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Horn Book Fanfare 2014

Horn Book Fanfare 2014

Although we didn’t plan it this way, this year’s Fanfare, the Horn Book’s list of the best books for children and teens published in 2014, has something for just about everyone. From a picture book about a bus driver to another about a haunted dog to a historical novel about Baba Yaga to a contemporary novel about an Omani boy to nonfiction about sharks, Romanovs, and growing up black in America, the twenty-nine choices offer plenty of scope in genre, subject, age level, and mood. There, your holiday shopping list is DONE.

roger_signature

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief


Picture Books

barnett_samanddaveSam & Dave Dig a Hole
written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick
(Primary)

Sam and Dave dig a hole in hopes of finding something spectacular, but even though their dog notices the indeed-spectacular buried gems all around them, the boys pass obliviously by. Text and illustration are perfectly balanced; earthy tones work with understated wit to create a funny, smart, mind-blowingly open-ended work. Review 11/14.

My BusMy Bus
written and illustrated by Byron Barton; Greenwillow
(Preschool)

This companion to My Car (rev. 11/01) is pitched just as perfectly to its young audience. Along with a friendly bus driver, cat and dog passengers, and different vehicles (bus, boat, train, plane), Barton incorporates some math and counting concepts in this toddler joy-ride. Clear compositions, vibrant colors, and an engagingly simple text welcome listeners aboard. Review 3/14.

blackall_baby treeThe Baby Tree
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Paulsen/Penguin
(Preschool, Primary)

When a young boy asks various grownups where babies come from, he gets some confusing answers. Finally, Mom and Dad provide the boy — and young listeners — with an age-appropriate and reassuring explanation. Blackall’s fanciful illustrations bring the boy’s funny misinterpretations to life, and her graceful, respectful handling of “the facts” is about as good as it gets. Review 5/14.

colon_drawDraw!
written and illustrated by Raúl Colón; Wiseman/Simon
(Primary)

In this vividly imagined wordless story, a boy sits, confined to bed, with a book about Africa and lots of art supplies. As he sketches, he’s transported (along with sketchbook, easel, and pencils) to Africa — and adventure. Colón’s signature lush saturated colors and scratched-in textures depict a budding artist communing with his jungle-animal muses and reveal the power of art. Review 9/14.

dipucchio_gastonGaston
written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson; Atheneum
(Preschool, Primary)

DiPucchio and Robinson play off the “one of these things is not like the other” trope in this lively tale of a rough-and-tumble bulldog in a refined poodle family. The story’s takeaway: it’s not your breed that makes you a family. Robinson’s illustrations are classic yet contemporary, bold and expressive; DiPucchio’s text begs to be read aloud. Review 5/14.

frazee_farmer and the clownThe Farmer and the Clown
written and illustrated by Marla Frazee; Beach Lane/Simon
(Preschool, Primary)

What happens when a crotchety old farmer rescues a toddler clown who has fallen off a circus train? Rarely has posture been used so well in a picture book, here used to wordlessly portray the kindness of strangers thrown (literally!) together by happenstance but then changed forever. Review 11/14.

jeffers_once-upon-an-alphabetOnce Upon an Alphabet
written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel
(Primary, Intermediate)

Each letter gets a drily delivered four-page story in this intricately conceived picture book for advanced alphabet aficionados. Careful readers will spot connections between far-apart letters, often involving aspiring astronaut Edmund. Insouciant illustrations, in ink (with occasional digital spot colors added) on oversized pages, add to the abundant absurdity. Review 1/15.

Viva FridaViva Frida
written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, with photos by Tim O’Meara; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Primary)

With the sparest of impressionistic texts in both Spanish and English (“busco / I search // Veo / I see… // Juego / I play”) and stunning digitally manipulated, three-dimensional art, Morales captures the essence of Frida Kahlo — and of an artist’s very soul. Ethereal, imagistic, and virtuosic. Review 9/14.

newgarden_bow-wow's nightmare neighborsBow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors
written and illustrated by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Preschool)

This wordless picture book with graphic novel–like paneling, brilliant colors, and a cinematic flair is supremely energetic, packed with movement, and populated by a cast of sassy (ghost) cats and one perplexed pup. Bow-Wow’s nightmare is surrealistic and goofy with a hint of the gothic, creating a multi-layered narrative that will have readers returning again and again. Review 9/14.


