Best Nonfiction 2020 | SLJ Best Books

Twenty sterling books made SLJ's list of the best nonfiction for children and teens published in 2020. 




All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing

by Chris Barton. illus. by Nicole Xu. Carolrhoda. ISBN 9781541526693.
Gr 2-5 –In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, the survivors and loved ones of the 168 people who were killed embarked on the long process of healing. Their journey was mirrored by that of a tree now known as the Survivor Tree that was damaged by the blast. This title focuses on how people come together and create communities rather than on the specifics of the tragedy and perpetrator. Barton and Xu provide an important resource centered on resilience and grief.


Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello

by Monica Brown. illus. by Elisa Chavarri. Lee & Low. ISBN 9780892394234.
Gr 3-6 –After a childhood of exploring the foothills of the Andes, Julio C. Tello (aka Sharuko) became the first Indigenous archaeologist in America and a champion for Native Peruvians. Engaging illustrations with details from art found in highlighted archaeological sites complement an action-packed bilingual narrative.


Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo & Olivia Gatewood. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250311207.
Gr 3-6 –This evocative poetry collection examines a wide range of issues including social justice, identity, racism, activism, police brutality, inclusion, immigration, and human rights. Bold, striking illustrations illuminate a powerful and necessary call to action.


Your Place in the Universe

by Jason Chin. illus. by author. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823446230.
PreS-Gr 4 –This wondrously illustrated guide explores the size of the universe and our place in it. Using the height and location of an eight-year-old child looking at the night sky as a gauge, Chin creates a cosmic nesting doll. Size and distance throughout the universe are compared, and the text incorporates basic astronomical information.


Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation

by Candy Cooper with Marc Aronson. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547602322.
Gr 8 Up –A multisystem failure created an atrocity, but no one was listening. Cooper and Aronson skillfully document the plight of the residents of Flint, MI, in a heart-pounding narrative that reads better than any fictional thriller.


Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box

by Evette Dionne. Viking. ISBN 9780451481542.
Gr 5-7 –The literature written about the suffrage movement tends to focus on the efforts of white women. This eye-opening book spotlights the experiences of Black women who contributed to the movement. Though they faced sexism and racism, they refused to back down, working hard to make their voices heard.


Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

by Candace Fleming. illus. by Eric Rohmann. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823442850.
K-Gr 4 –This stunning picture book combines poetic nonfiction text with gorgeous paintings to tell the story of a honeybee. The narrative starts with her birth, then charts her growth and development. An incredible look at the life cycle of a bee.


The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

by Candace Fleming. Random/Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9780525646549.
Gr 7 Up –This balanced biographical account centers on Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to complete a solo transatlantic flight. Fleming examines Lindbergh’s complicated life, including his rather unusual childhood, his years flying in obscurity, the kidnapping of his son, and his pro–Nazi Germany and anti-immigrant rhetoric.


Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

by K.R. Gaddy. Dutton. ISBN 9780525555414.
Gr 7-10 –The Edelweiss Pirates were loosely affiliated groups of German young people who opposed the SS and the Hitler Youth through nonconformity, mischief, the dissemination of anti-Nazi messages, and sabotage. This extensively researched title spotlights three teenagers from working-class socialist and communist families in Cologne and their lesser-known associates. An essential addition to the narrative canon of World War II resistance fighters.


You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories

by Janet Gurtler, ed. Inkyard. ISBN 9781335929082.
Gr 9 Up –Authors detail their experiences of sexual harassment, trauma, exploitation, and assault in this revelatory, empowering collection that emphasizes speaking up and the importance of the support and community that many have found in the #MeToo movement.


The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read

by Rita Lorraine Hubbard. illus. by Oge Mora. Random/Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9781524768287.
PreS-Gr 3 –Charming illustrations, photographs, an author’s note, and text work in tandem to tell the inspiring story of Mary Walker, a formerly enslaved Black woman, sharecropper, maid, and mother who learned to read at the age of 116.


The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth

by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis, eds. Crown. ISBN 9780593121610.
Gr 5 Up –Noteworthy authors and familiar illustrators contribute to a powerful work that examines topics such as racism and cultural identity. The emotionally engaging content uses a variety of formats to illuminate antiracist advocacy.


Call Me American: The Extraordinary True Story of a Young Somali Immigrant

by Abdi Nor Iftin. Delacorte. ISBN 9781984897114.
Gr 7 Up –A Somali immigrant recounts his experiences in harrowing detail. Born six years before the beginning of the Somali tribal civil war, Iftin grew up in the city of Mogadishu. Later, a lottery allowed him safe passage to the United States. This stirring adaptation teaches young adults about global issues and the reality behind the American dream.


Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy

by Kelly Jensen, ed. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616209674.
Gr 10 Up –Book Riot editor Jensen rallies a cadre of compelling voices to tackle body representation alongside vivid artwork. This anthology fills a niche for an older teen audience and oozes authenticity.


This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How To Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

by Tiffany Jewell. illus. by Aurélia Durand. Quarto/Frances Lincoln. ISBN 9780711245211.
Gr 6 Up –Jewell offers a compact but mighty 20-step approach to becoming antiracist by empowering young readers with probing questions and vocabulary. The vibrant illustrations enhance the book’s purpose as a social justice primer.


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award–Winning Stamped from the Beginning

by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316453691.
Gr 7 Up –Although billed as “NOT a history book,” this timely and accessible work examines the history of anti-Black racism and U.S. policies that have been used to justify slavery, genocide, and oppression. This reimagining of Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning teaches readers to think critically about race and investigates the ideologies of significant segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists.


Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

by Suzanne Slade. illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Abrams. ISBN 9781419734113.
K-Gr 3 –Poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, was determined to realistically capture the world she saw. Her indomitable pursuit of cloudlike dreams, even as the lights are being turned off at her home again, is remarkable. Elegant acrylic paintings and text reflect Brooks’s exquisite poetry.


All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536209457.
Gr 4-7 –In 2018, 12 young soccer players and their coach were hiking through the caverns of Tham Luang Nang Non, the Cave of the Sleeping Lady, when the cave flooded and they were trapped inside for two weeks. People from all over the world worked hard to rescue them. This captivating narrative includes numerous photographs and firsthand accounts.


Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire

by Michael O. Tunnell. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781580897891.
Gr 4-7 –Diary entries written by Japanese American children imprisoned at Topaz Camp in Utah during World War II provide insight into a dark event in U.S. history. The entries describe everyday routines and convey the stress and confusion these children lived with every day for years.


RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

by Carole Boston Weatherford. illus. by Frank Morrison. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781534452282.
PreS-Gr 3 –Aretha Franklin’s childhood, rising stardom, and political activism are illuminated in this poetic tribute to the late singer. Morrison’s rich illustrations pair perfectly with Weatherford’s rhythmic text, resulting in a beautiful read-aloud.

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