The Best Books of 2021
Here we are again. It may seem hard to believe, but the year is winding down and it's time to share our favorite books from an exciting year in publishing. To that end, we're very proud to introduce you to our annual "Best Books" list—we loved each and every one of these books, and we think you will, too.
Below, you can scroll through all 30 titles, from Picture Books down to Cookbooks. Alternatively, use the anchor links below to jump straight to the section of your choice. As a fun bonus, we've shared a few author Q&As with some of the creators below—we always love hearing more from the people behind these special books.
Finally, we'd love to welcome you to the shop soon. As you may have heard, many titles will be in short supply this holiday season. So if you'd like to give one of these books as a gift, we encourage you to buy it now. And if you can't find the one you're looking for, ask us for personalized recommendations! We have great plenty of great books on the shelf that we're eager to share.
Happy reading, friends.
Someone Builds the Dream
by Lisa Wheeler; illustrated by Loren Long
An architect might design a home and an artist might design a fanciful fountain, but it's the skilled tradesmen who build it. This gorgeous picture book is a wonderful celebration of the many types of work that go into building our world—a love letter to the dreamers and those who build the dreams.
The Old Boat
by Jarrett Pumphrey & Jerome Pumphrey
This gorgeous picture book is an ode to the Gulf Coast, to the natural world, to family. It's another hit from the Pumphrey brothers for every reader to treasure.
Milo Imagines the World
by Matt de la Peña; illustrated by Christian Robinson
Milo rides the subway with his sister and imagines his fellow passengers' destinations, drawing them in his sketchbook. When he reaches his destination, he realizes that he is not alone in his situation and that he could imagine people in many different situations. Christian Robinson's illustrations elevate this collaboration into something truly special.
Have You Ever Seen a Flower?
by Shawn Harris
In this gorgeous picture book, his first as an author and an illustrator, creator Shawn Harris asks the child in all of us if we've ever really seen a flower? An ode to the human connection to nature, this is not to be missed.
Read our Q&A with Shawn Harris.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
by Joanna Ho; illustrated by Dung Ho
A young girl notices that her eyes do not look like those of her friends. Hers kiss in the corners, just like her mother's, grandmother's, and little sister's. This gentle book is a wonderful celebration of the differences in us. Dung Ho's delightful illustrations will charm the reader.
The Beatryce Prophecy
by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
A mysterious girl appears in the barn at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, holding the ear of Answelica the goat, who torments everyone. The monks soon learn that the child is Beatryce, who has been prophesied to bring great change to the kingdom. So begins this novel of bravery, love, truth, and the power of story. It is not to be missed.
Egg Marks the Spot
by Amy Timberlake; illustrated by Jon Klassen
Skunk and Badger return, this time with an adventure to find Badger's missing Spider Eye Agate. Once again, readers are in for a delight of a book full of friendship, humor, found family, delicious food, and chickens. An utter joy!
Pax, Journey Home
by Sara Pennypacker; illustrated by Jon Klassen
Oh! Pax, Journey Home will take your breath away! Sara Pennypacker seamlessly weaves in backstory so Journey Home reads easily as a standalone but is that much richer if you’ve read Pax. And illustrated by Jon Klassen—what more could you ask for? I think it might even be better than the first book—can I say that???
A year has passed since Peter, now 13, lost his father to the war and his fox Pax. Peter is physically fit but emotionally is far from it. His leg has healed, he has learned to be self-sufficient, but he refuses to think about Pax or allow anyone into his heart. Joining the Water Warriors, a youth group remediating the water supply devastated by chemical warfare in his old town allows Peter to instigate his plan. Determined never to return, Peter leaves Vola and the cabin he’s spent a year building to return home to bury his father’s ashes and live as a recluse, thereby avoiding pain forever.
Meanwhile, Pax and Bristle now have 3 kits. His heart is growing with love for his family but he remembers Peter fondly. When Pax must set off to find a safe home away from encroaching humans and poisoned habitat, one mischievous kit follows.
And their paths cross.
Powerful and poignant, Pax, Journey Home reminds us to choose love, choose happiness. A perfect family or classroom read-aloud.
