2020 Blue Ribbons

2020 Blue Ribbons

Deciding the Blue Ribbons was a whole new experience in 2020; we revamped the procedure to share titles digitally and, of course, worked amid the chaos of a pandemic-disrupted world. It was gratifying to find our enthusiasm undiminished, and in fact we’ve consciously chosen to go with a generous list this year. Whether for Zoom sharing or private escapism, books matter intensely right now, and it’s stirring to see how many stellar titles appeared this year despite the obstacles.
–Deborah Stevenson, Editor


Barnes, Derrick. I Am Every Good Thing; illus. by Gordon C. James. Paulsen/Penguin. 5-7 yrs
This first-person self-affirmation celebrates the multiple wonders of young Black boys in rollicking, readaloud-friendly text and rich painterly portraiture. (October)

Gay, Marie-Louise. The Three Brothers; written and illus. by Marie-Louise Gay. House of Anansi/Groundwood. 4-7 yrs
Gay offers a gentle introduction to climate change as three young brothers trek through a wintry forest; dappled textures and delicate lines imbue solemnity but pops of color and the youngest brother’s joyful gamboling suggest hopefulness. (September)

Lam, Thao. The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story; written and illus. by Thao Lam. Owlkids. 5-10 yrs
This wordless picture book creatively tells parallel stories as it follows a Vietnamese family forced to flee from their home when Communist forces swarm southward after the 1975 fall of Saigon. (July/August)

Medina, Meg. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away; illus. by Sonia Sánchez. Candlewick. 5-8 yrs
Young Daniela tells of the joy of friendship and the genuine, important grief at parting when her “mejor amiga, my numero uno best friend” moves out of the neighborhood. (September)

Novesky, Amy. Girl on a Motorcycle; illus. by Julie Morstad. Viking. Gr. 3-8
Based on the experience of a French journalist in the 1970s, this story follows an intrepid young woman as she travels alone across the world on her motorcycle, experiencing a multitude of countries, people, and possibilities. (September)

Sullivan, Mary. Up on Bob; written and illus. by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Gr. K-2
The queen of few-word narratives returns here with a hilarious story of a sausagy dog preparing his bed for naptime and the cat who seeks to make Bob a cushion himself. (January)

Tate, Nikki. Home Base: A Mother-Daughter Story; illus. by Katie Kath. Holiday House. 4-8 yrs
Parallel storylines unfold as mother and daughter tackle their respective challenges: Mom scoring a job building a patio and kiddo earning a spot on the baseball team; spare narration and energetic watercolors complement the book’s warm, can-do spirit. (March)

Underwood, Deborah. Ducks!; illus. by T. L. McBeth. Godwin/Holt. 3-6 yrs
When a duck becomes separated from its ducky family, a heated search ensues involving playful visual red herrings and text restricted to a comically histrionic seesaw between “Ducks?” and “No ducks!” (February)

Underwood, Deborah. Outside In; illus. by Cindy Derby. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 4-8yrs
The ever-versatile Underwood takes on a very different tone in this evocative, child-friendly contemplation of outside and inside, aided by Cindy Derby’s stunning, luminous watercolors. (April)

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; illustrated by Michele Wood. Candlewick. Gr. 4-8
A compelling combination of poetry and paintings provides a unique retelling of the story of Henry “Box” Brown, tracking the specifics of Brown’s tale of escape from bondage while examining the larger horrors and scars of slavery through visual motifs. (May)


Anderson, Sophie. The Girl Who Speaks Bear. Scholastic. Gr. 4-7
This fantastical story is a loving tribute to Russian folklore as it follows a (mostly) human girl and the animals she encounters as she seeks the truth about her family. (February)

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable True Story of a Teenage Wizard. Ottaviano/Holt. Gr. 9-12
Told with brutal authenticity and tender compassion, this fantastical story dramatically shifts between the past and the present of young Echo as she negotiates her family’s intergenerational trauma. (February)

Chee, Traci.  We Are Not Free; illus. by Julia Kuo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Gr. 9-12
Narration moves among a close-knit circle of Japanese-American youngsters interned by the U.S. during World War II as they battle to make their lives worthwhile and consider their national identity. (September)

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Leaving Lymon. Holiday House. Gr. 4-7
This companion to Finding Langston follows Lymon, whose family moved north as part of the Great Migration in the 1940s, and who struggles to find stability as that family strains to its limits. (April)

Frost, Helen. All He Knew. Farrar. Gr. 5-9
In this verse novel set in the Depression, young Henry is labeled unteachable due to his deafness and relegated by the authorities to an abusive institution, but neither he nor his family give up on his future. (September)

Getten, Kereen. When Life Gives You Mangos. Delacorte. Gr. 4-7
Inspired by her childhood in Jamaica, Getten offers readers a story of frenemy drama, profound grief, and enduring hope, told with a voice perfectly pitched to middle graders. (November)

Hesse, Monica. They Went Left. Little. Gr. 9-12
At the end of World War II, Zofia, newly liberated from a Polish concentration camp, trawls through the chaos of Eastern Europe to find her brother. (April)

Ifueko, Jordan. Raybearer. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 8-12
Nigerian-inspired mythology and lush world building combine to make a complex, enthralling story as young Tarisai attempts to kill the prince of the oppressive empire to please her ruthless mother. (April)

Khanani, Intisar. Thorn. HarperTeen. Gr. 9-12
Loosely adapted from the Grimms’ “The Goose Girl,” this story of Thorn and her negotiation of the magical, familial, and political forces that constrain her is sure to appeal to fantasy and romance fans. (February)

