If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve read and reviewed hundreds of picture books this year. But, that doesn’t mean that I’ve read all the picture books published this year (2021).
So, if you have a suggestion that you think belongs on this list, please share it in the comments.
Also, I have a point of view. Which is probably different than the Caldecott committee. I like what I like. As we all do.
That being said, it’s also helpful to understand the criteria for the awards that can be found on the American Library Association’s Association’s website.
Here are the five main requirements that committee members consider for this children’s book illustration award:
- Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
- Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
- Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
- Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
- Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.
Ready to see my top picks?
2022 Mock Caldecott Titles
My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien
My FAVORITE of this entire list.
Detailed, rich, and immersive illustrations plus lyrical, metaphorical writing narrates the story of a young Vietnamese boy who paddles a boat through waves and a dark mangrove forest to his first day of school. It feels a little scary at first, but as the boy leaves the forest, the fish-filled river and colorful sky begin to feel welcoming and friendly. Soon, he arrives at school and waves hello to his classmates, also arriving in boats.
Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrations by Victo Ngai
Gorgeous illustrations and lyrical, personifying text work together in beautiful harmony to narrate the bittersweet goodbye as a family leaves their Vietnamese village and then the country by boat. They eventually arrive at a new home. It’s an important story arc of sad endings, challenging middles, and hopeful beginnings with room for inference and connection about the themes of family and feelings and the topic of immigration.
Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Repetition and rhyme with short, punchy words and phrases depict Inside Cat’s observation and expertise on Outside as he observes it through the windows. Inside “Wanders. Wonders. Naps. Knows what’s hiding in the gaps.” Outside is full of color while inside, only the cat is full of color. Cat thinks he might know it all — until. Oh. The last page shows him walking outside into a beautiful, amazing world that is ready for exploration. SURPRISE, INSIDE CAT!
Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Experience the smells, colors, and flavors of tomatoes in this flavorful story about a girl named Neela and her mama cooking together. As they do, Amma shares the history of tomatoes and the stories of Paati. Their time cooking is joyous and loving. culminating in a warm, savory sauce that they can enjoy all winter.
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catria Chien
Heartbreaking and beautiful with transcendent illustrations, this is a beautiful book for anyone who has a dog or who has lost a dog. An old dog walks with his Little one last time through nature, speaking to us in a playful dog-speak style. “She gives me a happyface. I wigglewag…We reach a bend in the gurgleburble, where hornheads and stripetails often visit, and sipslurp cool sweetness.” Later, when Little sleeps, the dog slowsteps to the softgreen, circles twice, and then hears his last letsgoboy. He closes his eyes and is lifted to a place where he’s young again. There, he watches Little as she grieves and eventually welcomes a new “awwwpuppy”.
We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier
The words of this powerful gospel song known often sung during the Civil Rights Movement are illuminated through Bryan Collier’s powerful, oversized illustrations. The illustrations show a young Black girl during her day. She remembers the history of those who have gone before her, like Rosa Parks and ending school segregation, depicted in grayscale. A powerful book that uses pictures to tell the story.
Stitch by Stitch Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
One of the most outstanding picture biographies of the year with stunning mixed-media illustrations of oil, paint, paper, ribbon, lace, and more! Lizzy, born into slavery, worked as a successful seamstress whose work supported her owners. A group of Lizzy’s patrons and friends in St. Louis helped Lizzy buy her own freedom for $1,200 and when she was free, Lizzy worked to pay them back, stitch by stitch. Now free, Lizzy’s clients included the wives of Senator Jefferson Davis and President Abraham Lincoln, fitting them in elegant gowns that were admired by all, even President Lincoln.
Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C.G. Esperanza
A joyful day of family and food! A boy’s grandma lets her grandson help prepare the food for their family’s big Sunday feast. He grates the cheese, washes the lettuce, and skins the meat, and even makes sweet tea. Vibrant artwork!
I Want an Apple How My Body Works by David L. Harrison, illustrated by David Catrow
I love the punchy text and playful illustrations that show us step by step what happens in our senses when the little girl wants an apple. From seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting– all the way to digesting. “Open ears, hear it crunch. Busy tongue, taste the apple. Yum!”
Bird Show by Susan Stockdale
Watch a gorgeous fashion show of the birds’ beautiful plumage that looks like clothing. Various birds show their adornments that look like skirts, scarves, crowns, vests, and more. Rhythmic with vivid verbs and colorful with gorgeous illustrations, this is a delight to read.
I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams by Jessica Young, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
A reassuring, loving bedtime reminder to a child showing that the mother will be with the child no matter what…“...you’ll be an eagle and I’ll be a hawk. When soft winds sing and treetops rock, we’ll spread our wings and soar until we reach the shore.” Beautiful illustrations and rich imagery.
Kookaburra by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Tannya Harricks
Textured paintings and poetic text illuminate the life of the Australian kookaburra bird and her family. The narrative writing is engaging and descriptive, “Together they go nest hunting. / She kookas, / he kookas, / soft murmurings for their ears only.” But there’s more expository text that gives factual information, providing additional depth and information. “Kookaburras mostly partner for life but still court before each nesting season.”
Thankful by Elaine Vickers, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill
Three-dimensional miniatures and paper cut art college together as a girl expresses gratitude with a thankful chain as the first snow falls. She lists what she’s thankful for lie a teacher who knows when I am trying her best, things that are warm like soup and socks, snow that softens the world, and things that keep her safe like stop signs and seat belts. Beautiful illustrations and a beautiful message.
Above the Rim How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Elgin faced discrimination while playing in the NBA and protested the discrimination by sitting out of future basketball games. His activist actions made a difference, prompting the NBA put out a statement that they would not give their business to hotels and restaurants that discriminated against Black people. Rich, evocative illustrations and lyrical writing perfectly capture the importance of Eglin’s life and impact.
Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
I LOVE the illustrations in this song of change and hope. It’s metaphorical and abstract but the illustrations make Gorman’s words more concrete. For example on the page with this text, “I also walk our differences to show we are the same. // I’m a movement that roars and springs, There’s a wave where my change sings,” the illustrations show diverse kids marching along and playing instruments.
The Smile Shop by Satoshi Kitamura
A young boy with a few coins can’t wait to browse the shops for something to buy. He loves the colors, smells, and wares for sale. But, then he drops most of his money. Sadly, he sees a Smile Shop and asks to buy a smile. But, the owner explains that they’re about sharing smiles, snaps his photo, and sends the boy back outside with a new perspective. Lovely, atmospheric illustrations.