5 Incredibly Talented Children’s Book Illustrators You’ll Love

by Troy D. Johnson, Founder and Webmaster of AALBC.com

Book Cover Image, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

For children’s picture books, art sells the book.  When an adult is in a store browsing books to be read to a child, the art is what initially gets the shopper’s attention.  Once they flip through the pages, the art is as important as the text in getting the customer to buy the book.

Children, too young to read, are moved by the art.  Great artwork communicates in ways mere words cannot.  I vividly recall the first time seeing the book, A Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats.  As a little boy, I was excited upon seeing another little boy about my age in an urban setting who looked like me!  Art is powerful.  The importance of seeing yourself reflected in the art should not be understated.

We are witnessing, perhaps, the greatest period for books featuring Black children.  The picture books available today are fantastic, reflecting a deep and diverse level of talent in illustration, painting, drawing, and mixed media.

Here are five talented artists producing wonderful books for children today.  Enjoy!

Kadir Nelson

Nelson’s photorealistic images are simply awe inspiring.  He creates characters that express profound emotion, joy, strength, fortitude, and resilience.  They grab you on a visceral level, then inspire you.

Sample Image from Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

From Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, written and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson (2013, Amistad)

Vashti Harrison is a brilliant artist and the youngest of this group.  However, her creativity and talent put her on par with the best of the bunch.  Her use of light, and the absence of it, in her book Sulwe, is a testament to her skill as an artist.

Sample Image from Sulwe Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

From Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison (2019, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Starting in May

Javaka Steptoe

Steptoe uses a variety of media to create images for children’s picture books.  His daring and creative use of “found” objects makes his images quite unique in the world of picture books.

Sample Image from Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

From Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (2016, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Floyd Cooper

Nostalgic and beautiful, Cooper’s images gracefully depict the characters he creates.  Cooper has illustrated dozens of picture books over his long career and is showing no signs of letting up.

Sample Image from Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

From Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper (2018, Philomel Books)

Daniel Minter

Minter is a painter and illustrator whose work has been exhibited domestically and abroad.  He is the illustrator of a dozen books for children and uses contrasting colors to produce visually appealing images.

Sample Image from Going Down Home with Daddy Illustrated by Daniel Minter

From Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, Illustrated by Daniel Minter (2019, Peachtree Publishers)

Browse and shop for fine art from our growing network of artists, collectors, estates, galleries — specializing in works by Black American artists with great values on premier art.


Sign up for our free email course on how to begin your collection.

Troy D. Johnson is the founder and webmaster of AALBC.com (the African American Literature Book Club).  Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com is now the oldest, largest, and most frequently visited website dedicated to books by or about people of African descent.

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