Horn Book Fanfare 2007

hornbookfanfare Horn Book Fanfare 2007

Best books of 2007

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.

Picture Books

At Night written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean (Farrar)
Simple but rhapsodic sentences accompany a restless little girl up onto the roof of her city brownstone, where a cool breeze and thoughts of the “wide world” send her to sleep. The book is small and square and quiet, with ink and watercolor paintings growing from tidy framed vignettes to full-bleed pictures of the homely rooftop and the luminous vistas that lie beyond. Review 9/07. (Primary)

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County written by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson (Kroupa/Farrar)
“Big Mama says, ‘Baby, behave yourself. Leave those chickens alone!’” But this self-proclaimed “Chicken-Chasing Queen” can’t help herself, especially when it comes to one particularly elusive hen. The energetic text and collage illustrations reflect the African American narrator’s spirited exuberance; lots of chicken-chasing sound effects (“pah-quawkkkkk!”; “squawkkkk!”) will have kids flocking to story hour. Review 5/07. (Primary)

A Good Day written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)
A bird loses his favorite feather; a dog, her leash tangled, loses her freedom; a fox loses track of his mother; a squirrel loses an acorn. How all is restored and the bad day transformed is superbly and concisely conveyed in the economic text and expressive illustrations, both packed with a preschooler-perfect measure of drama and suspense. Review 3/07. (Preschool)

Pictures from Our Vacation written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
A brother and sister (the narrator) are given instant cameras to record an initially disappointing family vacation, but once the fun starts there’s little time for photography. Fortunately, the narrator can keep pictures — memories — in her mind. The exhilaratingly free format, warm humor, spot-on perceptions, and quirky visual minutiae capture without nostalgia the essence of childhood summers. Review 5/07. (Primary)

First the Egg written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Porter/Roaring Brook)
Seeger’s tour de force concept book introduces the order of things (“First the EGG / then the CHICKEN”), gradually building to abstract pairs (word/story; paint/picture) before circling back with a thought-provoking twist to “First the CHICKEN / then the EGG.” The book’s compact size, minimalist treatment, clever die-cuts, and color-saturated pages will entice young philosophers. Review 11/07. (Preschool)

The Arrival illustrated by Shaun Tan (Levine/Scholastic)
In a wordless graphic-novel-style picture book, monochromatic yet lavish, a man boards a steamship to find a better life for his family. The sci-fi setting — with its unusual food, alphabet, architecture, and technology — turns readers into refugees themselves, simultaneously disoriented and awestruck. Small panels propel action- and emotion-packed stories; detailed larger spreads provide wondrous views of the new world. Review 11/07. (Middle School, High School)

Fiction

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney (Little)
Fourteen-year-old Junior decides to make the iffy twenty-mile commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to the small town of Reardan in hopes of gaining a better education. Junior’s take-no-prisoners cartoons and razor-sharp, vibrantly alive narration evoke tears and laughs in equal measure; his distinct voice and tragicomic perspective convey with bittersweet intensity this benchmark bicultural experience. Review 9/07. (Middle School, High School)

Becca at Sea by Deirdre Baker (Groundwood)
In a dozen linked episodes set on a small island off the coast of British Columbia, readers meet Becca (perhaps ten) as she establishes her place in her memorably eccentric extended family. With delightfully preposterous yet insightful detail, witty dialogue, and a lovingly depicted island setting, this is a funny, endearing book to visit and revisit. Review 1/08. (Intermediate)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron (Foster/Farrar)
“I only feel like myself when I am alone,” says James, and Cameron draws his heartbreaking isolation with empathy and acuteness. The book’s first-person depiction of a privileged but disaffected young protagonist at sea in affluent Manhattan makes it seem very much an “old school” YA novel, but it has an unmistakably contemporary sensibility and respect for teen readers. Review 1/08. (High School)

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic)
Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born free in the Canadian community of Buxton, a refuge for freed slaves established in 1849. The gradual narrative evolution from ebullient small-town escapades to heart-rending depictions of newly escaped slaves, captured fugitives, and broken families remains true to Elijah’s perspective, making impossible concepts accessible without denying them their horror. Review 11/07. (Intermediate)

