2020 has been a difficult year in many ways, but one thing that went right was the diverse books that were published. As December is National Read a New Book Month, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of this challenging year than by putting a spotlight on the new diverse voices that were put on our shelves this year. From race to neurodiversity to LGBTQ+ representation and more, this list explores how far we’ve come as a society while also shedding light on how far we still have to go in accepting and allowing for equality. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a small taste of diversity being recognized in modern literature for youth.
Albertalli, Becky and Aisha Saeed
Yes, No, Maybe So. 2020 (Teen).
Jamie is volunteering for his local state senate candidate, happy to work behind the scenes. But when he needs to start knocking on doors to ask people for their votes, Jamie chokes. Maya is having the worst Ramadan ever — she’s unable to hang out with her best friend, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing. Jamie and Maya go door to door together, mastering local activism and navigating a cross-cultural romance. This young adult novel has a Muslim main character and explains the importance of activism and voting.
Just Like Me. 2020 (Nonfiction Picture Book).
This picture book is a collection of poetry filled with mini-stories about girls of all kinds: girls who feel happy, sad, scared, powerful; girls who love their bodies and girls who don’t; country girls, city girls; girls who love their mother and girls who wish they had a father. Black girls, brown girls, Asian girls, white girls, biracial girls, and more fill these pages, celebrating and encouraging and empowering all girls.
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Duncan, Alice Faye
Just Like a Mama. 2020 (Picture Book).
Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose, but in the midst of their happy home, Carol Olivia Clementine misses her mother and father. While Mama Rose teaches Carol Olivia Clementine how to ride a bike, clean her room, and tell time, Carol Olivia Clementine learns to embrace the love that is present and Mama Rose becomes her “home.” And Carol Olivia Clementine concludes that she loves Mama Rose “just like a mama.” This picture book takes a deep look at the life of a caregiver who opens their arms and home to a child that is not their own.
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Hudson, Chery and Erin K. Robinson
Brave, Black, First: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World. 2020 (Middle Grade Biography).
Published in partnership with curators from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, this illustrated biography compilation captures the iconic moments of fifty African American women whose heroism and bravery rewrote the American story for the better. From Rosa Parks who sat for equality to Michelle Obama who transformed the White House, this book sheds light on fearless, bold African American women who changed the game.
Jamieson, Victoria and Omar Mohamed
When Stars Are Scattered. 2020 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother’s needs make life hard at the camp. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future, but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day. Told by a Somali refugee who lived the story, this graphic novel is an intimate, important look at the day-to-day life of a refugee.
Johnson, George M.
All Boys Aren’t Blue. 2020 (Teen Nonfiction).
In a series of personal essays, George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at the age of five, to flea marketing with his grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys. This book is a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color; it covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! 2020 (Middle Grade).
Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero — Major League pitcher VJ Capello — taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch, and now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch, and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team and VJ starts writing back. Vivy Cohen won’t let autism stop her from play baseball in this epistolary middle grade novel.
Illustrated by: Michaela Goade
We Are Water Protectors. 2020 (Nonfiction Picture Book).
When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people’s water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource. Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, this picture book issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption.
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The Gravity of Us. 2020 (Teen).
Cal is used to sharing his life online as a seventeen-year-old successful social media journalist with half a million followers. But he’s thrust into a media circus when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, moving from Brooklyn to Houston. Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon amidst the chaos, another “Astrokid,” and Cal finds himself falling head over heels — fast. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him. This LGBTQ+ young adult novel explores the thrill of first love and the overwhelming feeling of self-doubt.
The List of Things That Will Not Change. 2020 (Middle Grade).
After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways, but she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other. When Bea’s Dad tells her that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled; she loves Jesse, and when he and her dad get married, she’ll finally have what she’s always wanted — a sister. As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy in this middle grade novel celebrating queer parents and shining a light on childhood mental illness.