Mabry, Samantha. Tigers, Not Daughters. Algonquin. Gr. 8-12
A quiet, searing tale of sisterly love, ambiguous faith, and unexplained miracles, this book follows the Torres girls in the wake of their eldest sister’s death; Mabry’s prose continues to be elegantly simple and profoundly evocative. (March)

Mejia, Tehlor Kay. Miss Meteor; by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore. HarperTeen. Gr. 7-10
Narration alternates between Chicky Quintanilla and Lita Perez, two former friends who team up again to try to get Lita the crown of the Miss Meteor Pageant before she turns into literal stardust in this complex but bubbly, witty but delightfully earnest story. (September)

Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish; written and illus. by Trung Le Nguyen. Random House Graphic. Gr. 6-12
Themes of identity, family, and love feature predominantly in this graphic novel that shifts among various threads, moving between fairy tales, an immigrant story, and a coming-out story to make an eminently appealing read. (October)

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel; illus. by Danica Novgorodoff. Dlouhy/Atheneum. Gr. 6-12
Readers will not be disappointed by this graphic novel adaptation of Reynolds’ work, exquisitely illustrated to maximize the emotional weight of Will’s story as he reckons with losing his beloved brother to gang violence. (October)

Savit, Gavriel. The Way Back. Knopf. Gr. 7-10
Encounters with the Angel of Death intertwine the lives of the angry, fatherless Yehuda Leib and clever, determined Bluma. and the two must journey through the Far Country, a land ruled by demons, to Death itself. (September)

Shivering, William. Thieves of Weirdwood; by William Shivering and Christian McKay Heidicker; illus. by Anna Earley. Holt. Gr. 5-7
Thieving pals Arthur and Wally must prevent the fall of the Veil between the real and the imaginary worlds in this fantastical, comedic tale that has plenty of side-eye humor and surprising plot twists. (April)

Song, Mika. Donut Feed the Squirrels; written and illus. by Mika Song. Random House Graphic. Gr. 2-4
Five breezy chapters constitute this easy-reader graphic novel that tracks squirrel pals Belly and Norma and their attempts to get themselves some sweet treats from a nearby donut truck. (September)

Vail, Rachel. Cat Ears on Elizabeth; illus. by Paige Keiser. Feiwel. Gr. 1-3
In this funny, keenly observed entry from the A Is for Elizabeth series, second grade goes sour for Elizabeth when some girls start wearing cat-ear headbands, which she covets. (May)

Watson, Renée. Ways to Make Sunshine; illus. by Nina Mata. Bloomsbury. Gr. 2-3
Watson aimed to create an African-American answer to Ramona Quimby, and fourth-grader Ryan fulfills that mission with élan as she fights with her brother and negotiates shifting dynamics with her friends. (April)


Bascomb, Neal. The Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best. Scholastic Focus. Gr. 7-12
In this historical account packed with the thrill and danger of 1930s high-speed auto racing, the racetrack becomes a battleground for Nazi might vs. independent ingenuity. (December)

Eggers, Dave. The Lights and Types of Ships at Night; illus. by Annie Dills. Mc-Sweeney’s. 4-8 yrs
Luminous illustrations and engagingly direct text elevate the standard picture book introduction to boats and ships to an engrossing read that is sure to become a kid favorite. (November)

Feder, Tyler. Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir; written and ilus. By Tyler Feder. Dial. Gr. 8-12
In graphic novel format, Feder shares the grief, weirdness, and rawly funny dark comedy of losing her mother to cancer. (April)

Fleming, Candace. Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera; illus. by Eric Rohmann. Porter/Holiday House. 6-9 yrs
This look at the life cycle of the honeybee is made especially effective by the artful text, painterly illustrations, and dynamic composition that will have readers flying through the pages to the informative back matter. (February)

Fleming, Candace. The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh. Schwartz & Wade. Gr. 7-12
In this steady, timely, and engrossing biography, Fleming tackles the many facets of Lindbergh that fascinated and at times appalled the public, from his showmanship as an aviator legend to his grief over his murdered son to his nationalist “America first” politics.  (January)

Hall, Kirsten. Snow Birds; illus. by Jenni Desmond. Abrams. 4-8 yrs
This lusciously illustrated offering introduces seventeen winter-friendly birds through a variety of creative poems. (November)

Joseph, Frederick. The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person. Candlewick. Gr. 6-12
Readers will appreciate the comradely tone of this meaty yet accessible, challenging yet enjoyable book addressed to white people trying do better at understanding race and racism.

Latham, Irene. The Cat Man of Aleppo; written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha; illus. by Yuko Shimizu. Putnam. 5-8 yrs
This picture book follows ambulance driver Alaa as he cares for both human and cats caught in the violence of the Syrian civil war. (April)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido. Gr. 8-12
This stunning, opulent memoir traces the author’s life from childhood in Iran to time in a refugee camp to a strange new existence in Oklahoma, all the while telling stories about storytelling. (July/August)

Sayre, April Pulley. Being Frog; written and illus. with photographs by April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane/Simon. 4-10 yrs
This photoessay melds scientific discipline, poetic imagination, and beautifully executed visual storytelling as it tracks the life cycle and day to day existence of the frog. (January)

Shulevitz, Uri. Chance: Escape from the Holocaust; written and illus. by Uri Shulevitz. Farrar. Gr. 4-8
In this musing, accessible memoir accented with illustrations, Shulevitz relates his family’s desperate but ultimately fortunate peripatetic existence during World War II. (October)

Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops; written and illus. by Gene Luen Yang; color by Lark Pien. First Second. Gr. 6-12
Two compelling and interconnected stories combine: one of a high school basketball team’s journey to the state championship, and Yang’s own journey of writing the book and gaining a new understanding of the students and teachers invested in the sport. (March)