The children’s books that shaped 2020

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray & Manuel Sumberac (20 Feb)

Released only weeks before the UK went into its first lockdown, Struan Murray’s fantastical debut Orphans of the Tide is set in a city similar to Murray’s hometown of Edinburgh – except that the majority of the city is now underwater. The people believe this catastrophic flooding was caused by a fearsome god know as The Enemy, and when a mysterious boy washes ashore – within the body of a dead whale – the citizens are convinced he must be a vessel for this destructive god. Reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, it's an ideal book for fantasy fans seeking an alternate reality to disappear into.

Pablo: Pablo and the Noisy Party (19 Mar)

A silver lining of 2020: it has accelerated conversations on inclusivity. Author Pablo and his friends are already a hit on TV, and this year they moved into the world of books with a new series of the same name. Written by writers on the autism spectrum, each story follows a young boy called Pablo and his imaginary animal friends as they navigate different everyday situations. Inspired by the writers’ own experiences, Pablo not only helps the peers of autistic children understand and support their friends, it allows autistic children and their families to feel seen in a neurotypical world.

Peppa Pig: Peppa Loves Doctors and Nurses (11 Jun)

It’s an understatement to say the NHS has been working hard this year. And we all remember the weekly Clap For Our Carers movement back in the spring that saw millions of people step outside they homes every Thursday evening to participate. Peppa Pig also noticed how hard the NHS was working, and so a few weeks after the campaign finished, Peppa Loves Doctors and Nurses was released. Paying homage to the work our doctors and nurses do, Peppa and her friends learned how to keep fit, eat healthily and, most importantly in the current climate, wash their hands properly. Plus, 10% of all UK print sales are currently being donated to the Covid-19 Urgent Appeal run by NHS Charities Together.

Look Up! by Nathan Bryon & Dapo Adeola (2019)

First released in 2019, Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola’s picture book Look Up! stars a science-mad young Black girl called Rocket who tries to get her older brother to look up from his phone. It was a hit, and this year it not only won Waterstones' Best Illustrated Book award but it also won the Overall Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2020. According to a report conducted by The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), only 10% of British children’s books contain a Black, Asian or minority ethnic main character. Look Up!'s big win is a small but meaningful step in the right direction to better ethnic representation in children’s literature. Bryon and Adeola followed up with Clean Up! in July of this year, which sees Rocket try to save her grandparents' Caribbean island from plastic pollution.

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens (6 Aug)

We said a fond farewell to super-sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong this year. Robin Stevens rounded off the bestselling Murder Most Unladylike series in Death Sets Sail, which saw the Detective Society head to Egypt to solve their final murder. It’s easy to see why Stevens’ series is so beloved by tweens: as well as murder mysteries, it features complicated friendships, first loves, invaluable life lessons and even a gay main character. So, although we bid adieu to Daisy and Hazel, we’re sure this won’t be the last detective schoolgirls story from Stevens. Watch this space…

The Puffin Big Book of Dreams (3 Sep)

A very notable and positive major event for us this year was that 2020 marked 80 years since Allen Lane founded Puffin. To celebrate this rather big birthday, we released a bumper anthology of stories, poems and illustrations. Malorie Blackman, Jeff Kinney, Jacqueline Wilson and Humza Arshad are just a few of the contributors who shared a variety of new and much-loved dream-inspired prose – very much needed in a year which has felt to many like a bad dream. Best of all, 5% of all sales of this book will go to the National Literacy Trust to help them continue their life-changing work of giving children the tools to make their biggest dreams come true.

One Hundred Steps: The Story of Captain Sir Tom Moore by Captain Tom Moore & Adam Larkum (1 Oct)

Just when the nation was feeling utterly hopeless, Captain Tom Moore came into our lives. A shining light in the first lockdown, Captain Tom walked 100 lengths of his garden to coincide with his 100th birthday, and ended up raising £32.8m for the NHS. But who is the man behind one of this year’s most impressive and moving feats? Children can learn all about Captain Tom’s humble Yorkshire beginnings, his time in the army and his love of motorbikes in this beautifully illustrated picture book of his life.

Kay’s Anatomy by Adam Kay & Henry Paker (15 Oct)

COVID-19 has urged more conversation than ever about our health this year. But have you ever wondered what exactly does go on inside our bodies? Luckily, former doctor Adam Kay has answered all our questions, and more, in his illustrated guide to human anatomy. Do our brains feel pain? Can lungs float on water? Is it safe to eat our bogeys? A must-have for any future doctors, nurses, scientists – and those who just love disgusting facts.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End (Book 15) by Jeff Kinney (27 Oct)

Staying isolated doesn’t have to be boring. Especially not when our favourite wimpy kid is about. In the 16th book of the knockout series, Greg Heffley and his family are off on a cross-country camping trip. Fun, right? Wrong. As luck would have it, the Heffleys run into a sequence of hilarious predicaments that turn their trip into a disaster. Greg’s escapades are the perfect pick-me-up for when children are missing their friends, making it an ideal tonic after this isolated year.

Your Mood Journal by Fearne Cotton (26 Nov)

It’s fair to say everyone’s emotions have been pushed to the limit in 2020. And sometimes it’s hard to put into words how and what we’re feeling. Broadcaster Fearne Cotton has created this much-needed activity journal for children to meet and address all their different moods. From happiness and excitement to anger and loneliness, no mood is off-limits. Packed full of tips, practical exercises and stickers, this is the perfect toolkit for anyone needing to build confidence in expressing and understanding their emotions.

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