A selection of book covers from NYPL's Best Books for Adults list for 2020. (all images courtesy of the New York Public Library)

In what has been a relentlessly difficult year, books provided opportunities for escape from the comfort of our quarantine living rooms or during a challenging work commute. To celebrate and honor the titles that delighted us, entertained us, and kept us sane in 2020, the New York Public Library (NYPL) released its anticipated Best Books lists, highlighting titles for kids, teens, and adults as well as a top 10 list for poetry.

Curated by a committee of NYPL’s expert librarians, the roundup covers nearly every genre, from fiction to nonfiction; graphic novels to biographies. For each age category, there is a narrowed-down list of 10 titles as well as a longer, more comprehensive list (top 50 for teens, top 100 for adults and children).

Among the best books for adults this year are The City We Became: A Novel by N.K. Jemisin, the first in her new series Great Cities. Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver’s graphic novel adaptation of Gay’s New York Times bestselling short story “We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness” also ranks in the top 10. Luster, Raven Leilani’s debut novel, made the list as well; critics have praised its candid, dark, and humorous exploration of interracial and intergenerational relationships.

This year, the library has also provided a list of the best children’s titles in Spanish, such as ¡No chupes este libro!: Está lleno de gérmenes (Don’t lick this book!: It’s full of germs) by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. It follows the adventures of Mina, a charming bacteria who lives in a book, and is illustrated with fascinating microscope images of close-up everyday objects.

The top 10 lists of titles for each age group are reproduced below; the complete lists can be found online at nypl.org/bestbooks. Every book listed can be found in the library’s catalogue, and many are available in a variety of formats, such as audiobooks, e-books, and accessible editions.

NYPL’s Best Books of 2020

Top 10 Children’s Books 

  • Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
  • Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
  • Go with the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneeman
  • Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
  • Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
  • Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
  • Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
  • When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
  • You Matter by Christian Robinson

Los 10 mejores libros para edades 0–12 / Top 10 Books for Ages 0–12 (in Spanish) 

  • ¿Cómo lo ves? by Vera Galindo
  • Amigas by Lauren Ace, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
  • La bañera by Lisa Biggi, illustrated by Paloma Corral
  • La belleza del final by Alfredo Colella, illustrated by Jorge González
  • Los carpinchos by Alfredo Soderguit
  • Manos a la tierra: Crea tu propio jardín by Kirsten Bradley, illustrated by Aitch
  • Mi abuelo by Émilie Chazerand, illustrated by Nicolas Duffaut
  • Mi lazarilla, mi capitán by Gonzalo Moure, illustrated by Maria Girón
  • Música en el jardín by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
  • Los tomates de Mila by Sanne Dufft

Top 10 Teen Books 

  • All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
  • Displacement by Kiku Hughes
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
  • The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper with Marc Aronson
  • Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
  • We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
  • We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez  

Top 10 Adult Books

  • The City We Became: A Novel by N.K. Jemisin
  • Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
  • Interior Chinatown: A Novel by Charles Yu
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay & Tracy Lynne Oliver
  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: A Novel by Grady Hendrix
  • Temporary: A Novel by Hilary Leichter  

Top 10 Poetry Books

  • Finna: Poems by Nate Marshall 
  • Galleons: Poems by Rick Barot
  • Grimoire by Cherene Sherrard
  • Gut Botany by Petra Kuppers
  • Homie by Danez Smith
  • Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo
  • My Baby First Birthday: Poems by Jenny Zhang
  • Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok
  • Nancy Reagan Collection by Maxe Crandall
  • Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...