30 Top Books of 2021
Children’s books made an amazing bounce back in 2021. An increased push for diversity in children’s books was evident, bringing forth a ton of new and emerging talents. We even noticed some middle-grade and YA authors making their debut in the children’s book space. There have been some gems that we’ve enjoyed highlighting and carrying within our collections. We’ve created a list of some that we couldn’t put down.
Note: Stories of a Colorful World (SOCW) book lists feature books that star BIPOC characters by authors of those same diverse groups. This post contains affiliate links. If you buy from our links, we get a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton From the author/illustrator of some of our favorite books comes a story of a girl that wants eagerly to make friends on her first day of school. When her over-the-top outfit doesn’t get the kind of attention she was expecting, she begins to lose her confidence and just wants to blend in. This is the perfect book to add to the first day of school, embracing your name or individuality and self-love collections. (Ages 3-6)
The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Tarpley, Regis & Kahran Bethencourt
What will you choose to be?
A free spirit?
A weaver of words?
A star dancing across the night sky?
A limitless galaxy?
The possibilities are endless in this uplifting ode to the power of potential. This book is an immersive call for self-love and highlights the inherent beauty of all Black and brown children.
We have been anticipating this project for close to a year. When we interviewed Natasha Tarpley last year, she talked about her collaboration with the amazing team behind CreativeSoul photography. If you’ve never viewed their work, go to their Instagram page. Their work is breathtaking. (Ages 4-8)
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, Nabi H. Ali Laxmi never paid much attention to the tiny hairs above her lip. But one day, while playing farm animals at recess, her friends point out that her whiskers would make her the perfect cat. She starts to notice body hair all over–on her arms, legs, and even between her eyebrows.
With her parents’ help, Laxmi learns that hair isn’t just for heads but that it grows everywhere, regardless of gender. (Ages 4-8)
Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson & Reggie Brown It’s two weeks before Christmas, and Deja is worried that Santa might not be able to visit her–after all, as a city kid, she doesn’t have a chimney for him to come down and none of the parking spots on her block could fit a sleigh, let alone eight reindeer! But with a little help from her family, community, and Santa himself, Deja discovers that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in her city. (Ages 4-8)
Better Together, Cinderella by Ashley Franklin, Ebony Glenn We’re so excited about this one. In this magical follow-up picture book to Ashley Franklin’s and Ebony Glenn’s celebrated fairy tale twist, Not Quite Snow White, princess Tameika becomes a big sister . . . to twins! (Ages 4-8)
Girls Can Dream by Jasmine. Owens, Morenike Olusanya. Girls Can Dream takes children through the alphabet to introduce them to 26 careers that they can aspire to be. It is a celebration of African-American girls – their diversity, excellence, and limitless potential. (Ages 2-8)
Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment by Parker & Jessica Curry, Brittany Jackson Parker Curry loves being a big sister. She gets to play dress-up with her little sister, Ava, and piano with her baby brother, Cash. And Parker loves to dance, twirling and leaping and spinning in joy.
But when a dancer joins her class and needs her help, Parker wonders if she has what it takes to be not only a real dancer but a real friend.
This inspirational picture book has an afterword by prima ballerina and New York Times bestselling author Misty Copeland. (Ages 4-8)
African Proverbs for All by Johnnetta B. Cole, Jasmine, Nelda Lateef It has been said that a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience. Whether you are young or old, proverbs can open your mind to a whole new way of seeing the world. We underestimate children when we assume they are incapable of understanding metaphor and deeper meaning. There are multiple ways that children learn, but for each method by which they learn, they need their imagination engaged and their visual sensibilities ignited. And as adults, we underestimate ourselves when we allow our lives to be about practical matters only. Proverbs can stir our soul and spark our imagination. –Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Ph.D. President Emerita of Spelman and Bennett Colleges (Ages 4-8)
Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani, Holly Hatam In the spirit of Hair Love by Matthew Cherry, a girl and her father have a special bond around their hair. Papa spends each morning combing through his daughter’s hair, but her favorite style is when Papa makes her his “hair twin.” Such a great book to celebrate father-daughter bonds and embracing diverse cultures. (Ages 4-8)
My Dog Romeo by Ziggy Marley, Ag Jatkowska. Just like his dad’s famous songs turned children’s books, Ziggy Marley is trying his hand as an author. This book follows a boy and his dog, Romeo, as they enjoy music and play. (Ages 0-7)
Shady Baby by Gabrielle Union, Dwayne Wade, Tara Nicole Whitaker
Once again, the Wade’s pen another book inspired by their beautiful baby girl, Kaavia James. When the Shady Baby encounters some bullying at the park, what will she do? (Ages 4-8)
Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor, Nabi H. Ali
A much-needed picture book about loving yourself just as you are comes from the designer, creator, and self-love advocate Nabela Noor. (Ages 4-8)
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Hannah Nikkole Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith
A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders.
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived. (Ages 7-10)
Little Moar and the Moon by Roselynn Akulukjuk, Jasmine Gubbe Moar has always loved autumn–playing outside with his friends, feeling the weather get colder–but there is one thing about autumn that really worries Moar. The moon. The days become shorter, and the moon, with its creepy face and eerie smile, seems to be looking down on him before he can even get home from school! So, one day, Moar is determined to get home before the moon appears in the sky. But there are so many fun things to do on the way home, he may just run out of time! (Ages 6-8)
Simon B. Rhymin’ by Dwayne Reed. Eleven-year-old Simon Barnes dreams of becoming a world-famous rapper that everyone calls Notorious D.O.G. But for now, he’s just a Chicago fifth-grader who’s small for his age and afraid to use his voice.
