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Best children's books of 2020 feature Stories on equality, nature and family

There’s plenty that can be learnt from kid’s books, and it’s so much truer in 2020. ArtsHub takes a look at the children’s books that shaped the year.
Best children's books of 2020 feature Stories on equality, nature and family (L-R) When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke; Bluey: Hooray it's Christmas by Bluey; Found by Bruce Pascoe, and  I'm a Hero Too by Jamila Rizvi.
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Andrea Simpson

Monday 7 December, 2020

This year books have proven their absolute necessity, with children’s and young adult books particularly valuable during homeschooling and  confusion.

In a year that has been hard to explain to young minds, the kid’s books on offer have helped to better explain complex issues such as COVID-19, racial equality, climate change and other issues that are currently occurring around us.

As Aussie children were home-schooled, and digital devices ever-present, books allowed for quiet time, reflection, and open-dialogue. ArtsHub takes a look at the kid’s books that shaped 2020.

Explaining COVID-19

I’m a Hero Too by Jamila Rizvi illustrated by Peter Cheong.

A confusing year for children, COVID-19 has created instability in many areas of children’s lives. I’m a Hero Too by Jamila Rizvi (October 2020), published by Penguin Books Australia, is a practical picture book that helps make sense of the changes brought about by the pandemic. Beautifully illustrated by Peter Cheong, the story is based on Rizvi’s own parenting journey in these times.

The Magic Cure by Anna Ralph illustrated by Bridget Myerscough.

Available free online to download, The Magic Cure written by Darwin-based Professor Anna Ralph was in direct response to the scarcity of reading material for children on COVID-19. On writing for children Ralph said to ABC, ‘You have to be very concise, you've got to really cut down your writing.’ A story of two siblings, an elf and a wizard as they search for a cure to a mystery illness making elves sick.

RACIAL EQUALITY & AUSTRALIA’S HISTORY

When We Say Black Lives Matter by written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Published by Hachette, award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke’s When We Say Black Lives Matter (24 November) is an essential picture book that explains what the term Black Lives Matter truly means. This book was also illustrated by Beneba Clarke showcasing her many talents.

The author sees this picture book as ‘an act of Black Love – I was inspired to write and create it when thinking about how to explain the concept of Black Lives Matter to the young African diaspora kids in my extended family, living in over eight different countries across the world – including America, Australia, Germany, Barbados and England.’

Found by Bruce Pascoe Illustrated by Charmaine Ledden-Lewis

From First Nations publisher Magabala Books, Found follows the story of a lost calf trying to find his family. Illustrator Charmaine Ledden-Lewis found connections to her own past of the Stolen Generations when working children’s book Found (August 2020) with award-winning author Bruce Pascoe.

‘I've learnt that he didn't set out to write something about the Stolen Generation, and yet, it was really obvious to me that that's what the story was about,’ Ledden-Lewis told ArtsHub.

Read: Illustrator connects with Bruce Pascoe new kid’s book

Family favourites

Bluey: Verandah Santa by Bluey.

Unless you have been hiding in a bunker, you will definitely know the name Bluey. Published by Penguin Books Australia, the titles: Bluey: Verandah Santa; Bluey Hooray It’s Christmas; Bluey: Grannies, and Bluey: Let’s Play Outside (November 2020) inspired by the award-winning ABC kid’s show has surpassed sales expectations with Nielsen Books Australia reporting that half of the ten top selling titles in Australia this year were Bluey titles.

Not hard to see why sales are booming as these endearing stories of Bluey and her sister Bingo are easy to enjoy. The warm family dynamic of the Heelers celebrates close connections, family bonds and the simple things in life.

Sing Me the Summer written by Jane Godwin illustrated by Alison Lester.

Winner of the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature, Alison Lester appeared on the list of Australia’s Top 50 Kids Books 2020: Top titles for early readers, three times for her classic titles: Kissed by the Moon, The Very Noisy Baby, and the iconic Magic Beach.

A story that celebrates the seasonal changes in our landscape, Sing Me the Summer written by Jane Godwin (October 2020) published by Affirm Press, features Lester’s enchanting watercolour illustrations. 

Climate change and our planet

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe illustrated by David Cox.

Published by Allen and Unwin, and well over a year ago, Ella Holcombe’s The House on the Mountain (February 2019) is still a relevant empathy tool, for children and adults, in explaining the complex emotional feelings of victims of bushfire. The emotional effects of the 2019 bushfires continues into 2020, so this book is as timely as ever. Our review called it, 'An incredible book to help young children learn and explore the more complex emotional issues that are brought up by the fires that frequently occur in our country.'

Your Planet Needs You! written and illustrated by Philip Bunting.

Philip Bunting's Your Planet Needs You! (May 2020), published by Hardie Grant Publishing is full of ideas for kid’s who want to learn about the environment. In Bunting’s fun picture book you'll find ideas such as how to start a compost bin, or how to use and old egg carton to sprout seedlings, and grow veggies. This book shows kids (and adults) how rewarding taking care of our environment is.

About the author

Andrea Simpson is a Feature Writer and the Reviews Editor for ArtsHub. Andrea is a Filipina-Australian writer, editor, and content creator with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in Australia's publishing sector.


Her feature writing has appeared in Inside Small Business. Andrea is an Assoc. member of Editors Victoria (IPEd.). Her short stories have been published in Visible Ink Anthology 27: Petrichor (2015), and Frayed Anthology (2015). You can find Andrea’s poetry in What Emerges (2013) poetry selected by Ania Walwicz