I had such a good time sharing my favorite books of 2020, that I decided to do it again this year!
I read about 100 titles this year (give or take a couple), and these are my favorite 2021 children’s books. Each of the books listed in this post received a 5-star rating from me on Goodreads. I don’t give out five stars easily, so you can trust that every book on this list earned their way onto the list.
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Our small-town children’s librarian does an amazing job choosing a variety of books from diverse authors, which we appreciate. I also request books to review on NetGalley and purchase from ThriftBooks when I can’t find something locally.
18 Favorite Children’s Books in 2021
(listed A-Z by title)
Across the Pond
by Joy McCullough
Published March 16, 2021
This is exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child (and let’s be honest — I loved it now as an adult). Callie is an introverted bookworm dealing with losing her closest friends right before a move. Understandably, she has trust issues, and she convinces her parents to homeschool her for the rest of the semester.
There aren’t very many middle-grade novels with homeschooled kids, so I KNOW my girls will enjoy reading about Callie’s journey, as she builds community in her new town and starts a new hobby.
by Sharon Creech
Published January 1, 2004
During the 2020-2021 school year, I hosted an online book club for my kids and some friends. We worked our way through a handful of books by Sharon Creech, including Heartbeat, a middle grade book written in verse.
It had been YEARS since I read it aloud, and boy did I sob my way through it. Ms. Creech has such a way with words.
Other Words from Home
by Jasmine Warga
Published May 28, 2019
I am so thankful our children’s librarian is going out of her way to buy books with diverse characters. This story about Jude, a refugee from Syria, is written in verse…which I think works well for her story. It’s just a peek into her life and experiences leaving her home and half of her family, but she grows and changes others around her with her positivity.
The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
Published March 7, 2007
This book is 14 years old, and my kids have been after me to read it for years. I’m sad to say it took a TV series on Disney+ to spark my interest, but I am so glad I finally took the time to read it. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series in 2022.
Cuba in My Pocket
by Adrianna Cuevas
Published September 21, 2021
Cuba in My Pocket is a powerful book — a must-read for middle grade and YA students! I’ll admit that I didn’t learn much about the history of Cuba or the takeover by Fidel as a child, and it was heart-wrenching to read about from Cumba’s point of view.
I didn’t realize how much of the book would take place IN Cuba, but the action started to pick up about 1/3 of the way in. So many amazing characters were woven into Cumba’s experiences, and I really felt the truth of Mr. Rogers’ quote about looking for the helpers.
As current events unfold in the Middle East, I think Cuba in My Pocket can help 21st-century kids develop empathy for refugees fleeing Afghanistan under a terrorist regime.
Content warning: please be aware that there are frightening scenes involving Cuban soldiers, including a firing squad (and references to it later).
Just Like That
by Gary D. Schmidt
Published January 5, 2021
“Exquisite,” is all I wrote on Goodreads after my first time through in March.
After a re-read in December, here’s what I have to add: “The characters in this book are incredible. From Meryl Lee to Matt to the Captain to Bagheera…I mean. Wow. So well-written. So many tiny storylines woven together to make a masterpiece of a book. I’m so glad I’ve read this one (twice now).”
Only in America: The Weird and Wonderful 50 States
by Heather Alexander
Published November 9, 2021
We keep a children’s atlas in the car for our kids to pore over whenever we travel, and I think Only in America would be an excellent companion. They love learning (and sharing) fun, random facts! My favorite feature is the book recommendations for each state — I can’t wait to start requesting books from the library. We are also excited to add new trip ideas to our family adventure list.
The Road to Wherever
by John Ed Bradley
Published May 11, 2021
This might be the best middle grade book I have ever read. I was expecting something light-hearted or even goofy, but the HEART in this story blew me away. I found myself looking up places and events mentioned throughout the Ball cousins’ journey — June and his family will stick with me for a long time.
The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish (#5)
by Karina Yan Glaser
Published September 21, 2021
I sure do love the Vanderbeekers, and I sincerely hope Ms. Yan Glaser writes many more books in this series.
The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish is set over a period of just a few days, and the story moved quickly. I love how the author rewards long-time readers with peeks at our favorite neighbors and storylines happening behind the scenes. Papa’s character was missed — I’ll admit that I hoped there would be a reunion scene at the end, but I understand why the author kept us in Harlem with the brownstone.
Usha and the Big Dipper
by Amitha Jagannath Knight
Published August 3, 2021
This book is simply gorgeous — I would buy it for the color scheme alone. BUT, it’s also an adorable story about two sisters and their cousin and what they see when they look up at the stars. AND there are STEM activities in the back to extend the fun and learning.
We’ll Be Together Again
by Quarto Generic
Published November 9, 2021
What a beautiful story of a grandfather and a granddaughter separated by time, distance, and perhaps other reasons. The illustrations have so many extra details that will be enjoyed by children and adults for years to come — this is a must-have for all families!
Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero
by Saadia Faruqi
Published September 7, 2021
Another powerful by Saadia Faruqi!
Yusuf is a great kid, friend, and brother — and his optimism in the face of racism and bullying is inspiring. I wish our country was a better place, but books like Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero will hopefully start important conversations and plant seeds of empathy.
Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business
by Bree Galbraith
Published June 1, 2021
Wednesday Wilson is so amazing that I read her first book in one sitting. I love her distinct voice, with the footnotes and extra vocabulary. I love how her teacher is amused by every wrong step (because as a teacher, I would have adored a student like Wednesday), and I especially love that Mister — her younger brother by 3 years — is the voice of reason and an equal member in their friend group. Hopefully, we get a whole bushel full of these adorable books.
Wishing Upon the Same Stars
by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman
Expected publication February 1, 2022
There aren’t many books set in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas. Reading Wishing Upon the Same Stars made me homesick for the city of my childhood — and while I wish there had been more geographical references besides the Alamo and the Riverwalk, I know that in my middle school years, my world revolved around my neighborhood, my school, and my church… just like Yasmeen. (My knowledge of the city definitely grew once I was old enough to drive and explore neighborhoods for myself.)
When we moved to San Antonio, I was just a little younger than Yasmeen. I also remember my parents remarking about how much more house we could get and how difficult it was to make new friends when they had all gone to school with each other since preK. I remember my own 7th grade bullies and making friends with kids from different cultures and religions. All of these things felt familiar to me — I am so impressed this is Ms. Feldman’s debut novel because it all felt so real.
Most of all, I really loved the myriad of perspectives and experiences included in the story. These kids have so much more empathy than I did when I was a young teenager, and they are dealing with issues that I didn’t even know existed in the early 90s. I immediately handed Wishing Upon the Same Stars to my 8th grader when I finished because I know she will love the characters as much as I did.