Youth Services’ Best Books of 2021

Youth Services staff from across the county have been reading all year long. And since it’s the end of the year, we’ve thought about our favorites and compiled our Best of 2021 list!  Check out our list below to add a few more books to your reading pile. Do you agree with our choices?

Picture Books

Ergo by Alexis Deacon
A silly philosophical story about a bird in an egg discovering the world. The illustrations are simple and adorably quirky, and the text lends itself to all the big questions kids ask.
Recommended by Rachel from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 2-5.

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder
This is a fun and joyful book about body positivity. The illustrations celebrate all kinds of bodies and depict activities like birthday parties, swimming and going to the movies. This book makes it very clear to young children that all bodies are cool.
Recommended by Joe from the Sparta Community Branch for ages 2-5.

Hugo and the Impossible Thing by Renee Felice Smith and Chris Gabriel
Hugo is a young dog who has always heard that the towering mountain is an impossible feat for anyone. He asks the local animals if they’ve ever even tried to climb the mountain, but they all say, “No, it’s an impossible thing.” Instead of listening to their negativity, Hugo decides that he is going to give it a try anyway. With beautiful illustrations and an uplifting story, this book is sure to encourage any young reader and teaches that it’s only impossible if you never try.
Recommended by Amber from the Nixa Community Branch for ages 3-7.

Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor
Zubi is excited for her first day of school but overhears other members of her family making comments about their weight. This leads Zubi to wonder: “Is there something wrong with me?” This is a sweet book about how beauty comes in more than one shape and size.
Recommended by Lia from the Clever Community Branch for ages 4-8.

What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures by Heather L. Montgomery
This nonfiction picture book features children who will become future scientists. Young scientists collect things through discovering and investigating the world. This is a great way to hook and connect young readers to science and to learn about famous scientists.
Recommended by Jill from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 4-8.

Middle Grade

The Dragon in the Library by Louis Stowell
This fantasy book is a cute story about a reluctant reader named Kit. She is dragged into the library by her friends and finds magic and adventure. This book encourages reluctant readers to cultivate their love for reading and appreciation of the library. It is great for young readers who love the fantasy genre.
Recommended by Jill from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 7-9.

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Lily and Wendy are stepsisters and best friends, but their parents plan to spend the summer apart and the girls worry what this could mean for their family. The girls are visited by Peter Pan and taken away to Neverland, where the familiar story of Peter Pan is retold from a new perspective, with a strong theme of Native Pride. Fans of fantasy and retellings of classic stories will enjoy this action-filled book.
Recommended by Joe from the Sparta Community Branch for ages 8-12.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Kay O’Neill (previously published as Katie O’Neill)
The third book in the Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Tapestry brings together characters from both of the following books to tell a story of discovering yourself and learning to care for those who are grieving.
Recommended by Tim from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 9-12.

Salt Magic by Hope Larson
When Vonceil’s older brother returns from fighting in WWI to marry his childhood sweetheart, their family farm in Oklahoma is cursed by a witch. Vonceil goes on a journey filled with magic and danger to save her family. A wonderful graphic novel with strong fairytale and folktale elements. For readers who enjoy historical fiction with magical world-building.
Recommended by Emily from the Nixa Community Branch for ages 10-14.


Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
This is a sweet and heartfelt romance with a touch of magical realism. Evie Thomas was once an avid reader of romance novels, but after her parents’ divorce, she’s given up on believing in love. Evie sees a couple kiss and is struck with a vision of how their relationship will end. Her special power raises some deep questions about what it means to love.
Recommended by Joe from the Sparta Community Branch for ages 12 and up.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
In a retelling of the fairytale The Wild Swans, Shiori must save her brothers after they are transformed into cranes. She will have to work together with her ex-betrothed and embrace the magic she has been taught to fear all her life if she ever wants to save her brothers. This novel is an excellent read for fans of The Cruel Prince and Shadow and Bone.
Recommended by Lia from the Clever Community Branch for ages 12 and up.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Set in 1954 amid the Red Scare, Lily Hu, a Chinese American, meets Kathleen Miller at a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. This story is about coming to terms with Lily’s sexuality, while also risking everything for love in a society that is not accepting of her ethnicity or relationship.
Recommended by Tim from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 14 and up.

Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell
This finale to the Simon Snow series follows Simon and his friends as they face some of their toughest challenges yet. Simon must decide if he still wants to be a mage, while Baz is still trying to come to grips with his newfound vampire knowledge. Will Simon and Baz be able to make it through these challenges, or will everything crumble around them? Perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.
Recommended by Tim from the Ozark Community Branch for ages 15 and up.

Need more recommendations?

Visit any Community Branch location any time of the year for personalized reading recommendations from our Youth Services book experts.