BCBA Spotlight: Donald Crews

During picture book month, our spotlight is on Donald Crews, an award-winning author and illustrator. Recently, Crews received the 2015 Wilder Award, which recognizes recipients for their “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

Crews, a native of New Jersey, is the son of a railroad worker and seamstress. His father’s profession and his mother’s family would later figure prominently in some of his most celebrated books. As a child, he read a lot of comics and eventually developed an interest in art. He recalled that his teachers nurtured his skills. One high school teacher mentored and challenged him to go to art school and assisted him with obtaining all the information needed for enrollment. Crews believes that “teachers are the first people who can show confidence in children outside of family members—and the opinions of outsiders usually make a stronger impression than relatives.”

Crews graduated from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and worked as a graphic artist but was later drafted into the military and sent to Germany. In preparation for a return home, Crews decided to tweak his portfolio to make it more appealing to potential employers. He designed an alphabet book and some who saw it convinced him to submit it to publishers. Although Crews had done previous work designing book jackets, his alphabet book, We Read: A-Z, was his foray into children’s literature as an author and illustrator. Later, he received global recognition when Freight Train and Truck were awarded Caldecott Honors. Crews used little text in his books and his skills as a graphic artist allowed him to create unconventional illustrations that garnered critical praise. He broke from his minimum text practice when he published Bigmama’s and Shortcut, books based on his childhood memories—family trips to visit his mother’s relatives in Cottondale, Florida. To learn more about Donald Crews, see the sources and additional reading links below.




In the autobiographical books, Bigmama’s and Shortcut, I had the opportunity to put a physical Black presence in my books.

Donald Crews

Books Written and Illustrated by Donald Crews

Inside Freight Train (2001) 

Cloudy Day Sunny Day (1999)

Night at the Fair (1998) 

Sail Away  (1995) 

Shortcut (1992) 

Bigmama's (1991) 

Flying (1986)

Bicycle Race (1985) 

School Bus  (1984) 

Parade (1983) 

Carousel (1982) 

Harbor (1982) 

Light (1981) 

Truck (1980) 

Freight Train (1978)

Ten Black Dots (1968) 

We Read: A to Z  (1967) 

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