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
Ten short stories from an award-winning fantasy writer delve into the crevices of nightmare, temptation, and helplessness with a mixture of earthy dialect and inventiveness that makes this collection mesmerizing, sometimes horrifying, and occasionally funny. Lanagan’s powerfully visceral speculative fiction is written in penetrating language and with the intensity of folktale. Review 11/07. (High School)

A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve (Eos/HarperCollins)
This final volume in the Hungry City Chronicles brings the adventures of Tom and Hester, Wren and Theo, and the other players in the high-stakes conflict between the Green Storm and the Traction Cities to a riveting, gratifyingly circular close. The post-apocalyptic setting is vivid, the pace lightning-quick — all overlaid with an abiding compassion for the human race. Review 9/07. (Middle School, High School)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
Young Hugo lives, secretly, in a Paris train station; a mysterious toy seller, his feisty goddaughter, and an automaton frame Hugo’s adventures. This groundbreaking work defies genre classification: neither text nor pictures (dramatically crosshatched pencil illustrations and movie stills) can tell the story alone, and Selznick’s ability to make readers feel as if they’re watching a silent movie is complete genius. Review 3/07. (Intermediate)

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow)
In a contemporary fantasy based on Irish legend, time is leaking out of the human world; fiddler J.J., fifteen, journeys into Tír na n’Óg to repair the hole in the time skin. The open book design (a page of traditional music ends each chapter) propels readers through the novel; profound themes packaged in a delectable and unusual mystery make it spellbinding. Review 3/07. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Folklore

Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold retold and illustrated by James Rumford (Houghton)
With an economy and vigor of language, sinuous visual foreshadowing, and subtle hints of the Anglo-Saxon epic’s emotional depths, Rumford tells of the hero Beowulf’s three battles-to-the-death: with the jealous monster Grendel, with Grendel’s revenge-driven mother, and with the ravaging dragon who finally ends Beowulf’s life. Superb on all counts. Review 7/07. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm retold by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Max Grafe (Candlewick)
An ex-soldier makes a deal with the devil: if he wears a dead bear’s skin for seven years — without bathing, prayer, or explanation — he’ll be rich; if he fails, he forfeits his soul. Schlitz narrates this tale of endurance and heroism with clarity and grace. Grafe’s dark, full-page illustrations in deep grays and browns reinforce the haunting atmosphere. Review 11/07. (Intermediate)

Poetry

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings written and illustrated by Douglas Florian (Harcourt)
“Pluto was a planet. / Pluto was admired. / Pluto was a planet. / Till one day it got fired.” In twenty pithy poems Florian sums up the heavens, from our own galaxy to “the great beyond.” With its gorgeous palette (deep-space blues and gaseous oranges), sweeping vistas, and ingenious effects (including occasional die-cuts), this is a cosmic success. Review 5/07. (Primary, Intermediate)

Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems) written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai (Clarion)
Park puts her own stamp on a traditional Korean form of poetry. Whether about the seasons, home, or school, the twenty-seven sijo have that twist that strikes at common human experience (thunder’s delayed response to lightning: “He hates having his picture taken, so he always gets there late”). Banyai’s playful, retro illustrations emphasize the collection’s wit and originality. Review 9/07. (Intermediate)

Nonfiction

May I Pet Your Dog? written by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Jan Ormerod (Clarion)
Dachshund Harry trains young readers in kid-meets-dog etiquette, walking them through when and how to approach a dog and how to behave around unfriendly or working dogs. The clean-lined pictures are as simple and patient as the easy text, and the direct address from dog to child is an appetizing treat. Review 7/07. (Preschool, Primary)

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
With elegant simplicity, and aided by a spacious and inviting book design, veteran history writer Freedman takes a step back — a big step back — from Columbus to consider who else may have visited the “New World,” and when. Evidence of Viking and Chinese voyages is carefully weighed, and Freedman’s survey of prehistoric migration and exploration provides an enlightening and provocative context. Review 1/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain written and illustrated by Peter Sís (Foster/Farrar)
The personal crashes into the political in this memoir of a Cold War childhood by Czech émigré Sís. Expertly deploying an array of illustrative choices and media, Sís conveys his theme of artistic liberation from government oppression, contrasting the crabbed monochromatic lines of enforced conformity with the sensuous, free palette of the imagination. Review 9/07. (Intermediate, Middle School, High School)

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