NYPL’s Best Books of 2021 for Kids and Teens

Amanda Gerla

Just in time for the holidays, the New York Public Library announced its list of the best kids’ and teen books in 2021, recommending books across multiple genres. The books were all published in 2021 and selected by committees of expert librarians from the NYPL system, which serves the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. 

The NYPL has been choosing the year’s best books for almost 100 years. This year, according to the NYPL, the committees evaluated thousands of books to choose the top titles. The children’s committee alone read 1,665 books. Criteria for inclusion on the list included literary merit, audience appeal, and whether titles are representative of the diversity of New York City. 

“At the heart of the library’s mission is encouraging and supporting a true love of reading in all New Yorkers. A critical part of that mission is using our expertise to recommend books we believe will capture imaginations, keep people turning pages, and spark a love of reading that lasts a lifetime,” said Lynn Lobash, the library’s associate director of Reader Services who led the committee that evaluated adult literature and non-fiction. 

Lists of NYPL’s top 10 books in the children’s and teen’s categories are below. All of the recommended titles can be viewed at nypl.org/bestbooks. Printed copies will be available in NYPL branches in early 2022. All can be checked out for free and as of this year, with no late fines from any NYPL branch. Or visit your local children’s bookstore to purchase the book as a gift for the holidays. Regardless of how you get a book in your child’s hands, you’re sure to find a book here for all the young readers in your life. 

Click on the category you’re interested in to jump to that section:

New York Public Library’s Top 10 Children’s Books in 2021

The NYPL included 145 books in its top kids’ books of 2021 list (you can check them all out on the NYPL’s website), but here’s a selection of the top 10 for ages 3-13.

1. Over the Shop

By JonArno Lawson
Ages: 3-7

Readers will experience joy and wonder while exploring the exquisite pages of this wordless narrative touching on queer pride, chosen family, and what goes into building a place to call home.

2. Milo Imagines the World

By Matt de la Peña
Ages: 4-8

Vivid illustrations and rich text tell the story of Milo, who, while riding the NYC subway, envisions the lives of his fellow passengers through his drawings. Soon, Milo learns you can’t always know a person just by looking at them.

3. The Big Bath House

By Kyo Maclear
Ages: 4-8

Honoring body positivity and intergenerational family connections, this heartwarming story radiates the communal joy of a Japanese onsen.

4. Stuntboy, in the Meantime

By Jason Reynolds
Ages: 7-12

When Portico transforms into his alter-ego, Stuntboy, he can handle anything, whether his anxiety or his archnemesis. But when his parents start arguing, not even Stuntboy’s valiant tricks make them stop.

5. The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

By Lita Judge
Ages: 7-12

Did you know that trees interact with each other and other creatures? These poems examine the hidden communities and networks of trees with lush illustrations and pages brimming with details. Full Title: The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom.

6. Barakah Beats 

By Maleeha Siddiqui
Ages: 8-12

Nimra, a young Muslim girl desperate to fit in at her new school, accepts an invitation to join a popular eighth-grade boy band. Worried that her parents will find out, she intends to drop out before the big talent show, but acting on that plan proves harder than she imagined.

7. Living with Viola

By Rosena Fung
Ages: 9-12

Livy doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, and Viola just makes it worse. But who’s Viola? She’s Livy’s anxiety, ready to do anything to bring Livy down. Can Livy find a way to be stronger than Viola and be true to herself?

8. The Magical Imperfect 

By Chris Baron
Ages: 9-12

Etan has stopped speaking and no one knows how to help. Malia stays at home due to constant bullying. During the 1989 Bay Area earthquakes, their community of immigrant refugees help the two discover that the best form of healing comes from within.

9. Artie and the Wolf Moon

By Olivia Stevens
Ages: 10-13

Artie finds her place when her mom confesses that they’re werewolves and introduces her to their estranged werewolf community. But before Artie can hit her stride, her newly discovered pack comes under attack by an old enemy: vampires.

10. Welcome to Your Period!

By Yumi Stynes and Melissa Kang, M.D.
Ages: 10-14

This inclusive, conversational guide to periods celebrates body positivity and includes firsthand accounts from menstruators. All your questions, no matter how awkward, are answered within these pages!

New York Public Library’s Top 10 Books for Teens in 2021

The NYPL included 50 books in its top teens’ books of 2021 list (you can check them all out on the NYPL’s website), but here’s a selection of the top 10 for ages 14 and older.

1. Perfectly Parvin

By Olivia Abtahi
Ages: 12 and older

Parvin Mohammadi is ready to start high school with a boyfriend and Hot Cheetos in hand until suddenly, she’s only left with Hot Cheetos. Now she’s on a quest to change her entire personality all before homecoming.

2. Boys Run the Riot, Vol. 1

By Keito Gaku
Ages: 13 and older

Ryo, a transgender artist, and his growing group of friends build a fashion brand that gives them a creative outlet to voice their feelings as outsiders.

3. The Crossroads at Midnight

By Abby Howard
Ages: 13 and older

Desolate fields, missing sisters, ghosts and swamp creatures? Is this book haunted?

4. Punching Bag

By Rex Ogle
Ages: 13 and older

Covering life with his abusive mom, angry stepfather, and younger brother, Rex Ogle’s autobiographical story of domestic violence, sibling relationships, and forgiveness speaks to the survival instinct in us all.

5. How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe

By Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Ages: 14 and older

Moon and Star are twins, but Star has the spotlight while Moon is the girl behind the camera. But taking great pictures of Star for social media isn’t Moon’s only gift, and over the course of a summer road trip, Moon learns to embrace her talents and herself.

6. Iron Widow

By Xiran Jay Zhao
Ages: 14 and older

Seeking revenge for her murdered sister, Wu Zetian enlists in the military to pilot giant mechas only to unleash a dormant power within her and uncover a centuries-old lie soaked in the blood of innocent girls.

7. Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo
Ages: 14 and older

The pulp novels that Lily Hu reads in secret pale in comparison to the real thing as she discovers herself—and romance—at the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar and refuge in 1950s San Francisco.

8. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

By Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan
Ages: 14 and older

Sex. Relationships. Bodies. They’re complicated! Uncomplicate them with this book. 

9. Nubia: Real One

By L.L. McKinney
Ages: 14 and older

Being a Black girl superhero means that even when Nubia comes to the rescue, people still see her as a threat. Can she fight injustice without hiding who she is?

10. The Witch King

By H.E. Edgmon
Ages: 14 and older

To get out of marrying into the fae royal family, outcast and trans witch Wyatt makes a deal with his enemy only to find he may not want to leave after all.

For more information about the library, visit nypl.org or follow the NYPL on Instagram or Facebook

Main image by Jonathan Blanc/NYPL


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