With bookstores across the country shutting their doors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, traditional handselling—which often connects readers with books they didn’t know they were looking for—is no longer possible. This is the second in an ongoing series featuring personal recommendations of new releases from children’s booksellers.

With Covid-19 closing so many bookstores and libraries, I’m grateful that Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif. is still able to provide our community, and those further afield via web orders, with books. Still, I miss having the chance to talk with people in person about books I’m excited about, so I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to share these 2020 releases—some just published and some upcoming—which I hope you love!

For picture books that are available now, I highly recommend In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (Putnam, Jan.). With illustrations as charming as the story itself, this magical ode to friendship warmed my heart! I loved how Llewellyn collects experiences in jars, which allow him and his best friend, Evelyn, to continue to share their lives, even when she moves away. This adorable story is full of the magic of the ordinary and is a perfect read-aloud for any and everyone.

Another is Down Under the Pier by Neil Cross Beckerman, illustrated by Rachell Sumpter (Cameron Kids, Apr.). Such a beautiful book! I felt the delight of the children exploring the enchanted watery world below the pier. Both the pastel color palette and the perfectly used gold accent highlight the magic of the sea and the natural world. Perfect for sea-lovers (like me).

On May 5, three picture books I’m excited about are being published: Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat (Little, Brown); Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (HMH); and The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath: A Fairy Tale to Help You Feel Better by Susan Verde, illustrated by Jay Fleck (Abrams).

In Lift, poor harangued older sister Iris has one thing that always brings her joy: pushing elevator buttons. Alas, one dark day the young elevator-button-lover is usurped by her toddler sibling. When the word “BETRAYAL” appears above Iris’s head in the illustration, I laughed out loud. And that wasn’t my last laugh in this hilarious, fantastical story that highlights both the creativity of the author/illustrator team and the love/frustration of the sibling bond.

In Swashby and the Sea, the sea is almost its own character. I chuckled at its antics, helping bring cranky (and lonely) Swashby the friends he needs. Swashby’s new little neighbor is adorable and a delight, as are Martinez-Neal’s charming and expressive illustrations.

I loved Susan Verde’s last book, I Am Love (illustrated by Peter Reynolds), so I took a chance on The Three Little Pigs and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath even though I’m not always a fan of picture book fairy tale retellings. I’m so glad I did! The Three Little Pigs framework is perfect for examining emotions, mindfulness, and breath. The poor angry little wolf is a sympathetic character and the three little pigs’ kindness in helping guide him to making peace with his emotions made me smile.

A picture book nonfiction title that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unknown Futures of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex (Chronicle, Mar.). This book surprised me in the best way! I didn’t think I’d be interested in a book about U.S. presidents, but this one fascinated me by presenting them both in a more honest (i.e., the “founding fathers” don’t get a pass on being enslavers, while subtle shade is thrown at Trump) and interesting (highlighting all the future presidents alive during a certain year) light. Great for anyone interested in a more authentic and nuanced look at U.S. history.

I’m behind on my middle grade reading, but one fiction book that I enjoyed was From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (HarperCollins/Tegen, Jan.). I loved watching Zoe’s transformation from someone who knows little about social justice to a person determined to help right a wrong. I also really appreciated how friendship was examined in this book: when Zoe catches her friend not standing up for her, she expects him to not only apologize but to also change his behavior—a model for all but especially girls. A great choice for fans of A Good Kind of Trouble and Lalani of the Distant Sea.

Possibly my favorite book to be published this year is one that has appeal to older middle grade readers, young adults, and adults: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown, Mar.). This book should be required reading for everyone. Reynolds is a genius: he takes a complex issue (the history and modern-day manifestations of anti-Black racism in the U.S.) and makes it accessible for any reader. I love the emphasis on how to be actively antiracist. A great choice for anyone ages 12 and up.

YA is where my heart is and I have a handful of great titles to share! Available now: A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell (Viking, Mar.) is Black Girl Magic in written form! It includes 16 #OwnVoices fantasy and science fiction short stories that are as diverse as the Black experience. Established authors like Elizabeth Acevedo, Dhonielle Clayton, Justina Ireland, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Ibi Zoboi share space with up-and-coming and debut authors, creating a well-rounded collection. Magical and real, these well-spun stories run the gamut from lighthearted to intense and are a great choice for readers of any background.

Also available now, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski (FSG, Mar.) features a fascinating world where people accept an incredibly unjust caste system saying, “It is as it is.” But Nirrim starts questioning that after she falls in with the swoon-worthy, enigmatic Sid. I loved piecing together the mystery of the past with Nirrim and was shocked when the truth came to light. I’m already looking forward to the next installment! A great choice for Rutkoski fans and readers who enjoy mystery-driven fantasies with a historical feel.

I’m currently reading Clap When You Land (HarperCollins/Quill Tree, May), the upcoming title by National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a return to verse and a meditation on the complexities of themes including grief, betrayal, family, secrets, identity, class, and toxic masculinity. It features Acevedo’s stellar characterization (the two main characters—sisters—have very distinctive voices) and I’ve been particularly struck by how it highlights the way men’s choices have a profound impact on the lives of women and girls around them.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (Amulet) has been pushed from April to an August release but it’s well worth the wait. It’s a gem: a fully realized fantasy world with lots of contemporary relevance. Tarisai’s longing for family and connection make her an empathetic and relatable protagonist, while her strength and fortitude in standing up to corrupt power make her admirable. A great choice for fans of fantasy, stories with strong female leads, or anyone looking for a good book.

And last but not least the upcoming, Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye (Random House, May) is for anyone who wants a contemporary realistic romance with depth. I’ll say it when I loved a lot a book I’ve read—only when it’s true—but I loved this book. Kai is utterly adorable, as is his named-in-the-title love interest, Bryson. What a wonderful thing: a queer coming-out love story free of trauma and full of good feelings. This sweet romance kept me smiling from the first page to the last—chances are it’ll do the same for you.

I hope you enjoyed these book recommendations and will show these worthy titles (and the many others that I didn’t have the time/energy to write about) some love. A good story is comfort in trying times. Thanks for reading and I hope you all stay safe and well.

Bookshop Santa Cruz is still fulfilling orders through our website, so if any of these look good to you, please support your local independent bookstore or buy them from us.

Click here to see PW's previous set of new release recommendations, by bookseller Clare Doornbos.