The Year in SLJ Covers 2020

From the pandemic and a presidential election, to school boards and systemic racism, SLJ's cover design and illustration helped tell the tale that was 2020.


In a picture versus words equation, the images of 2020 perhaps say it all.

“The covers of this year, they're loaded, there’s a lot behind them,” says Mark Tuchman, School Library Journal’s creative director. 

The process of getting the magazine out each month was, well, something. It was “us trying to cover a crisis as we were living it—and three weeks in advance,” says Tuchman.

The April issue featured our 2020 School Librarian of the Year, Cicely Lewis. It was our last photo shoot of the year. Revisiting the reading wars had been the coverage scheduled for May. That was scratched to address the pandemic, not knowing how long the crisis would last or when we might turn the corner.

 The entire staff has worked remotely since mid-March. And there were personal concerns­—Tuchman’s mother contracted COVID while in a rehab facility and has since recovered.

“But then we thought: what is the message we want to send for people facing this? ‘Going the distance’ was a pretty good way to go for us,” he says. Looking for someone to convey a feeling, of not being alone, more uplifted, illustrator James Yang came to mind.

 “Yang lives in Brooklyn, in the same neighborhood where I used to live. So he was in the middle of it all and that image [SLJ’s May cover] was truthful, what he was experiencing,” says Tuchman.

“The September issue was consequential. Educators were freaking out. They were going to be in the lion’s den, still are.

“We had to be cognizant that we were speaking to everyone. Some people experienced tragedy, were fearful or in denial.”

Initially we mulled a cover line of "We're in this together." Reconsidering the tone there, at the last minute, when art was in play, we hit on simply "together," which seemed right, Tuchman recalls. “So it's about finding the artist who can hit the right note.” 

Our cover stories of 2020:

Cover story: The Great and Powerful School Board
By Wayne D’Orio
Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Where did Leveling Go Wrong?
Reading levels unfairly label learners, say critics. Research behind the system is also under question.
By Wayne D’Orio
Illustration by James Steinberg

Remixing It Up
Jason Reynolds recast Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and it is not a history book.
By Nikole Hannah-Jones
Photography by John Boal

School Librarian of the Year: She Started “Read Woke”
“Reading is my superpower,” says Cicely Lewis. Students say she changed their lives.
By Wayne D’Orio
Photography by Fernando Decillis

Going the Distance
Librarians, COVID-19, and the online learning challenge.
By SLJ staff
Illustration by James Yang

Drawn to History
Margaret A. Edwards Award winner Steve Sheinkin perfects the art of the rollicking true tale.
By Stan Mack (illustration) and Daryl Grabarek (feature article)

Learning Early
It’s never too early to talk about race
By Kelley R. Taylor

Vote of Confidence
Amid a pandemic and political polarization, educators adjust, step up to teach U.S. elections
By Kara Yorio
Illustration by Melinda Beck

In This Together
School librarians help address learning loss, upheaval
By Wayne D’Orio
Illustration by Monica Garwood

Rising to the Occasion
With COVID raging, can the books of 2020 still speak to us?
By Elizabeth Bird
Cover illustration by Jarrett Krosoczka, interior by Jerry Craft

The Year of Doing Everything
COVID survey results: Determined librarians take their skills and ingenuity to the next level
By April Witteveen

Best Books 2020
By SLJ staff
Illustration by Bryan Collier



Author Image
Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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