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My Favourite Reads in 2020

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

The books that I really loved this year!

One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic: no opportunities to go out, more time to read. Every year, I set myself a reading goal on Goodreads and this is the first year I have exceeded it. My goal was to read 70 books, which was the highest challenge I've ever set myself. Happy to report that I read 84 books in 2020 (not including picture books - that would be ridiculous!) and it's not quite over yet, so that may not be a final tally. In this blog post, I'm going to list the books, both for children and adults, that I found the most inspiring, enjoyable and moving in my reading year. It was so hard to decide on a top five or even top ten, so I present you my absolute favourites here and, should you be interested, I have slightly longer lists in my online Bookshop. They are all excellent and very highly recommended!

Use these links to help you navigate this post:

Middle Grade Children's Books

Cover of The 1000-Year-Old Boy by Ross Welford

Reading and interest age: 9+

What would it be like to stay a child for a thousand years? A high concept book with lots of heart! The 1000 Year Old Boy tells the tale of Alfie Monk, born a Viking and discovered living in the woods with his mother in the 21st century.⁠ I loved this book and found it completely absorbing. Told from two different perspectives, that of Alfie and Aidan, the boy who finds him. We learn that living forever is not what we would imagine. After a tragic incident, Alfie is forced into the modern world where he is befriended by Aidan and his neighbour Roxy, who both try to help him achieve the one thing he wants most - to grow up with his friends. ⁠ While Alfie is dealing with an unbelievable situation, he has also suffered incredible loss. Both Aidan and Roxy also have their own very real issues, all of which are explored with sensitivity. This is an excellent middle grade book and will make a fantastic story time or book club read.⁠ I definitely need to read more Ross Welford. His writing is engaging and his concepts are intriguing - who wouldn’t want to read 'Time Travelling with my Hamster'?

Reading and interest age: 9+

An absolute gem of a book and if I had to pick an absolute favourite middle grade of 2020, this would be it. I finished it in one sitting! Addie is an eleven-year-old autistic girl who learns about the women wrongly accused of witchcraft and executed in her village in Scotland for being different. So she sets out to campaign for a memorial. Addie explains how it feels to be autistic in a world of neurotypical people. I think this is the best representation of an autistic child that I’ve ever read. The author, Elle McNicoll, is also autistic and a fantastic writer. She really took me on that journey with Addie and I adored the older sisters as well. Cannot wait for more from Elle! Five star read and highly recommended, particularly for all educators out there - you’ll gain a valuable insight into the neurodivergent world! But, most importantly, it’s just a really lovely and brilliantly written book!

Reading and interest age: 9+

There are surprisingly few good books on Black British history for primary-aged children with many Black history books focusing on American figures and history. ⁠This book specifically discusses Black British history from the time of the Romans through to the present day and the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Short but packed full of information this is an engaging and important book. Olusoga introduces us to prominent Black Tudors, Georgians and Victorians, as well as the Black regiments that fought for Britain in both World Wars and the workers who flocked to rebuild the UK after. He explains Britain’s role in the world slave trade and how, even after the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, Britain continued to benefit from the work of US slaves. We learn about the prominent abolitionists, including the women who led boycotts of sugar and other products of slavery. Olusoga also explores how ideas of race and racial difference were introduced by slave owners. Before this, people were not defined by their skin colour but it supported the slave owners in their subjugation of the slave population if Africans were believed to be inferior to Europeans. This is a hugely informative read and a must for every classroom.⠀

Picture Books

Cover of Julian at the Wedding by Jessica Love

Reading age: 6+

Interest Age: 4+

This is a follow-up to the hugely successful 'Julian is a Mermaid' in which Julian learned that those who love you will accept you for who you are. In this latest book, ⁠Julian's two aunties are getting married and they want Julian and his cousin Marisol to be in the wedding party. After the ceremony, they have so much fun playing outside that Marisol’s dress gets dirty. But with Julian's help (and shirt!), they are both transformed into fairies before they return to the party.⁠⠀Jessica Love's story is vital in acknowledging to children that relationships come in many different forms, but that they are all about one thing: love. The illustrations are breathtaking and convey every stage of a wedding from the children's point of view in such a vivid way that I was transported back to my own childhood memories of family celebrations and how enchanting they can be when you are young. The colour, movement and flow of the images brings the entire story to life! One of the most beautiful books I've ever seen.

