New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2015

Last month I went to a top-secret location  to meet with my top-secret collaborators where we did something very top-secret: select this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books. It has been, as you might imagine, hard to keep such a top-secret, but we did until yesterday when and our choices (and ourselves) were revealed here. Being part of this jury was a longtime dream come true so my thanks to children’s book editor Maria Russo and Pamela Paul editor at the Book Review, for making it happen. It was a delight to work with my fellow jurors, Marjorie Ingall and Frank Viva, starting out with over 2000 books and ending up with ten. Focusing on the artistic merit of each book, I was struck by what a remarkable year it has been for illustrated children’s books — with so many wonderful titles, limiting ourselves to ten was challenging indeed. Congratulations to all!  (You can see some interior spreads from each book at this post by Travis Jonker.)


Big Bear Little Chair
Written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd


A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

By Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.


Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
By Duncan Tonatiuh


Leo: A Ghost Story
By Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Christian Robinson


Madame Eiffel: The Love Story of the Eiffel Tower
By Alice Brière-Haquet. Illustrated by Csil.


The Only Child
Written and illustrated by Guojing


The Skunk
By Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell.


Sidewalk Flowers
By JonArno Lawson. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.


The Tiger Who Would Be King
By James Thurber. Illustrated by JooHee Yoon.


Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli


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My Report on the USBBY Conference in NYC

The recent USBBY conference here in NYC was terrific and I enjoyed writing it up for SLJ. You can read my report here.

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Daleks in Our Books, Oh No!

Lisa and Jen over at Reads for Keeps have just posted “Daleks in the Library: the Sequel” which is very amusing indeed. Having somehow missed the original I went back to see it here and learned that it was inspired by Katheleen Jenning’s The Dalek Game. Very fun stuff for Doctor Who fans (and probably meaningless for everyone else:).


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Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival 2015


If you are in the DC area this Saturday I highly recommend heading over to the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum for the CABA Festival. This is a celebration of the 2015 Children’s Africana Book Award winner, The Red Pencil penned by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Shan W. Evans. (My NYTimes review of the book is here.)  I was honored to be one of the winners last year and can say the event is very wonderful and special (and free!). Congratulations to all involved in the creation of this book and award.

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Africa is My Home: From a Young Critic

I just came across the following from a Chicago Tribune round-up of young critic reviews.  Avery, I’m very honored!

“Africa Is My Home” is about a little girl and her friends who were taken from their homes and sold into slavery. In this book I learned how it felt to be locked in shackles in a dark, small space, about the slaves fighting their captors and winning on the Amistad, and still being tricked into going to America. I also learned you should never forget your home and where you come from. This is a sad, happy and sometimes scary story. “Africa Is My Home” is an informative and interesting book. I recommend it to kids and adults who like historical fiction.

Avery McDowell, 7, Chicago



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Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, the Graphic Novel

I first heard about The Golden Compass being turned into a graphic novel months back when Philip Pullman tweeted that the first volume had won a French prize. Finding more information, I wrote the post, “Philip Pullman Said Yes”; soon thereafter got an ARC and was blown away by it. Now the book is out and everyone should get a chance to be equally blown away. It is the work of Clément Oubrerie, a French graphic novelist and a fabulous comic adaptation of a remarkable story. Looking at his blog, I see the second volume is due out this June — in France and in French — not sure when the English version will be out.  You can see some of his sketches for this second volume herehere, and here, They are spectacular (especially Lyra and Iorek Byrnison) and I can’t wait to see the finished work.



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A Week with Alice

This past week, here in NYC, there were a myriad of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I attended a number of them.

On Monday I was honored to be part of a remarkable panel at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Moderated by Charlie Lovett, my fellow panelists were David Del TrediciLiz SwadosSteve Massa, Elizabeth Carena, and Robert Sabuda. It was a starry-eyed evening for me to be with these distinguished artists. We listened to an excerpt from David’s “In Memory of a Summer Day (part one of Child Alice)” which won the Pulitzer Prize and listened to him answer Charlie’s thoughtful questions about its creation and reception. From Liz we heard stories about her delightful musical, Alice at the Palace with her young star, Meryl Streep and listened to a piece of it. Steve, a cast member in Eve la Gallienne‘s 1982 Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland, had a terrific collection of anecdotes to share.  Elizabeth, cast member of the immersive theatrical experience, Then She Fell…, gave us insight into that production.  Robert spoke of how experiencing his pop-up Alice has much in common with other theatrical experiences. I too spoke of how teaching and reading aloud Alice in the classroom is a performance.  Charlie, a Carroll expert, was a fabulous moderator, making for a terrific evening indeed.



