Favourite Books of 2020

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The Booksfortopics Best of 2020

2020 has been a year full of twists and turns - but our to-be-read piles have kept us going throughout the year.


We asked our community of teachers, TAs, authors, librarians and book lovers to nominate their favourite children's books published in 2020. 

This is what they told us... 

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The Midnight Guardians
Ross Montgomery
Nominated by: Kate Geraets (TA in Y3/4), Helen Byles (primary school librarian) & Rachel MacInnes (Year 5 teacher)

Kate says, "Wonderful use of language and an exciting but relatable storyline."

Helen says, "It's the best book this year because it has everything - family, friendship, adventures and magic. It makes you open your eyes to believe that there is someone who will always have your back no matter what."

Rachel says, "This book is just perfect. The humanity of the characters, the pacing of the plot and the detailed world building combine to make a book that was thoroughly enjoyable for my class to read and rewarding for me to analyse, deconstruct and teach!"

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The Wild Way Home
 Sophie Kirtley
Nominated by: Fleur Hitchcock (children's author) and Matthew Rice-Humphries (Year 4 teacher)

Fleur says," Great book, simply beautiful."

Matthew says, "A fabulous story telling which explores difficult themes in a very sensitive way. The characterisation is fantastic and the pacing is excellent, moving the plot along but not at the expense of the settings or characters."

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 The Book of Hopes
Various (Ed. Katherine Rundell)
Nominated by: Vicky Taithe (Y3 Teacher & English Lead)

Vicky says, "The idea behind The Book of Hopes was inspired and it is testament to the co-operation and joint efforts of so many children’s authors, illustrators and organisations, notably the National Literacy Trust. Making it available online during the lockdown when books were so needed by isolated children was just wonderful. It gives us all some hope."

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The Castle of Tangled Magic
 Sophie Anderson & Saara Soderlund
Nominated by: Eibhlín Ní Chearbhaill (librarian) and also by Rosanna Kinsella (Assistant Headteacher and SENCO)

Eibhlín says, "Exciting to read. The house with the chicken legs appeared late on in the book...much to my delight. I love talking to the children about Sophie Anderson's books. There is so much going on in this wonderful book"

Rosanna says, "A magical adventure of courage and love, rooted in folklore."

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Orphans of the Tide
Struan Murray & Manuel Šumberac
Nominated by: Alison Leach (founder of BooksForTopics)

Alison says, "Original and enticing, this is one of the best fantasy stories I have read for a long time. There’s a mix of peril and intrigue in all the right proportions, a strong female lead and a well-constructed fantasy world with its own haunting mythology that really does immerse the reader from the start. The twists and turns in the plot are delightful, with secrets, surprises and delicious ‘penny drop’ moments that kept me turning pages late into the night."

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The Egyptians
Jonny Marx & Chaaya Prabhat
Nominated by: Bertie, age 5 (resident lift-the-flap expert at BooksForTopics HQ)

Bertie says, "I liked learning about the Egyptians and it was exciting to find out about the pyramids and the mummies. It's a big book with so many flaps to lift and facts under each one and the pictures are so cool!"

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 The Highland Falcon Thief
M G Leonard, Sam Sedgman & Elisa Paganelli
Nominated by: Marion Park (Y6 teacher)

Marion says, "A great introduction to the whodunnit genre for children. The story is well paced and features characters which the reader grows to love."

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Anisha Accidental Detective: School's Cancelled!
Serena Patel & Emma McCann
Nominated by: Dan Norton (Y3/4 teacher)

Dan says, "School's Cancelled is a wonderful second book in the Anisha Accidental Detective series. It’s a race against time for Anisha to prove that it was not her who caused the foam explosion that flooded the school. The mystery is engaging until the very end and there are twists and turns throughout. The world that has been created is inclusive and vibrant and any event that involves Anisha’s family is sure to be fun!"

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My Life as a Cat
Carlie Sorosiak
Nominated by: Alison Leach (founder of BooksForTopics)

Alison says, "I was totally charmed by this middle grade novel by Carlie Sorosiak. A witty, moving and thought-provoking story about finding and claiming your place in the world - I just couldn't help but love this other-worldly adventure."

