Phoenix Picture Book Award


The Children's Literature Association Phoenix Picture Book Award recognizes an exemplary picture book that conveys its story (whether fact or fiction) through the synergy between pictures and text, or through pictures alone if there is no text.  First presented in 2013, the Phoenix Picture Book Award will be given to the author and/or illustrator, or the estate of the author and/or illustrator of a book for children first published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award at the time of its publication but which, from the perspective of time, is deemed worthy of special attention. 


Submission Period:

  • Anyone may nominate a picture book by the deadline of October 1 of each year.
  • The committee meets during the ChLA Annual Conference to prepare the shortlist and begin its final deliberations for the award.
  • Be aware, the committee reads one year in advance. So, for example, all nominations for the 2024 award must be received in 2023.
  • The award honors a picture book published twenty years prior. See more detail in the Selection Criteria below.

Selection Criteria:

  • The award goes to a book published twenty years before the annual conference at which it is awarded. The 2024 award, for example, will be for a book published in 2004.
  • The book must have been originally published in English.
  • The book must not have won a major award although it may have been a finalist, honor book, runner-up, or commended, whatever term is used. A book is ineligible for consideration if it has won any one of the following awards or prizes:
    • Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award
    • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
    • Governor General's Literary Awards
    • Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award
    • Carnegie Medal
    • Kate Greenaway Medal
    • Coretta Scott King Award
    • New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults
    • Caldecott Medal or Caldecott Honor
    • Other major awards may be added in future years.
  • The book may be a retelling or an edited work, such as an anthology, not simply a reprinting or new edition.
  • The book is to be judged on the effectiveness of the interaction (synergy) of pictures and text (if there is text) to tell a story (whether fact or fiction).  Excellence of illustrations and text will be considered secondarily. A picture book is defined as a work that is primarily a visual experience that shows respect for the understanding of a child audience.
  • The book does not have to be in print.
  • The author or illustrator does not have to be alive.
  • Anyone may nominate a book, with the practical deadline being the conference at which the committee begins its final deliberations for the award. For example, all nominations for the 2013 award must be received by the 2012 conference.
  • If the Phoenix Award Committee finds no book suitable for the award, it need not be given in that year.
  • Honor books may be but are not necessarily designated.
  • The Award winner must be selected at the annual conference of the year before that in which the award is given. For example, the award that is announced and presented at the 2013 ChLA annual conference will be chosen at the 2012 conference.

The Children's Literature Association Proudly Announces the

2022 Phoenix Picture Book Award Recipient:

Home of the Brave by Allen Say, Houghton Mifflin, 2002

Stunning for its somber use of silver, gray, and dun watercolors, Say creates a visual echo of the silent despair of the World War II incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After a man in a kayak is overwhelmed by a strong current and nearly drowns, he slips back through time to an incarceration camp where he is confronted first by a group of children and then by his own family history. Through this time slip, Say eloquently exposes the cultural amnesia of the United States, offering both historicity through the Japanese American incarceration camp depicted in this landscape and ahistoricity through the prevalence and repetition of internment of people who are deemed “other” by a persistently white government. The dreamlike journey and unexplained story elements, juxtaposed with the photographic album-like pacing and precise page design, powerfully capture the slipperiness with which the United States often views its own history.

2022 Phoenix Picture Book Honor Books:

Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child, Hodder, 2002

Child offers a metafictive delight in which no opportunity to unite story and form is wasted. When Herb returns to his favorite book of fairy tales once again, he falls into the story and is forced to interact with the book’s characters and create his own escape. The book’s strongest attributes lie in its materiality and related interactivity, which are central to the plot and to the idea that children can become a story’s co-creators by drawing, cutting, and flipping things on their head. Moreover, the allusions to well-known fairy tales that get distorted, usually by Herb, disrupt readers' expectations to create laugh-out-loud moments. The handling of disgruntled fairy tale characters, cut-paper collage, and innovative design elements encourage readers to revel in the chaos that can sometimes happen to books, as well as within them.

 What Charlie Heard by Mordicai Gerstein, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002

Gerstein imbues his short biography of Charles Ives with the bright colors, zaniness, and cacophony deserving of the composer of Universe Symphony. Gerstein's verbal and visual mimesis, agile line, atmospheric wash, and hand-writing bring aloud this portrait of the composer as a keen listener and experimental creator. The book’s images echo the message and storyline of Ives’s lifelong creative journey, with Gerstein using vibrant onomatopoeias to show how Ives appreciated all the sounds around him. The heavy reliance on onomatopoeia sustains the narrative, and readers easily hear every page of the book through the illustrations and the sound words. These words weave through the scenes, so that the very landscape looks as though it is made from sound. As the book’s inner flap succinctly observes, “Gerstein’s pictures turn the audible into the visible.”


 Why Heaven is Far Away, by Julius Lester, Scholastic and illustrated by Joe Cepeda, 2002

Witty, subversive, and downright hilarious, Why Heaven is Far Away brings Lester’s glorious prose and Cepeda’s vibrant oil illustrations together to explain why heaven seems so distant from life on Earth, sharing an original story rooted in African and African American folktales. Lester’s voice seems to speak from above, brimming with familiarity, irreverence, and a good deal of love for this created world, while Cepeda’s stylized figurations of humans and animals amplify Lester’s telling and achieve a subtle cadence all their own. The size and orientation of the book reinforce the distance between heaven and earth, even as the dynamic page design bridges the two realms. The story’s ending offers the possibility that readers might just be able to find a ladder to heaven, pulling them into the story and folkloric tradition.

 Previous Winners:


Winner: Grace Lin for Dim Sum for Everyone! (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
Honor Winner: Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno, written by Francisco X. Alarcón and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (Children's Book Press, 2001)
Honor Winner: Shaun Tan for The Red Tree (Thomas C. Lothian, 2001)


Winner: Shaun Tan for The Lost Thing (Sydney: Hachette, 2000)
Honor: Christopher Myers for Wings (New York: Scholastic, 2000)


Winner: Christopher Myers for Black Cat (New York: Scholastic, 1999)
Honor: Amy Littlesugar and Floyd Cooper for Tree of Hope (New York: Philomel, 1999)


Winner: Robert D. San Souci & Brian Pinkney for Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella (Simon & Schuster, 1998)
Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman & Robin Preiss Glasser for You Can’t Take A Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum (Dial, 1998)


Winner: Mary McKenna Siddals & Petra Mathers for Tell Me a Season (Clarion Books, 1997)
Honor: Demi for One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Tale (Scholastic, 1997)

2016 Winner:  Molly Bang for Goose (Blue Sky Press, 1996) - 2016 ChLA Conference Speech by Molly Bang
Honor Winner: Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney for Sam and the Tigers (Dial Books, 1996)

Winner: Sara Fanelli for My Map Book (HarperCollins, 1995)
Honor Winner: Charlotte Zolotow and Stefano Vitale for When the Wind Stops (HarperCollins, 1995)
Honor Winner: Kady MacDonald Denton for Would They Love a Lion? (Kingfisher, 1995)


Winner: Raymond Briggs for The Bear (Julia Macrae Books, 1994)
Honor Winner: Peggy Rathmann for Good Night, Gorilla (Putnam Juvenile, 1996)
Honor Winner: Anne Isaacs and Paul Zelinksy forSwamp Angel (Putnam and Dutton, 1994)


Winner: Kevin Henkes for Owen (Greenwillow, 1993)
Honor Winner: Denise Fleming for In the Small, Small Pond (Henry Holt and Co., 1993)