Welcome to Horn Book Fanfare! 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. This year’s list includes: a quietly action-filled picture book about… waiting. Two mice of very few (but well-chosen) words. A handful of books without any words. A teenager building an invisible helicopter. Another experiencing a haunted island. Killer wasps and killer ballerinas. A cozy Nordic detective story starring a toad. And nonfiction about historical whistle-blowers, contemporary tragedy, medical breakthroughs, and Winnie-the-Pooh’s backstory.
It’s an eclectic list with lots to discover. Dive in and enjoy!
Editor in Chief
It’s Only Stanley
written and illustrated by Jon Agee; Dial
It’s not only dog Stanley: the whole Wimbledon family gets in on an adventure that goes literally out of this world. Agee is a master of the page-turn; his precisely calibrated rhyming text partners with deadpan pictures to tell a tale of a love that knows no limits. Review 5/15.
written and illustrated by Byron Barton; Greenwillow
Tom is riding to work on his bike. Age-appropriate foreshadowing in Barton’s signature neon-bright illustrations slowly reveals that his destination is the circus — but there’s yet another surprise in store to delight preschoolers. A perfect book for the youngest audiences, with its kid-friendly subject, brisk pacing, and flawless use of repetition in both text and art. Review 5/15.
Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond; Ferguson/Farrar
In an enthralling story from family lore, set in the Ontario wilderness, a young boy (the author’s grandfather) experiences a forest fire, with people and wild animals seeking refuge together in a lake. Evocative pen-and-ink lines reveal every detail, while dramatic watercolor washes plunge readers into extremes of cold-gray water and red-hot flames. Review 9/15.
Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson; Putnam
CJ is full of questions, and his nana is full of answers that shine light on the positive during a long, rainy city bus ride that ends with the serving of others at a soup kitchen. A diverse cast, depicted in simple acrylic, collage, and digital art, make the best of what they have in this honest, hopeful book. Review 3/15.
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow
You might not think five toy figurines — wait, six; now five again; now ten? — placed on a windowsill would provide much drama, but they do in this mysterious and endearing book. And the fun lies not just in watching them but in seeing what they see out their window: the pleasures of a changing world. Review 9/15.
by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith; Groundwood
With a mixture of panels and full-page illustrations, this wordless book follows a child and man walking through a seemingly arid black-and-white urban landscape. The child picks wildflowers and begins to share them with others, gradually bringing color to her world. Significant details appear in increasingly vibrant watercolor in the assured pen-and-ink art. Review 5/15.
Written and Drawn by Henrietta
written and illustrated by Liniers; TOON
Follow Henrietta’s creative process as she draws the story of a girl and a three-headed monster on a quest to find…a hat. Liniers’s attention to detail, seamless incorporation of graphic-novel elements, and child-inspired art create an inventive and witty book. Concurrently published in Spanish as Escrito y dibujado por Enriqueta. Review 11/15.
written and illustrated by Daniel Miyares; Simon
On a rainy day, a young boy floats his folded-newspaper boat through puddles and flooded streets until it falls apart. Miyares’s elegant art in a limited palette of mostly grays and yellows shows some central elements in near-photographic detail surrounded by large swaths of negative space. In this wordless book, sweeping spreads and smaller panels provide superb pacing. Review 5/15.
written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier; Clarion
Ruzzier uses the picture book form with elegant efficiency, employing a 1-2-3 counting structure to tell a child-pleasing story of adventure, friendship, and sharing. The unusually small trim size, rich palette, surreal landscapes, expressive mice characters, humorous details, and playful story arc add up to something special. Review 9/15.
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich
written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach; Knopf
In Sarcone-Roach’s shaggy-dog story, the journey is as entertaining as the didn’t-see-it-coming ending. An offstage narrator spins a diverting tale about a missing sandwich, a hungry bear, and an unexpected jaunt to the city. Vibrant painterly illustrations gleefully play along, diverting our attention from the real question: who is telling the story? Listeners will beg to hear this one again. Review 1/15.
written and illustrated by
Stephen Savage; Roaring Brook
Unlike the city’s trio of macho trucks (fire, tow, and bucket), our unassuming, bespectacled hero quietly goes about his job collecting trash. When a blizzard hits, the garbage truck sneaks into a garage and emerges as “SUPERTRUCK!” to plow out the city. Simple shapes and bold colors telegraph character, emotion, and action in a visually accessible superhero story with plenty of drama! mystery! and danger! Review 1/15.