Black Boy Joy
ed. Kwame Mbalia
Kwame Mbalia (Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky) gathers short stories from 17 Black authors into one marvelous collection that details a variety of joys found in a Black boy's childhood. This is a testament to family, to friends, to much deserved joy.
Battle Dragons: City of Thieves
by Alex London
Abel and his best friend Roa live in Drakopolis, where dragons work for humans in a range of roles—burning trash or acting as taxis and buses, to name a few. Rival gangs control areas of the city and rule through intimidation, and they use dragons for fighting battles!
Our story starts when Abel's sister Lina appears at his window on Cleaning Night, narrowly escaping death by fire-breathing dragon. She leaves him with a key card before disappearing as gang members pound on the door. Abel and Roa go to investigate and find a stolen battle dragon.
Abel loves dragons but failed the test to become a dragon rider like his brother Silas, a rising star in the law enforcement. Somehow, he bonds with the battle dragon and now the gangs want him to fight for them! Or else...
A great action adventure that should appeal to many middle grade readers.
by Angeline Boulley
Having deferred college to care for her grandmother, Daunis gets involved when a number of meth-related deaths hit close to home. She is pulled back into her high school hockey world when she is asked to show the new player, Jamie, around the reservation. Jamie is revealed to be an FBI agent and Daunis is pulled into the investigation as an informant. Daunis's strong ties within her tribe, particularly with the Tribal Elders, help immeasurably, but familial and tribal ties are both challenged as the investigation comes to a head.
Call Me Athena: Girl From Detroit
by Colby Cedar Smith
This is the story of Mary, an American-born daughter of Greek and French immigrants living in Detroit in the 1930s, who yearns for something more than the arranged marriage and conventional life her parents have in mind for her. Mary’s story is intertwined with a series of flashbacks to her mother’s earlier life in Northern France and her father’s earlier life in Greece, and how WWI eventually led them to each other. Written beautifully in verse, the language paints a vivid picture of the sights, sounds, and tastes of life in depression era Detroit, Greece, and France in the early 1900s, and the battlefields and hospitals of WWI. The fact that the novel is loosely based on the author’s paternal grandmother makes it all the more wonderful.
Tokyo Ever After
by Emiko Jean
Raised by her single mom, Izumi Tanaka has always felt like it's the two of them against the world. When Izzy discovers that her unknown father is actually the Crown Prince of Japan, everything changes. Suddenly, Izzy's on her way to Tokyo to meet the other side of her family and has no idea what comes next. It's The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians and it's an UTTER DELIGHT!
A Sitting in St. James
by Rita Williams-Garcia
This book was amazing and I absolutely loved it. Williams-Garcia always crafts a beautiful yet impactful tale, and this did not disappoint—the book starts off with a bang and only gets better. Williams-Garcia tells a powerful story, while bringing to the surface the horrors of slavery. I find it so cool that she has found a way to tell these tales in a way that is understandable for YA readers and can leave an impact on their lives. I will 100% be recommending this book to others along with the author’s trilogy about the Gaither sisters!
—Olivia, Teen Advisory Board
by Rex Ogle
In his follow-up to Free Lunch, Rex Ogle sparingly and clearly details his high school years facing both poverty and domestic abuse. He candidly and heartbreakingly describes his relationship with his mother, when he frequently serves as the responsible party. Through his memories, we learn more about the family's history and begin to understand the root of his stepfather's drinking and anger. We can tell that Rex is walking beside us as we get glimpses of love and of hope. And at the end, we know Rex survived and has thrived. It's an extraordinary memoir that's a hard but vitally important read.
Read our Q&A with Rex Ogle.
by Hervé Le Tellier; trans. Adriana Hunter
The premise of this genre-bending thrillride is that in March, 2021, a French Airliner flying from Paris to Kennedy Airport encountered a rough patch of turbulence. We learn the back stories of some of the passengers in short, poignant (or deadly) chapters. In June of 2021, the pilot of the same airliner route calls in to report that they encountered terrible turbulence and that their equipment was not working. It kicks into high gear when air traffic control realizes that is the exact same plane, carrying the exact same passengers. Without spoiling the plot, the authorities move to bring the plane down to an air force base, and scientists get in on the how and why. It's crime, fantasy, sci-fi, and human drama. Thrilling and heartbreaking. Unputdownable!
Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr
This is a story within a story within a story. An ancient manuscript survives through the Crusades and beyond. In the present day, children are preparing to revive the story in the Lakeport library when Seymour, a troubled youth, enters the library with the intent of blowing it up. He thinks the library is empty as he watched Marian (yes, I know) leave the building. We follow the story from the 1400s in Constantinople to the Korean War to the future on a spaceship escaping a failed earth. The original thread weaves well with all the stories, which tie up together as only Doerr could make them. Love, loss, humor, and more.
The Lincoln Highway
by Amor Towles
It’s June 1954, and having been driven home from a juvenile work camp by the warden, 18-year-old Emmett has firm plans to pick up his brother Billy from their foreclosed farm in Nebraska and head to Texas to start new lives. Eight-year-old Billy has other plans: To follow the Lincoln Highway west to San Francisco and find the mother who had abandoned them years earlier. Meanwhile, fellow inmates Duchess and Woolly have stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s vehicle, further complicating matters and derailing Emmett’s plans. Ten memorable days of adventure and escapades follow.
No one writes characters and small moments—and weaves them so seamlessly into such compelling and engrossing yarns—as Amor Towles, author of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. This one is not to be missed!
The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All
by Josh Ritter
Weldon, a cantankerous 99 year old resident of smalltown Cordelia, Idaho, reflects about his rough and tumble life. Set during the early part of the twentieth century, this spectacular tale begins with Weldon’s explaining about his lifelong mortal enemy, Joe Mouggreau, and continues to tell about his experiences growing up. Dealings with Linden Laughlin, a despicable lumber boss, plus the kindness from the saloon owner, bootleggers, and others, shape the young Weldon. Early on, when his father dies under abrupt and suspicious circumstances, Weldon’s first instinct is to cower and run. Instead he faces his many fears and with the help of memorable characters, dives headlong into the world of lumberjacks. Cruelness and harshness that the characters face is softened by Josh Ritter’s spectacular writing and in the way his exaggerated tone gives a legendary humor with doses of campfire-like warmth. Fortune telling, curses, and wicked superstitions of these lawless towns and far away camps are entwined with the staggering glory of the landscape. Highly recommended.
by Ash Davidson
It's 1976. Loggers are working on felling old growth redwoods in Northern California. This sprawling yet tightly-wound novel is told by three narrators: Colleen, logger's wife, mother of five-year-old Chub, and deeply sad over eight miscarriages; Rich, Colleen's older husband who is from a long line of loggers who buys a piece of property that he believes will be their salvation; and Chub, the much-beloved son and the glue holding his parents together. An old love of Colleen's is back in town, studying the effect of the spraying of pesticides with the possibility that this is causing the rash of children born with defects. Every action has a reaction. The reader feels (and rightly so) for both the loggers and the environmentalists. It's a hardscrabble life. There is love and loss. There is blood and healing. Times are changing and we cannot help but read about what will happen to this small community on the beautiful but downtrodden coast of California.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake
by Alexis Hall
We knew it was only a matter of time before we had a romcom set in a Great British Bake Off-like reality show, and Alexis Hall delivers. We see this story through the eyes of Rosaline Palmer, who's pretty happy with her life. She loves her daughter Amelie and has figured out a way to make everything work with her found family, which includes her ex-girlfriend, Lauren. In the early stages of the competition, Rosaline finds herself drawn to both architect Alain and electrician Harry. This novel takes a look at classism, fetishization of bisexual women, and parental expectations in a tender, hilarious way. Full of amazing secondary characters, this novel is a delight.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
ed. Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
Kendi and Blain edited essays, poems, and stories to enlighten the reader about Black American history, so woefully unwritten in most textbooks. In 1619, twenty-plus Africans were brought on a trading ship to Jamestown, Virginia. There they were traded for goods. Each section of the book covers five years from that point forward. The stories are powerful and, most of time, heartbreaking. Some of the essays connect historical events with current events. The most heartbreaking stories are those of Black women. Marginalized by racism and sexism, they have been treated shamefully. If you're an audiobook persom, the audiobook is read by a full cast of readers and is very engaging.
by Qian Julie Wang
Now a successful lawyer in New York City, the author describes the sometimes painful and often traumatic experiences she had as a young immigrant to the U.S. from China in the 1990s. She and her parents overstayed their tourist visas and, as undocumented residents in New York City, they lived in constant fear of deportation for four years before emigrating to Canada. These are the author's indelible memories of a $20/week food budget, going to school (2nd-5th grades), helping her mother in a clothing factory by snipping threads, and the slow process of making friends. She narrates in the voice of her younger self, so the account is straightforward and unencumbered by an adult understanding of her situation, which makes it all the more poignant. A powerful book.
