The 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books list

It’s that time of year! Last Friday, the 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library’s Best Illustrated Children’s Books were announced. We at Calling Caldecott always look forward to this list, and to see the winners this year is particularly exciting, since last year’s awards were cancelled. This was due to the pandemic, and you may remember that we (Jules and Martha, along with librarian Julie Roach) pretended we were our own three-person committee who determined the 2020 winners. 

Though it was exciting to imagine being on that committee and to create our own list, we are happy to see the real awards back this year. Here below are the picture books that made the 2021 list. (Since Julie wrote about six of these books at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this year, where she always shares art — with permission — we will include parenthetical links to those posts for those who want to get a closer look at the illustrations.)

I Am the Subway, written and illustrated by Kim Hyo-eun and translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith (see some illustrations here)

The Night Walk, written and illustrated by Marie Dórleans and translated by Polly Lawson (see some illustrations here)

Time Is a Flower, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad (see some illustrations here)

It Fell from the Sky, written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, written and illustrated by Tom Gauld (see some illustrations here)

¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge, illustrated by Raúl the Third; colors by Elaine Bay (see some illustrations from this book series here and here)

While You’re Sleeping, written by Mick Jackson and illustrated by John Broadley

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (see some illustrations here)

Keeping the City Going, written and illustrated by Brian Floca (see some illustrations here)

On the Other Side of the Forest, written by Nadine Robert and illustrated by Gėrard DuBois

Can you spot the books that are also eligible for the 2022 Caldecott Award? This list includes some imported and translated picture books, such as I Am the Subway (originally published in Korean in 2016) and The Night Walk (first published in French), so they are not eligible. Some of these illustrators aren’t eligible because they don’t reside in the U.S. (Julie Morstad, for instance, lives in Canada. Tom Gauld lives in London.) However, although the Fan Brothers live in Canada, they are eligible because they are American citizens. (Caldecott eligibiilty is confusing, as always!) As far as we can tell, there are four Caldecott-eligible books on the NYT list: It Fell from the Sky; ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge; Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre; and Keeping the City Going.

So, what's the Calling Caldecott verdict?

Jules: Sadly, I haven’t seen three of these books. I think that might be, partly, because of the reduction in hard copies we reviewers have seen since the pandemic; for instance, I wasn’t even aware that there was a new book in the ¡Vamos! series (which I looooove). But one of these, While You’re Sleeping, is from a publisher I’m not even familiar with (and I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about children’s book publishers). I'm looking forward to finding these three books!

Martha: I always feel supremely unqualified to comment on these choices, because the jury is composed of mostly of artists (which I am definitely not!) and so the books are judged not as how they work as picture books but as, simply, art. For sure these are ten gorgeous books, and congratulations to all the winners. If I could add a few more I'd choose On the Trapline (illustrated by Julie Flett, written by David A. Robertson) and Hello, Earth! (illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora, written by Joyce Sidman). Both are absolutely stunning. 

Jules: Ooh! If we can add to the list, I'd suggest Heena Baek's Moon Pops and Gracey Zhang's illustrations for Kyo Maclear's The Big Bath House. I also will always throw in votes wherever I can for Jason Chin's artwork in Andrea Wang's Watercress

This is also a great link for those wanting to read more about the books. It's fascinating to read about the ways in which the pandemic informed these stories or the creation of them; now I'm thinking of Time Is a Flower in all new ways. (It hadn't occurred to me earlier to link this book to the ways in which the pandemic has altered time, in so many different ways, for so many people.) Of course, one of them, Brian Floca's Keeping the City Going, was very obviously shaped by the existence of this pandemic. And I love reading about the artists in their studios and what inspires them. 

Martha, do you think any of these (the eligible ones) have a shot at the big Caldecott Award? 

Martha: (First I just want to chime in with big love for the books you named, Jules!) But in answer to your question, yes I do. One reason being that every committee is unique, and we don't know what this particular one might be thinking, so if a book is eligible it has a chance. That said, I can't help but think that Unspeakable in particular, with all its accolades, must at the very least be on the committee's radar.  

Jules: I agree 100%. It would be thrilling, for so many reasons, for that book to get a Caldecott nod! And so deserving. 

What about you, Calling Caldecott readers? What do you all think about this year’s New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books list?

Martha V. Parravano and Julie Danielson
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog. Julie Danielson, co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog, writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
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Cheryl Mann

I always find the list interesting. I have seen all the Caldecott eligible books except Vamos! That one I have on hold at my library. I agree that Unspeakable is the one from this list that I have thought was one of the best I had seen this year.

Posted : Nov 17, 2021 03:42



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