Tag Archives: chapter books

2020 Favorite Kids Chapter Books

It’s book list season! I’ve read a lot this year, and I am excited to highlight my favorite releases of 2020. I’m thrilled to share my 2020 Favorite Kids Chapter Books.

For me and my library, juvenile chapter books are designed for kids in grades 3-5. First chapter books are shelves separately (books for kids just moving on from beginning readers). These are often called “middle grade” books (not to be confused with books for middle schoolers, which would be in our teen section).

These lists are personal. The kids chapter books that stand out for me may not be your favorites–and that is okay! We each have our own reading preferences. Also, I very well may have missed some great titles that were released over the last year–so make sure to check out all of the great lists all over the internet, and please share your favorites in the comments!

2020 Favorite Kids Chapter Books

American as Paneer Pie | Book by Supriya Kelkar | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster

American as Paneer Pie
by Supriya Kelkar
Lekha is one of only a few diverse kids in her school, and she is determined to do everything she can to blend in. But when Avantika moves into her neighborhood (coming all the way from India), everything changes. Unlike Lekha, Avantika stands up to the bullies at school. Lekha just wants everyone to like her, but that becomes harder when she has to make choices about friendships and when a statewide them-vs-us election campaign takes center stage in her community. Lekha’s character is refreshingly honest, with her reactions to peer pressure and her questions about her identity feeling genuine. A must read!

Becoming Muhammad Ali eBook by James Patterson - 9780316498180 | Rakuten  Kobo United States

Becoming Muhammad Ali
by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander
Before he became Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay was a kid, just like most kids–struggling to focus in school and dealing with bullies. His world changes when he starts training as an amateur boxer. Told in duel perspectives, this fun but powerful read shows Cassius discovering the confidence and strength that led to him becoming a star.

Before the Ever After: Woodson, Jacqueline: 9780399545436: Amazon.com: Books

Before the Ever After
by Jacqueline Woodson
ZJ’s football star dad isn’t his hero–he’s just ZJ’s beloved dad. Lately, ZJ’s dad struggles to remember things and sometimes gets really angry. ZJ’s mom explains that the memory loss has to do with all the head injuries and hits ZJ’s dad took during his professional football career. The doctors can’t seem to help, and ZJ is scared of losing his dad forever. This is an incredible book, told in verse, where, with raw emotion, ZJ shows that the “ever after” isn’t always happy and life isn’t always okay.

9 Spring Books We Can't Wait To Read - Essence

Black Brother, Black Brother
When they first started at their private middle school, most of their classmates didn’t recognize that Donte and Trey were brothers. Trey takes after their white dad, with light skin. Donte takes after their black mom, with dark skin. After getting sent to the principal for something he didn’t do, Donte is suddenly in jail, suspended from school, and has a court date. Donte decides to confront the racism at his school on the school’s turf–fencing. After some convincing, Donte has a fencing coach, and eventually a team, that teach him how to fence, how to work together, and how to live with and fight against the racism he is surrounded by. A good story that will appeal to sports fans (with a great introduction to fencing).

Amazon.com: Diana and the Island of No Return (Wonder Woman Adventures)  (9780593174470): Saeed, Aisha: Books

Diana and the Island of No Return
by Aisha Saeed
Princess Diana is thrilled that it is time for Themyscira’s annual festival, but this year, everything goes wrong. A boy sneaks onto their island and successfully puts the Amazons under a sleeping spell. Everyone is asleep except Diana and her best friend, Sakina, who agree to travel to his home to save his people, in exchange for the antidote that will save their families. Diana’s first trip off Themyscira is filled with danger as she faces down a lava river, hypnotized minions, and a demon determined to capture Diana alive. Fast-paced and filled with adventure, this serves as a wonderful origin story for Wonder Woman. I’m glad to see a diverse voice brought into Diana’s story, and I’m very happy to recommend this to young readers. A great readalike for Diana Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale or Shuri by Nic Stone.

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade: Darraj, Susan Muaddi, Mannaa, Ruaida:  9781496583390: Amazon.com: Books

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade
by Susan Muaddi Darraj
Farah is so excited to turn in her applications to the exclusive Magnet Academy Middle School. It seems like her dreams are about to come true, until Farah meets new girl Dana Denver. Dana is mean. Farah can ignore the bullying, but Dana is downright cruel to her younger brother, and Farah doesn’t want to leave him behind when she goes to a new school. Farah decides to take care of this herself, but the adults at school won’t listen, and Farah becomes convinced that the only way she can help her brother is by not attending the Magnet School next year. This is a great story, perfect for readers transitioning out of first chapter books looking for a school story that digs a little deeper than friendship struggles.

