Literally Cultured’s Best Picture Books of 2020!

If you’re like me, then when you hear “2020” you tend to flinch a little bit. Beyond the obvious turmoil and heartache created by Covid-19, so many of us faced unimaginable obstacles and challenges that we are just thankful to have made it through another day. However, despite the troubles of the outside world, there was light we could depend on in the darkness…BOOKS!

2020 brought us some of the most beautiful and inspiring picture books to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Take a look back at my favorite releases of each month, as well as my favorite book of the year…or maybe even the decade!

Written by Nikki Grimes & Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

It’s bedtime. But Mommy’s little one is not sleepy.

He growls like a bear, he questions like an owl, he tosses his mane like a lion. He hunts for water like a sly wolf, and hides like a snake.

Mommy needs to wrangle her sweet creature in bed so that the whole family can sleep. From tigers to squirrels to snakes, the little boy dodges around his bedtime, until he is tired enough to finally sleep. His imaginative animal friends weave their way through the illustrations, eventually joining him in curling up for the night.

For those seeking children’s books about diversity, this loving depiction of everyday shenanigans is sure to become a bedtime favorite. Bedtime for Sweet Creatures is an African American children’s book that celebrates imagination, playful moments, and the love between a Black mother and child.

FebruaryThe Paper Kingdom

Written by Helena Ku Rhee & Illustrated by Pascal Campion

When the babysitter is unable to come, Daniel is woken out of bed and joins his parents as they head downtown for their jobs as nighttime office cleaners. But the story is about more than brooms, mops, and vacuums. Mama and Papa turn the deserted office building into a magnificent kingdom filled with paper. Then they weave a fantasy of dragons and kings to further engage their reluctant companion–and even encourage him to one day be the king of a paper kingdom.

The Paper Kingdom expresses the joy and spirit of a loving family who turn a routine and ordinary experience into something much grander. Magical art by Pascal Campion shows both the real world and the fantasy through the eyes of the young narrator.

Written by Keilly Swift & Illustrated by Jamie Margolin

There’s a lot that can be changed by just one person if know what to do.If you are a kid with big dreams and a passion for what is right, you just might be a world-changer in the making! Through ideas as small as creating a neighborhood lending library to as important as public speaking and how to talk about politics, How to Make a Better World is a practical guide to activism for children.

Well-written and divided into sections on You, Community, Environment, and more, this educational book helps children to look at what they might like to achieve, and the logical approach makes it easy to navigate if you want to tie topics up with school projects.

Brightly illustrated inclusive art makes this factbook as visually appealing as its message. You can easily jump around without any loss of comprehension and dip in for short or longer periods. Learn about tricky social interactions like friendship fallouts, or bullying and how to maneuver them, or find out how to go about creating activist campaigns to tackle climate change or social injustice.

If kids are to think positive thoughts and be part of movements for positive change, they need to be encouraged to do it. This book is full of wonderful facts about the world, presenting such positivity as cool, sensible, exciting, and achievable. The perfect starter book to activism for kids.

AprilA New Kind of Wild

Written & Illustrated by Zara Gonzalez Hoang

For Ren, home is his grandmother’s little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.

For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there’s always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there’s always someone to share in her adventures.

When Ren moves to Ava’s city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.

MayWhat is Light?

Written by Markette Sheppard & Illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson

Light can be so many things! The twinkle of a faraway star, a firefly captured in a jar, a mother’s love, a turtle dove…

Through this thoughtful and celebratory book, young readers will discover the special glow in everything from nature to the smiles of loved ones. Each page reveals a different sparkle found in a child’s simple but extraordinary world. The light revealed on the final page makes a fitting finale for this sweet, bright tale.

JuneAntiracist Baby

Written by Ibram X. Kendi & Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky

From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist comes a new picture book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves, now with added discussion prompts to help readers recognize and reflect on bias in their daily lives.

Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby‘s nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.

With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.

Written by Zetta Elliott & Illustrated by Noa Denmon

There is a place inside of me
a space deep down inside of me
where all my feelings hide.

Summertime is filled with joy―skateboarding and playing basketballuntil his community is deeply wounded by a police shooting. As fall turns to winter and then spring, fear grows into anger, then pride and peace.

In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of a child’s experiences following a police shooting―through grief and protests, healing and community―with washes of color as vibrant as his words.

Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers―children and adults alike―talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us.

Written by Nikki Grimes & Illustrated by Laura Freeman

When Kamala Harris was young, she often accompanied her parents to civil rights marches—so many, in fact, that when her mother asked a frustrated Kamala what she wanted, the young girl responded with: “Freedom!”

As Kamala grew from a small girl in Oakland to a senator running for president, it was this long-fostered belief in freedom and justice for all people that shaped her into the inspiring figure she is today. From fighting for the use of a soccer field in middle school to fighting for the people of her home state in Congress, Senator Harris used her voice to speak up for what she believed in and for those who were otherwise unheard. And now this dedication has led her all the way to being elected Vice President of the United States.

Told in Nikki Grimes’s stunning verse and featuring gorgeous illustrations by Laura Freeman, this picture book biography brings to life a story that shows all young people that the American dream can belong to all of us if we fight for one another.

SeptemberSometimes People March

Written & Illustrated by Tessa Allen

Sometimes people march
to resist injustice,
to stand in solidarity,
to inspire hope.

Throughout American history, one thing remains true: no matter how or why people march, they are powerful because they march together.

Written by Tami Charles & Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Discover this poignant, timely, and emotionally stirring picture book, an ode to Black and brown children everywhere that is full of hope, assurance, and love.

Tami Charles pens a poetic, lyrical text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter. This powerful, rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughs, through the hardship of adolescent struggles, and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter. Accompanied by illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient and a nine-time Coretta Scott King Award winner or honoree, All Because You Matter empowers readers with pride, joy, and comfort, reminding them of their roots and strengthening them for the days to come.

November A Kids Book About Systemic Racism

Written by Jordan Thierry

Systemic racism is incredibly difficult to understand—even for grownups! This book was made to help kids understand what systemic racism is and how it’s built into laws, schools, stories, and other institutions in a way that collectively makes life much harder for people of color.

Jordan Thierry is a documentary filmmaker, activist, and storyteller. He has worked for over a decade to highlight the stories of people of color and working to undo the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in the U.S.A.

Written by Lyn Sisson-Talbert & David E. Talbert

A heartwarming picture book story based on the song “The Square Root of Possible” from the Netflix holiday film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey! A holiday tale set in the snow-covered town of Cobbleton, Jingle Jangle follows eccentric toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when a betrayal by a former protégé (Keegan-Michael Key) leaves Jeronicus withdrawn and down on his luck, it’s up to his bright and adventurous granddaughter, Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a singularly magical invention — to save the day. From the imagination of writer/director David E. Talbert and featuring original music by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, Jingle Jangle reminds you that anything is possible…if you believe.

Picture Book of the YearI Am Every Good Thing

Written by Derrick Barnes & Illustrated by Gordon C. James

I am
a nonstop ball of energy.
Powerful and full of light.
I am a go-getter. A difference maker. A leader.

The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through–as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you–and shows you–who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!

Literally Cultured read aloud of “I Am Every Good Thing” by Derrick Barnes.

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