100 Scope Notes
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Predictions! 2016 NYT 10 Best Illustrated Books

My dream assignment is to be a judge for the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books List. While I bide my time plotting a way to get on that committee (current plan: write a blog post clearly stating that it’s my dream assignment), why not make a few predictions?

Last year I managed to name three of the 10. They year before that? Three again. Not bad, Trav, not bad, but I’m not feeling as confident this time around – mostly because there are so many that I could see making the cut. The 10 I picked were a mix of “I think they will” and “I hope they will”. So let’s see how this goes. The real list will be announced at the end of October.


Lucy by Randy Cecil

Cecil is already an established picture book maker, but this one feels special – a 144 page picture book unlike anything else I’ve read.


Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

I’ve had bad luck with calling books “locks” for this list (see 2015 and 2014). Let’s just say this is the book I feel most strongly about. Steptoe’s rich paintings blur the line between illustration and fine art – a perfect way to tell the story of this revered artist.

The Best Days Are Dog Days

The Best Days Are Dog Days by Aaron Meshon

Call me crazy, call me crazy, but this one keeps speaking to me. It says, “Why not me?” This technicolor wonder is eye candy in the best possible sense.


The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

This book has been stunning pretty much everyone, me included.

The Lost House

The Lost House by B.B. Cronin

It has the goods: highly-detailed illustrations (that manage to come off as charming) with a bold color palette and retro vibe. But can a seek-and-find book get a Best Illustrated nod? Well, a few pop-up books have won, so I feel we can think outside the usual box here. This book recently won the 2016 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for Original Art, which I think will help it get noticed.


They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Okay, stick with me here . . .

Prince’s early albums become even more impressive when you find out that not only did Prince write all the songs, but he also played nearly every instrument. They All Saw a Cat is a bit like that for me. On each page we see a cat, and every time that cat is rendered in a completely different style. Wenzel plays them all, and I expect him to be on this list because of it.


Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna

A wordless imagining of what came before the Pinocchio story we all know. What we get is an astounding number of mesmerizing watercolor paintings (sometimes breaking into something similar to panels) to bring this harrowing tale to life.

We Found a Hat

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

The boldest use of gradients since the 1995-1999 Atlanta Hawks uniforms (look out – a rare sports reference), the illustrations in We Found a Hat are a beautiful combination of spare and meticulous.

Thunder Boy Jr

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Full of textures (taken from the remains of an old house which is now the illustrator’s studio) and color, these illustrations have appeal in spades.

Airport Book

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

The illustrations keep a slew of plot lines going while keeping the the mood friendly and the book from devolving into chaos. That’s an achievement right there.

And, for kicks, here are books that I also think could and should be on the list:


Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Jonathan Bean


The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead


Armstrong by Torben Kuhlmann


Snow White by Matt Phelan

Jazz Day

Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Child of Books

A Child of Books by Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers


Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead


Teacup by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley

Do you have any to add?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. You also got one more last year — The Only Child (in your “also possible” list). Something that I found wonderful as a juror was discovering some terrific small presses, many featuring international books (of which I’m a huge advocate), of which I was previously unfamiliar. Say Little Gestalten, publisher of one of our winners, Madame Eiffel.

    • Travis Jonker says:

      Hi Monica! I love that about the list. My guesses didn’t include many small publishers, so I’m hoping for some fun surprises

  2. The Storyteller?

  3. Ooh! This will be announced relatively soon. I always look forward to it! Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Tatiana Guyer says:

    I love “We Found a Hat” by Jon Klassen, and “The Night Gardener” by Eric and Terry Fan.

    I would also add “I Am a Story” by Dan Yaccarino; “Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy” by Richard Michelson and Edel Rodriguez; “Ada Twist, Scientist” by Andrea Beaty; “Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White” by Melissa Sweet; “The Sound of Silence” by Katrina Goldsaito; “Return” by Aaron Becker; and “The Princess and the Warrior: The Story of Two Volcanoes” by Duncan Tonatiuh.

  5. I loved many of your choices: The Night Gardener, They All Saw a Cat, A Child of Books, and The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (although I so wanted to see a mermaid). Many, I haven’t read. Would also have liked to see: Bomi Park’s First Snow, and Aaron Becker’s Return. Curious why Deborah Freedman’s Shy and This House, Once; Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones; Beth Krommes’s Before Morning; and Pamela Zagarenski’s Henry and Leo aren’t mentioned. Are there publishing date restrictions?

  6. I am nodding my head over so many of these. I think JAZZ DAY may fly under the radar, so I am so glad you included it!
    If I were guessing – RADIANT CHILD, THEY ALL SAW A CAT, and IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND. I want THUNDER BOY in there but I am not sure it will make it. And I will be gnashing my teeth if Child of Books makes it – man, that book should be called A Child of the Western European Canon.

    • Travis Jonker says:

      I like hearing your thoughts on these Paula. Things get weird when I start mixing “want to wins” with “will wins”. And of course, I have no idea about any of them. I hear you on Child of Books.

      • It IS weird. And you hate to do a post-mortem ‘Here’s what should have won and why’ post, because the books that did win would generally also be terrific, fine books. This is why, despite buying into it pretty wholeheartedly, awards make me uneasy.