ghosts of Native Americans and Black Americans who were subject to many cruelty as Native Americans. A National Book Award finalist this novel-in-verse is part road trip love story and part history lesson. It also acknowledges land.
Get it now Me (Moth). Bookshop | Amazon
Firekeeper’s Daughter, Angeline Boulley
Daunis, a biracial 18-year-old, doesn’t quite feel like she belongs with the family of her Anishinaabe father or with her mother’s wealthy white relatives. She’s determined to escape her hometown and start fresh, but she soon finds herself wrapped up in something she never expected: Daunis witnesses a murder and is called to assist the police with their investigation. This firecracker of a novel, which debuted on the bestseller list and has been optioned for television by the Obamas’ production company, reads like a crime thriller while also upending many of the assumptions about policing that form the backbone of that genre. Angeline Boulley (author), is a registered member in good standing of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. Angeline Boulley is a registered member at the Sault Ste.
Get it now Firekeeper’s Daughter Bookshop | Amazon