Each November, the editors and reviewers of the Horn Book Magazine go back through the five-hundred-some books reviewed that year to make a list of the very best. There is no set number of titles nor quotas for genre or reading level; while we believe that there is an audience for each book named to the list, popularity (either proved or predicted) is not a factor we consider. At the risk of grandiosity, let me say simply that the annual Fanfare list is composed of titles that the Horn Book thinks make the world of books a better place. Below, our choices for 2012.
written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Industrious Annabelle finds a box containing an endless supply of yarn. Soon everyone in town is wearing her multicolored sweaters and hats — even the animals and houses. An evil archduke steals the box, but it miraculously makes its way back to Annabelle. Barnett’s folktale-like story receives a classically retro look in Klassen’s homespun ink and digital illustrations. Review 1/12.
Z Is for Moose
written by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky; Greenwillow
Impatient Moose intrudes on early spreads of this alphabet book, before discovering M is actually for Mouse. After Moose’s subsequent epic tantrum, his gracious friend Zebra comes to the rescue. Both Bingham and Zelinsky cleverly enhance the basic ABC formula: she through the zany narrative and he through boisterous, frame-breaking illustrations. Review 3/12.
Jimmy the Greatest!
written by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated from the Spanish by Elisa Amado; Groundwood
This story of a young boxer who defers (and redefines) his dream of success gains great personality and humanity from its loopy but warmhearted portrait of a hardscrabble tropical village. Muhammad Ali is Jimmy’s hero; Jimmy may well become yours. Review 7/12.
Little Dog Lost:
The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic
written and illustrated by Mônica Carnesi; Paulsen/Penguin
In this edge-of-your-seat adventure story for the very youngest, a little dog is stranded in the middle of an ice-strewn river, heading toward open sea. Simple yet dramatic watercolors effectively convey the wintry setting; a hyper-engaging text (“Don’t be scared, Dog! A ship is coming!”) will keep readers involved all the way to the happy ending. Review 1/12.
And Then It’s Spring
written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead; Porter/Roaring Brook
A small boy and his three animal companions patiently await spring. Fogliano’s understated, poetic text is perfectly paced, building tension as that sudden, glorious first spring day approaches. Stead captures humorous details in her woodblock and pencil illustrations, contrasting the browns and grays of late winter with the hopeful green of new growth. Review 1/12.
A Celebration of Building
written and illustrated by Christy Hale; Lee & Low
On left-hand pages, young children build with blocks, cups, pillows, sand — whatever’s available — as simple concrete poems describe the constructions. Right-hand pages are photographs of architectural marvels (the Guggenheim, Fallingwater) that echo the kids’ structures; endnotes provide additional information. This celebration of play, creation, and imagination is visually appealing and wholly original. Review 1/13.
This Is Not My Hat
written and illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick
In this darkly hilarious picture book, a small fish — the most unreliable of unreliable narrators — assures readers he will get away with stealing a big fish’s hat. Well, “probably.” Slyly and subtly humorous illustrations belie each of the narrator’s claims, letting readers in on the joke from the very start. Review 9/12.
written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; Porter/Roaring Brook
Seeger has once again created a (gorgeous) concept book that works on several levels. Thick impasto paint and clever die cuts introduce various shades of green (“forest green”; “sea green”) and end with a commentary on sustainability (“never green”; “forever green”). Review 3/12.
A Home for Bird
written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead; Porter/Roaring Brook
A little blue wooden bird jettisoned from a moving truck is rescued by a toad named Vernon. Despite his new friend’s persistent silence, Vernon is determined to help Bird find home. Stead’s loose-lined illustrations enhance the humor of Vernon’s one-sided patter right up to the story’s eminently rewarding — and satisfyingly circular — conclusion. Review 7/12.
Chickadee [Birchbark House]
written and illustrated by Louise Erdrich; Harper/HarperCollins
In this fourth book in the series, eight-year-old Chickadee is kidnapped from his Ojibwe camp, and his family leaves the Great Plains (and their traditional nomadic way of life) to find him. Erdrich gives young readers a story full of suspense, humor, and child-appealing incident and adventure even as she captures a pivotal moment in our national history. Review 9/12.
The Fault in Our Stars
written by John Green; Dutton
Seventeen-year-old Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer support group. The wise-beyond-their-years teens are both facing the possibility of dying young but embrace a chance at love together. Green’s poignant story transcends its teen-illness premise by combining the right amounts of romance, humor, and the author’s signature dose of heady, lively dialogue. Review 3/12.
Penny and Her Doll
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow
This memorable second easy reader about mouse Penny explores the universal childhood experience of naming things, with Penny pondering what to call the new doll Gram has sent her. Henkes skillfully develops his characters and story using three brief chapters, accessible language, intentional repetition, subtle clues, and expressive illustrations to great effect. Review 9/12.
A Certain October
written by Angela Johnson; Simon
After a terrible train accident leaves her autistic younger half-brother in a coma and the boy she was flirting with dead, East Cleveland teen Scotty must come to terms with events — and stop blaming herself for what happened. The story unfolds gradually and in a nonlinear way, with uncommon nuance, sensitivity, and compassion. Review 9/12.