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October, October
Katya Balen & Angela Harding 
Nominated by: Jo Clarke (Assistant Headteacher & BooksForTopics Review Panel member), Rachel Caddick (teacher, book blogger and BooksForTopics Review Panel member) and Barbara Valentini (primary teacher on career break).

Written in Katya Balen's heart-stoppingly emotional style, this book is a feast for the senses, filled with the woodsmoke smell of crisp autumn mornings and the sound of wellies squelching in river mud - exploring what it means to be wild.

Barbara says, "Lyrical, touching and beautifully written."


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When Stars Are Scattered
Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
Nominated by: Sarah Merchant (Teacher/SLE Y6)

A heart-wrenching true story in graphic novel form, all about life in a Kenyan refugee camp. This book is set to restore your faith in real-life happy endings.
Sarah says, "A graphic novel like no other. Timeless and timely. Essential reading for all."

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A Story About Afiya
James Berry & Anna Cunha
Nominated by: Alison Leach (founder of BooksForTopics)

Alison says, "A beautiful picturebook about the wonder and magic of noticing and celebrating what we find around us. Afiya's dress becomes a blank canvas for the experiences that she has each day. Glorious sunflowers, delicate butterflies and fierce tigers all become imprinted onto her dress The gentle use of magic realism helps readers to identify what is magical about their own natural surroundings and explores how a beloved item of clothing brings joy to its young owner."

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The Monsters of Rookhaven
Pádraig Kenny & Edward Bettison
Nominated by: Jo Clarke (school librarian) and Gwyn Hubball (Teacher & reading lead)

Jo says, "The Monsters of Rookhaven is quite simply one of the most breath-taking and thoughtful novels that I have read in a very long time. Páidraig has created a truly extraordinary story filled with a rich darkness and not in the way you would expect. Thematically it feels relevant to the world we live in today in how easily vulnerable members of society can become the target for others' fears and frustrations with their lives. Hauntingly beautiful, I just can’t stop thinking about it." 

Gwyn says, "A beautifully atmospheric tale about a family of monsters who take in a human brother and sister. An examination of what really makes a monster. The characters have stayed with me since reading and I want to know what they are doing now."

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The Night Bus Hero
Onjali Q Rauf
Nominated by: Kate Thompson (small business owner at bringabooktolife.com), Emma Hill (primary assistant head) and Craig Upson (English lead).

Kate says, "A different perspective highlighting the importance of kindness, anti bullying and homelessness issues. A fab read."

Emma says, "Onjali has a gift for writing through the voice of children and in her latest book, The Night Bus Hero, she gives the reader a thought-provoking insight into the mind of a troubled and attention seeking youngster who eventually 'comes good' due to the kindness and selflessness of others. This book also thoughtfully explores the sad but real issue of homelessness and I challenge any reader to not be inspired to act following reading this beautiful and captivating story."

Craig says, "Captivating from the first line. Probably the best first line of a children’s book I have read. The message of the story is so powerful too and inspiring for a number of sometimes forgotten pupils.."

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The Silver Arrow
 Lev Grossman
Nominated by:  Beth Jenkinson (school librarian)

Packed with exciting creatures from the indignant porcupine to the lost polar bear and the adorable baby pangolin, The Silver Arrow is a classic story about saving our endangered animals and the places they live.
Beth says, "I’ve read around 115 books this year but I still think about this one several times a week, it has stuck with me so much! It’s a gorgeously magical story that’s both hilarious and emotional and sends a really important message about protecting our world."

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 I Am Not a Label
Cerrie Burnell & Lauren Mark Baldo
Nominated by: Sophie Anderson (children's author)

Sophie says, "I Am Not a Label is a magnificent celebration of 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes & activists, beautifully written by Cerrie Burnell, and gloriously illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo. Full of heart and positivity, this wonderful book deserves a place in every school, library, and home."

