The best children's books of 2020

Every year our staff vote for their favourite books and music of the past 12 months. Here are our top 10 children’s books of the year, voted for by Readings’ staff, and displayed in no particular order.

(You can find all our best picks for books and music here.)

Skunk and Badger (Book 1) by Amy Timberlake

When Badger opens the door of his brownstone to an unwanted new roommate, he is duly horrified. But the gregarious, ukulele-playing Skunk may be exactly what this solitary rock scientist needs. A classic-in-the-making, this wry and delightful odd-couple tale calls to mind the works of authors like E.B. White, A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame. For ages 6+.

Hattie by Frida Nilsson & Stina Wirsen (translated by Julia Marshall)

Six-year-old Hattie lives with her parents in a tiny town in the Swedish countryside and she has that particular talent for mischief-making. Frida Nilsson details Hattie’s misadventures with humour, sympathy and just the right amount of glee. Short, action-packed chapters and illustrations from Stina Wirsen make it ideal for newly independent readers. For ages 6+.

Tales from the Bush Mob: Willy-Willy Wagtail (Book 1) by Helen Milroy

The first in a new series, Tales from the Bush Mob: Willy-Willy Wagtail is an entertaining collection of Australian animal tales that promote communication and teamwork. Early readers will enjoy the book’s gentle humour, as well as its large, highly-illustrated format. A descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region, Helen Milroy weaves aspects of Aboriginal dreamtime into these tales. For ages 5+.

The Heart of the Bubble by Trace Balla

Inspired by her experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trace Balla self-published this sweet graphic novel that follows one family as they readjust to being at home together all the time. The creative, wholesome ways they find to express themselves, such as cooking and gardening, help them to force connections with their local community and will continue to inspire families long after this pandemic is behind us. For ages 5+.

Aussie Kids: Meet Taj at the Lighthouse by Maxine Beneba Clark & Nicki Greenberg

Meet Taj. He was nervous when he first moved to Australia, but with time and encouragement from his new community, he’s beginning to feel like he might just have a home here. A warm and authentic portrayal of the challenges faced by immigrant children, this book is part of an exciting new Aussie Kids series for emerging readers. For ages 5+.

How to Write the Soundtrack to Your Life by Fiona Hardy

When shy aspiring songwriter Murphy gets accused of stealing her own music, she’s forced to form an alliance with two of her classmates in a quest to discover the true thief. This is the second novel from rising kidlit star Fiona Hardy and it’s a knockout. Hardy sensitively explores difficult themes, while maintaining an action-packed pace and following a vibrant ensemble cast. For ages 9+.

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

A wonderful coming-of-age story about finding your moral compass. Set on the Mornington Peninsula in 1999, The Year the Maps Changed is partly based on the real-life ‘Operation Safe Haven’ which temporarily resettled six thousand Kosovar refugees from the former Yugoslavian war zone into places around Australia. 11-year-old Winifred is struggling with her own challenges at home when her life becomes entwined with these new refugees. For ages 10+.

As Fast as I Can by Penny Tangey

Ten-year-old Vivian is determined to win a medal at the Olympic Games one day – as soon as she figures out what sport she’s any good at – but then a family illness throws a spanner in the works. Penny Tangey perfectly balances family drama and tricky school politics with humour in this bright, endearing and laugh-out-loud gem of a book. For ages 8+.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

In the lead-up to her father’s marriage to his boyfriend, twelve-year-old Bea reflects on her life since her parent’s divorce four years earlier – and the many challenges that have plagued her. Rebecca Stead is beloved by readers for her funny, heartfelt and authentic stories and with Bea she has gifted us another irresistible young character to root for. For ages 10+.

The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

The Republic of Birds is set within an icy Russian folklore-inspired world in which the human kingdom holds an uneasy truce between wars with the neighbouring bird kingdom. When Olga’s sister is kidnapped by the birds, Olga must draw from her inner strength and forbidden magical map-reading ability to rescue her. A gripping and immersive magical adventure to rival the best. For ages 9+.