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 2023 Phoenix Picture Book Award Recipient:

Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, Harcourt, 2003

Simply put, Roller Coaster is rollicking good fun. It simultaneously captures the embodied rush, along with the joy and tension, of riding a roller coaster and how such an experience can draw together a random, diverse group of strangers, even if just for a moment. Frazee's fluid line, limited word choice, and careful page layout track each stage of the roller coaster ride. Readers can feel the high expectations of waiting in line, getting into the car, and the slow climb to the first peak. Detailed facial expressions of characters depict every possible reaction, every up-and-down on the speedy loop-de-loops of the roller coaster ride. Even the end of the adventure seems anything but stasis as wobbly legs try to balance again, some riders have upset tummies, and yet others nearly race to get in line again. The illustrations’ forward momentum drives the action, and Frazee’s clever use of color and font as integral elements of the roller coaster’s motion heightens the reader’s sense of climbing aboard for the explosive ride.

2023 Phoenix Picture Book Honor Books:

Just A Minute

Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Chronicle, 2003

This refreshing and haunting trickster tale uses the liveliest pastel illustrations to show how Grandma Beetle repeatedly holds death–aka Señor Calavera, a brilliantly rendered puppet-like skeleton in a subtly expressive death mask–at bay for “just a minute.” Morales’s complex book not only seamlessly integrates the genres of folktale and counting book but also deftly balances storytelling across the interaction of its witty storyline, poetic words, and culturally rich images. Humor and cleverness abound, as do Mexican traditions, including the importance of family, as Grandma Beetle tricks Señor Calavera by completing household tasks in preparation for her birthday celebration with her grandchildren. Through the tale’s sweeping energy and the characters’ marvelously expressive interactions, Morales crafts a story of a delayed departure that will charm readers and possibly even trick them into learning to count.


 Thunder RoseThunder Rose, written by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Harcourt, 2003

This superhero story contributes to Old West folklore in centering a Black girl, born on a dark and stormy night, surrounded by powerful lightning strikes. Nolen and Nelson depict a hero who is larger than life not just because of her physical strength and magical powers but also because of her love for her family and her joy in life. This multilayered story offers a complex theme that extends beyond the usual tall tale to emphasize the power of beauty and gentleness. While the text-image interaction is subtle, Nelson’s majestic images add specificity to Nolen’s cadent text, particularly in how his sculptural art style showcases Rose’s physical, mental, and emotional strength, while rooting this story of an epic Black girl hero in an impressive and very human legacy of family and love.


 Previous Winners:


Winner: Allen Say for Home of the Brave (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)
Honor Winner:  Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child (Hodder, 2002)
Honor Winner:  What Charlie Heard by Mordicai Gerstein (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)
Honor Winner:  Why Heaven is Far Away, by Julius Lester and illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Scholastic, 2002)


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)