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Sky Pirates:  Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond
 Alex English & Mark Chambers
Nominated by: Kristen Hopwood (primary teacher and BooksForTopics review panel member)

The first in the Sky Pirates series, this story introduces us to Echo Quickthorn, who lives in the kingdom of Lockfort. Echo is an orphan, but lives inside the castle after being taken in by the King. Echo yearns for adventure and to find out about her real family. One evening, a mysterious airship carrying Professor Daggerwing lands within the castle grounds, just outside Echo’s window. The Professor talks of his home and adventures from distant lands, which begins Echo’s voyage into the unknown. However, Echo's journey may not be as straight forward as she expects, with rumours of formidable Sky Pirates and their tyrant leader nearby…

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Black and British: A short, essential history
David Olusoga 
Nominated by: Alison Leach (founder of BooksForTopics)

Alison says, "This children's version of David Olusoga's account of Black British history is essential reading - not only an accessible and informative non-fiction read for Upper KS2, but also a book that I would thoroughly recommend for improving primary teachers' own historical knowledge and especially those with input into their school's curriculum design. We desperately need more children's books focussing specifically on Black British history and this one paves the way in providing an excellent step in the right direction."


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Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest
Susan Brownrigg &  Jenny Czerwonka 
Nominated by: Nikki Lamb (children's librarian)

Nikki says, "A gripping mystery story. Ma disappears on the eve of the 1935 Blackpool lights switch on. Blackpool is a great setting and  Gracie, her brother and two friends are wonderful characters."


Thomas Taylor
Nominated by: Jacqui Sydney (Year 5 teacher and English lead)

Jacqui says, "I love both of the Eerie-on-Sea books and my class does too. I’ve never known books to engage children like they do - even my more reluctant readers. Packed with action and brilliantly drawn characters, they are must haves in upper KS2 - well-written with great description and powerful vocabulary that are a joy to share."

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 Crater Lake
Jennifer Killick
Nominated by: Ryan Brydon (Year 5 teacher) and David McBride (primary teacher and BooksForTopics Review Panel member).

Jennifer Killick (well known in schools for the Alex Sparrow books and Mo, Lottie and the Junkers) ventures into a new horror-inspired genre without departing from her trademark style of easy-going humour. The Year Six class at Lance's school is heading off for a residential trip that is supposed to create memories that will stay with them forever...

Ryan says, "I've read this book with a Year 6 and Year 5 class this year and both have said it's their favourite class reader ever. It's exciting and funny from beginning to end!"

David says, "My favourite book of the year was Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick. My class loved it and so did my daughter!"

 Frostheart 2 - Escape From Aurora
Jamie Littler
Nominated by: Shona (SENDCo & parent of a 10 Year old boy)

Shona says, "This series has caught our attention with its fantastic illustrations and thrilling story line. It is a super follow up to Frostheart and we are already eagerly anticipating the final book of the trilogy. It is a book of adventure, friendships and unexpected twists!"

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Blue Planet II
 Leisa Stewart-Sharpe & Emily Dove
Nominated by: Florence, age 7 (resident bookworm at BooksForTopics HQ)

Florence says, "I loved this book because it was so interesting to find out about life under the sea. I have seen Blue Planet on TV and I love having a book version for children to read and understand. You can learn how to help animals in danger too and the pictures make you feel like you are really in an ocean world."

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Malice in Underland
Jenni Jennings
Nominated by: Erin Hamilton (Reading Advocate)

Erin says, "A superb book featuring a girl who finds herself different from her family and struggling to find her place. Her Uncle, a suave detective is similar to her and they must work together to solve the mystery of the disappearing Grandpas."

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 When Secrets Set Sail
Sita Brahmachari
Nominated by: Karen Morris (University Tutor)

Karen says, "Sita Brahmachari is in brilliant form as she weaves loss, past secrets and the need for trust through an anxious quest for securing a safe haven for all. A great, life-affirming story."

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 The Miracle on Ebenezer Street
 Catherine Doyle
Nominated by: Veronica Price (School Librarian and HLTA)

Veronica says, "I think that this beautifully written re-working of Dickens' A Christmas Carol is destined to become a future classic. It combines huge emotional impact with a sparklingly entertaining story sprinkled with magic and magnificent characters. I recommended it to a number of colleagues and in the weeks preceding Christmas every time I bumped into one of them they would update me on where their family had got to in the story and how much they were loving it. That, for me, is the sign of a fantastic story!"

