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Predictions! NYT Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2021

The annual New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list is my favorite list. It’s also a very tough list to predict. But does that stop me from trying? No!

I gotta try. Even when, like last year, there IS NO list (Let’s all pretend I went 10-10 on those picks).

So if I were a betting man (and I am sooo not a betting man), these are the books I would lay bets on (is that how you say it? Lay bets???).

Moon Pops by Heena Baek

Fresh off her 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Moon Pops is Heena Baek’s first book translated into English. It mixes drawing with three-dimensional collage and is a perfect candidate for the Best Illustrated list.

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

This is the sort of book the NYT Best Illustrated list is made for. Harris tried a new stencil and colored pencil technique with Have You Ever Seen a Flower? and the results are awe-inspiring. Harris took a risk, and I think it will be recognized and appreciated.

The Dog Walk by Sven Nordqvist

This book was also on my list of Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books earlier this year. It’s mind-bogglingly detailed and weird and isn’t that what this list is for?

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Carole Boston Weatherford

To my knowledge (and please let me know if I’m wrong), Floyd Cooper never illustrated a NYT Best Illustrated book. The guy was such a master, it’s hard to believe. I think all that will change this year with Unspeakable, the penultimate book illustrated by Cooper

The Museum of Everything by Lynne Rae Perkins

You might know Lynne Rae Perkins as a Newbery winner (for Criss-Cross), but she was an illustrator first. And in terms of artwork, this book is her most remarkable yet, employing dioramas, collages, and three dimensional elements.

Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad

Elegant and lovely to look at. That pretty much sums up the work of Julie Morstad, and this book is a perfect example of that elegant loveliness.

Lala’s Words by Gracey Zhang

Using inky lines and a limited palette, Gracey Zhang’s debut picture book is striking from page one. This list loves recognizing new talent, and this book is deserving.

Almost Nothing, Yet Everything illustrated by Ryoji Arai, written by Hiroshi Osada

A beautiful poem about water, set to page after page of mesmerizing paintings.

Nicky & Vera by Peter Sís

I’ve said it before, but I believe it to be true: this list loves recognizing the later work of all-time greats. It’s nothing new to say Peter Sís has created a beautiful book with Nicky & Vera, but it’s true.

War illustrated by André Letria, written by Jose Jorge Letria

This list does not shy away from somber. And when the somber artwork is this bold and powerful, it’s an even better bet to make the cut.

And, just for kicks, here are a few more books that I could absolutely see making this list:

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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 scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I look forward to this post every year! So many of these gorgeous books I have yet to read . . . another amazing group for the judges to consider. Thanks for sharing.