My “Top 3” Books Read Lists for 2020

This is my first blog post since August 2017. I hope you enjoy me sharing some of my favourite reads during 2020 here. This year I read 77 books from a variety of genres. My top lists below are a compilation of the books I read/listened to this year. I also want you to know that is was difficult for me to choose just 3 for some of these categories and you can check out all the books I read this year on “My Year in Books” on Goodreads.

My Top 3 (Middle Grade – Young Author) Fiction Books For 2020

  1. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Dan Gemeinhart authored a beautiful middle grade novel that gives you all the feels. It has moments of gut wrenching sadness & heart smiling ones that fill your soul. Coyote, Rodeo, & their new friends give further reason to believe in the goodness of humanity. This one filled me up! ❤️ Many students will feel the same way!

2. Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee is an important age appropriate Middle Years fiction book that addresses harassment & strength of character. Prior to reading I heard about this book & it peaked my interest as a parent. It’s a book I learned that needs to be read & discussed by all kids. Mila is grade 7 student dealing with harassment from a group of boys. Some topics addressed include: “she is overreacting & they are just joking”, “it’s just flirting”, friends offering advice, & her self doubt about what she should/shouldn’t say about it & to who. Mila strength shines through. I cannot recommend this one enough!

3. The Line Tender

I fell in love with The Line Tender by Kate Allen. Once I got going with it I found it hard to put down! It’s a YA read that focuses on friendship, kindness, passion for doing what you love, & dealing with the powerful emotions that grief brings. I appreciate how Allen connected these themes through Lucy’s voice, engaging supporting characters, & Lucy’s want to learn more about her Mom & her passion for doing what’s best for sharks.

My Top 3 Graphic Novels for 2020

  1. Dragon Hoops

Dragon Hoops by Gene Leun Yang has been a popular read by a lot of my students in 2020. This Graphic Novel tells the true story of the basketball team at a teacher’s school. It’s a kaleidoscope look at his story, the sport, it’s culture, history, the high school team, it’s players, coaches, & their journey. In this story the reader will witness the complexities of story telling & being true to each person’s story & how their individual story fits into the collective story of the Dragon’s Season.

2. Class Act

Class Act by Jerry Craft is an important & enjoyable companion graphic novel to his Newberry Award winning book “New Kid”! Students in my class couldn’t wait to get their hands on this one. It’s been passed around to a lot of students in our room this year. This story finds Jordan & Drew back at Riverdale Academy this time focusing on Drew who is trying to navigate his feelings on friendships, racial stereotypes, micro aggressions, & gaining a deeper understanding/appreciation of others and self.

3. White Bird

White Bird by RJ Palacio is a beautiful & gut-wrenching WWII graphic novel that gives more of the back story to Julian & his family from RJ Palacio’s Wonder. The art work is stunning in this book & the story pulls you along. What a powerful read!

My Top 3 Picture Books of 2020

  1. I Am One

I received this book as a gift from a family in my class. I am One by Susan Verde is a thoughtful & inspiring little picture book that supported with conversation is sure to get kids & adults alike believing & seeing their actions making a difference.

2. Cloudwalker

Cloudwalker by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd is a beautifully told & Illustrated story that tells of the creation of 3 of the largest salmon bearing rivers in Northern British Columbia. It also masterfully shares how these rivers are the source of life for all the creatures in the area.

3. The Word Collector

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds is fun picture book with engaging imagery. I used this book introduce the concept of triple scoop words (descriptive words) and how to identify and use them in their own writing with my students. This book would also be great with younger students to point out the power words can have.

My Top 3 Young Author – Teen Fiction Books for 2020

  1. Salt to The Sea

I can’t believe I waited so long to read this one! It’s been sitting in my to read pile for a while. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septys is a YA/Teen Historical Fiction novel that is told masterfully from the perspectives of 4 young people whose lives become intertwined as they journey towards passage & refuge during World War II on the navel ship Wilhelm Gustloff. This is one that readers historical fiction will love.

2. Shout

Shout is a haunting & powerful Mature Teen reads memoir written by Laurie Halse Anderson in free verse. This is a follow up to her book Speak. She tells her story of being raped, family struggles with PTSD, alcoholism, abuse, & substance abuse. In telling her story, she encourages other victims to be vulnerable & shout their stories rather than be silenced by shame & society. This book is a call to action to listen to those who are brave enough to shout their stories. Powerful read!

3. The Skin I’m In

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake is a powerful must read YA/Teen novel. I’m so glad I read this one. It’s been on my to read list for a while. Maleeka is a character full of self doubt & low self esteem due to giving power to the hateful/discriminating words/actions of people who call themselves her friends yet do not have her heart in their best interests. Through these awful experiences she has trouble trusting her conscience & those people who do see her strengths & beauty.

