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The New York Times Best Illustrated List

I look forward every year to the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books. Move over, hot cocoa with marshmallows. The announcement of this list is my very favorite thing about fall.

The 2017 titles were announced yesterday. This is the first year the NYT has joined forces with the New York Public Library, and they’ve even changed the name of the award to the (even more cumbersome!) New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award.

There are three judges for this award — this year it was author-illustrator Steven Guarnaccia, who teaches illustration at Parsons The New School for Design; author-illustrator Marjorie Priceman; and the head librarian of the New York Public Library Children’s Center, Louise Lareau — and they base this award “purely on artistic merit.” This means that, unlike the Caldecott committee, they’re looking at illustrations only, not as much at the way in which art and text play together. (Or as Martha put it in 2013, “how the art works within the picture book.”)

This year’s selections are:

  • Feather, written and illustrated by Rémi Courgeon (published by Enchanted Lion)
  • Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra (NorthSouth)
  • King of the Skywritten by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick)
  • Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum)
  • On a Magical, Do-Nothing Day, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna (HarperCollins)
  • Plume, written and illustrated by Isabelle Simler (Eerdmans)
  • A Riverwritten and illustrated by Marc Martin (Chronicle)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Abrams)
  • Town Is by the Sea, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood/House of Anansi Press)
  • The Way Home in the Night, written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi (Kids Can Press)

(At my own site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, I showcased art from most of these books this year. That’s what the hyperlinks in the above list are, if you’re so inclined to go look at some spreads.)

Some observations off the top of my head:

  1. This list includes many books published by smaller, independent presses (Enchanted Lion, Groundwood, Eerdmans, and more). The NYT lists usually do this. I love that.
  2. This list includes several books originally published overseas and books written and illustrated by international artists. The NYT lists usually do this, too. I also love that. (And, as we all know, looking at books by artists who are not citizens or residents of the United States is outside of the Caldecott committee’s scope.)
  3. I believe only three of these books are eligible for the Caldecott Award — Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos; Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (which Edith Campbell covered here at Calling Caldecott); and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality. (I haven’t seen this last book yet, but I’m eager to read it.)
  4. Town Is by the Sea also received a 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor in the category of Picture Books.
  5. This is the third year in a row Sydney Smith has been given a NYT award. (In 2015 he received it for Sidewalk Flowers, written by JonArno Lawson, and last year he received it for The White Cat and the Monk, written by Jo Ellen Bogart.)

Fun fact: Do you know that in 2014 Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes took at look at how books on the annual NYT list fare in terms of the Caldecott Award? He looked at data going back to 2004. That’s here.

What do you think of this year’s list?

Julie Danielson About Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.



  1. “I look forward every year to the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books. Move over, hot cocoa with marshmallows. The announcement of this list is my very favorite thing about fall.”

    Julie, I am with you lock, stock and barrel here, though the New York Film Critics Circle announcement in the first week in December and the fabulous sub-category presentation by children’s book scholar Minh Lee are right up there with it. My own observations are as follows:

    1. Sydney Smith is a master. His TOWN BY THE SEA is as masterful as the previous two that were named. THE WHITE CAT AND THE MONK is one of my absolute favorite picture books of the last decade, perhaps even eclipsing another book I love set in the same period by Katy Beebe and S.D. Schindler. Oh how I wish he were eligible this year. The Boston-Horn Book were dead on!

    2. The inclusion of the book on Ruth Bader Ginsburg is truly cause for celebration. I picked up a copy in September at the Princeton Book Festival. Jonah Winter, ever a champion of progressive issues has collaborated with Stacy Innerst, a fabulous illustrator who in recent years has created the art for several fantastic biographical works. A Winter-Innerst team is a picture book dream for sure, and I have had this particular book down on my own list for upcoming coverage. The gauache, ink and Photoshop art beautifully compliments Jonah Winter’s riveting prose.

    3. MUDDY by Evan Turk. I know the esteemed book critic and author Elizabeth Bird is applauding here (if I can be so bold as to say that here) and I completely concur. As dazzling, creative and visionary a title as any released this year, and one deserving of Caldecott attention.

    4. I own a copy of John Parra’s latest framing of the iconic artist and like the Caldecott Medal winner from Yuyi Morales it is resplendent, though more sedate and tranquil in the way the art is rendered.

    5. FEATHER and A RIVER are marvelous choices, agains sadly ineligible but among the best books of the year when all countries are included.

    6. I have not yet seen KING IN THE SKY, THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT and ON A MAGICAL DO NOTHING DAY, but will move to correct that situation ASAP.

    7. I will be heading over to “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakest” today. Thank you!

    8. As to book NOT included it would be foolhardy to protest as this is the tasteful and informed view of three experts – one of whom herself (Marjorie Pricemen) a two-time past winner and this year the artist who produced the superlative THE MUSIC OF LIFE – who of course opened our borders, resulting in an understandably smaller national representation. I was a little surprised that the English author-artist’s Beethan Woolfin’s extraordinary RAPUNZEL wasn’t named, but last year’s NYT committee helmed by Monica Edinger as I recall, did choose Woolfin’s equally sublime and stylistically stupendous book on Little Red Riding Hood. (also named by Minh Lee on his own expansive examination). As to USA titles absent, I would point to WOLF IN THE SNOW, CROWN, THE RING BEARER, OUT OF WONDER, MIGUEL’S BRAVE KNIGHT, BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET, THE THREE BILLY GOAT’S GRUFF, BLUE SKY WHITE STARS, THE SECRET PROJECT, ROBINSON, HER RIGHT FOOT and three especially complex books (thematically and artistically) that are normally the domain of the NYT groups: ALL EARS ALL EYES, AFTER THE FALL and LITTLE FOX IN THE FOREST. There are several others too including the photography books discussed on the most recent Calling Caldecott post, but I have gone way too far. The committee did a fantastic job as ALWAYS, and USA books cannot and should not be the only ones considered. For the most passionate and discerning children’s book lovers this is the dog’s bollocks.

  2. I love this list! Such a variety of styles represented! And while I know from my own judging experience that there is zero pressure to choose any books from small publishers, I love that small press artists often rise to the top. For whatever it’s worth, two kinds of work I don’t see on this particular list: Hyperrealistic oil painting and lush, pastel-filled washes of watercolor.

  3. I have since obtained library loan copies of ON A MAGICAL DO-NOTHING DAY, KING OF THE SKY, THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT and PLUME. Of course as expected the result is a deeper hole in my pockets as I have already ordered all but Miyakoshi’s book, though it won’t be long before that one will be had as well. Beatrice Alemagna’s book is the most ravishingly beautiful (the mushroom spread one of the year’s best but the entire wistful presentation is first-rate. Love the phosphorescent orange. The artist’s “A Lion in Paris” is also fabulous. PLUME is such a delicate, sublime work and stylistically KING OF THE SKY, an emotional quietly enveloping work is so unique, and gets better every time you read through it. Each of the non-American books this year are first-rate, and seemingly essential to collections. To say they are among the best picture books of the year, period seems a no brainer, but I’ll still say it. 🙂

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