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Picture Book Reviews of 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winner and Honor Books

 Picture Book Winner

frazee_farmer and the clownstar2 The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Beach Lane/Simon 32 pp.
10/14 978-1-4424-9744-3 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9745-0 $10.99

Appearances can be deceiving in this superb wordless book from two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Frazee. At sunset, a grim-faced, pitchfork-wielding farmer comes to the rescue when a circus train hits a bump and ejects a jolly-looking toddler clown. The contrast is almost comical: a tall elderly man wearing a frown and a flat black hat holding hands with a miniature clown wearing a painted-on grin and a pointy red hat. At bedtime, the two wash their faces, and off comes the clown makeup, revealing a scared and vulnerable child and wiping away any hint of humor from our tale — for the moment. In Frazee’s pencil and gouache illustration the characters are arrestingly transformed: the child now clearly unhappy and the farmer’s softened features registering concern. The next morning, the farmer reveals a playful side as he essentially makes a clown of himself to get a real smile from his young guest. When the circus train returns later that day, the body language of the new friends expresses a powerful clash of emotions: the child’s ebullience brings both his feet off the ground, while the farmer, earthbound, stands stock-still and stoic. The two exchange hugs, wave goodbye, and…how the heck can Frazee break readers’ hearts like this? Never fear: as the farmer walks pensively away, viewers see that he’s being followed by a circus monkey, who gestures to us not to tell — surely a tip of the hat to Rathmann’s classic (and also wordless) Good Night, Gorilla (rev. 7/94). Using only pictures, Frazee’s book — both spare and astonishingly rich — offers a riveting narrative, characters to care deeply about, and an impressive range of emotion. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

agee_it's only stanleystar2 It’s Only Stanley
by Jon Agee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Dial 32 pp.
3/15 978-0-8037-3907-9 $17.99

The Wimbledon family can’t sleep due to one noise (“HOWOOO!”) after another (“CLANK CLANK CLANK”). In each case, it’s the fault of their dog Stanley, whose onomatopoeic disturbances interrupt — hilariously — not just the sleep but the perfectly cadenced rhyming account of the increasingly bothered Wimbledons: “The Wimbledons were sleeping. / It was late beyond belief, / When Wylie heard a splashy sound / That made him say: ‘Good grief!’” As the night wears on, more and more family members are awakened, and Stanley shows himself to be one clever beagle (and over-the-moon in love). The thick lines and subdued colors in the illustrations bring out the story’s considerable humor and focus readers’ attention on the ever-more-fantastical situations. Agee understands the drama of the page turn better than anyone, with vignettes of the increasingly crowded Wimbledon family bed giving way to full-bleed double-page spreads of Stanley’s machinations until it all comes together (“KAPOW!”) to make everybody jump. Make sure your listeners have their seatbelts fastened. ROGER SUTTON

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

jeffers_once-upon-an-alphabetstar2 Once Upon an Alphabet
by Oliver Jeffers; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Philomel 112 pp.
10/14 978-0-399-16791-1 $26.99

Each letter of the alphabet gets its own little story in this picture book that is much more than a simple set of ABCs. Whimsical, funny, occasionally tragic, and highly entertaining, this collection of (sometimes) interlocking tales is brilliantly inventive, from A (for astronaut Edmund, who is afraid of heights) to Z (for the zeppelin Edmund flies four daring feet above the ground). Jeffers’s loose cartoon style lends itself to visual humor, with lots of sight gags delivered through line and color, such as daredevil Delilah boldly confronting all danger except the bellowing of her father when she’s late for dinner. The stories are each four pages long and made up of just a few sentences, which often feature alliteration: “Mary is made of matter. So is her mother. And her mother’s moose.” The pictures frequently incorporate more words in bubbles, captions, and labels. Each letter brings its own delights, whether it is robots who steal rain clouds because they don’t like getting wet or the enigmatic letter Q, in which a uniformed man searches around, under, and behind the book’s pages for a missing question. Although alphabet books are usually for younger children, it’s older kids who will delight here in the cleverness of the concepts and their execution. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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The 2015 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on May 27th, 2015. For reviews of the fiction and nonfiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb15.

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