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New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books winners 2012

Breaking news!

The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2012 have just been announced via Twitter. This year marks the 60th anniversary of this annual picture book award.

Judges Chris Raschka, Bruce Handy (Vanity Fair), and Cathryn Mercier (director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College) selected the following ten titles to receive the honor:

Bear Despair written and illustrated by Gaëtan Dorémus (Enchanted Lion)
The Beetle Book written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Houghton)
House Held Up by Trees written by Ted Kooser; illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
The Hueys in the New Sweater written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)
Infinity and Me written by Kate Hosford; illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Carolrhoda)
Little Bird written by Germano Zullo; illustrated by Albertine (Enchanted Lion)
One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World written and illustrated by Joe McKendry (Godine)
Red Knit Cap Girl written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop (Tingley/Little)
Stephen and the Beetle written by Jorge Luján; illustrated by Chiara Carrer (Groundwood)
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad written and illustrated by Henry Cole (Scholastic)

Thanks to Katie Bircher for compiling from the NYT Tweets and checking all the titles and names. Now Robin and I have to find all of these and see what we think. In the meantime, what do YOU think?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. What is the criteria for this award?? Several of the winners have art that I appreciate but don’t have the overall package that I would expect from a truly excellent picture book. So maybe this award is honoring something different?

    I was underwhelmed by The Hueys, but that was more about the lack of story than the quality of the pictures (I didn’t work for me to have essentially all of the action take place off stage after the final page turn. Caldecott’s Broken dish added another layer to the nursery rhyme– it didn’t carry the whole story.). Unspoken’s style is wonderful– I see echoes of Mercer Mayer’s work for John Bellairs in his figures. House Held Up by Trees is lovely as a work of art. I will reserve judgement on the others….. for now 🙂

  2. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    I’ll need to find and look at some of these tomorrow so I can weigh in on the list as a whole. I’m particularly interested that so many are from small presses. Significant?

    Adding this later (11/2): I don’t know of any specific criteria for this list, other than the title. I think it tends to be more idiosyncratic than some other lists since there are just three judges: an illustrator and two children’s lit specialists. I do like that this list always includes an illustrator’s perspective. Pamela Paul might be able to shed more light on the process. Or maybe Roger who was on this committee a few years back.

  3. Deb Paulson says:

    I felt that House Held Up By Trees and Little Bird have ideas and subject matter aimed more toward the people who buy picture books (the adults) rather than children. So to my mind, these are picture books for adults.
    Additionally, I think Klassen’s edgy illustrative style is much more suited to a story like Extra Yarn or I Want My Hat Back than a story about the flowing, cyclic nature of life. I was disappointed when I tried to match story to pictures in that one, always wishing for a better match.

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    To answer Becky’s question–I’ve judged the NYT awards three times (but under a different editor, so policies and procedures may have changed). There are no rules beyond the three judges picking what they think are the ten best illustrated children’s books submitted to the Times. The hitch is that most of the judges only see most of the books on the day of the judging, so there’s a lot of skimming. Thus, the books are judged more on the quality of their illustrations alone rather than on the effectiveness of any book as a whole. I remember having the damnedest time getting The Stinky Cheese Man on that list, but I did!

  5. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    I know Robin and I will be posting about many of these individually over the next few weeks, but here are my initial thoughts on the seven I could put my hands on.

    Bear Despair — wordless books always get a lot of attention and this one certainly makes the most of emotion. But while I can admire the effect the art is going for, this book wouldn’t have made it onto my personal top ten list. (We probably won’t be posting about this book — it’s not eligible for the Caldecott because Doremus lives in France.)

    The Beetle Book — I think insects are the perfect subject for Jenkins’s careful collage art. While I’m a big fan of the art in this book, I have trouble with the small handwriting-style text. I found it difficult to read and therefore uninviting. As Roger says, these details probably weren’t being considered by the NYT committee.

    House Held Up By Trees — there’s a lot to admire here and Klassen gets to show more depth and emotion than he does in This Is Not My Hat. This book shows what a good artist he is, but Hat is a better example of playing with the picture book form.

    The Hueys in the New Sweater – I haven’t seen this yet. For what it’s worth, it was reviewed in the Horn Book Guide rather than the Magazine.

    Infinity and Me – I can’t imagine a more daunting task than to try to illustrate this text. Bravo, Gabi Swiatkowska, for taking it on. That said, this is a style that doesn’t really speak to me so if I were asked to review it, I’d need to pass it on to someone who can appreciate it better. (This is another that’s not eligible for the Caldecott because the artist lives abroad.)

    Little Bird — I haven’t seen this one either (also passed up by the Magazine and reviewed in the Guide).

    One Times Square — I could look at this book for hours. I’m intrigued by the three distinct styles: architectural drawings with thin, precise line; painterly watercolors; retro pen-and-ink. I find all three styles appealing, but I don’t think it’s a picture book so Robin and I probably won’t be posting about it.

    Red Knit Cap Girl — This is the third book I haven’t seen. Also reviewed in the Guide, not the Magazine.

    Stephen and the Beetle — I see some similarities in style among Bear Despair, Infinity and Me, and this book. It’s interesting to speculate on the role of personal taste when there is a small, three-person committee. I like this one better than Bear or Infinity, especially as the book progresses and we get closer to the beetle. Too bad this one isn’t eligible for the Caldecott either.

    Unspoken — We will definitely be talking about this book, and it’s received a lot of attention in the past couple of months. There’s also been some controversy regarding the prominence of the quilt on the first few spreads. I think it’s got a shot at the Caldecott but will take some work. I do like the art and pacing. The rest of my comments will need to wait!

  6. Susan Dailey says:

    “Little Bird” isn’t eligible for the Caldecott. The illustrator lives in Switzerland from what I read.

  7. Judy Houser says:

    Unspoken is an exceptional picture book and definitely deserves the recognition. Cole’s illustrations don’t just enhance the story–they are the story. Beautifully detailed, Unspoken requires more than just a skimming.

  8. Robin Smith says:

    I have only seen a few of these.
    I have never served on this committee, but have known folks who have. Roger’s comment on skimming explains a lot for me. I wonder how books get submitted and how many are considered in an average year.

  9. I LOVE your blog. Thanks for the great recommendations and all the awesome reads!

  10. For me, Unspoken is one of those books that will become a classic. It’s simplicity is its strength; beautiful and powerful. I’d keep it on my bookshelf even when my kids have left home. Shame it didnt’ get Caldecott recognition, but good to see it getting recognition from others.

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