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Rare gems among trendy titles

2020 made it even harder to find good reads for young minds. Here are our recommendations, along with resources for the adults helping them

Rare gems among trendy titles

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

Year 2020 was as interesting in children’s publishing as it was everywhere else. Authors who normally keep a busy schedule of school visits and library conferences found themselves learning to knit or bake or speak to grainy classrooms on a screen. Publishers scrambled to offer free readings and programs for children to watch at home. Creative librarians put together activity packets for homebound kids.

In spite of—or because of—the pandemic, children’s publishing remains a tentpole of the industry: Nonfiction sales were up 26 percent over 2019. Critical race theory (CRT) claimed a good share of that percentage. Questionable nonfiction like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You immediately became part of school curriculums nationwide with more in the pipeline for 2021.

Another notable 2020 industry event: Penguin Random House (PRH), the world’s largest publisher, announced its purchase of the third largest, Simon & Schuster. PRH says it’s the best strategy for competing with Amazon. But authors fear all the power residing in two or three major houses will mean less bidding for manuscripts, less diversity among books, and less opportunity for new authors.

Our Children’s Book of the Year got lots of attention in the industry—surprisingly so, given its unabashed Christian content. Others on our list kept a lower profile, so we’re all the more pleased to recommend them and grateful that good books for kids still show up in print.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.