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For many readers, a lifetime of reading began at an early age with beloved children’s tales found in libraries, book fairs, or passed down from adults. Countless incredible children’s books are released every year, from additions to popular series to new books with relevant messages.
The children’s books on this list are for kids under the age of 12, but range from simple stories meant for kindergarteners, to longer collections with important messages for older children. To gather these recommendations, we looked at bestseller lists on Amazon and Bookshop, award-winners from this year, and recommendations from adults on Goodreads.
With everything from body-positive books to hilarious children’s stories of magic and mayhem, here are 23 of the most popular children’s books from 2021.
“Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.33
When a young girl realizes that her eyes don’t look like everyone else’s, she turns to her mother, grandmother, and little sister, who each have eyes like hers. This picture book is her story of self-love and empowerment as the young girl finds beauty in what makes her different.
“Room for Everyone” by Naaz Khan, Illustrated by Mercè López, available at Amazon, $14.99
Musa and Dada are headed for the shore of Zanzibar, riding the crowded and very hot bus that seems to stop for anyone who might need a ride. Even though it seems there’s no way more passengers could fit on the bus, Musa discovers that with a little wiggling and scooting, there’s room for everyone.
“Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem” by Amanda Gorman, Illustrated by Loren Long, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.31
Written by Amanda Gorman, the poet who wrote “The Hill We Climb” and performed at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, this children’s book is a delightful and lyrical tale with an important message for children. It’s a story about change as a young girl leads characters on a musical journey to discover how they can make big or small changes in the world.
“The 1619 Project: Born on the Water” by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.41
When a young student is given a family tree assignment in school, she discovers that she can only trace the last three generations in her family. Turning to her grandmother for answers, she learns that her ancestors came to America 400 years ago as slaves and learns of the culture, languages, and land of her family.
“Aaron Slater, Illustrator” by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.49
Aaron Slater loves stories, but when his teacher tells him to write one, he realizes he struggles to read the stories he so loves. Dreaming of becoming a storyteller, Aaron finds his voice through illustrations in this children’s book about the power of art.
“Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race” by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, Illustrated by Isabel Roxas, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.27
“Our Skin” is a children’s board book that will help adults start conversations with young children about race. Based on research that demonstrates the benefits of beginning this education at a young age, this picture book uses clear and simple language to introduce children to race and racism.
“The Smart Cookie” by Jory John, Illustrated by Pete Oswald, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.99
“The Smart Cookie” is the fifth book in the “Bad Seed” series about different food-like children with important messages. In this children’s book, the smart cookie has never felt very smart but learns how brightness and intelligence aren’t just measured by test scores.
“The Beatryce Prophecy” by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14
Set during a medieval time of war, a mysterious young girl named Beatryce arrives at Brother Edik’s monastery in need of help. As Brother Edik discovers her dangerous secret, Beatryce ventures into the forest in search of a castle in this story about fate and love.
“We All Play” by Julie Flett, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.51
With playful illustrations and prose, this book uses Indigenous words and teachings to show how children and animals both like to play and be with their families and friends. With a glossary full of Cree words for the animals in the book, this children’s book is a celebration and appreciation for nature.
“Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.36
While on a long subway ride with his sister, Milo imagines the lives of the other passengers on the train, from the animals they might have at home to the great places they must be heading to. As he invents these lives to pass the time, Milo realizes you can’t possibly know someone just by looking at them.
“It Fell from the Sky” by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.18
When a strange object falls from the sky, the insects gather and speculate about what the item could be. To help insects see the item, Spider builds a display but charges a fee to use it in this children’s book about giving back.
“We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know” by Traci Sorell, Illustrated by Frane Lessac, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.80
“We Are Still Here!” is a celebratory children’s book that teaches Native American history in a way that schools do not. From forced assimilation and relocation to current issues of religious freedom and revival efforts, this nonfiction children’s book can help adults teach children about the past, present, and future of Native Americans.
“Blancaflor, the Hero With Secret Powers: A Folktale From Latin America” by Nadja Spiegelman, Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.99
Blancaflor has been raised by her ogre of a father and told to keep her powers a secret. When a young knight falls from the sky, Blancaflor’s father tries to entrap him while she secretly tries to help him escape without him knowing.
“Watercress” by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.54
When a young girl’s parents stop on the side of the road to collect watercress, she’s initially embarrassed and wishes her family could go to the grocery store like the other families. As her mother shares her family’s story of their time in China, the young girl learns to appreciate their heritage and appreciate the watercress they’ve collected.
“Bright Star” by Yuyi Morales, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.43
“Bright Star” is the story of a fawn making her way through a desert landscape near the border when she comes upon an insurmountable barrier. In this tale of growth and empowerment, this story is a message for the children separated from their families by unnatural borders.
“Bodies Are Cool” by Tyler Feder, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $16.19
This children’s picture book helps highlight all the different kinds of bodies with joyful images and words. With pictures of different skin tones, hair types, and body shapes, this inclusive read aims to help children learn body confidence at a young age.
“Dream Street” by Tricia Elam Walker, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.99
Dream Street is the best street in the world, nearly overflowing with children and adults that, together, create a beautiful neighborhood. Inspired by the neighborhood of their shared childhood, Tricia Elam Walker and Ekua Holmes bring Dream Street to life in this story that celebrates dreams and hope.
“Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids” by Cynthia Leitich Smith, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.29
This children’s book is a collection of Indigenous stories from authors and families across the United States and Canada. As the stories intersect at a powwow, they teach young readers about joy, resilience, and Native pride.
“What the Road Said” by Cleo Wade, Illustrated by Lucie de Moyencourt, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.39
From poet and activist Cleo Wade, “What the Road Said” is an inspirational children’s book about the paths we take in life. This picture book encourages young readers to make choices with kindness in mind and keep going no matter the challenges.
“I Don’t Want to Read This Book” by Max Greenfield, Illustrated by Mike Lowery, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.93
Written by Max Greenfield, who is best known for his role as Schmidt in “New Girl,” this picture book is for children who think they don’t like to read. Energetic and funny, this playful book will help children find joy in reading.
“Norman Didn’t Do It!: (Yes, He Did)” by Ryan T. Higgins, Illustrated by Ryan Higgins, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.68
“Norman Didn’t Do It!” is a fun children’s book about a porcupine named Norman and his best friend named Mildred, a tree. When a new tree pops up, Norman worries that Mildred will not want to be friends with him anymore now that she has a new friend like her.
“Gladys the Magic Chicken” by Adam Rubin, Illustrated by Adam Rex, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.19
When anyone encounters Gladys the chicken, their wish is granted, so they decide she must be magic. In this hilarious story, Gladys finds herself on a crazy journey during Ancient Times in a story about making your own luck.
“Dog Man: Mothering Heights” by Dav Pilkey, available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.62
This 10th installment of the best-selling “Dog Man” series finds Dog Man as it seems the world is spinning out of control. In this children’s story about hope and persistence, Dog Man and his friends learn how love and kindness can still save the day.
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