The 25 Best Children’s Books of 2021

The most notable picture, middle grade and young adult books of the year, selected by The Times’s children’s books editor.

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Picture Books

BLANCAFLOR, THE HERO WITH SECRET POWERS
A Folktale From Latin America
Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
With an introduction by F. Isabel Campoy
(Toon Graphics, $16.95)

The magically powered Blancaflor is clever and brave, her prince a delightful idiot, in this gorgeously illustrated comics version of the familiar “girl as helper” tale.

BRIGHT STAR
Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
(Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99)

Morales dares us to look away as a fawn blocked by a menacing wall is replaced by a young girl staring soulfully into our eyes.

DREAM STREET
Written by Tricia Elam Walker
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
(Anne Schwartz, $17.99)

Walker’s poetic text and Holmes’s striking collaged art paint a joyous portrait of a single avenue’s dynamic Black community.

THE HAPPINESS OF A DOG WITH A BALL IN ITS MOUTH
Written by Bruce Handy
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Enchanted Lion, $18.95)

By turns wistful and whimsical, this antidote to Charles Schulz’s “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy” is as much about the buildup to its title as it is about its payoff.

THE LONGEST STORM
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Maria Russo/Minedition, $18.99)

This plain-spoken, visually emotive book about the grind of being housebound ends with a door opening onto an outside world that is both exhilarating and humbling.

MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
(Putnam, $18.99)

At his subway stop, a boy who’s been drawing assumptions about other riders’ lives rethinks his sketches. Is the kid he put in a castle visiting his mother in prison, too?

NICKY & VERA
A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued
Written and illustrated by Peter Sís
(Norton, $19.95)

This child’s-eye tribute explores the fates that led Nicholas Winton to cross paths with a young girl he saved from the Nazis.

THE ROCK FROM THE SKY
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick, $18.99)

Hilariously dark, this beautiful, spare, deadpan book featuring three hat-wearing animals recalls “Waiting for Godot.”

SOUL FOOD SUNDAY
Written by Winsome Bingham
Illustrated by C.G. Esperanza
(Abrams, $17.99)

Bingham’s richly real conversational poetry and Esperanza’s vibrant, kinetic oil-paint illustrations bring a sprawling, high-energy extended family gathering to life.

UNSPEAKABLE
The Tulsa Race Massacre
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
(Carolrhoda, $17.99)

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