In the course of the week there were Alice150 events all over the city. I attended those on Friday and Saturday at the NYIT. What a pleasure it was to meet up with old friends and new, some of whom I hadn’t seen since my magical week at Christ Church in 1998. Some highlights from those two days:

Dr. Edward Guilliano, president of the NYIT, did a delightful presentation on why Alice in NYC. Turns out there are more connections than I realized.


I knew Alethea Kontis’s YA fairy tale novels such as Enchanted, but had forgotten that she also had penned an Alice ABC. Her talk on how the book came to be was energetic and entertaining. (I suspect it was also fun for her to be in town for both Alice150 and NewYorkComicCon:)

Seeing a piece of Canadian foley artist Andy Malcolm’s (one of my 1998 Christ Church buddies) work-in-progress documentary, “There’s Something About Alice.”  Some of the parts we saw were filmed in Oxford during the 2012 celebration of the story’s telling, complete with a recreation of the boat trip. It was fun to see the familiar Oxford settings.

The Lewis Carroll societies are all full of amazing collectors. It was great fun to hear from Joel Birnbaum (mastermind behind Alice150 as he came up with the ideas years ago and is to be congratulated on its success), Matt Crandall, Alan Tannenbaum, Mark Burstein, Dayna Nuhn, and Clare Imholtz. I was especially taken by Alan’s pinball machines, Dayna’s advertising images, and Clare’s yearbooks.


Kiera Vaclavik did a fascinating talk on “Alice, Always in Fashion” looking at her changes and influences over the years. Kiera’s the curator of the V & A’s “The Alice Look” exhibit, up till November 1. Not being able to go in person, I was glad to get a taste from Kiera.

Friday ended for me (as there was more, but I was beat and had to go home) with Leonard Marcus‘s erudite talk on Alice’s literary influences, with a special focus on Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.  I believe Leonard will be covering some of this in his IBBY talk this coming weekend — attendees are in for a treat!


Saturday morning I was back bright and early for a morning on Alice and the theater beginning with Charlie Lovett. Charlie is the curator of the Alice Live! and his talk provided us with highlights from the exhibit. For those like me who had been on or listening to the Lincoln Center panel on Monday, it was especially fascinating. And then we had another chance to see it at the reception that evening. The exhibit is really remarkable and I highly recommend seeing it.

Actor Andrew Sellon then gave us a peek into his process in creating his one-man show, Through a Looking Glass, Darkly. I was fortunate enough to see two earlier versions of the show (though not the one he performed this past week at Columbia) and found his talk completely fascinating.

Our theatrical morning ended with Daniel Rover Singer telling us about the journey he is still taking with his play, “A Perfect Likeness” an imagined encounter between Carroll and Charles Dickens. (Dan was an other of my Christ Church buddies and this was the first time we’d seen each other since then.) My fingers are crossed for new and exciting things for Dan with this seemingly (we saw a few clips from a California production) entertaining play.


Saturday afternoon focused on illustration.  This started with a fascinating overview of Alice illustrators by scholar Arnold Hirshon (whose son has done a clever photographic-centeric Alice in Manhattan). We heard from Wendy Ice about a gorgeous forthcoming Alice book by illustrator David Delamare, learned about Alice in Brazil via Nilce Pereira, saw a fascinating reworking of Alice in the Neopolitan style through the eyes of Stefania Tondo and Lello Esposito, and were delighted by Adriana Peliano‘s (another 1998 Christ Church alum) presentation complete with 150 Alices falling down the rabbit hole.

The day ended for me at a lovely reception at the Alice Live! exhibit. That was the end of my formal Alice150 week, but for many others there was another Sunday’s Alice Palooza! at NYU. It was fantastic and I can’t thank all those who worked so hard for years to make it happen, among others Joel Birnbaum, Stephanie Lovett, Charlie Lovett, Mark Burstein, and Alan Tannenbaum. Bravo to all of you and everyone else behind the scenes for this fabulous week.


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