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Predictions! 2014 NYT Best Illustrated Children’s Books

Ah, what the heck? Why not try to predict one of the most difficult to predict awards out there? Is the criteria for eligibility available? Not that I can find. Take this list with grains of salt accordingly.

But I’ve never seen anyone try to guess these, so again I ask you: what the heck? Maybe I’ll revisit this list when fall rolls around after I’ve seen more, but at this moment here are my predictions of what will be named a 2014 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

Click here to see the books that won last year.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

What if a master impressionist painter made a children’s book? That’s how Rules of Summer comes across to me. To my eyes the cover alone channels Van Gogh’s final painting.

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; illustrated by Evan Turk

The connection between story and artwork is deep here. The bold three-dimensional collage paintings bring in elements of the text to create an immersive experience.

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson

It seems like the buzz has quieted a bit around this book, but for my money it features some of the most stunning paintings of the year.

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

I remember reading a Ladybug Girl book where the title character is at the beach and being momentarily stunned by how well David Soman rendered water. Here he has a whole book’s worth of space to elaborate on that talent.

The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sís

This list loves giving legends their due (see Sendak and Ungerer in 2013). Peter Sís gives Antoine De Saint-Exupery a treatment worthy of artistic hero worship.

Three Little Peas by Marine Rivoal

It seems like unexpected artistic techniques fare well on the Best Illustrated list, and this book takes etching to a whole different place. It’s the sort of book you open up and think, “how did the illustrator make these pictures?” Thankfully, there’s a whole page in the back that explains the process.

Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio; illustrated by Barbara McClintock

This companion to 2007’s Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary is as rich as illustration gets. Loaded with details, it’s artwork that makes you believe in this unlikely friendship between a girl and a mouse.

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

It’s been said before, but I concur – this is a colored pencil masterpiece.

The River by Alessandro Sanna

Here’s my left-field prediction (in that not many people have heard of it), but it’s also weirdly one of my biggest locks for Best Illustrated. I’m not sure if this is a children’s book. I’m not sure it isn’t. But I am sure you have not seen artwork like this before. Covering the four seasons along a river with no words – just page after page of beautiful little watercolor paintings. This post at Brain Pickings will give you a sense of what’s inside.

Good Bye, Bad Bye by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Jonathan Bean

This is illustrated by the same guy who made Building Our House? The style is a bold departure that left me wondering how Bean pulled it off. Thankfully Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has the answers. It’s artwork that becomes all the more impressive when you see how it was created.

So those are my picks – what are yours?

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. Rules of Summer is indeed beautiful. The River, too. I’ve enjoyed recommending the latter to people at our children’s bookstore and they are always blown away by it! Sparky and The Adventures of Beekle will probably replace some of these books.

  2. You’re dead on with The River. Inevitably the award goes to a whole slew of illustrated titles from overseas. I’d die a happy woman if the Soman were to win too.

    • Travis Jonker says

      Good to hear we’re in agreement on The River! I just don’t know how the committee could open that book and not include it on the Best Illustrated list.

  3. Several in here that I haven’t seen yet–just added to my tbr list. Thanks! Some of my favorite art from last year was Flight of the Honey Bee, Cub’s Big World, The Story of Fish and Snail, What the Heart Knows, and Here Come the Humpbacks.

  4. I own copies of THE RIVER, GRANDFATHER GANDHI and RULES OF SUMMER and they are ravishing. Very excited to see the others as soon as possible. Jonathan Bean’s work is always fabulous for one.

  5. The River is breathtakingly gorgeous. I have it out from the library right now but it’s a must-buy, which is saying a lot for me.

  6. Wonderful list, thank you Travis! Four I would add to the list for consideration: Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann, the Hug Machine by Scott Campbell and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.

    • Travis Jonker says

      I actually had a dream where I was mad that I left Lindbergh off this list. I totally agree. I haven’t seen Sam and Dave or Hug Machine, so I’m looking forward to checking them out! And Nana in the City is beautiful, I agree with you there

  7. Lindbergh is indeed magnificent. My most favorite picture book this year is the wordless Draw by Raul Colon. Spectacular.