Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a picture book knows that the romance is not solely with the words but in large part with the illustrations too. Below are 21 of the best children’s book illustrators of all time. Dozens of contemporary and classic favorite children’s books bear the mark of these talented artists, and they should be included in every classroom collection.
The late Maurice Sendak has long been regarded as one of the best children’s book illustrators and was best known for Where the Wild Things Are (of which he is also the author). However, the self-taught Brooklyn-born artist illustrated more than 150 works over his career. Today, his foundation supports growing the public interest in the visual, literary, and performing arts, and nurtures emerging and established artists.
Recommended work: In the Night Kitchen
The Tokyo, Japan–based illustrator and writer has more than 400 titles to his credit, and has been translated into 15 languages. A graduate of the Kuwasawa Design Institute, Taro Gomi is best known to American audiences for his illustrations in Amanda Mayer Stinchecum’s Everyone Poops.
Recommended work: Spring Is Here
Ringgold, who won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1991 for her picture book debut Tar Beach, has illustrated some 20 children’s books to date, including My Dream of Martin Luther King. In addition to her work on picture books, Ringgold—who received her B.S. and M.A. in visual arts from City College of New York—works as a painter, sculptor, performance artist, writer, teacher, and lecturer.
Recommended work: Tar Beach
Lionni mainly worked in collage to illustrate the dozens of children’s books he also wrote. Most of his stories are fables of a sort, and they include many animal characters. The animal-loving Lionni grew up in Amsterdam and later Italy, and his artistic mother allowed his room to be kept a mess, even letting Lionni house animals there. Before taking up children’s books, Lionni worked in advertising in New York City.
Recommended work: A Color of His Own
Though best known for his illustrations in Margaret Wise Brown’s books The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, Hurd illustrated countless other picture books, including more than 50 by his wife, Edith Thatcher Hurd, and the famous The World Is Round by Gertrude Stein. The Yale architecture student perfected his craft studying painting with Fernand Leger in Paris.
Recommended work: The World Is Round
The Oakland, California–based illustrator, animator, author, and designer Christian Robinson began drawing as a child so that he could create the world he wanted to see. After studying animation at the California Institute of the Arts and working for Pixar and Sesame Workshop, Robinson branched out into books. Last Stop on Market Street, a collaboration with author Matt de la Peña, won Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Illustrator honors.
Recommended work: Nina: A Story of Nina Simone
Boynton’s cheery, silly animal books—many of them published as board books—are recognizable to many. Boynton’s characters have graced many greeting cards, which she also designs (she estimates she’s done between 4,000 and 6,000). The author-illustrator still works without an agent, and does not license her characters for other companies to develop.
Recommended work: But Not the Hippopotamus
An artist and one of the best children’s book illustrators around, Uribe was awarded the Society of Illustrators Dilys Evans Founder’s Award for her work on The Vast Wonder of the World. Residing in Bogota, Colombia, Uribe’s illustrations have appeared in both picture books and middle grade novels, as well as a recent reissue of The Secret Garden.
Recommended work: Your Name Is a Song
The Irish-born, Brooklyn-dwelling Jeffers works in a variety of media—from painting to collage—on art that spans not only children’s books but also large installations and album cover art. Though most well known for his work illustrating Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit, Jeffers also writes many of the books he illustrates, including Lost and Found and How to Catch a Star.
Recommended work: Stuck
The beloved Tommie dePaola deserves a spot on any list of the best children’s book illustrators. DePaola died in 2020 and left behind a library of more than 270 books on which he served as illustrator (and often, writer). His best-known work, Strega Nona, is a Caldecott Honor book and serves up a funny and clever retelling of an old tale. The winner of countless awards, dePaola was also the U.S. nominee in 1990 for the Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustration.
Recommended Work: The Popcorn Book
A Caldecott Medal winner for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, a picture book he both wrote and illustrated, Santat has illustrated (or authored and illustrated) dozens of books. He also created the Disney Channel show The Replacements, but after working in television animation, he realized he preferred telling stories in kids books. Also a graphic novelist, Santat’s recent A First Time for Everything is an autobiographical story from a middle school class trip.
