First and foremost, thank you for all the heartwarming comments left on my last post. I definitely shed a few tears reading and responding to your kind words! I think we have a whole community of ambassadors of love and joy.
While I needed to take the fall away from the blog, I just couldn’t let the year slip by without continuing my favourite Jbrary tradition – it’s the 8th year running! I guess it’s my way of sending hope that we will one day return to a world where a toddler pulls off the felt story pieces, a baby learns to clap while singing the hello song, a kid cries when she doesn’t get her favourite colour scarf, a preschooler tells you a story about his new puppy, a grown-up has a full length phone conversations the second you open the book, and a family finds a safe, warm place where they can love their little one. I’ll take it all.
My caveat to this year’s list is that unlike previous years I haven’t personally demoed them all on live audiences because *waves hands at general state of the world*. I have read them all though and am using my knowledge of what makes a good storytime book. I’ve added notes on picks I think would translate to a virtual environment too.
As always, I do hope you leave a comment with your favourites; I am sure to have missed some gems. If you’re new to the blog, don’t miss my lists from years past:
- 2013 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2014 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2015 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2016 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2017 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2018 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2019 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
- 2021 Favourite Storytime Picture Books
Without further ado, here are my favourite storytime books published in 2020 listed in alphabetical order by title.
Animals Brag About Their Bottoms by Maki Saito; translated by Brian Bergstrom
Do butts every go out of style in storytime? Doubtful! Japanese author Saito encourages readers to compare and contrast the behinds of the animal kingdom. I appreciate the underlying body positivity message. Preschoolers to early elementary aged kids are the ideal audience.
A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not) by Karl Newsom; illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
Originally published in 2018, this title just came to North American markets. A cumulative tale of mistaken identity that’s perfect for preschoolers. I love the repetitive phrases for a read aloud and kids will get a kick out of Bear’s forgetfulness.
Beehive by Jorey Hurley
Hurley’s nearly wordless books are such a great tool for encouraging kids to participate in storytelling. This life-of-a-bee story works great for multi-age groups because you can spend as much or as little time on each page as you want. Bright illustrations make it a good choice for virtual storytime as long as you’re ready to supply the words or encourage kids to tell it to grown-ups on the other end of the screen.
The Button Book by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Bethan Woollvin
Super fun and interactive! Not the first “button” book to make one of my lists, but kids will delight in the sense of control they get going through the coloured options not once, but twice. Works for a virtual storytime though the interactivity is lessened to a degree. Recommended for preschoolers and mixed age groups.
Catch that Chicken! by Atinuke; illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
Atinuke made the list last year and returns with another story set in Nigeria. A young girl learns a valuable lesson from her Nana while maintaining her self-esteem and pride. Recommended for preschool – grade 3. Definitely take this one with you on school visits, in-person or virtual.
Dinosaurs Roar by Steve Jenkins
The king of non-fiction returns with a lift-the-flap book filled with dinosaur facts. The interactive nature and simple sentences make it great for toddlers, while preschoolers up to early elementary will love hearing the added informational tidbits. Don’t miss the companion book, Sea Creatures Swim; both are worthy additions to storytime. In-person and virtual winner.
Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton
Definitely add this one to any social emotional learning booklists you’ve got. I loved this story of overcoming fear and taking guided risks. It’s one of those books I think kids will just *get*. Perfect for preschool to early elementary. A new favourite picture book overall.
Do Sharks Bark? by Salina Yoon
If you’ve read any of the other books in Yoon’s lift-the-flap animal sound series then you’ll know what to expect in this one. Great for babies and toddlers. Have the whole group practice making the sounds of whales, hippos, crabs, polar bears, and more. A brightly illustrated choice that works in-person or online.
Ducks! by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by T.L. McBeth
This is a guessing game and family reunification story all in one. Practice making the voice inflection when you ask the repeated question and shouting the answer, “No ducks!” Great for toddlers all the way up to kindergarten.
Find Fergus By Mike Boldt
A super fun title for toddlers and preschoolers. Help Fergus the bear improve his hide-and-seek skills. A great discussion starter for noticing differences and similarities. Families will want to take this one home to continue exploring the hidden objects à la Waldo.
Five Fuzzy Chicks by Diana Murray; illustrated by Sydney Hanson
A wonderful refresh to your farm and animal themed storytimes. The rhymes are good, the animal sounds support phonological awareness, and the counting down from five is a great early math literacy activity. Nice big pages for toddlers and preschoolers.