The Anthropocene Reviewed
by John Green
Based on John Green's popular podcast, this essay collection contains reflections on everything from Diet Dr. Pepper to the QWERTY keyboard to Canada geese. Each essay is full of Green's signature close observation, humor, and poignant reflection. Listen or read in one giant gulp or take it one essay at a time—either way, you won't regret it!
Crying in H Mart
by Michelle Zauner
This is the story of how writer and musician Michelle Zauner lost her mother, and of how the transformative power of her grief brought her closer to herself. Studded with wry observations and warmly-rendered memories of her Korean American upbringing, Zauner explores the intricate links between food and identity, as well as the tangled web of love, sadness, loyalty, conflict, and laughter that characterizes the parent-child relationship. A frank and affecting coming-of-age memoir, brimming with compassion. It’s also some of the most powerful food writing you’re apt to read. Recommended.
Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light
by Helen Ellis
Just as funny as Southern Lady Code, Helen Ellis delivers twelve new poignant and hilarious essays. They range from lifelong friendships, attempts at getting rid of neck wrinkles, and more. She's a sassier (much sassier) Erma Bombeck. Read it quickly because you can't put it down—and then read it again for the themes that run much deeper than you think.
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
by Mary Roach
What happens when humans and animals are in conflict? Mary Roach, science writer and humorist, shares her experiences with those tasked with dealing with these human-wildlife interactions, the measures humans take, and the repercussions of humans trying to control nature. In her chapter Maul Cops, Roach describes a fastidious bear's invasion of a home in Aspen, leaving the home virtually untouched with the exception of the refrigerator contents. In contrast, she reveals how forensics investigators determine a bear attack instead of a cougar attack. Birds, elephants, macaques, rodents, trees... much that is fascinating is covered here. Also included are her characterizations and observations of those immersed in working towards solutions. In the end, Roach makes the case for the practice of "exclusion" wherever possible. You won't read this book without considering human impact.
by Cecily Wong & Dylan Thuras
From the creative minds that showed us hidden corners of the world in Atlas Obscura comes a compendium of food, ingredients, eateries, and the history and culture that have given birth to some of the most exciting dishes you might ever experience. The diversity of what humans consume and the ways goods are prepared is eye-opening. From African termite mound ovens to Hagggis hurling in Scotland and floating markets and farms, from fermented shark to Gunpowder Rum and Vietnamese Egg Coffee (delicious!), this fascinating and informative book is a feast for the curious traveler (because you have to GO to the places where most of these things exist) and the intrepid gourmand (because you have to be willing to venture beyond the food your mama made). A few recipes are included for the armchair traveler. This is a terrific gift for just about anyone on your list.
by The Editors of Texas Monthly
The Editors of Texas Monthly have compiled a book of essays and recipes that offer a master class in the state of Texas. Covering history, personalities, art, flora, fauna, and food, this book is for native Texans as well as those newcomers seeking to understand the state. As someone who's called Texas home for 20 years, Being Texan reminds me why I love this state in all its bold, grand, complicated glory.
Flavors of the Sun
by Christine Sahadi Whelan; illustrated by Kristin Teig
So, you go to Phoenicia. Your husband buys the large-size spices that you are silently thinking that your children will inherit because who could use it all? This wonderful cookbook from Sahadi's, a long-established import company of Middle Eastern foodstuffs, will help you learn the different sauces and spices and, better yet, how to use them consistently in your meal planning. Swayed by the three bays of feta? The olive bar? Make the antipasta salad. Each section gives you ten more ways to use what is in your pantry. I am enthralled by all the ways to incorporate these wonderful flavors every day. Enjoy!