When a new picture book gets released, we rarely celebrate the illustrator. But what would a picture book be without its pictures? From soft watercolor brushstrokes and bold digital colors to expertly assembled paper collages, these eleven Black illustrators are masters of their craft. Let’s celebrate these accomplished artists and the beautiful worlds they create between the covers of their books.
I wanted to start this list by honoring this accomplished illustrator. Mr. Cooper passed away less than a year ago with a body of work comprising over 100 books. He was a champion for creating paintings that showcased African American history in his signature hazy style and muted brown palette. Sprouting Wings is about the life of pilot James Herman Banning, and it was one of his last picture books.
Quirky, fun, rich, and bold — these words come to mind when I think of Adeola’s work. We love to read his Rocket Says series (Rocket Says Look Up! and Rocket Says Clean Up!) about an outspoken, science-loving girl. Hey You!, his latest work, is a collaboration of 19 Black illustrators in one book. While the story, an affirmation of growing up Black, is harmonious, each page has a unique illustration style. It’s a feast for the eyes and a quick education in various illustration mediums and expertise.
Mechal Renee Roe
Big heads, closed eyes, bright colors, and fun accessories… the distinct style of this New York Times bestselling illustrator is hard to miss. She’s the creator of the popular picture books, Happy Hair and Cool Cuts. With her latest picture book, I’m Growing Great, Mechal Renee Roe uplifts children with her positive and affirming messages.
I have yet to read a book illustrated or written by this multi-talented, self-taught artist I didn’t love. Her mixture of collage and drawing styles, vibrant colors, funky clothes, and bright-eyed characters make each Vanessa Brantley-Newton book a keepsake. She illustrates from her heart, and you can see it on each page. Just Like Me is a beautiful collection of short poetry that celebrates girlhood.
Readers rarely know illustrators’ names, but a quick look at their body of work, and you realize you’ve seen their art everywhere. Ekua Holmes is a master at collage art, creating pictures with images, fabric, textures, and items. Dream Street is breathtaking in its detail of an urban neighborhood where kids reach for their dreams as grown-ups cheerfully lead the way.
She swing dances, sings, adores vintage clothing, and educates other illustrators — Tamisha Anthony is multi-talented. Her various passions infuse her art with bold colors, round features, and plenty of movement. Most Perfect You is a sparkling love letter to every girl struggling to accept herself just as she is.
Jessica Gibson says she wants every project she works on “to have a real sense of fun,” and she succeeds. Gibson takes her inspiration from her love of animals, nature, and picture books. She pumps her illustrations full of whimsical and expressive characters and soft color palettes. Why Not You? is from pop star Ciara and football player Russell Wilson and encourages kids to reach for their dreams with confidence and perseverance.
From picture books and mugs to pens and journals, if Andrea Pippins draws it, I buy it. I have a small collection of her work. Her doodles, hand-drawn typography, and bold color choices make her digital art unique and refreshing. Mae Makes a Way: The True Story of Mae Reeves, Hat & History Maker is a nod to the civil rights activist and fashion designer. She styled everyone from Lena Horne to Ella Fitzgerald.
Caldecott honor artist Daniel Minter has illustrated 12 picture books and works in painting, sculpture, assemblage, and public art. His work is vivid, emotional, and sometimes haunting. Blue is a non-fiction picture book that explores the history of this significant color. If you’re looking for stunning and rich artwork in a picture book, you’ll love this one.
I’ve just discovered this Nigerian American artist, and her first picture book is mesmerizing. Ebinama beautifully paints this lyrical story about a boy and his love affair with nature. The background watercolors are delicate and soft, so little Emile pops off the page. It’s gorgeous. I hope we see many more books from Ebinama.
No list of Black illustrators is complete without mentioning the incredible work of author and illustrator Christian Robinson. Robinson has brought many picture books to life using his unique, award-winning cut-paper collages. Also, he recently designed a line of kids’ clothes and home goods for Target. The Bench by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, was Robinson’s first time using watercolor to illustrate a picture book, and he knocked it out of the park.