These following two illustrators were strong contenders and are listed here in alphabetical order by the illustrator's last name.
First time author Andrea J. Loney tells the story of an innovative photographer in Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee! (Lee and Low, 2017). Loney tells the inspirational story of Vanderzee who as a young boy saved his coins to buy his first camera to his rise as a sought after photographer in Harlem where he took photos of legendary figures that were part of the Harlem Renaissance. As a photographer Vanderzee created photographs that showcased the beauty of those he photographed. The illustrator, Keith Mallett, does the same for Vanderzee as he illuminates the subjects of Vanderzee's subjects.
Keith Mallett is an artist and designer, residing in San Diego. He has been creating art for as long as he can remember. For more than three decades he has created posters and art prints. He was able to attend the original James VanDerZee exhibit "Harlem on my Mind" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The illustrations were created with acrylic paint and were meticulously researched for accuracy true to the late 19th century. Read VanDerZee's comments about how he created the illustrations in a blog post on Lee and Low's blog about art and design.
"Illustrator Keith Mallett Takes Us Behind the art of Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee. (27 Jul 2017). Lee and Low. (Online) http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/07/27/illustrator-keith-mallett-takes-us-behind-the-art-of-take-a-picture-of-me-james-vanderzee/.
This book joins other recent books about photographers that will make a great collaborative reading package for young readers.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America. Illustrated by Jarney Christoph. (Albert Whitman, 2015)
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of Depression. Illustrated by Sarah Green. (Albert Whitman, 2017)
Illustrator: John Rocco
Fans of the forever popular writer Virginia Lee Burton will love this look at Burton's life and artistry, Big Machines The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, by Sherri Dusky Rinker, with illustrations by John Rocco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). The biography text is a tribute to both Burton and her artistic style, while Rocco emulates Burton's visual style and includes images of Jinnee and her two boys, Aristides Burton Demetrios and Michael Burton Demetrios, in many scenes. (Note: Learn about Aris and Mike on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Internet site at http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/features/mike_mulligan/arismike.shtml) But the focus of the book and the illustrations are the big machines that Jinnee created to delight her sons: Mary Anne, Katy, and Marybelle.
John Rocco is no stranger to illustration or to the Caldecott. He has illustrated dozens of children's books, one of which was named a Caldecott honor, Blackout, in 2012. His art for Blackout was created with graphite pencil on Strathmore Bristol paper with digital coloration. For this book, the talented and versatile illustrator created the illustrations with watercolors, colored pencil, and digital media. Rocco's art can also be seen on the covers of many books by Rick Riordan - specifically the Percy Jackson series. He also has worked in animation and in leading industry venues. Rocco's illustrations for Big Machines have been described as being "... alive, bursting with color and action" and indeed they are..
Visit Christopher John Rocco's professional site at http://www.roccoart.com
Access a complete list of books illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton at the FemBio site at http://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/biography/virginia-lee-burton/
Now to wait until the actual awards are announced during the American Library Association's midwinter convention February 9 - 13, 2018 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO. The announcements are typically made on the Monday morning of the conference - which would be February 12, 2018. Good luck to all the illustrators of 2017 books.