With 2021 behind us, it’s time to highlight what we — and various other online outlets — consider the Best Books of 2021. Below we’ve featured our favorite children’s books from the year, and you can find the Adult list (including Honorable Mentions) on our Readers Advisory page. See something that sounds good? Visit the catalog to put one on hold today!
Read something in 2021 that you loved? Let us know the best book YOU read this year, and be entered to win one of several gift baskets — for adults, teens, & children — that we’ll be giving away in February. Let us know your favorite by email, on our Facebook post, or by turning in an entry slip.
ALL OF THE FACTORS OF WHY I LOVE TRACTORS by Davina Bell & Jenny Lovlie
When Frankie McGee insists on borrowing yet another book about tractors, his mum crumbles. She begs him to read a book about something else – cars, planes, cranes, trains – anything! Frankie launches into all of the various, glorious factors that make up the love that he has for all tractors – but will he be able to bring his mum around?
With irresistible rhyming text by award-winning author Davina Bell and unforgettable illustrations by Jenny Lovlie, this story is sure to charm and amuse the whole family.
THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo & Sophie Blackall
In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all–for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.
And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories–powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves–ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her–a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone–will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.
MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD by Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson
Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.
THE ROCK FROM THE SKY by Jon Klassen
Turtle really likes standing in his favorite spot. He likes it so much that he asks his friend Armadillo to come over and stand in it, too. But now that Armadillo is standing in that spot, he has a bad feeling about it . . .
Here comes The Rock from the Sky, a meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it.
ANONYMOUSE by Vikki VanSickle
Art for the birds.
Art for the ants.
Art for the dogs, cats and raccoons.
Art to make them laugh, make them think, make them feel at home.
But who is creating it?
Only Anonymouse knows for sure . . .
This clever tale mixes street art, animals and gorgeous illustrations to create a meditation on how art can uplift any creature’s spirit — human or animal — when it speaks directly to them. Every page of Anna Pirolli’s stunning artwork is its own masterpiece with its bold pops of colour and sly humor, elevating Vikki VanSickle’s subtle but evocative text.
JUKEBOX by Nidhi Chanani
Grab some coins for the jukebox, and get ready for a colorful, time-traveling musical tale about family and courage.
A mysterious jukebox, old vinyl records, and cryptic notes on music history, are Shaheen’s only clues to her father’s abrupt disappearance. She looks to her cousin, Tannaz, who seems just as perplexed, before they both turn to the jukebox which starts…glowing?
Suddenly, the girls are pulled from their era and transported to another time! Keyed to the music on the record, the jukebox sends them through decade after decade of music history, from political marches, to landmark concerts. But can they find Shaheen’s dad before the music stops? This time-bending magical mystery tour invites readers to take the ride of their lives for a coming-of-age adventure.
THE ONE THING YOU’D SAVE by Linda Sue Park
If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save? Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park explores different answers to this provocative question in linked poems that capture the diverse voices of a middle school class. Illustrated with black-and-white art.
When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates’ responses. A lively dialog ignites as the students discover unexpected facets of one another—and themselves. With her ear for authentic dialog and knowledge of tweens’ priorities and emotions, Linda Sue Park brings the varied voices of an inclusive classroom to life through carefully honed, engaging, and instantly accessible verse.
BUTTERFLIES ARE PRETTY…GROSS! by Rosemary Mosco
Warning–this book contains top-secret information about butterflies! Prepare to be shocked and grossed out by this hilarious and totally true picture book introduction to a fascinating insect.
Butterflies are beautiful and quiet and gentle and sparkly . . . but that’s not the whole truth. Butterflies can be GROSS. And one butterfly in particular is here to let everyone know! Talking directly to the reader, a monarch butterfly reveals how its kind is so much more than what we think. Did you know some butterflies enjoy feasting on dead animals, rotten fruit, tears and even poop? Some butterflies are loud, like the Cracker butterfly. Some are stinky — the smell scares predators away. Butterflies can be sneaky, like the ones who pretend to be ants to get free babysitting.
This hilarious and refreshing book with silly and sweet illustrations explores the science of butterflies and shows that these insects are not the stereotypically cutesy critters we often think they are — they are fascinating, disgusting, complicated and amazing creatures.
THE FROGGIES DO NOT WANT TO SLEEP by Adam Gustavson
Prepare for a different kind of bedtime book–a zany, imaginative adventure to send your little froggies off to dreamland. Not since David Weisner’s Tuesday have frogs had so much fun!
Why go to bed when you can play the accordion, dance underwater ballet, and hold burping contests with strange alien lifeforms? For every kid who ever came up with an outlandish excuse for why it can’t be bedtime yet, these froggies’ antics will delight and entertain. Acclaimed illustrator Adam Gustavson’s raucous authorial debut shows parents there’s more than one way to do bedtime.
UNSPEAKABLE: THE TULSA RACE MASSACRE by Carole Boston Weatherford & Floyd Cooper
A look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.
News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years.
View more from the Adult Best Books of 2021 list, or find lists from previous years on our Readers Advisory page.
All book descriptions are courtesy of the publisher.