21 Female Illustrators You Need to Include in Your Classroom Library

The work of these talented female artists belongs on your shelf.

Female Illustrators You Need in Your Classroom

Are most of the picture books you use in your classroom illustrated by men? What’s up with that? It’s a sad fact that many more men than women have won the Caldecott Medal, and this may have a gender-skewing effect on your classroom library. In the 81 years since the Caldecott’s inception, only 21 medals have been awarded to women. Since 2000, only four Caldecott Medals have gone to women. To avoid inadvertently telling our students that only boys can be illustrators, here are a few of our favorite female illustrators to prove that girls can be illstrators, too. Bonus: The whole class will love them!

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1. Beatrice Alemagna

On a Magical Do Nothing Day

Book We Love: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day (PreK–2)

A call for kids to walk away from the ever-present gaming screen, this book highlights the boredom-busting power of observing nature. The protagonist is forced to pay attention to the outside world after their video game falls in a stream. Alemagna’s earthy illustrations evoke a woodland so full of magic and life, kids will feel like they are there.

2. Sonia Sanchez

Book We Love: The Little Red Fort (PreK–2)

An unstoppable girl builds her own fort without help from her brothers in this modern take on “The Little Red Hen.” Lively artwork and upbeat humor make this a fun read aloud with the empowering message that kids can do anything they set their minds to.

3. Sophie Blackall

Book We Love: Hello Lighthouse (1–3)

A Caldecott Medal-winner for Finding Winnie, here, Blackall depicts the solitude as well as the dramatic adventures of a working lighthouse keeper. Old-fashioned details imbue the story with a sense of history and nostalgia that will fascinate history-loving kids. And the lavish ocean spreads will have them dreaming of the sea.

4. Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Book We Love: Every Little Thing: Based on the Song “Three Little Birds” (PreK–1)

Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella keeps his memory alive with this adaptation of his famous song. Brantley-Newton’s illustrations engage kids, even those who are not familiar with the song. Singing along makes this book even more fun.

5. Gaia Cornwall

Book We Love: Jabari Jumps (PreK–2)

When Jabari and his dad go to the community swimming pool, Jabari works up the courage to jump from the high dive. Mixed-media images add to the feel of this charming and empowering story about conquering fear with the help of a supportive adult.

6. Laura Carlin

Book We Love: King of the Sky (PreK–3)

A lonely boy in a new country feels out of place until he meets an older man who keeps pigeons. Carlin’s smudgy gray depiction of the unfamiliar home quietly underscores the boy’s isolation as he finds his way. This story would work well as part of a unit on empathy.

7. Angela Dominguez

Book We Love: Mango, Abuela, and Me (K–3)

Patience and shared heritage help Mia bridge cultural, communication, and generation gaps to connect with her Spanish-speaking grandmother. Rich, bright illustrations show their special relationship in a warm, relatable way. Kids navigating their own extended families will sympathize with Mia.

8. Melissa Sweet

Book We Love: Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship (PreK–2)

Wooliam and Baabwaa live a quiet life of reading and knitting until they form an unlikely friendship with an unrefined wolf in sheep’s clothing. With lush, cheerful illustrations, this upbeat story will have kids laughing at the rambunctious wolf’s antics, while also teaching about different kinds of friendships.

9. Daria Peoples-Riley

Book We Love: This Is It (K–4)

A spunky, young dancer tries to psych herself up before an audition. Mixed-media art showcases the girl as a star and highlights the book’s message, “You got this!” Dancers and non-dancers will cheer for the girl’s budding confidence and inner strength as she approaches her big moment.

10. Juana Martinez-Neal

Book We Love: La Princesa and the Pea (PreK–2)

Set in Peru and with rhyming text incorporating Spanish words, this book won the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for outstanding contribution to Latinx literature for kids. Compare and contrast this playful and engaging read aloud with the traditional Andersen fairy tale.