Top 3 Non-Fiction Books For 2020

  1. Just Mercy

Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s incredibly powerful & heartbreaking true story of being a lawyer, humanitarian, social justice activist, & founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (a non-profit law firm in Alabama) is a must read. Bryan’s journey tells many insightful, heart-breaking, & fist pumping stories defending the poor, the incarcerated, the young , & the wrongly accused. These stories will rock you to your core as you wonder how to mend a system to make it more just for all.

2. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga is a powerful must read book that tells the kaleidoscope view of the inequities & racism that is faced by First Nation’s people when dealing with the police service in Thunder Bay. The immense challenges faced by families who experienced residential school inflicted generational trauma on those families. 7 Fallen Feathers tells the individual stories of 7 students who end up dead under mysterious circumstances over a number of years in Thunder Bay, Ontario & the challenges faced by their families in getting answers about their deaths. Many of these cases did not follow proper protocol & highlighted the inequities faced by indigenous communities.

3. The Devil’s Highway

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is a powerfully written and well researched true story about the Yuma 14. The story of 26 people who were sold on the dream of going to the United States via a coyote… only to have 14 of them die in the desert. I like how he includes their stories, the stories of the survivors, boarder guards on both sides of the boarder, the coyotes, the cartels, the American public, the history of the topic & region to give you the bigger picture of this awful moment & others like it. This is a must read book on the topic! It is a book the author of American Dirt read prior to writing her fictional book.

My Top 3 Fiction Books for 2020

  1. Indian Horse

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese is a beautifully written Historical Fiction book that is an important read/listen for all Canadians. I enjoyed it on audible. It gives a greater perspective on the awful impact of the Indian Residential School on a boy learning to be a man & doing that while battling life circumstances and the demons he encountered at the Indian Residential School to find peace/joy in the game of hockey & in life.

2. Where The Crawdads Sing

This was a captivating read/listen that held my attention from the first words I heard Kya speak. Her story was compelling & heartbreaking! It kept you wanting more for her & kept you cheering her on the more as you learned about her & the mystery that was unraveling. Take the time to read/listen to this one!

3. 419

419 by Will Ferguson is an enjoyable fictional thriller. A father duped in a Nigerian Scam… A family & daughter left with questions… another world away… the story of the challenging life in Lagos, Nigeria… home of the 419 & of those who prey & feel preyed upon. I recommend this listen on audible! It’s filled with many twists & turns.

This post is inspired by a few people. First is Chris Kennedy who for many years now has shared his top 3 lists at the end of each calendar year for a number of years now. He reflects on a variety of topics related to education, personal well being, interesting observations of his/our world, and favourite things he enjoyed for the year. You can read his 2020 post here. It’s a must read post for me each year and for a while now I’ve been intending to do something similar. This post is my attempt at that.

The second inspiration for this post is Pernille Ripp. Pernille for years now has been graciously sharing her personal passions for having students find joy in reading and the many wonderful books that she shares with her students and with her audience globally. Pernille’s creation of the Global Read Aloud is the single greatest influencer in me reading more for enjoyment and reading more quality middle grade and young author books. My two main goals each school year now is to help connect each student each year with their next favourite book or author and to bring honour in finding joy in reading. I was there from the 1st year of her project and would buy/read the books she suggested. It helped me narrow down what I wanted to read with my students for the project and what books I wanted to put on the shelves for my students. These books and her numerous posts over her blog and instagram account (check out the hashtag #pernillerecommends)have been a major contributor to my want to read list and the stacks of books to be read on my nightstand table. 🙂

Third is Chris Wejr who I’ve been following for years on goodreads and twitter. He always has books he has read or wants to read that get me thinking and challenge my perspectives on important cultural, parenting, and education topics.

An honourable mention to my friend Ron Dorland who has been dropping subtle hints for a little while now that I should write another blog post.

Happy reading! Hoping you find your next favourite title or author!

Hugh McDonald


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4 Responses to My “Top 3” Books Read Lists for 2020

  1. I’m glad you shared these, Hugh. I’m adding a few of these to my to-read list. I’m also glad to see you blogging again. Happy 2021!

    • Philip… How are you? How is NC? No BC Lions football here this year. Hopeful to get season in this year but without fans it’s going to be a challenge. Thanks for popping by to check it the posts! Which books are you adding to your to read list? I have a personal goal of getting out 12 posts this year. 🤞

  2. bgtfe says:

    Love this list … lots for me to investigate!! I am glad there were more than three! I’ve been reading a lot this year … but all heavy text, science/math related non-fiction and academic journal articles!

    • How are you? You need a break from those once in a while. 🙂 These are all excellent in my opinion. I read a variety of different genres this year. It’s been an enjoyable reading year for me. It was hard to pick 3 for each of the categories.

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