The War That Saved My Life
written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; Dial
For emotionally abused and physically disabled Ada, who’s spent her childhood in abject conditions, WWII London’s evacuations present a chance to seek a better life. This honest portrait of emotional healing — both Ada’s and that of her new guardian, who’s suffered a loss — fully acknowledges that recovery isn’t easy, but assures that it is possible. Review 1/15.
Sunny Side Up
written by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm, color by Lark Pien; Graphix/Scholastic
In this graphic novel set in August 1976, ten-year-old Sunny is sent to visit her gramps in Florida while (we later find out) her teenage brother struggles with substance abuse at home. Summery panel illustrations and straightforward dialogue combine for an often funny, sometimes devastating, always insightful child’s-eye view. Review 9/15.
I Crawl Through It
written by A.S. King; Little, Brown
Stanzi can see the invisible helicopter Gustav is building only on Tuesdays. China Knowles has swallowed herself and lives inside out. Lansdale Cruise’s hair grows when she lies. And someone is threatening to bomb their high school. An exceptional, surreal story of love and friendship from a fearless author of experimental YA. Review 9/15.
Detective Gordon: The First Case
written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee, translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall; Gecko
Detective Gordon (a toad) is the chief of police in the forest; young, excitable Buffy (a mouse) is his brand-new sidekick. Using their complementary skills, the two track down some nut thieves and mete out an eminently just punishment. This odd couple’s first mission is full of warm humor and wisdom — both handled with a feather-light touch. Review 5/15.
written by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Jon Klassen; Simon
(Intermediate, Middle School)
There’s something wrong with Steve’s baby brother. In a recurring dream, a comforting female voice tells Steve she can make everything better — if only he’ll agree. Oppel’s middle-grade horror story is deeply disturbing; his expert use of the uncanny frightening; and the gentle build at once riveting and chilling. Klassen’s moody black-and-white art adds to the sense of dread. Review 9/15.
The Hired Girl
written by Laura Amy Schlitz; Candlewick
In 1911, fourteen-year-old Joan — wide-eyed and uncultured but voracious of mind — departs rural Pennsylvania for big-city Baltimore. She’s employed as an observant Jewish family’s “Shabbos goy” and promptly, repeatedly, offends people (e.g., attempting to convert the youngest family member to Catholicism). Her heart’s in the right place, though, and authentic-sounding journal entries endear her to readers. Review 9/15.
X: A Novel
written by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon; Candlewick
(Middle School, High School)
In this memorable portrait of Malcolm X and the forces that shaped him, readers are immersed in adolescent Malcolm’s world — from Lansing to Roxbury to Harlem to Charlestown Prison — all brought vividly to life through the strength of the intimate first-person voice. A powerful, compelling look at a seminal figure, co-written by Malcolm X’s daughter. Review 5/15.
written by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by Brendan Shusterman; HarperTeen
Fifteen-year-old Caden Bosch’s fantasies and delusions take him over until he’s committed to a psychiatric ward and treated for schizoaffective disorder. Shusterman (inspired by his son Brendan’s experiences) adroitly dives into the abyss of mental illness, yet leaves his protagonist — and readers — with hard-earned hope. Review 3/15.
written by Rebecca Stead; Lamb/Random
For middle schoolers, finding one’s identity can mean changing or strengthening friendships, or taking ownership of one’s body — through embracing feminism, through (underwear) selfies, or just by wearing cat ears. Stead’s ambitious novel is full of unforgettable characters, unexpected connections, and profound insights into a complicated time of life. Review 7/15.
