The Best Illustrated Books of the 21st Century

The Best Illustrated Books of the 21st Century – Part 1

2019 marked the sixty-seventh anniversary of the Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award, which is hosted by the New York Public Library. Two years earlier the New York Times added their name to the sponsors list and now the award is jointly named by the two bodies.

Both the New York Public Library and the New York Times share the same mission, and that is to celebrate the best children’s literature and raise the awareness of young people to its existence. We have laid down some of the books selected for this auspicious award.


Muddy is a book that celebrates the life of the legendary blues player Muddy Waters. Written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk the story follows the life of this icon of blues music from his childhood in the Mississippi Delta to making a name for himself in the clubs and bars of Chicago. The modern and colorful illustrations bring the narrative to life, and Evan Turk captures the dazzling style and character of Waters on the page. By using old clippings from periodicals of the time, and the mix of paint and ink the illustrations are fabulous.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

This children’s book written by Monica Brown is simply enchanting, and the many animals and characters in the story are wonderfully brought to life by John Parra who provided the illustrations. Frida Kahlo loves painting and the many animals in her life that include a cat, spider monkeys, and a fawn, bring her great inspiration for her work.The illustrations are done in acrylic paint and are in the same style as Kahlo’s own paintings, her Mexican heritage is brought out skillfully by the color palette and there is a great harmony of a natural world in all its glorious abundance.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Our third nomination on our list of the best illustrated books of the 21st Century was written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is the story of a girl who is spending a rainy weekend out in the countryside.

She has no electronic devices to keep her occupied and so has no choice but to engage in the natural world around her. Slowly the sheer beauty of nature starts to impact on her thoughts, and these are captured by the magnificent illustrations. The illustrations not only provide a plethora of color, but they also add a sense of the whimsical as the imagination of the girl is set free in the multilayered images.


A highly clever and smart representation of birds and their wonderful plumage. The illustrations by Isabelle Simler of Plume the cat watching each different bird are both humorous and excellently painted. Each illustration is an in-depth study of a different bird presented in great detail, and the readers eye is drawn into the illustration to find out where Plume is lurking on the page. We will continue into our literary quest to find out the best illustrated books of the 21st Century in part two of our blog as we look at the works of Jonah Winter and Akiko Miyakoshi.