Keep It Together, Keiko Carter: Florence, Debbi Michiko: 9781338607529:  Amazon.com: Books

Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
by Debbi Michiko Florence
Keiiko is ready to tackle seventh grade with her two best friends by her side. But Audrey and Jenna don’t seem to be getting along. Keiko is sure it will all work out, but…things don’t get better. Keiko wants to talk to her mom, but her mom hasn’t been home much lately. Can Keiko keep everyone happy on her own? This was excellent. Keiko coming to terms with her friend’s cruelty and Keiko’s character development felt raw and honest. This felt like a Real Kid figuring out what makes a good friend, not a quick solution to a messy problem. Florence explores so many great relationships without dipping into drama for drama’s sake, while adding a perfect sprinkling of middle school romance.

King and the Dragonflies: Callender, Kacen: 9781432883270: Amazon.com: Books

King and the Dragonflies
by Kacen Callender
Teenage boys don’t suddenly die of heart attacks–but that is exactly what happened to King’s older brother. While he desperately misses his brother, King is also mad–a few months before he died, Khalid told King he shouldn’t hang around with local boy, Sandy Sanders. Because Sandy was gay, and “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”. King listened to his brother and stopped talking to his best friend. Now, Sandy is missing, and King discovers not just Sandy’s hiding place, but the reason Sandy ran away in the first place. King isn’t sure what to do anymore–about the secrets he holds, what he is learning about his own identity, or his growing feelings for his best friend. Heartbreaking, poignant, and sweet. Callender does an amazing job creating this small town world, digging into King’s fears and emotions, and the added complexity of being both black and queer. Lovely, quiet, and impactful.

The Land of the Cranes: Salazar, Aida: 9781338343809: Amazon.com: Books

Land of Cranes
by Aida Salazar
Betita’s father doesn’t pick her up from her after school program one day, and Betita has a bad feeling that proves to be true–her father was arrested by Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported back to Mexico. Soon, the rest of her family are also trapped at a detention camp. While Betita desperately tries to keep hope through her drawings, poetry, and stories, the inhumane treatment and abuse towards herself, her pregnant mom, and her new friends makes hope nearly impossible. A heartbreaking novel in verse that captures the horrific conditions many families face in ICE detention camps. Beautiful writing by author Salazar keeps the reader immersed in Betita’s voice, feeling her emotions rise and sink with each new horror. While there is a bit of hope at the end, this is a hard, though necessary, read.

The List of Things That Will Not Change: Stead, Rebecca: 9781101938096:  Amazon.com: Books

The List of Things That Will Not Change
by Rebecca Stead
Bea’s parents keep telling her that nothing will change since they got divorced. But things do change–like when her dad announces he is getting married to his boyfriend, Jesse. Bea is thrilled that she is going to get a new stepsister, and Bea is sure that Sonia will immediately become Bea’s best friend. But Sonia isn’t perfect, and nothing is as Bea imagined. This is a wonderful story, filled with so much love and hope (and a kid with a great relationship with her therapist).

Nina Soni, Former Best Friend eBook by Kashmira Sheth - 9781682631799 |  Rakuten Kobo United States

Nina Soni, Former Best Friend
by Kashmira Sheth
Nina knew her place at school—right next to her best friend Jay. But after a terrible accident, her best friend has broken up with her, and Nina knows she will be alone forever. In the midst of her best friend crisis, Nina somehow forgot about her Personal Narrative Project—today is Friday, and this most important assignment is due Monday! Luckily, a class lesson about Alexander Fleming leads Nina to the perfect solution—she needs to make a scientific discovery. A weekend is plenty of time—assuming her little sister’s birthday party goes exactly as planned. That’s bound to happen—right? Another great series for kids transitioning out of first chapter books.

Not Your All-American Girl: Shang, Wendy Wan-Long, Rosenberg, Madelyn:  9781338037760: Amazon.com: Books

Not Your All-American Girl
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Lauren and Tara are best friends who try out for the school musical together. Lauren knocks her audition out of the park, but Lauren is assigned to the ensemble, while Tara is cast as the lead. Why? The drama teacher feels that half-Chinese, half-Jewish Lauren doesn’t look like an “All-American Girl.” Heartbroken, Lauren tries to make the best of it, but eventually she just can’t bring herself to sing anymore. Why bother when she can never be a star? This book! Lauren’s voice rang true for me. I felt the heartbreak in her character and eventually her determination to succeed. The 80s backdrop created a vivid image of Lauren’s day-to-day life, with her bickering, loving, live-in grandmothers adding humor while also helping Lauren find the motivation to keep trying. Lauren’s intersectionality–as both Chinese and Jewish–helps make this book stand apart from similar works.