Reading age: 6+

Interest Age: 4+

One of the most gorgeous picture books of the year. This is the story of a little yak called Gertie who is fed up of being the littlest yak until one day she realised that being little has its advantages too! This amazing story by Lu Fraser is warm, playful and meaningful all in one go. The gorgeous illustrations by Kate Hindley are fun and engaging. Gertie is a wonderful character who I hope to see more of in future.

Reading age: 6+

Interest Age: 4+

'What We'll Build' is the latest offering from picture book super star Oliver Jeffers and companion to the amazing 'Here We Are'. It is a delightful celebration of love, hope and building a future together. ⁠Recent events have made many of us feel hopeless and anxious about the state of the world and children have felt it keenly. 'What We'll Build' is the perfect antidote to the anxiety arising from the pandemic and climate change, encouraging us to contemplate our futures and dream of the immense world of possibilities that is open to us. Jeffers has a magical ability to make books about love and hope which are moving and poignant, without being sickly sweet. Full review on my blog.

Adult Fiction

If I had to chose a favourite novel this year, The Midnight Library would be it. Matt Haig is definitely a favourite author of mine, both for his fiction and non-fiction. The Midnight Library examines the path not taken and asks if we would really be happier if we had made other choices. Nora decides she doesn't want to live any more and finds herself between life and death in a mystical library where all of her possible lives are recorded in the books. Every choice she made resulted in a different life and she is given the chance to try out lives until she finds one she wants. I honestly couldn't put this down and it came at a really good time for me. On a day I didn't want to get out of bed and face the world, it helped me immensely. Entertaining, touching and full of hope, this has been a smash hit which cements Haig as one of the most popular contemporary authors working today.

This is a humorous, inventive and dark twist on the serial killer trope. The novel opens with Korede getting a call from her sister Ayoola who has killed yet another boyfriend. This third murder makes Ayoola a serial killer. Korede has always protected her sister, yet she becomes distressed when Ayoola begins to show interest in the man that Korede has secret feelings for. This is so gripping and enjoyable that it had me up late reading. Far from being a gratuitous crime thriller, Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a story which examines sibling relationships, trauma and the treatment of women in a deeply patriarchal society. I loved this book!

Adult Non-Fiction

Pragya Agarwal's book should be essential reading in all educational settings. Written for parents but full of useful advice for anyone working with children, Dr. Agarwal advises us on how to talk with children about race and urges us to tackle the conversation head on. Full of research on the effects of racism and practical advice on how to approach conversations with children of different ages, this is a vital book which I would urge everyone to buy. There is also a podcast mini-series worth listening to. Check out my full review and download my reading notes here.

Less, but better. That is the mantra that I came away with after reading this thought-provoking book. Essentialism does not claim to be a productivity book. It is a book which will help you change the way you think about choices, more specifically about choosing what to focus on and how to spend your time. You will be encouraged to cut out non-essential activities and tasks and find out how to hone in on the truly essential activities that deserve our most precious resources: our time and our energy, both of which are finite. McKeown tells us that if we don't deliberately choose what we wish to focus on, then we are allowing others to choose for us. He is particularly scathing about email and meetings with no agenda, both of which he urges us to either ignore or change the rules on. A book I will definitely be re-visiting!

You can click on any of the titles to purchase the books from Bookshop and you can view these plus my other 2020 favourites in my shop lists here.

I hope you had a wonderful reading year in 2020. Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

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