Since 1952, the New York Time Book Review has looked at every illustrated children’s book published in the United States that year. In 2017, they partnered with the New York Public Library to present the award now known as The New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award.
The jury selects the 10 winners purely on the basis of artistic merit. The 2021 panel included Catherine Hong, a children’s literature critic; Jessica Agudelo, librarian for youth collections at the New York Public Library; and Paul O. Zelinsky, a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator of many acclaimed picture books.
I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun
A cinematic journey through the Seoul subway that masterfully portrays the many unique lives we travel alongside whenever we take the train. A poetic translation of the bestselling Korean picture book.
The Night Walk by Marie Dórleans
Mama opened our bedroom door. ‘Wake up, you two,’ she whispered. ‘Let’s go, so we get there on time.’ Excited, the sleepy family step outside into a beautiful summer night. The world is quiet and shadowy, filled with fresh smells and amazing sights. Is this what they miss when they’re asleep? Together, they walk out of their sleeping village. What will they find in the dark landscape? This beautiful and evocative book movingly recalls family trips and the excitement of unknown adventure, while celebrating the awe-inspiring joy of the natural world.
Time Is a Flower by Julie Morstad
What is time? Is it the tock tick tock of a clock, numbers and words on a calendar? It’s that, but so much more. Time is a seed waiting to grow, a flower blooming, a sunbeam moving across a room. Time is slow like a spider spinning her web or fast like a wave at the beach. Time is a wiggly tooth, or waiting for the school bell to ring, or reading a story… or three! But time is also morning for some and night for others, a fading sunset and a memory captured in a photo taken long ago. In this magical meditation on the nature of time, Julie Morstad shines a joyful light on a difficult-to-grasp concept for young readers and reminds older readers to see the wonders of our world, including children themselves, through the lens of time.
It Fell from the Sky by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
It fell from the sky on a Thursday. None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.
Spider builds a wonderous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore? But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld
For years, the king and queen tried desperately to have a baby. Their wish was twice granted when an engineer and a witch gave them a little wooden robot and an enchanted log princess. There’s just one catch, every night when the log princess sleeps, she transforms back into an ordinary log. She can only be woken with the magic words “Awake, little log, awake.”
The two are inseparable until one day when the sleeping log princess is accidentally carted off to parts unknown. Now it’s up to her devoted brother to find her and return her safely to the kingdom. They need to take turns to get each other home, and on the way, they face a host of adventures involving the Queen of Mushrooms, a magic pudding, a baby in a rosebush, and an old lady in a bottle.
¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay
Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé have a new truck and they are using it to carry party supplies over the bridge with their pals El Toro and La Oink Oink. The line is long and everyone on the bridge is stuck. How will they pass the time? Eventually everyone comes together for an epic party on the bridge between two different countries.
While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson and John Broadley
Have you ever wondered what’s happening in the world while you’re asleep in your bed? There’s a whole world of activity out there – from bakers preparing bread and cakes for your table and firefighters waiting patiently for a call, to hospitals helping people have babies and caring for those who are ill. There are lorry drivers making deliveries of food, flowers, toys and more, and postal workers sorting the mail for your morning delivery. There’s also wildlife such as foxes foraging, bats flying, and owls hunting for prey. And then around the world there are children who are playing, learning, eating and reading while you’re tucked up fast asleep.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper
Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and sensitively chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.
Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca
Caldecott Award winner Brian Floca gives a heartfelt thank you to the essential workers who keep their cities going during COVID-19 quarantine in this tenderly illustrated picture book.
We are here at home now, watching the world through our windows. Outside we see the city we know, but not as we’ve seen it before. The once hustling and bustling streets are empty. Well, almost empty. Around the city there are still people, some, out and about. These are the people keeping us safe. Keeping us healthy. Keeping our mail and our food delivered. Keeping our grocery stores stocked. Keeping the whole city going. Brian Floca speaks for us all in this stirring homage to all the essential workers who keep the essentials operating so the rest of us can do our part by sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert and Gėrard DuBois
Some say that wolves, ogres, and giant badgers live in the forest beside Arthur’s house. That’s why no one ever goes in there, to see what’s on the other side. But one day, Arthur’s dad has an idea—a magnificent idea! Build a tower to look over the treetops! But a magnificent idea takes a lot of work. Will the villagers join and help them? And when the tower takes shape, what will they see on the other side?