Once Upon an Eid by S.K. Ali

Once Upon an Eid
by S.K. Ali
A collection of delightful short stories from amazing Muslim writers all celebrating the wonder of Eid. Some are fantasy, some feel historical, some deal with friendship drama, and other focus on family, but every story connects the reader with the joy of Eid. A wonderful collection to read in one sitting or to space out over time, and a great introduction to some fantastic authors.

Brandy Colbert's 'The Only Black Girls in Town' Handles Racial Matters With  Love

The Only Black Girls in Town
by Brandy Colbert
Alberta is used to being the only black girl in her small ocean town in California. Alberta loves her life, but when the bed and breakfast across the street is bought by a black family with a daughter her age, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta is sure that she will be best friends with Edie, but Edie misses Brooklyn and isn’t so sure about small town life. While their friendship isn’t as immediate as Alberta dreamed, they still bond, especially after discovering a box of journals in Edie’s attic. Who do they belong to? Why were they left behind? This was a ton of fun with the perfect mix of small town life, friendship drama, questions about growing up, and mystery. While a lot happens to Alberta over the book, nothing ever felt rushed and each plot element wove together with the next (much like how life works).

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears | Read Riordan

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: stay away from the river. Pao’s mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths. Hating her mother’s superstitions, Pao organizes a secret meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, including unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend. A wonderful, spooky, fantasy-filled read begging for many equally awesome sequels.

A Place at the Table (9780358116684): Faruqi, Saadia, Shovan, Laura: Books  - Amazon.com

A Place at the Table
by Saadia Faruqi
Sara doesn’t have friends at her new school, her teachers can’t be bothered to pronounce her name right, and now her mom will be at school all the time, leading a new South Asian cooking club. Elizabeth is so excited to learn to cook at her school’s new cooking club, especially since her mom is struggling with depression after Elizabeth’s grandmother died. Sara and Elizabeth aren’t friends, but when Elizabeth needs a new cooking partner, Sara steps in. They gradually realize they have more in common then they might have first thought, starting with their need to convince their moms to take the U.S. citizenship test seriously. Having two authors really helped with voicing and authenticity. The diversity and cultural touches are excellent, and the book also carries strong themes of friendship (and food!) that will resonate.

Prairie Lotus: Park, Linda Sue: 9781328781505: Amazon.com: Books

Prairie Lotus
by Linda Sue Park
Hanna has spent much of her life moving from place to place, but wherever they go, no one looks like Hanna. Hanna is half-Chinese, half-white. While everyone seems willing to accept her white father into their community, they are always weary of his Asian daughter. Hanna desperately wants to go to school, become a dressmaker at her father’s clothing store, and make a friend. These dreams seem impossible as Hanna deals with the racism and prejudice in her new town in Dakota territory. Hanna starts school, but the rest of the townspeople pull their children from the classroom. Every time Hanna almost makes a friend, their parents quickly whisk them out of Hanna’s life. Hanna’s perseverance and endless strength make this book a winner. Linda Sue Park was inspired by the Little House books, and this is a great book to hand to readers who enjoy historical fiction and to families looking for those Laura Ingalls Wilder titles.

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel (Marvel) (1): Stone, Nic: 9781338585476:  Amazon.com: Books

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel
by Nic Stone
Shuri is a science genius and a master of technology…but she is also a teenager, and a princess. Wakanda is in trouble—the special heart-shaped herb that gives the black panther powers to the Chieftan of Wakanda has been dying. While Shuri is sure her brother will stay on the throne, Wakanda’s challenge day is rapidly approaching, and if he does lose, his successor won’t be able to absorb the black panther’s power. All the adults are busy preparing for challenge day and dealing with unrest in Wakanda’s bordering countries, so it’s up to Shuri to figure out what is going on. Shuri and the girl her mother hired to be her best friend—K’Marah—head out on a quest across and beyond Wakanda to figure out what is happening and how to stop it—and they meet quite a few familiar heroes along the way. 

Something to Say: Ramée, Lisa Moore: 9780062836717: Amazon.com: Books

Something to Say
by Lisa Moore Ramee
Eleven-year-old Jenae doesn’t have any friends, and that is fine with her. But all of that gets turned upside down when new student Aubrey won’t leave her alone. His bright red hair, humungous smile, and constant chatter pop up wherever Jenae goes. Their school is a bit of a community hotspot right now. John Wayne Junior High has been named after the famous actor for years, but some people in her community want to rename the school Sylvia Mendez Junior High, after a child (and later adult activist) at the center of an anti-segregation case back in 1947. Jenae does her best to ignore the protestors and counter-protestors. But after she and Aubrey are partnered together for a class debate on that very subject, Jenae learns more about past and potential namesakes, and what something that might seem small—like a name on a building—can really mean.

