Best books of 2002
Chosen annually by our editors, Fanfare is The Horn Book Magazine’s selection of the best children’s and young adult books of the year.
A Bit More Bert written by Allan Ahlberg;
illustrated by Raymond Briggs (Farrar)
Our child-man hero is back in six more chapters — and we are right with him as, responding to the author’s delightful bossy address, we share Bert’s potato chips and give him a really bad haircut. Briggs’s sublime illustrations capture Bert in all his noodle-headed affability. Review 9/02.
Little Rat Sets Sail written by Monika Bang-Campbell;
illustrated by Molly Bang (Harcourt)
In an easy reader with the visual impact of a picture book, a mother-daughter author-illustrator team captures the joys of sailing from the point of view of a reluctant — and very sympathetic — participant. Review 7/02.
Matthew A.B.C. written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto (Jackson/Atheneum)
Meet the twenty-six Matthews in Mrs. Tuttle’s class, including Matthew G., who has trouble with glue, and “nearly naked” Matthew N., who wears only briefs and a superhero cape. The book personifies child-appealing humor and is underscored by an insouciant acceptance of each boy’s idiosyncracy. Review 7/02.
Gossie and Gossie and Gertie
written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea (Houghton)
In two small, square, adventurous books, goslings Gossie and Gertie explore the territory of toddler friendship — learning to share, experimenting with independence. The pacing, tight focus, and the predictable (well, almost) plots are all impeccably geared to very young audiences. Review 1/03
Benny and the Binky written by Barbro Lindgren; illustrated by Olof Landstrom; translated by Elisabeth Kalick Dyssegaard (R&S/Farrar)
Resentful Benny steals his newborn brother’s pacifier and takes off on a danger-fraught spree — but he runs right home to help when the baby cries. Quirky, offbeat, and completely attuned to age-old new-sibling realities. Review 5/02.
Dahlia written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Foster/Farrar)
Tomboy-cum-naturalist Charlotte is initially disgruntled to be sent a prissy doll as a gift, but Dahlia turns out to be a kindred spirit. McClintock handles the doll’s transformation with charming restraint, and the Victorian setting and quiet palette contrast mischievously with Charlotte’s determined personality. Review 9/02.
I Stink! written by Kate McMullan;
illustrated by Jim McMullan (Cotler/HarperCollins)
Bold, heavily outlined pictures and an in-your-face text bring us the machismo star of this picture book: a down-and-dirty (and, we learn, indispensable) garbage truck. Review 5/02.
The Broken Cat written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
At the vet with their injured cat, Andy asks to hear his mom’s story of how she broke her arm when she was a girl. The interaction of text and illustration is remarkably creative in this unpretentious paean to the ability of stories to comfort and connect. Review 5/02.
John Coltrane’s Giant Steps written and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Jackson/Atheneum)
A jazz classic is reincarnated in picture-book form, performed by translucent watercolor shapes and a brush-and-ink kitten. As in Raschka’s other jazz books, paint, composition, and color don’t just depict music, they become the musical experience. Review 9/02.
Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick)
Anderson’s vision of a future in which brain implants provide instantaneous, continuous communication and information is a dystopian tour de force. Disturbing yet wickedly funny, with as brilliant a use of decayed language as Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker. Review 9/02.
Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers (Dutton)
Twin tellings unfold related stories, one a contemporary coming-of-age story and one a WWII love story. Chambers deals powerfully with themes of sexual identity, love, and the value of life. Review 7/02.
Mary Ann Alice by Brian Doyle (Groundwood)
In the idiosyncratic voice of young poet Mary Ann Alice, Doyle tells of a community’s reaction to a proposed dam that will subdue their beloved river and submerge much of their land. Doyle, a fearless and exhilarating writer, negotiates the novel’s eddies and swirls with unerring control. Review 5/02.
Sonny’s War by Valerie Hobbs (Foster/Farrar)
With her father’s death and her adored older brother’s departure to Vietnam, high school freshman Cory is looking for something to hang on to. Precisely and evocatively set in the late 1960s in a small California town, this coming-of-age novel has the immediacy of film. Review 11/02.
