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The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books list

Did you all see on Friday the 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books list? I’ve said this before, but the announcement of this award, along with the return to hot cocoa and turning the clocks back an hour, is one of my favorite things about fall. This year’s winners are: Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales; Florette, written and illustrated by Anna Walker; Ayobami and the Names of the Animals, written by Pilar López Ávila and illustrated by Mar Azabal; The Forest, written by Riccardo Bozzi and illustrated by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali; A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith; Our Car, written by J.M. Brum and illustrated by Jan Bajtlik; She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita SalaThe Funeral, written and illustrated by Matt James; Run Wild, written and illustrated by David Covell; and The Visitor, written and illustrated by Antje Damm.

One of the things that makes the list exciting is that the judges allow for the inclusion of international picture books. As you know if you regularly read this blog, the Caldecott does not. The winner of the Caldecott Award or a Caldecott Honor must be a citizen or resident of the United States. This year’s NYT list includes illustrators who are from Australia, Spain, Poland, the U.S., Italy, Canada, Germany, and Mexico. (At least I think I’ve captured all the countries represented in this list.)

The judges for this award — this year, they were author-illustrator Bryan Collier, children’s literature historian and critic Leonard Marcus, and children’s librarian Jenny Rosenoff — choose the winners on the basis of artistic merit only. So, though the details of the criteria are a mystery to me, I think this means they aren’t necessarily looking at the way in which art and text play together, as the Caldecott does. That is, if the Caldecott criteria state that a “picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised,” you can’t determine how well that is done in a book unless you also look at the text. Or, as former Caldecott committee member Dean Schneider put it in the comment of this recent post: “In a picture book, where the interplay of illustration and text is essential to the success of the book, a weak text makes that interplay less effective.” But, as I understand it, the judges for the NYT award are looking only at artistic quality. I imagine them poring over the art, having long conversations about how the illustrations might have been made, which mediums were used, etc. etc. But I’m just guessing here.

On that note, the books on the NYT list this year represent a wide range of artistic mediums. Several books include collage art — such as Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers, which was made using pen and ink, acrylics, photography, embroidery, and more; and Matt James’s The Funeral, whose art includes such things as actual dried wildflowers (some flowers even stolen from the funeral of the real Uncle Frank upon whom that character is based). Cut-paper artwork was used in The Visitor, created by Antje Damm — who makes carefully staged and photographed paper vignettes (her 3-D illustrations are beguiling) — as well as in Ayobami and the Names of the Animals, illustrated by Mar Azabal. One very tactile book (and a wonder of paper engineering) that makes great use of layers — The Forest, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali — includes bas reliefs and die-cuts, more than one gatefold, and many embossed images in its 72 pages. There are illustrations with handwritten text (David Covell’s Run Wild); highly saturated colors (Jan Bajtlik’s Our Car); oil paintings (just one of the mediums Lane Smith uses in A House That Once Was); and, in many of the books, things like your traditional, tried-and-true watercolors (Anna Walker’s Florette) and pen and ink (Lane Smith again).

If I have my facts straight, only three of these books are eligible for the 2019 Caldecott —Dreamers (Yuyi Morales was born in Mexico but has U.S. citizenship); A House That Once Was (Lane Smith lives in Connecticut); and Run Wild (David Covell grew up in Maine and wanted to capture in this book the wild energy of the outdoors he experienced as a child). Speaking of, I’m struck by how many of the books are in some way about wildness, whether they are books about nature or a return to it, such as Covell’s book, or even how wildness (and time and neglect) take over a home (A House That Once Was); the wild, exhilarating speed of Bajtlik’s Our Car (one of my favorite picture books this year); the way Sala captures Mary Shelley’s wild imagination in She Made a Monster; the unbridled energy of the children as they play in the grass in James’s The Funeral; or even the wild thrill Morales felt as she and her child discover, as immigrants in a new country, the public library. (“Suspicious. Improbable. Unbelievable. Surprising. Unimaginable.”) I think picture-book creators all over the world know we should occasionally put our phones down and see and experience the world in all its beauty and intensity.

I happen to know that two of these books were inspired in subtle ways by, of all things, Andy Warhol. (For some of the illustrations in A House That Once Was, Smith used pen and ink with a blotted line technique that Warhol used, and Covell studied the early drawings of Warhol and other artists before creating Run Wild.) I know these things because over at my own blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (or 7-Imp), I like to showcase lots and lots of art, and I like to invite illustrators, if they are so inclined, to talk about creating their artwork, as well as share things like early sketches, character studies, dummy images, etc. I have written this year about seven out of ten of these NYT winners. If you’re interested in seeing art from each book — and, in some cases, early sketches and comments from the artists — I’ve listed them for you here:

  • Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales — In August of this year, Yuyi visited 7-Imp to share a photo essay of how she created this book.
  • A House That Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith – In May of this year, Lane Smith visited to talk about creating the illustrations for this book. (What does Evaline Ness’s Sam, Bangs & Moonshine have to do with A House That Once Was? You can find out here.)
  • Our Car, written by J.M. Brum and illustrated by Jan BajtlikYou can see some art from the book in this September post.
  • She Made a Monster, written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita SalaYou can see some art from the book in this August post.
  • The Funeral, written and illustrated by Matt James – Matt visited in April to talk about creating this book. (This is how I know the Uncle Frank/wildflower fun fact.)
  • Run Wild, written and illustrated by David Covell – David visited in June to talk a bit about this book and share lots of wild sketchbook images.
  • The Visitor, written and illustrated by Antje Damm — You can see lots of art from this one in this September post.

(Sorry to the three books I did not write about. Maybe one year, I’ll manage to get all ten.)

What do you think of the winners this year? Have you seen them all? What are your thoughts and impressions?

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.

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Comments

  1. I have finally gotten my act together with this post and have now seen all the titles, and have read them to my classes. Of course it goes without saying the absolute fave for the kids is “She Made a Monster, written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita Sala,” a surefire bet because of the subject matter. I have since purchased my own copy from Amazon which arrived yesterday. Love, love, love the book myself as I do the brilliant “The Funeral” by Matt James (a tasteful and at times humorous take on this most austere of subjects and wow that art really transcribing a child’s eye!) the gorgeous Australian foliage title “Florette” (also purchased by me in addition to “The Funeral”) the moving and beautiful German title “The Visitor” and the Spanish “Ayobami and the Names of the Animals” which is sublime and quite an effective learning tool. I do own the three American titles by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith, by Yuyi Morales and by Dave Covell, and of course think each is a picture book masterwork. Methinks the Fogliano and Morales are probably two of the three or four favorites at this stage to win the Caldecott Medal, but we all know what happens when any of us tries to predict. 🙂

    I have seen other international titles which I do love but will only mention one that I feel should have been on this list without question, as it is one of the best titles from any country released this year, “The Patchwork Bike” by Maxine Beneba Clarke and Van Thanh Rudd, and Australian import reviewed here by Kirkus:

    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/maxine-beneba-clarke/the-patchwork-bike/

    Thank you for the fantastic round-up, captivating, motivating and beautifully written.

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