Which Books Should Have Won the 2020 New York Times Best Illustrated Awards
Cue the sad trombone – there won’t be any New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list this year. As with so many (many) things in 2020, the pandemic is to blame.
In a typical year, I’d have already put out my predictions and been eagerly awaiting the early November announcement of the list. Due to the international nature of the the award, the winners are tough to predict. I’d usually go 2 or 3 for 10 on my picks.
But just because there won’t be a list this year, that doesn’t mean I can’t share the books that I think should have won, right? Hey – with no official list, this is the year I can go 10 for 10!
So here we have them, the books that SHOULD have won NYT Best Illustrated for 2020, (IMHO).
We Are Water Protectors illustrated by Michaela Goade, written by Carole Lindstrom
Stunning watercolors that pop off the page, I don’t know how you could deny this inviting, beautiful book.
I Talk Like a River illustrated by Sydney Smith, written by Jordan Scott
Here’s how it goes: Sydney Smith illustrates a book, the book is given an NYT Best Illustrated award (which has happened in ’15, ’16, ’17, and ’19). But here’s the thing: Mr. Smith isn’t getting this recognition based on reputation – every time out he earns it. And such is the case with I Talk Like a River.
The Old Truck illustrated by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey
With foam block printing and an ingenious design, The Old Truck is a master class in visual storytelling.
Migrants by Issa Watanabe
Peruvian author/illustrator Issa Watanabe turns in this meditation on immigrants. Wordless, finely detailed, and powerful.
Hike by Pete Oswald
Here’s the thing with the NYT list – it’s usually pretty balanced in terms of tone. There’s usually a couple more somber books balanced by more joyful stuff. Few books in 2020 are more full of joy than this.
My Best Friend illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Julie Fogliano
Toughest call of the year: which Tamaki book do you pick? Because she has two lovely books in 2020: Our Little Kitchen and this one. I’m picking My Best Friend because the pink and green digital artwork is completely mesmerizing.
A limited palette with a lot of pencil, I’m endlessly impressed with Penyas’s bold artwork.
Everyone’s Awake illustrated by Shawn Harris, written by Colin Meloy
Shawn Harris is due, and this is some of his most striking work to date. But the guy could also be on this list with another 2020 book he illustrated: A Polar Bear in the Snow.
When You Look Up by Decur
A sort of psychedelic dream come to life, When You Look Up is a totally unique visual experience.
When the Storm Comes illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, written by Linda Ashman
Check for the previous winners, because they might be up to something. Taeeun Yoo previously won a Best Illustrated award for Only a Witch Can Fly. And When the Storm Comes displays more of the same gorgeous picture book making.
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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 email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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