58th edition
14-17 June 2021

New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books Inteviews

The New York Times chose Bologna and the Children’s Book Fair to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award. Since 1952 they select and award the 10 best illustrated books of the year, both evaluating the artistic merit of the illustration independently from the text and the work as a completed book.

The conference Celebrating the 65th anniversary of the New York Time Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award, that took place on Tuesday March 20 at the Sala Notturno, was a gripping moment filled by enthusiasm, also thanks to the personalities who lit the meeting up: editors, illustrators and children’s literature experts got together for the occasion of this round table and BCBF had the priviledge to make some questions to them.

As an editor, could you remember a specific issue of the New York Times that started an intense debate and why?

Maria Russo, New York Times Children’s Books Editor answers

In 2015, the judges for the New York Times Best Illustrated Books Award chose as one of the ten winners "A Fine Dessert," written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The book follows the history over the centuries of a dessert called "blackberry fool," and includes one scene of an enslaved mother and daughter making the treat for their white owners. Controversy followed over the book's depiction of the slaves, including images of them smiling -- it's a debate about how slavery should be presented to children that continues to be instructive and an important part of the movement in the U.S. to create more diverse and inclusive children's books.


As publishers and experts of illustration for children, has the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award influenced your publishing choices somehow? Is there any author that you discovered thanks to this Award?

Patricia Aldana, President of IBBY Foundation, answers

For a small publisher like Groundwood, not based in the US and competing with giants in the US market, this award gave us credibility and visibility. But it also led to poaching, i.e. US houses luring away authors of Groundwood's that had been noticed because of the award.


Neal Porter, Neal Porter Books for MacMillan Children’s Book Group and vp. Holiday House

Stephen Savage's NYT Best Illustrated citation for Polar Bear Night not only acquainted me with his work but re-connected us as we'd worked for the same publishing house many years before. We've now gone on to create many successful books together.

When Philip and Erin Stead's A Sick Day for Amos McGee received a NYT Best Illustrated citation it was our first indication that the book had struck a chord with people. The book went on to receive a Caldecott Medal and has since been translated into 28 languages.


What ‘The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award’ meant for you and your career?

Paul O. Zelinsky, illustrator

It was thrilling and career-changing when The Maid and the Mouse and the Odd-shaped House appeared on this list. This was my third picture book, and my first major award. The book went straight onto its publisher Dodd Mead's best seller list! For this small, independent publisher it turned out that a book was a "best seller" if it was only selling at the rate of 100 copies per week! But the honor was no less tremendous.

I had personal connections to The New York Times, too, which made this honor that much more meaningful. My first professional illustration was a drawing accompanying a New York Times editorial in 1971. I will leave the story of how that came about to the panel in Bologna.

Suzy Lee, illustrator

It meant warm encouragement from the contemporary artists telling me to keep going.

Beatrice Alemagna, illustrator

It meant so much for me. I’m a self-starter, so I arrived at my job with persistence and patience. An award like this is fuel to an engine and gives encouragement to keep going on this path and to persevere with my work with all the passion I have.