Foodie Faces by Bill and Claire Wurtzel
Anyone else remember the book How Are You Peeling? Well this one is similar except way more creative and fun in my opinion. A great choice for building emotional vocabulary, and kids will delight in seeing how food is transformed. Excellent choice for mixed-age groups, in-person or virtual.
Glad, Glad Bear! By Kimberly Gee
I think Gee officially made herself a staple of storytime. She debuted on my list last year, and this one is just as good. I love seeing a male character who loves to dance and wear tutus. Despite the title a whole range of emotions are explored in the story. Top pick for toddlers and preschoolers in any setting.
Go, Grandpa, Go! by Lynne Plourde; illustrated by Sophie Beer
This chunky board book is full of colour and fun. Like the companion Go, Grandma, Go! it features a diverse range of families and a repetitive title phrase the whole audience can chant together. Love this one for babies and toddlers. In a similar style is Beer’s Kindness Makes us Strong which came out at the tale end of 2019 and works just as well in storytime.
Goodnight Veggies by Diana Murray; illustrated by Zachariah OHora
A sweet bedtime story that is ripe (see what I did there?) with vegetable and fruit vocabulary. I love that it gives kids a glance into a hidden underground world. The rhyming is done well and the unspeaking worm character wraps it in a nice narrative. That’s two spots for Murray on this year’s list!
The Haircut by Theo Heras, illustrated by Renné Benoit
Heras does a fantastic job telling a story from a child’s perspective. The sparse text and board book format make this a great choice for babytime and toddler time. Benoit keeps the illustrations uncluttered so the focus can be on the emotional journey of the child as they anticipate their first haircut.
Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura
Toddler storytime gold! Use a repetitive magic phrase to guess what is hiding in the hat over and over again. I love how the animals got bigger each time which you can use to hone your guessing skills. This one would work great in virtual storytime too.
The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish by Lil Miss Hot Mess; illustrated by Olga de Dios
Brought to you by the creators of Drag Queen Story Hour, this singable book is great for dancing and grooving. Lots of the actions can be done as a whole crowd. Illustrations are bold and colourful. I recommend for all ages. One word: fierce.
I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison; illustrated by Frank Morrison
The metaphorical examination of what school spirit means is a great follow-up the this duo’s 2014 hit. Preschoolers and early elementary-age kids will notice the second story about school jitters in the drawing. A great choice for back-to-school storytimes.
I Love My Fangs! by Kelly Leigh Miller
I love Miller’s illustrations. They are lovely and bold and fill nice big storytime size pages. With the perfect amount of text she tells the story of a vampire with an identity crisis when it loses a tooth. A perfect blend of fantasy and every day kid experiences. Recommended for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners in any setting.
Kitty’s Cuddles by Jane Cabrera
Cabrera is on my toddler storytime authors to know list and for good reason. This one is a perfect example – bright illustrations, repetitive sentence structure, built-in interaction between caregiver and child. If you’ve got a wriggly group you can skip right to the last page at any point and it works just as well. For a virtual storytime encourage kiddos to grab a stuffie and snuggle along as you read.
Let’s Dance by David Bowie; illustrated by Hannah Marks
This book stays faithful to Bowie’s lyrics and works best when you can be up and moving while reading. Perfect for family dance parties (when we get to have those again!). The text is repeated twice so you could easily stop halfway through if need be. I love the depictions of dancing by people of all abilities.
Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling; illustrated by Maine Diaz
Another dancing title but this one has sparse text and features dances from around the world. This one works better in a virtual environment as you can encourage kids to mimic the moves in their own home. Back matter gives information about each dance and is useful to read before storytime so you can give some context. Great for the entire 0 – 5 crowd.
Let’s Play Monsters! by Lucy Cousins
A book that embodies the early literacy practice of play. The rhyming is spot on and perfect for chanting. Cousins excels at toddler storytime choices and little ones will love anticipating what each monster will look like. Another one that truly knows what it’s like to see the world through a child’s eyes.
Making Tracks series by Abi Hall
Four new board books in this series came out in 2020: City, Desert, Mountain, and Jungle. These are babytime and toddlertime top picks. Discover who created the tracks in different settings using lift-the-flaps. I think these would translate wonderfully to a virtual storytime too.
My Hair is Beautiful by Shauntay Grant
Grant is a Canadian poet who brings us this large board book celebrating natural hair. There’s been many books about this topic the last few years, but this one is perfect for storytime. The adjectives are animated and fun and the pictures are filled with joy. Use in-person or virtually.