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperCollins)
The adventures of a thirteenth-century Chinese boy who joins a circus as a death-defying kite rider soar with color and suspense. McCaughrean’s deft plotting, hair-raising suspense, and vivid details bring the book to splendid life. Review 7/02.
Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay (McElderry)
McKay’s story of an eccentric family of artists is by turns uproarious and moving, with scenes of absolute hilarity punctuating the adopted Saffy’s poignant search for belonging. Review 7/02.
A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic)
Feeling at ease only with her family and small community, Hattie steps out of her safe zone the summer two strangers come to town. As she relates the consequences in a confiding and empathetic narration, readers will feel they’ve found a new best friend. Review 1/03.
Little Dog and Duncan by Kristine O’Connell George;
illustrated by June Otani (Clarion)
Short verses that describe big dog Duncan’s sleepover visit are just the right size for Little Dog and little kids. Harmoniously designed and beguilingly illustrated. Review 7/02.
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow)
Sixty poems — clear, haunting, and accessible — aim in sum to present an encompassing yet intimate view of both the Middle East and Arab Americans. Review 9/02.
Peacock and Other Poems written by Valerie Worth;
illustrated by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar)
With incisive delicacy, Worth communicates her vision of the beauty in the ordinary. Precise, original imagery highlights these pungent philosophical commentaries. Review 7/02.
Abraham Lincoln written by Amy L. Cohn and Suzy Schmidt;
illustrated by David A. Johnson (Scholastic)
With the informality and intimacy of a family photo album, the authors introduce this “giant” of a man to young readers. Tall, craggy pictures accompany a strong, engagingly conversational text. Review 3/02.
Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science
by John Fleischman (Houghton)
After expertly engaging readers with his captivating story of a man who miraculously survived an accident that sent an iron rod through his skull, the author then leads into a lively discussion of evolving brain science. Review 5/02.
Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos (Farrar)
Gantos relates with excoriating honesty the time he fell through the hole in his life — when, as an aimless teenager, he went to prison for smuggling drugs — and shows how the experience helped turn him into a writer. Review 5/02.
What Charlie Heard written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Foster/Farrar)
Composer Charles Ives had his “ears wide open” to all sounds, whether traditionally melodic or not. Gerstein’s remarkably unified, creative picture-book biography makes visual the noise Ives heard and transformed into music. Review 5/02.
Action Jackson written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan;
illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Roaring Brook)
A picture-book biography follows Jackson Pollock through the process of creating one painting. The brevity of the text reflects the artist’s reserved nature; the quick, improvisational line of Parker’s large watercolor illustrations mirrors Pollock’s active mind. Review 11/02.
Talkin’ about Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman
written by Nikki Grimes; illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Orchard/Scholastic)
African-American aviator Coleman gets a hero’s send-off in this commemoration, a well-orchestrated sequence of fictional monologues by her friends and relations. Lewis’s watercolors work like snapshots to be passed around, returning us to each key moment of a life fully lived. Review 1/03.
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution written and illustrated by
Steve Jenkins (Houghton)
Showcasing Jenkins’s skillfully executed cut-paper artwork, this superb introduction to evolution for younger readers admirably avoids oversimplification and is both comprehensive and comprehensible. Review 9/02.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey
written and illustrated by Maira Kalman (Putnam)
The emergency re-commissioning of a retired New York City fireboat gives Kalman a unique focus for this September 11 story, in which the artist’s trademark exuberance is anchored by a sober and direct consideration of the events of that day. Review 9/02.
This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
Partridge lays out the complexities as well as the contradictions of song-writing icon Woody Guthrie’s life in an extraordinary page-turner of a biography. Review 3/02.
Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex
by Nathaniel Philbrick (Putnam)
A totally engrossing survival story details the ordeal of sailors on a Nantucket whaleship rammed by a sixty-ton sperm whale. A gripping narrative, meticulously researched. Review 1/03.
Of Interest to Adults
Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book
by Leonard S. Marcus (Dutton)
In conversations with fourteen illustrious picture book creators, Marcus searches for “the threads that connect the life work to the life story.” The resulting interviews are unique portraits, drawn with sensitivity and depth. Review 9/02.