Simon prefers to lay low at school and at home, even though he’s constantly spitting rhymes in his head. But when his new teacher assigns the class an oral presentation on something that affects their community, Simon must face his fears.
With some help from an unexpected ally and his neighborhood crew, will Simon gain the confidence to rap his way to an A and prove that one kid can make a difference in his ‘hood?. (Ages 8-12)
J.D. and the Hair Show Showdown by J. Dillard, Akeem S. Roberts At only eight years old, J.D. the Kid Barber has already won a barber battle and appeared on local TV. Now he’s the youngest barber to be invited to the Beauty Brothers Hair Expo in Atlanta! J.D. gets the VIP treatment–he takes his first flight, rides in a limo for the first time, and gets gifts from the show’s sponsors. There are hair classes to take at the show, product samples to try, and some of J.D.’s favorite hair influencers to meet. And, of course, there’s his own demo alongside kid hairstylist Isabel Is Incredible. But what J.D. is most excited about is snapping a pic with eleven-year-old rap sensation Li’l Eazy Breezy, which is harder than it sounds! The world of hair and beauty is so much bigger than J.D. could’ve imagined, and he’s ready to step up his game. (Ages 6-8)
So many great books in the She Persisted series were released. (Ages 6-9)
Stamped (For Kids) Racism, Antiracism and You: by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi, Sonja Cherry-Paul From adult novel to YA and now it has been adapted for younger readers. We read Jason Reynold’s adaptation last summer with our family, and am so excited for this book to be adapted for elementary and middle schoolers… This book follows the journey of racist ideas, helps explain racism’s long history in America and how we can actively stamp it out. (Ages 6-10)
Sky Watcher (Jada Jones #5)by Kelly Starling Lyons Jada is excited to do a school project about her hero Dr. Mae Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first Black woman to travel to outer space. She even gets to pretend to be her for the presentation in front of her teacher, parents, and friends! But when Jada’s research reminds her how accomplished her hero truly is, she suddenly feels like she’s made a mistake. How can she portray someone who seems to have everything together when she feels like she’s falling apart? (Ages 6-9)
The Vanished (Shuri: A Black Panther #2) by Nic Stone For fans of Black Panther, Nic Stone created a graphic novel about the character Princess Shuri. This is the sequel. In this book, Shuri is determined to figure out what’s happening when several young girls interested in STEM, like her, go missing. Will she be able to find them? (Ages 8-12)
The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Chen Maxine Chen is on the verge of making it to the national scene as a figure skater, and then Hollie, a more talented figure skater, moves to her hometown of Lake Placid. As Maxine gives it all she has, she is faced with the challenges of bullying and constant microaggressions at school. Will Maxine be able to juggle all of the challenges and regain her confidence? (Ages 8-12)
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston: This is great for those lovers of the Tristan Strong, Percy Jackson-type fantasy books, but with a #blackgirlmagic twist. Amari can’t understand why everyone is not in more of an uproar when her older brother Quinton goes missing. When she finds some clues and an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari is sure she’ll be able to uncover what happened to Quinton. Will she ultimately get the answers that she’s looking for? (8-12)
Force of Fire by Sayantani DasGupta : This is the perfect book for fantasy lovers. Pinki is a Rakkosh, demon that is resisting the rule of the Serpent King. She is young and trying to figure out who she is and how to control her powers. She is also dealing with her resentment for her parents, who spend more time involved with the freedom movement. She learns to work with others and trust in her own powers. (Ages 8-12)
Miles Morales: Shock Waves (Original Spider-Man Graphic Novel) by Justin A. Reynolds, Pablo Leon Miles Morales is truly our favorite Spider-Man. In this graphic novel, Miles is still struggling to balance school and being a crime fighter. Miles knows he must do something when his mom’s native island, Puerto Rico, is devastated by an earthquake. He decides to host a fundraiser, but something doesn’t quite make sense when a new student, Kyle’s father, goes missing. How will he save the day? There is plenty of adventure. This is a must-have for those budding graphic novel fans. (Ages 8-12)
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia Yes, yes, and more yes. This anthology includes a collection of stories, poems, and comics written by many of your (or at least my) favorite Black male children’s book authors. Varian Johnson, Jason Reynolds, BB Alston, Lamar Giles, just to name a few. This book is a celebration of Black boyhood and should be a must-have on your bookshelf. (Ages 9-12|)
Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers by Michelle Obama: Michelle Obama used her platform to engage young people throughout her time as First Lady. Well, now, she’s adapted her best-selling memoir for young readers. They’ll learn about her life growing up on the South Side of Chicago through becoming the First Lady of the United States. (Ages 10+)
Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia. Rick Riordan is the ally that understands the importance of having authors of color showing the literary world that kids of color can be the heroes of action and fantasy books too. This is the third and final book in the Tristan Strong series. We suggest buying them all.
After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way, they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago. It’s going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan’s inner strength, to deliver justice once and for all. (Ages 8-12)
2021 produced so many amazing books. We can’t wait for what’s in store for 2022. Which were some of your favorites? Drop a comment below.