Recommended work: After the Fall
The late Scarry was a veteran of World War II when he returned home to start a career as a commercial artist. He eventually was urged to try illustrating children’s books and made his debut in 1949 in a Little Golden Book penned by Margaret Wise Brown. In 1963, he released Best Word Book Ever, which would go on to become a bestseller. That book showcased the anthropomorphic animals for which Scarry is now known.
Recommended work: Busy, Busy World
Higgins began her picture book career as the author of books illustrated by others—two fan favorites include This Is Not a Valentine and Bikes for Sale. Recently, Higgins—who also is an Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist—began to write and illustrate her own books. She made her picture book illustrator debut with Circle Under Berry, which features clever and thoughtful word play alongside Higgins’ eye-catching and simple collage art.
Recommended work: Circle Under Berry
What roundup of best children’s book authors would be complete without Mo Willems? Willems started his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, winning six Emmy awards before turning his knowledge of what entertains kids to the publishing world. Since then, he’s hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list multiple times and he’s also won three Caldecott honors. Kids might not know about his awards but they know his characters, like the contrary Pigeon and pals Elephant & Piggie.
Recommended work: Nanette’s Baguette
Author and illustrator Harrison’s Little Legends, Little Leaders, and Little Dreamers books became bestsellers for featuring multiple kid-friendly biographies of Black and women history makers. Harrison, who received her MFA in Film and Video from CalArts, also illustrated the bestselling Hair Love by filmmaker Matthew Cherry, and Sulwe by actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Recommended work: Big
Everyone knows Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has been translated into 66 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies since first being published in 1969. But Carle, who died in 2021, illustrated more than 70 books, many of which he also wrote, and a sizeable number of which went on to be bestsellers. Interestingly, Carle was discovered while working as an ad agency art director—Bill Martin Jr., a children’s author, asked him to illustrate his book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, another children’s classic.
Recommended work: The Very Quiet Cricket
Described as a master watercolorist, Pinkney has illustrated hundreds of children’s books. The artist, who struggled with dyslexia, found his way to illustrating children’s books while working as a freelance artist. Drawing helped center him, and now his detailed illustrations appear in both contemporary children’s tales as well as alongside new versions of classic fables and fairy tales, including his wordless and gorgeous rendition of The Lion and the Mouse, winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal.
Recommended work: John Henry
Curato’s debut as both illustrator and author, Little Elliott, Big City, was released in 2014 to much acclaim and led to four additional stories about Elliott, a polka-dotted elephant. Curato, who previously worked as a graphic designer, is also the winner of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Young Adults for his debut graphic novel, Flamer.
Recommended work: Where Is Bina Bear?
An artist who’s lived all over the world, from a childhood in Canada and teenage years in Hong Kong and China to years spent working with underserved youth in Boston, D.C., and New York, Chan now primarily works as a children’s picture book illustrator and a prolific comics creator. Her cartoon-style illustrations hold a ton of kid appeal, and her work really shines in humorous offerings like The Great Indoors.
Recommended work: Rick the Rock of Room 214
Ezra Jack Keats
Ezra Jack Keats easily belongs on any list of the best children’s book illustrators. The third child of Polish Jews who came to America to escape anti-Semitism, Keats established his artistic talent early in life, winning a medal for drawing upon his graduation from junior high. His first picture book, My Dog Is Lost!, co-authored with Pat Cherr, was published in 1960, and by 1962, he published the classic The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott Medal. The book remains a standout for Keats’ illustrations, which combine collage, spattered ink, and handmade stamps.
Recommended work: A Letter to Amy
Canadian artist Klassen’s debut picture book, I Want My Hat Back, not only showcased his drawing style but also was unique for its clever story about a bear in search of his lost hat. Its follow-up, This Is Not My Hat, won the 2013 Caldecott Medal. Klassen also works with picture book authors like Mac Barnett and Lemony Snicket, and has illustrated many middle-grade novels, including Pax.
Recommended work: The Rock From the Sky
If you liked this list of the best children’s book illustrators, be sure to check out our 24 Inspiring Picture Books About Nature.
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