Fiction

curtis_madman of piney woodsThe Madman of Piney Woods
written by Christopher Paul Curtis; Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

An unlikely friendship develops, in Buxton, Ontario, 1901, between thirteen-year-old black Canadian boy Benji Alston and Irish Canadian boy Alvin “Red” Stockard. Both nature lovers, they encounter the (supposedly mythical) Madman of Piney Woods. Curtis’s poignant, often very funny companion to Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07) stands on its own, though familiarity with Elijah deepens emotional resonance. Review 9/14.

gantos_key that swallowed joey pigzaThe Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
written by Jack Gantos; Farrar
(Intermediate)

He’s still wired, but Joey Pigza is growing up, assuming the role of “man of the house” and caring for his baby brother — solo — until his friend Olivia (the “meanest blind girl in the world”) shows up. “Crummy parents,” “roachy row house,” and expired meds notwithstanding, Joey soldiers on in his inimitable, imperfect way, in a series-ender that lets readers know this kid will be okay. Review 11/14.

lagercrantz_my heart is laughingMy Heart Is Laughing
written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall; Gecko
(Primary)

First-grader Dani (My Happy Life, rev. 7/13) is always happy…but not now: she misses her moved-away best friend Ella, and the class mean-girls are bullying her. The text is funny and full of fresh, convincing detail; profuse line drawings brilliantly capture emotions through facial expressions and body language. Sweet and salty — umami for the emerging reader. Review 11/14.

lockhart_we were liarsWe Were Liars
written by E. Lockhart; Delacorte
(High School)

This taut psychological mystery about a wealthy but broken family revolves around an unspecified accident that left eldest granddaughter Cadence with memory loss. Just as unforgettable as the book’s explosive ending is Lockhart’s unreliable narrator, Cady, whose arresting voice will stick with readers long after the shock wears off. Review 5/14.

maguire_egg-and-spoon_170x242Egg & Spoon
written by Gregory Maguire; Candlewick
(Middle School)

Wealthy Ekaterina and destitute Elena accidentally exchange lives in 1907 Russia. In Maguire’s hands, what could have been a simple story of mistaken identity becomes a multilayered tale that draws from Russian folklore and features a wickedly funny Baba Yaga. Rich, consistently surprising prose propels readers through the complex but always intriguing story. Review 9/14.

martin_reign rainRain Reign
written by Ann M. Martin; Feiwel
(Intermediate)

Rose (whose “official diagnosis is high-functioning autism”) loves homonyms, consistency, and her dog, Rain (“rein,” “reign”). When a superstorm upends Rose’s world, she must face many things that scare her — including losing Rain. Martin’s fully realized characters, and particularly Rose’s voice, make this an engaging read — or, as Rose would say, “read (reed).” Review 9/14.

nye_turtle of omanThe Turtle of Oman
written by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt; Greenwillow
(Intermediate)

His family is packing up for a three-year stint in America, but Aref isn’t ready to leave his Oman home or his grandfather, Sidi. The bond between grandparent and child is a stalwart of children’s literature, and this novel quietly but surely evokes the classic theme against a sensuously rendered landscape that feels like home. Review 11/14.

preus_west of the moonWest of the Moon
written by Margi Preus; Amulet/Abrams
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In nineteenth-century Norway, young teen Astri is determined to go to America, but first she must escape the brutish goat herder to whom her greedy relatives have sold her. Norwegian folklore and myth are seamlessly integrated into the lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as fearless as any fairy-tale hero. Review 5/14.

tamaki_this one summer
This One Summer

written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki; First Second/Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School)

This graphic novel captures Rose’s summer on the cusp of adolescence, caught between her younger friend’s childish interests and the compelling (but confusing) adult world. Episodic vignettes, contextualizing flashbacks, and Rose’s own musings — all related in spare text and dynamically paced, indigo-hued illustrations — build to a poignant conclusion. Review 7/14.


Folklore

elya_little roja riding hoodLittle Roja Riding Hood
written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Susan Guevara; Putnam
(Primary)

“There once was a niña who lived near the woods. / She liked to wear colorful capas with hoods.” This modern-day Little Red, along with her sassy-senior abuela, foils the wicked lobo“¡No problema!” Elya’s rhyming text, liberally sprinkled with Spanish words, never stumbles; Guevara’s sly illustrations wink at Western folklore and Hispanic culture. Review 7/14.


