About the NCCIL

The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature collaborates with award-winning illustrators to produce exhibitions of their artwork that are distinctive, appealing to museum visitors of all ages, and of the highest quality. In addition to this unique artistic partnership, following its debut at the NCCIL gallery, each exhibition travels to museums, public libraries, and galleries nationwide.

To the local community, the NCCIL offers:

  • Opportunities to meet visiting artists during exhibition opening events
  • FREE family art activities every Saturday from 1-4 PM
  • Instructed exhibition tours for students
  • Annual workshops and art camps
  • Books signed by exhibiting artists


The National Center for Children’s Illustrated  Literature exhibits, tours, collects, preserves and promotes original art from the finest children’s literature.


Continuing to inspire and empower children to read and be creative. Through our programming and outreach, the NCCIL actively promotes children’s literacy, both art and reading, in the Abilene community and beyond.

Our History

In December of 1993, former Abilene mayor Dr. Gary McCaleb was invited to a local elementary school to read William Joyce’s Santa Calls.  Inspired to learn that Joyce had set his story in Abilene, Dr. McCaleb invited Joyce to speak at the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council luncheon. When the two men met, they formed an immediate friendship.  From this meeting the concept originated of a place that would honor the artwork of children’s picture book illustrators.  In March of 1997, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) was incorporated as a non-profit organization. In 1999, a statue depicting the children from Santa Calls, “Childhood‘s Great Adventure" by Rick Jackson, was erected downtown. On September 14, 2000, the beautifully renovated Rhodes Building, circa 1920’s, was opened to the public as the permanent location of the NCCIL.

Here’s the story as told by William Joyce...

You know sometimes luck, fate, chance—whatever you want to call it—shines down so bright it makes life seem like something from a storybook.

That’s how it happened for me and the city of Abilene. By chance I set my book Santa Calls there. The main character’s name was Art Atchinson Aimesworth and I wanted him to wear a cowboy hat. So obviously he couldn’t be from New Jersey or Boca Raton. Abilene, Texas fit like a four Beaver Stetson. It sounded just right.

Of course I’d never actually been to Abilene. I don’t often visit the places I write about. Not the North Pole, or Mars or the Lost City of Atlantis. How was I supposed to know Abilene was a city of cock-eyed optimists and dreamers. The book had been out for about two weeks when I got a call from the Mayor. The next thing I know they’d built a museum, and erected a statue of my characters.

The NCCIL is a great achievement. They put art and literature on a pedestal there. They’ve made life more vivid and dreams come more alive for countless children and grown-ups.

Things like that don’t happen in real life very often.

So in true storybook fashion I’m sure that the NCCIL and the town from which it sprang will live “happily ever after.”

Bill Joyce signature

The Rhodes Building

Listed as Site No. 774 and identified as a contributing resource in the narrative for the Abilene Commercial District, the Rhodes Building is a noteworthy example of an intact commercial building erected during Abilene’s 1920’s economic boom.  Its prominent location along the railroad right-of-way, its architectural detail and craftsmanship, and its celebration of the expanding role of transportation in the Abilene economy make this building a significant part of the fabric of the District.

The Rhodes Building was renovated in 2000 utilizing design and construction methods that meet the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards for Rehabilitation” of historic properties.  The exterior of the building has been returned to its historic configuration.  The original canopies on the east and south facades have been replaced and the doors and windows restored.  The primary interior elements of the structure, the original wood roof structure, trusses and skylights, have been rehabilitated and are visible throughout the facility.

Childhood’s Great Adventure

“Childhood’s Great Adventure” by Rick Jackson celebrates the story of the Abilene children featured in the book Santa Calls by William Joyce:  Art Atchinson Aimesworth, his sister Esther, and his best friend Spaulding Littlefeets.  Located at the corner of Cypress Street and North First, the statue welcomes children to climb aboard and sail off on an imaginary adventure in their canoe.


The NCCIL is a proud member of the following associations:

  • Texas Association of Museums
  • American Alliance of Museums
  • Texans for the Arts
  • Abilene Downtown Association

We are also an Abilene Chamber of Commerce member.