by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, Megan Schliesman, and Madeline Tyner
© 2020 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
(This essay originally appeared in CCBC Choices 2020.)
As books came into the library, and as we read throughout the year, we made note of several big-picture observations that struck us.
- There was a lot of nonfiction, and really good nonfiction at that! We were particularly happy to see an increase in substantial narrative From arresting memoirs (Infinite Hope, Ordinary Hazards, Shout, Soaring Earth, They Called Us Enemy) to fascinating, essential, sometimes troubling looks at history (The Poison Eaters, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets) to compelling looks at people and issues today (We Are Here to Stay), we were thrilled by the range of subjects and quality across these and other works.
- The balance between middle grade and young adult novels seems to be shifting toward middle grade. We’re fine with that, especially when we’re seeing those middle grade choices include outstanding and diverse works across many genres, from contemporary realistic to historical fiction (The Line Tender, Other Words for Home, Indian No More, A Place to Belong,The Story That Cannot Be Told ), science fiction to fantasy (The Last Last-Day-of- Summer, We’re Not from Here, Lalani of the Distant Sea, The Lost Girl ). It was a great year for ghost stories, too (The Forgotten Girl, Just South of Home), and for books that blend old-fashioned coziness with contemporary sensibility (More to the Story, Strange Birds). We also appreciated works offering highly original hybrid storytelling (The Apartment, Pie in the Sky).
- #OwnVoices debuts energized our reading (Don’t Date Rosa Santos, Fry Bread, My Fate According to the Butterfly, The Proudest Blue, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky). Not that we weren’t also relishing books from established authors and artists, but there’s always something special about discovering new voices full of promise and purpose. We were also happy to see outstanding #OwnVoices anthologies that included a mix of new and established authors (Black Enough, Take the Mic), and more (always a relative term) books from #OwnVoices authors about transgender characters (When Aidan Became a Brother, Zenobia July) and the gender identity
Finally, social justice seems to be on the minds of many in the children’s and young adult literature world. While it’s true we can point to numerous books across the years that speak to contemporary issues impacting the lives of children and teens, and have certainly seen a number of books in recent years about the immigrant and refugee experience, police violence, racism, sexism and sexual violence, and Islamophobia, for example, we sense something different about 2019.
Maybe it’s that we’re different. Maybe we all—writers, artists, editors, librarians, teachers—are looking for ways to help children and teens find affirmation, respite, and hope in a world that is bombarding them with hard truths, whether those truths are shaping or disrupting their daily lives, weighing on their psyches, or both. So we look to art, to books, and find resonant fiction and nonfiction about the past (The Story That Cannot Be Told, They Called Us Enemy) and contemporary fiction and lives (Light It Up, I Am the Night Sky). We find versions of our world that aren’t quite real (The Lost Girl, Pet, We Set the Dark on Fire), and versions of the future that are comically real (We’re Not from Here). We find resilience in real people (Ordinary Hazards, Shout), and in fictional characters who could be real (Dig, Patron Saints of Nothing, When the Ground Is Hard ). We find the simple yet profound power of book that say I see you and of course you matter (Johnny’s Pheasant, This Beach Is Loud!, The Undefeated, Pride Colors).
As we begin to read books published in 2020, thinking ahead to the next edition of CCBC Choices, we look forward to finding new titles that offer all of these things and more.