New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2008

Early Word Kids

Every year since 1952, the children’s book editor at the New York Times selects three judges, a librarian, a reviewer and an artist to choose the best titles of ’08  This year Times editor, Julie Just called on Caroline Ward, Coordinator of Youth Services at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut, Luann Toth, managing editor of School Library Journal’s book review and Christopher Myers, children’s book illustrator.

The members of this committee do not know who the other judges are until they meet for the first time in the offices of the New York Times. Even though they have prepared for the moment by reading widely, they have only one day to appraise and discuss the art of hundreds of children’s books and come to a consensus on which ten will make the list.

In this year’s group there are a few obvious winners- Wabi Sabi, We Are the Ship, The Little Yellow Leaf, Wave, and A is for Art. And a few slightly less obvious — Pale Male, Ghosts in the House, River of Words. The brilliant, unexpected choice is the graphic novel, Skim.

Below are my takes on each title from this year’s list:

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. By Jen Bryant. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  (Ages 7 and up)

Sweet’s layered multimedia illustrations with multiple images illuminate the words of the poet.

  • Hardcover: $15.86; 34 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (July 9, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0802853021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802853028

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. (Ages 8 and up)

Nelson’s majestic paintings of baseball players radiate a sense of higher calling.

  • Hardcover: $18; 96 pages
  • Publisher: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion (January 8, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0786808322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786808328

Wabi Sabi By Mark Reibstein. Illustrated by Ed Young. (Ages 3 to 6)

Young’s mixed-media collages demonstrate the concept of beauty found all around us in the ordinary.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 40 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers; Library Binding edition (October 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0316118257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316118255

Ghosts in the House! Written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara. (Ages 3 to 6)

Black, orange and white have never been so compelling as in this visually retro ghost story.

  • Hardcover: $12.95; 32 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (August 19, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1596434279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596434271

The Black Book of Colors By Menena Cottin. Illustrated by Rosana Faría. $17.95. (Ages 5 and up)

The conundrum of how to create pictures of color to simulate what a person perceives who cannot see is solved in this volume by embossing black on black pages with the shapes of object.

  • Hardcover: $17.95; 24 pages
  • Publisher: Groundwood Books (June 28, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0888998732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0888998736

The Little Yellow Leaf,  Written and illustrated by Carin Berger, (Ages 4 and up)

The title character and surroundings are rendered in paper collage creating the pitch-perfect bittersweet sensations of autumn.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 40 pages
  • Publisher: Greenwillow (August 26, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0061452238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061452239

Wave Written and illustrated by Suzy Lee,  (All ages)

Wordlessly, the artist uses black and blue watercolors to recreate the timeless dance of a small child approaching an ocean wave.

  • Hardcover: $15.99; 40 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 16, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 081185924X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811859240

A Is for Art Written and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson, (Ages 7 and up)

Alliterative text is paired with modern art created specifically for this book then photographed. The spreads are often humorous and always compelling.

  • Hardcover: $16; 40 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (September 9, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0689863012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689863011

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City. By Janet Schulman. Illustrated by Meilo So,  (Ages 6 and up)

Of the handful of books about this city hawk, the watercolor paintings and sweeping spreads make this one the most beautiful.

  • Hardcover: $16.99; 40 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 11, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0375845585
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375845581

By Mariko Tamaki. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. $18.95. (Ages 14 and up)

A graphic novel!!!! Kudos to the judges for selecting this remarkable very real novel about teen life for the best illustrated. Tamaki captures in the characters’ feelings with simple strokes of body language. A must have for every YA and high school collection.

  • Hardcover: $18.95140 pages
  • Publisher: Groundwood Books (February 28, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0888997531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0888997531

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