Poetry

janeczko_firefly july2Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; Candlewick
(Preschool, Primary)

Thirty-six brief, memorable, mostly familiar poems thoughtfully arranged into seasons meet their match in Sweet’s glorious gouache, watercolor, and mixed-media illustrations. As arresting as the poems themselves, the accompanying art is expansive yet intimate, rendered in luminous colors on oversized pages. Review 3/14.

nelson_how i discovered poetryHow I Discovered Poetry
written by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper; Dial
(Middle School)

Unrhymed sonnets tell the story of Nelson’s 1950s youth, spent mostly on air force bases and in predominantly white communities. A culminating scene — in which she must read aloud a poem containing racist language — leads to a realization of the power of words. Black-and-white photographs and spare, blue-tinted illustrations allow readers space to visualize Nelson’s detailed imagery. Review 1/14.


Nonfiction

bang_buriedBuried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang; Blue Sky/Scholastic
(Primary, Intermediate)

The latest book in this series about energy on Earth tackles the concept of fossil fuels. The text (narrated by the Sun) explains large ideas with clarity, while the sumptuous art illuminates both the science and the dire situation brought on by our rapid consumption of a resource millions of years in the making. A breathtaking wake-up call for young environmentalists. Review 9/14.

eldeafoEl Deafo
written and illustrated by Cece Bell, color by David Lasky; Amulet/Abrams
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Bell’s graphic memoir about growing up deaf, fictionalized only in that the people look like large-eared rabbits, depicts a childhood involving friendships, insecurities, and a “Phonic Ear” that lets her hear her teacher from anywhere in the school. Bell clearly demonstrates, through plenty of relatable humor, that “our differences are our superpowers.” Review 11/14.

bryant_right wordThe Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; Eerdmans
(Primary)

This picture-book biography traces Peter Mark Roget’s journey from a lonely and solitary child, coping with loss through a compulsive keeping of lists, to the adult creator of the Thesaurus. Sweet’s visionary illustrations add layers of meaning to Bryant’s clear, linear text; gentle watercolors are embellished with all manner of realia and, appropriately, hundreds of words (the tour-de-force closing endpapers alone contain a stunning one thousand). Review 11/14.

dillon_story of buildingsThe Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond
written by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephen Biesty; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Biesty’s talents have never been put to better use or subtler effect than in these endlessly perusable drawings of buildings from the past and present (complete with wow-factor fold-out pages). The fact that the book is a by-the-way history of humankind is a bonus. Review 7/14.

fleming_family romanovThe Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
written by Candace Fleming; Schwartz & Wade/Random
(Middle School, High School)

This intimate portrait of Russia’s last imperial family seamlessly integrates telling details of the Romanovs’ daily lives with the sobering sociopolitical context of their reign, downfall, and eventual murders. Into this narrative, Fleming masterfully intersperses vignettes that illuminate Russian peasants’ experiences, resulting in a compelling and poignant narrative that humanizes the haves and the have-nots alike. Review 7/14.

powell_josephineJosephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson; Chronicle
(Intermediate, Middle School)

A dazzling book for a dazzling subject: Powell and Robinson depict, in words and pictures, the wit, the vivaciousness, the “razzmatazz,” of Josephine Baker. The text’s jazzy rhythm and the illustrations’ humor and theatricality allow Baker’s talent — along with her hustle, and her social consciousness — to shine. Review 5/14.

roy_neighborhood sharks_170x217Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands
written and illustrated by Katherine Roy; Macaulay/Roaring Brook
(Primary, Intermediate)

Dramatic text and motion-filled illustrations in blues, grays, and blood-reds follow a great white shark as it hunts a seal off the coast of San Francisco. Along the way, sections organized by physical feature — accompanied by clear (and frequently witty) diagrams — explain the science of the great white’s predatory prowess. Informative, fascinating, and beautiful. Review 9/14.

woodson_brown girl dreamingBrown Girl Dreaming
written by Jacqueline Woodson; Paulsen/Penguin
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In Woodson’s eloquent, steeped-in-American-history verse memoir, we watch her childhood unfolding within the larger world (amidst the burgeoning civil rights movement; the deep South and urban Brooklyn) and her own particular one (of family, friends, and neighborhood). Most compelling, perhaps, is her development as a nascent writer, poised to make her mark: “My name is Jacqueline Woodson / and I am ready for the ride.” Review 9/14.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For previous years’ Fanfare lists, click on the tag Fanfare list.

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