The best books for young readers of 2020

The sixth annual list of books, chosen by Penn GSE’s Humanizing Stories team, highlights stories of love, joy, loss, strength, and resilience.

This has been a difficult year for children—especially those living in communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and persistent racial and economic injustice.

Stack of YA books chosen by the Penn GSE team for its best books of 2020 list.

That’s why the power of stories to help us see new and better worlds is more important than ever before.

In choosing its sixth annual list of the Best Books for Young Readers, Penn GSE’s Humanizing Stories team found authors and illustrators who told stories of love, joy, loss, strength, and resilience, and told them in a way that spoke to kids who have often been excluded from the whitewashed world of children’s publishing.

In 2015, Penn GSE professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an expert in children’s literature, created her first Best Books for Young Readers list. She wanted to showcase authors and illustrators who were dealing with issues like gender, race, ability, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and socioeconomic class in ways that were real and empathetic. 

In the ensuing years, Thomas’ Humanizing Stories research team, the Superfriends, joined the effort by reviewing books throughout the year and weighing in on the annual list. This year, the Superfriends, guided by Rabani Garg and Christopher R. Rogers, offer examples of the children’s literature they say we all need as we enter a still uncertain new year: books that move us beyond cycles of systemic harm and marginalization. These books, by their very existence, offer a hopeful vision of a more inclusive and just future world. 

Read more at Penn GSE.