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2020 Children’s Books of the Year

A TIME FOR VIGILANCE: Children need their parents not only to guard against objectionable books but to promote good ones. The titles in the following pages are books to consider

2020 Children’s Books of the Year

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

State Rep. Ben Baker, of Missouri House District 160, is concerned about the kind of books kids may encounter at the local library. “I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment,” where objectionable material can’t slip by a parent’s notice. To that end, his House Bill 2044 attaches the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” to a routine funding measure. Under its requirements, “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse,” as determined by a locally elected citizens’ board, will be restricted from access by minors. Not removed from the library: Parents who have no qualms about their children viewing such material are free to check it out.

The Missouri Library Association strenuously objects, and there’s a legitimate case that wholesale restriction of material deemed objectionable will sweep up the worthwhile with the trash. But Christian parents who are looking sideways at some of the books their kids bring home share Rep. Baker’s alarm. Though overt sexuality is rare in juvenile fiction (the publishing category known as Middle Grade), subtle messages about LGBTQ issues are getting less subtle.

To Night Owl from Dogfish, featuring two girls who try to get their dating dads back together after a breakup, is an engaging, funny, and sympathetic read. The upcoming The List of Things That Will Not Change, by Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead, is a genuinely touching—to judge by the blurbs—novel of divorce and same-sex remarriage. These books are not propaganda but mainstream novels of high literary merit.

The teen market is more explicit. A contributor to lists “50+ YA Books Starring Queer Girls Hitting Shelves in 2020”—“a very gay year!” “Queer,” in all its manifestations, was slow to gather momentum in children’s publishing but is now mainstream. 

With or without legal restrictions, parental vigilance must go mainstream too—not only to guard against the objectionable but to promote the good. Our selection committees found a lot of good this year, even for teens. Christian authors are winning awards, and secular authors illuminate God’s truth by common grace. New Kid by Jerry Craft, one of our fiction runners-up, won the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal, meaning that thousands of kids will take in its uplifting theme. Our Novel of the Year also gathered a bushel of rave reviews in secular journals.

Children’s publishing may be growing more thorns, but we can still smell the roses. This 2020 special children’s section is our bouquet.

—The first story in the Children’s Books of the Year section is about WORLD's picture book winner, Home in the Woods.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine based in Missouri. She writes novels for young adults, is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series, and reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.