The Walls Around Us
written by Nova Ren Suma; Algonquin
Two unreliable narrators — quiet juvie-inmate Amber and spoiled ballerina Violet — reveal the wrenching story of a third girl, Orianna. The three interconnected tales barrel toward a shocking finale, even as lyrical prose and lush description tempt readers to linger. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, and wholly compelling, this novel will haunt readers long after the last page is turned. Review 3/15.
The Emperor of Any Place
written by Tim Wynne-Jones; Candlewick
A grandfather and grandson find themselves, in several ways, on a Pacific island in the closing weeks of World War II. They are not alone. This is gripping contemporary YA, historical fiction, and a ghost story, too; and trust Wynne-Jones to even ennoble zombies amidst a serious tale of men and war. Review 11/15.
My Seneca Village
written by Marilyn Nelson; Namelos
(Middle School, High School)
Nelson offers a series of intimate portraits of the lives of residents (fictionalized) of the short-lived, African American–founded community of Seneca Village, where Central Park now stands. Poems in traditional forms from various points of view tell vivid interlocking tales, while accompanying historical notes and scene-setting descriptions provide panoramic context. Review 11/15.
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
written and illustrated by Don Brown; Houghton
(Intermediate, Middle School)
“When I have a nightmare, it’s a hurricane in New Orleans,” Brown quotes a FEMA worker, and that terrifying prospect is fully evoked in the author-artist’s graphic narrative of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Unflinchingly horrific images, dramatic pacing, and a sobering, well-sourced text document the immediate effects on and the lasting damage to the city and its people. Review 9/15.
March: Book Two
written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell; Top Shelf Productions
(Middle School, High School)
In the graphic-memoir trilogy’s second volume, uncompromising text and illustrations follow young John Lewis and the burgeoning civil rights movement, from the Freedom Rides to the March on Washington. The pacing ramps up tension and historical import; the format is a perfect vehicle for delivering these powerful words and images. Review 5/15.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
written by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Little, Brown
In a warmly narrated bedtime story, Mattick tells her young son about WWI veterinarian Harry Colebourn’s rescue of a bear cub, and that bear’s subsequent commemoration as Winnie-the-Pooh. Affectionate vignettes of mother and son sharing the family tale counterpoint more sweeping illustrations. Appended photos and documents remind us that this cozy yarn is, in fact, true. Review 9/15.
Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever
written by Jim Murphy; Clarion
(Intermediate, Middle School)
Medical and social history combine in this account of how two doctors — a white man and a white woman — and an undersung African American laboratory assistant together created the first treatment for “blue baby syndrome.” Murphy’s focus is sharp; the narrative, suspenseful. The operation — and the book — are a success. Review 11/15.
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli; Viking
“Count Victor Lustig,” born Robert Miller, conned his way across Europe and America; he even snookered Al Capone. His “most spectacular scheme” involved soliciting cash bids — and pocketing one — from scrap-metal dealers vying to tear down the Eiffel Tower. Snappy prose and brain-bending mixed-media illustrations (Miller’s head is a fingerprint) make this an offer(ing) you can’t refuse. Review 5/15.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
written by Steve Sheinkin; Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School)
Sheinkin’s (Bomb, rev. 11/12) latest nonfiction tour-de-force unfolds like a thriller as he presents a spectacularly complex American story: the escalation of the Vietnam War; the leaking of the Pentagon Papers; the Watergate scandal; the fall of the Nixon administration. The enormous amount of incorporated primary source material lends the account a rare immediacy, while timely ethical questions, arising organically throughout, make the history crucially relevant for contemporary teens. Review 9/15.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh; Abrams
With an excellent marriage of historical context (late-nineteenth-century Mexico) and illustration (inspired by Mixtec codices), Tonatiuh’s picture-book biography illuminates not just the artist who popularized Day of the Dead calaveras but also educates readers about Mexican culture and politics, printing processes, and art appreciation. An enlightening tribute from one unique visual artist to another. Review 11/15.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes; Candlewick
In stirring free verse that often incorporates direct quotes, Weatherford chronicles Hamer’s life, from her sharecropper childhood to her civil rights activism. Holmes’s stunning collage illustrations use varied palettes and perspectives as well as realia to capture Hamer’s hardships, triumphs, and indomitable spirit. Review 9/15.