One of These is Not Like the Others by Barney Saltzberg
I love the simplicity and humour of this gem. Kids will delight in figuring out which of the four options “doesn’t fit.” The repetitive and short text means it translates well to young groups, but older preschoolers will really enjoy the concept. Make sure to incorporate lots of wait time as little ones figure it out on their own. Recommend for online or in-person.
A Perfect Day by Sarah S. Brannen
You’ll need to practice doing two distinct voices to make this one really work, but it’s well worth it. Follow an optimistic seagull and grouchy crab as they look at the world differently. I read it as a story of overcoming perfectionism, but kids will likely find the crab hilarious. Works best for preschool and up.
A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Shawn Harris
Stunning illustrations and an expert use of white space fill this story about a bear’s journey across the arctic. Simple sentences make it a great choice for toddlers or a mixed-age group. I’d love to see what kids wonder: where is it going? what will it find? I’d be curious to see if the white space translates to a virtual environment.
Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak by Robert Budd; illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers
This duo is back with another high contrast board book filled with sounds from the Pacific Northwest. Although the book is small in size, the sharp colours translate well even to medium sized groups. Virtual storytime would work even better. I recommend all of their books to highlight Indigenous art and stories.
Rot, the Bravest in the World! by Ben Clanton
I have a soft spot for Rot because my niece was OBSESSED with the first book. This follow-up does not disappoint – take it on all your school visits! Great for grades K – 3, this longer title is all about believing in yourself (with lots of fun wordplay thrown in).
Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha; illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Being as Trashy Town is IMHO a great storytime book I was happy to find this sequel just as good. Mr. Gilly returns in a demolition derby. Construction fans will beg to take this one home. I liked all the different sounds and use of repetition to make the book come alive. Perfect for preschool.
Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor
Oh man this was one of my favourite picture books of 2020 in general. The storyline about perseverance and friendship were right up my alley, and I think it works well with kids all the way up to grade 3. I laughed, I cried, I just plain loved it.
Snakes on the Job by Kathyrn Dennis
A follow-up to the 2019 title, this one is more about construction than snakes in case you’ve got a case of ophidiophobia. Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers who will enjoy making the repetitive “hisshh” sound as you read it aloud. And it looks like Snakes are going to space next year.
This Little Pup by Laura J. Bryant
Go on a farm adventure as you follow a dog chasing a bright blue ball. In addition to counting you can also make all the animal sounds. The bright pictures make it a good choice for virtual storytime. Try tracing your finger along the black dotted line signifying the bounces. A great choice for kids 5 and under.
Two Dogs on a Trike by Gabi Snyder; illustrated by Robin Rosenthal
This works as a nice counting book for toddlers or a more sophisticated story about inclusion and noticing others for older kids. I’m still not sure if I think the cat was lonely or an evil mastermind. Short simple sentences keep the pace jaunty and the illustrations are filled with humour. A top choice for in-person or virtual.
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; illustrated by Michaela Goade
A wonderful school-age read aloud, this gem comes from Indigenous creators and focuses on the role they have to play in keeping the earth’s natural resources safe. The illustrations are stunning, and the text is sophisticated and beautiful. An inspiring choice for the whole community.
What’s Up, Maloo? by Geneviève Godbout
A great choice to support social emotional learning. The focus is on listening and noticing how others are feeling, a key part of empathy. And sometimes it’ s hard to know what’s wrong! A good choice for mixed-age groups or a standalone preschool class.
Wheels by Sally Sutton
Another sound-filled storytime gem from Sutton. In this rhyming guessing game about vehicles, kids are prompted to “shout what’s coming” on each page. I’m curious if North American kids know what a “rubbish truck” is, but what a great conversation starter. Your toddlers and preschoolers will be begging to check this one out. Recommended for virtual programs, especially small groups who can unmute and make guesses out loud.
When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Smith keeps writing storytime winners. A top choice for babies and toddlers, this book highlights how to be kind to others, ourselves, and the earth. Present day Indigenous families are featured in the illustrations. Recommended for virtual storytimes.
You Are Awesome! by Susann Hoffmann
Bright, bold pictures? Check. Short, simple, affirmative text? Check. Diverse cast of kids? Check. A total storytime winner, especially for your littlest library patrons. After reading each page I would switch the phrase around and encourage kids to say, “I am [fill in adjective]!” Translates well to virtual storytimes.
I hope this list equips you with some fresh choices to take to storytimes no matter how or when they happen in the future. Which books published in 2020 did you love reading at storytime this year? What books worked especially great in a virtual storytime? Please share your favourites in the comments!