The Brides of Rollrock Island
written by Margo Lanagan; Knopf
A witch calls upon her selkie sisters to seduce the men of Rollrock Island and drive away their human wives. Six narrators relate the consequences for the seal “mams,” their island-born sons, and an entire community. Lanagan’s sensory descriptions — of the land, sea, and creatures mythical and human — are melancholy, lyrical, and unforgettable. Review 9/12.
My Book of Life by Angel
written by Martine Leavitt; Ferguson/Farrar
In spare yet haunting free verse, Leavitt tells of sixteen-year-old Angel’s descent into drugs, prostitution, and abuse at the hands of her manipulative pimp — and how her need to save a younger girl finally gives her the power to save herself. Angel’s story is a stunning portrait of exploitation and redemption. Review 11/12.
Little White Duck:
A Childhood in China
written by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez; Graphic Universe/Lerner
Na Liu draws on her 1970s childhood in Wuhan for this collection of eight linked stories illustrated, comic-book style, by her husband. The events recounted are both historically specific and wonderfully — frequently hilariously — universal in this you-are-there portrait of child- and family life.
No Crystal Stair:
A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; Carolrhoda Lab
(Middle School, High School)
Nelson (with the considerable aid of artist Christie) uses family history to magnify the whole American story in a stunning multi-voiced narration about the genesis and reach of a legendary Harlem bookseller and his store. Books about the power of books are rarely as invigorating as this one. Review 3/12.
written by Terry Pratchett; Harper/HarperCollins
The protagonist of this Victorian London–set tale is a “tosher” named Dodger who, after saving a distressed damsel, goes from sewer-rat to toast of the town. Without breaking character, but with tongue firmly in cheek (a neat trick!), Pratchett does his best Dickens impersonation — even going meta by inserting Boz into the cast. Review 11/12.
Splendors and Glooms
written by Laura Amy Schlitz; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)
The fates of street urchin puppeteer assistants Lizzie Rose and Parsefall entwine with that of cosseted doctor’s daughter Clara in this richly atmospheric Victorian tale of dark enchantments, magical transformations, guilt, grief, love, and sacrifice. With lively language and a structurally complex plot, Schlitz exhibits the delicate control of a puppeteer of words. Review 9/12.
Liar & Spy
written by Rebecca Stead; Lamb/Random
(Intermediate, Middle School)
New friend Safer recruits lonely Georges to help investigate a sinister upstairs neighbor. With his developing powers of observation, Georges uncovers the truth about “Mr. X” (and Safer himself), then finds the courage to face his own secret. Stead’s idiosyncratic-yet-believable characters inhabit a rich world contained within a few Brooklyn blocks. Review 9/12.
Code Name Verity
written by Elizabeth Wein; Hyperion
Be prepared to pay very close attention while reading this WWII thriller about two young female British spies; practically nothing is as first it seems. Dual narrators Maddie and “Verity” — desperate, brave, loyal, cunning — will rivet readers as the story’s stakes grow ever higher. Review 5/12.
The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
written and illustrated by Robert Byrd; Dial
In seventeen intricately and eye-pleasingly designed double-page spreads, Byrd thematically presents salient facets of Franklin’s legendary life and times from childhood onward. Detailed spot art and larger illustrations, Ben’s own words, a helpful timeline, author’s note, and a bibliography provide additional information to round out the absorbing, thorough portrait of this Founding Father. Review 11/12.
A Story of the Galápagos
written and illustrated by Jason Chin; Porter/Roaring Brook
Chin’s picture book exploration of one of the Galápagos islands begins six million years ago — “Birth” — and details its life stages before it sinks back into the sea. Existence doesn’t end there; many inhabitants have adapted and found homes on other islands. Engaging, accessible text and dynamic illustrations make this cycle-of-life-and-evolution story relevant and immediate for today’s young readers. Review 9/12.
A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
written by Phillip Hoose; Farrar
(Intermediate, Middle School, High School)
“Meet B95, one of the world’s premier athletes.” B95 is one of a flock of small migratory shorebirds (rufa red knots) who fly from Tierra del Fuego to the Canadian Arctic and back, every year. This fascinating, lucid, and nuanced account, augmented by spectacular photographs and progressive maps, will bring readers along on the birds’ extraordinary journey. Review 7/12.
Voices from the Disaster
written by Deborah Hopkinson; Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)
Hopkinson’s overview of Titanic‘s doomed maiden voyage presents events with immediacy and suspense despite the inevitable outcome. Harrowing, highly sensory details, first-person accounts from a wide range of survivors, and archival photographs both humanize the disaster and give a sense of its scope. Fascinating back matter extends the narrative. Review 3/12.
The Fairy Ring:
Or, Elsie and Frances Fool the World
written by Mary Losure; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)
In 1919 Cottingley, England, young cousins Elsie and Frances produced several photographs that appeared to prove the existence of fairies. Losure’s warm, conversational narrative follows the cousins and their unintended fame, all the while — in her cleverly ambiguous text and with a single tantalizing unstaged photograph — leaving open the possibility of magic. Review 3/12.
The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
written by Steve Sheinkin; Flash Point/Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School)
Spies, science, and history compellingly but instructively combine in this account of one of WWII’s most significant battles: that over the procurement and deployment of the atomic bomb. Sheinkin is an irresistible storyteller whose scholarship and sense of structure provide unobtrusive support to every page. Review 11/12.