11. Thi Bui

Book We Love: A Different Pond (PreK–2)

A boy contemplates his father’s immigrant experience in this semiautobiographical, Caldecott Honor-winning picture book. Cinematic illustrations tell the bittersweet story of a Vietnamese refugee parent who persevered to provide his family a safe and loving home.

12. Marla Frazee

Book We Love: The Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee (PreK–2)

Fans of The Boss Baby will laugh out loud when they see his baby sister take over the home and become the new CEO. Caldecott Honor-winner Frazee’s illustrations bring humor and life to the boss baby siblings, giving the baby sister a ruffled pantsuit and pearls to go with her boss attitude.

13. Isabelle Arsenault

Book We Love: The Honeybee (PreK–2)

This book is sneakily educational while also being fun and entertaining for kids. In rhyming verse and vibrant, boisterous illustrations, kids will learn what bees do in and out of the hive. A closing note about the importance of bees to our ecosystem will inspire older kids to learn more about how they can help honeybees survive.

14. Laura Freeman

Book We Love: Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race (PreK–2)

This biography shows the groundbreaking achievements of the four African American women who persisted in the face of racism and sexism to become “computers” at NASA. Striking illustrations show historical details, and a timeline and glossary help contextualize the women’s contributions to the space race.

15. Thyra Heder

Book We Love: Alfie (PreK–2)

Nia’s pet turtle, Alfie, goes missing on her seventh birthday. Readers follow the turtle and learn that he is really on a quest to find Nia a birthday gift. Perfect for young pet owners, Heder’s watercolor spreads extend and highlight the two characters’ perspectives.

16. Corinna Luyken

Book We Love: The Book of Mistakes (PreK–2)

This book shows kids that mistakes are not always bad and can, in fact, lead to unexpectedly great things. The illustration starts with a small “mistake” that grows and changes into a larger picture. Future artists will want to study each spread closely to see how mistakes can be turned into masterpieces.

17. E.B. Goodale

Book We Love: A Most Unusual Day (PreK–2)

It is not an ordinary day for Caroline. She is having trouble concentrating, and everything is going wrong at school. Readers don’t know why until we find out that Caroline’s parents are bringing home a new baby. Goodale’s depiction of Caroline is modern and relatable. Any child having a bad day will empathize with Caroline, but this adoption story will have special relevance for kids who have recently or will soon become an older sibling.

18. Kris Di Giacomo

Book We Love: When a Wolf Is Hungry (PreK–2)

A dapper wolf in a tuxedo is hilariously thwarted in his attempts to eat his neighbor rabbit in this modern big bad wolf story. Di Giacomo’s shady illustrations add a little bit of scariness to this ultimately heartwarming story.

19. Isabelle Simler

Book We Love: Plume (PreK–2)

A little black cat stalks every page of this book about birds. Readers will want to explore each illustration not only for its exquisitely detailed drawing of each unique feather but also to find where the cat is hiding.

20. Britta Teckentrup

Book We Love: Moon: A Peek-Through Picture Book (PreK–2)

While not scientifically accurate in its depiction of the moon phases, the art in this book is spectacular. Handmade collages of nocturnal animals and plants shimmer in the illumination of the cut-out moon’s glow. Rhyming text enhances the mysterious atmosphere of the world at night.

21. Mae Besom

Book We Love: What Do You Do With a Chance (PreK–2)

Kids who are afraid to make mistakes will be inspired by this story about the fear and glory of taking opportunities. A metaphorical chance appears as a golden origami bird, but the boy is afraid to grasp it, and then regrets missing it. When another chance comes, he is ready, and the glorious yellow bird sweeps him up into a thrilling world of possibility. Use this book to start a discussion about the relative safety of not taking chances versus overcoming fears and embracing life.

We’d love to know, who are your favorite female illustrators? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, our favorite picture books of 2018.

21 Female Illustrators You Need to Include in Your Classroom Library

Posted by Sonja Cole

Sonja has worked in schools for 13 years, first as a high school English teacher, then as a middle school librarian. She is the author of 'Booktalking Around the World: Great Global Reads for Ages 9-14.'

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