Every year since 1952, the [New York Times] Book Review has convened an independent panel of judges to select the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books. Judged purely on artistic merit, it’s the only annual award of its kind.
This year’s judges were G. Brian Karas, Cynthia Weill and Cheryl Wolf.
G. Brian Karas is the illustrator of over 70 books for children, including “Are You Going to Be Good?,” a Best Illustrated Books winner in 2005. Cynthia Weill is the director of the Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street College of Education and the author of the First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art series; she holds a doctorate of education from Teachers College at Columbia University. Cheryl Wolf is the librarian for two New York City public elementary schools, the Neighborhood School and S.T.A.R. Academy.
The 2016 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books are, in alphabetical order:
The Cat From Hunger Mountain
Written and illustrated by Ed Young
The wealthy, selfish Lord Cat lives in wasteful luxury high on a mountain and treats his servants with contempt, until a drought brings hunger and he is forced to change his ways. With complex collages that mix photographs, torn paper, string and other materials, Young creates a stunning visual symphony with a surprising and unsettling emotional power.
32 pp. Philomel Books. $17.99.
The Dead Bird
By Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.
Brown’s quiet 1938 story of children who find a dead bird in the woods and give it a proper burial gets an exuberant, emotionally resonant update from Robinson, who moves the setting to an urban park and gives one child fairy wings, another a fox costume. Our reviewer, Mark Levine, praised Robinson’s “bold and angular visual style,” which features deceptively simple brushwork and masterly compositions.
32 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $17.99.
Freedom in Congo Square
By Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
Sweet and powerful rhymes count down the days from Monday to Sunday, when the enslaved people of New Orleans were allowed to join free blacks for a day of music, socializing and commerce. “Christie’s art is, as always, breathtaking, uniting folk art and sleek modern gestures with a graceful dynamism that calls to mind Jacob Lawrence and Benny Andrews,” our reviewer, Maria Russo, said.
36 pp. Little Bee Books. $17.99.
Written and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin
This reboot of the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” gives us a heroine who’s wised up from the start to the wolf’s trickster ways. Woollvin’s ingeniously minimalist illustrations use bold shapes and a palette of blacks, whites and grays with strategic pops of bright red, creating a jaunty and confident trip to the dark side and back.
32 pp. Peachtree. $16.95.
The Polar Bear
Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond
This factual account of polar bears’ biology and habitat also features the story of a curious little girl who gets lost in reading a book about polar bears and visits one in her imagination. Desmond’s varied illustrations combine watercolors, acrylic paint, pencil, crayon and printmaking techniques to create ever-changing moods and spectacular scenes of Arctic life.
40 pp. Enchanted Lion Books. $17.95.
Preaching to the Chickens
The Story of Young John Lewis
By Jabari Asim. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis.
Before John Lewis, the African-American civil rights leader and congressman, began his illustrious career, he was a boy growing up on an Alabama farm, practicing his oratorical skills on his family’s flock of chickens. The poignant, observant watercolors by the illustrator E. B. Lewis (no relation) are bathed in subtly changing light, making homespun scenes of country life seem celestial and exalted.
32 pp. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99.
The Princess and the Warrior
A Tale of Two Volcanoes
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Tonatiuh presents his version of the legend of two volcanoes near Mexico City, in which Izta, the most beautiful princess in the land, falls in love with Popoca, a brave warrior of modest means. The book’s highly original style draws on images from traditional Mixtec art to create layered, mixed-texture collages that are both sweet and majestic in their timeless vision of love, war and eternity.
40 pp. Abrams. $16.95.
The Tree in the Courtyard
Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window
By Jeff Gottesfeld. Illustrated by Peter McCarty.
The famous tree that stood in the courtyard outside Anne Frank’s window bears witness to the Frank family’s long hiding and Anne’s capture by the Nazis during World War II. Using only brown ink and tiny, patient strokes, McCarty juxtaposes the tree’s growth with the somber realities and flashes of joy in Anne’s constrained young life, creating pages of devastating intensity and heartbreaking detail.
32 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $17.99.
A Voyage in the Clouds
The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785
By Matthew Olshan. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
A British doctor named Jeffries and a French balloonist named Blanchard undertake a daring balloon flight — accompanied by their dogs, an English and a French bulldog, of course. Blackall’s exquisite watercolor and pencil illustrations of well-dressed people, dangerous waters and soaring balloons, done in creamy pastels and moody grays, have a winking vintage look, both witty and elegant.
32 pp. Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $17.99.
The White Cat and the Monk
A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Ban”
By Jo Ellen Bogart. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.
This book retells the ninth-century Old Irish poem “Pangur Ban,” a monk’s simple reflections on his companionship with his cat and the parallels between his scholarly pursuit of knowledge and the cat’s playful hunting. Smith’s “distinctive art . . . falls partway between modernist fairy tale and graphic novel, opening an inviting portal between past and present as the ancient story comes to life in a decidedly contemporary aesthetic,” our reviewer, Maria Popova, wrote.
32 pp. Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press. $18.95.