Amazon.com: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! (9780525554974): Kim, Jessica: Books

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
by Jessica Kim
Yumi has always been shy, and she doesn’t feel like she fits in at her private school. Behind that wall of shyness, Yumi longs to be herself—she wants to perform stand-up comedy on a real stage. Yumi spends hours writing jokes and perfecting her comedy routine, waiting for the day when she can hear an audience applaud just for her. Yumi is stunned to discover that her favorite YouTube star is running a comedy camp for local kids down the street from her parent’s restaurant. Yumi just wants to take a peak, but is quickly mistaken for a missing student—Kay Nakamura. Yumi is swept into a world of improv and new friends—and she doesn’t correct the mistaken identity. Yumi loves practicing comedy, but everything starts to spiral as she desperately tries to keep her story straight.

A Thousand Questions: Faruqi, Saadia: 9780062943200: Amazon.com: Books

A Thousand Questions
by Saadia Faruqi
Mimi is not excited about her summer vacation with her mom in Karachi, Pakistan. She would much rather be visiting her dad, who left when she was really young. Sakina works in the household of Mimi’s grandparents, and she isn’t that excited about the new guests coming to visit. Mimi seems all too American–with her poor manners, and her inability to understand basic Pakistani culture, including why Sakina, a girl Mimi’s age, is working in a kitchen all day instead of going to school. Sakina would love to go to school, but most kids her age from her background don’t, and, before she would even be considered, she would need to improve her English. Even if she gets accepted, she can’t imagine that her family can afford to lose her income. The girls strike a deal–Mimi will help Sakina with her English, as long as Sakina hangs out with Mimi, giving Mimi someone to talk to.

Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2) (Tristan  Strong, 2): Mbalia, Kwame: 9781368042383: Amazon.com: Books

Tristan Strong Destroys the World
by Kwame Mbalia
Tristan Strong has only been home from his last Alke adventure for a few weeks. He is tired and possibly hearing things, but he also longs for the friends he made in that other world, filled with African American folk heroes and African gods and goddesses. But when two spirits appear in his own world, and soon after his grandmother is abducted by a terrifying new villain, Tristan and Anansi must return to Alke to save Nana and everything he loves. This book is everything I want to recommend to readers–fast-paced adventure, humor, great characters, and, on top of all of that, a diverse cast by an own voices author. But there is a touch of magic here, perfected between Mbalia’s writing and Amir Abdullah audio performance, that makes this series one of my favorites, ever.

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel, 1): Watson, Renée, Mata, Nina:  9781547600564: Amazon.com: Books

Ways to Make Sunshine
by Renee Watson
Meet Ryan. Ryan loves to invent recipes and hang out with friends, but everything is a bit different now that her dad has a new job. Money is tight, and her family has to move to a new house that doesn’t really feel like home. But if anyone can bring sunshine to their family’s life, it’s Ryan. A wonderful readalike for fans of Ramona Quimby and kids transitioning from first chapter books to longer titles.

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

What Lane?
by Torrey Maldonado
Stephen is mixed—he has a white mom who sees him as biracial and a black dad who sees Stephen as black. Stephen loves Miles Morales and Into the Spiderverse, and he also loves to watch Stranger Things. He has black friends. He has white friends. And generally those friends never mix. Stephen is starting to notice how his white best friend Dan can do things that Stephen can’t. Dan can sample cookies at the grocery store without buying them. Dan can playbox while walking down the street. These same actions get Stephen in trouble—sometimes with threats to call the police. Stephen starts to talk to his dad and his black best friend, Wes, and they tell him that there are things that their white friends can do that they can’t. Stephen gets mad because that sounds a lot like telling Stephen to stay in his lane–and Stephen doesn’t want to belong to just one lane.

Woke: Young Poet's Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth  Acevedo and Olivia Gatewood, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, foreword  by Jason Reynolds | A Kids Book A Day

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice
by Mahogany L. Browne
Explore this outstanding collection of poems, all by women, that inspire, engage, and require action as the authors reflect on standing up for what is right, addressing discrimination, racism, body positivity, ableism, prejudice, and more.

I know there are always books that I miss each year, and some of the 2020 kids chapter books I’m excited to explore soon are below!