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Demelza and the Spectre Detectors
Holly Rivers
Nominated by: Charlett Goretzka (writer)

A humorous and quirky new series about a STEM-loving female inventor called Demelza, who discovers that her Grandma Maeve is a ‘Spectre Detector’, able to commune with the dead. Demelza seems to have inherited the ability too and is soon embroiled in the Spectre Detecting world...

Charlett says, "Unique, believable characters with an edge of quirkiness and the creepiness which I crave in a story."

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Counting Creatures
Julia Donaldson & Sharon King-Chai 
Nominated by: Bertie, age 5 (resident lift-the-flap expert at BooksForTopics HQ)

Bertie says, "This is my favourite bedtime book because it has flaps with baby creatures to count. My favourite part is finding the baby spiders, which you can search for all over the book."

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Where the World Turns Wild
Nicola Penfold
Nominated by: Jacqueline  Harris (Education consultant and BooksForTopics review panel member)

Where the World turns Wild is a stunning and thought-provoking dystopian novel with a message for our times. The story follows two children who leave a protected, walled city to venture through the wild world beyond on a brave adventure. This is an ecological thriller with a powerful impact.

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 Life of Riley: Beginner's Luck
Simon James Green & Aleksei Bitskoff
Nominated by: Sian Edwards-Sim (librarian)

A laugh-out-loud middle-grade novel from Simon James Green about a ridiculous amount of bad luck and one boy's quest to get rid of it

Sian says, "It’s just so funny - I laughed until it hurt!"

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A Kind of Spark
Elle McNicoll
Nominated by: : Emma Dimbleby (Year 6 Teacher)

Emma says, "I read A Kind of Spark to my Year 6 class and we all loved it. It is a beautifully written book with a fascinating story behind it. However, the messages within the book are what makes it the book that it is, and the way that these are intertwined with the story of the witches persecuted in Scotland is really clever. This book will help those children who may feel they are 'different', but also challenges all children to think carefully about how they treat those who they see as different to them. It's also a great story!"

Anne Booth & Robyn Wilson-Owen
Nominated by: Emma Haynes (librarian)

Emma says, "A moving and uplifting book with messages of hope and forgiveness, a book that teaches us that kindness will make things flourish. Beautiful words by Anne Booth and beautiful illustrations by Robyn Wilson Owen."

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After the War
Tom Palmer
Nominated by: Richard Simpson (Year 6 Teacher)

Richard says, "Brilliantly written book about an oft-forgotten and not addressed aspect of the war...what happened to those who survived. Powerfully but sensitively dealt with, with moments that will stay with you long after reading it."

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The Vanishing Trick
Jenni Spangler & Chris Mould
Nominated by: Louise Buisson (Assistant headteacher and BooksForTopics Review Panel member)

This is an evocative and suspenseful story with thrills, twists and turns. There's plenty of Victorian history to explore in the background to the story (in particular child poverty and the invention of the camera), and themes of friendship, belonging and hope provide nuance to the darker elements, making this an original and enjoyable middle grade read recommended for fans of Michelle Harrison and Lemony Snickett.

Louise says, "My favourite book of the year was The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler. After reviewing it in April, I used it with a year 6 group in June and they were hooked!"

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My Shadow is Pink
Scott Stuart
Nominated by: Kerry Thompson (Year 3 teacher/Phase Leader)

Kerry says, "This book explores the issue of self acceptance, as well as acceptance from peers. It explores an array of ‘differences’ and how not all is obvious from appearance. It’s a fun way of reassuring children that it’s ok to be different and is told in a delightful way with wonderful illustrations. A must read!"

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Cat Kid Comic Club
Dav Pilkey
Nominated by: Florence, age 7 (resident bookworm at BooksForTopics HQ)

Florence says, "I love this fun book about a comic-making club for animals. It teaches children to never ever ever give up and I love the examples of comics made in lots of different styles (even clay, junk modelling and collages). It's really fun, especially if you love comics!"

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The Lost Spells
Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris
Nominated by: : Emma (Year 2 Teacher)

A follow up to The Lost Words in a new pocket-sized form, The Lost Spells introduces another beautiful set of nature-based "spell-poems" and artwork by formidable creative duo Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris.

Emma says, "Visually stunning motivational poems which tell stories and inspire."

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