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Reviews of the 2016 Sibert Award winners


tonatiuh_funny bonesstar2 Funny Bones: Posada and His Day 
of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh; 
illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Abrams 40 pp.
8/15 978-1-4197-1647-8 $18.95

Artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1915) didn’t invent calaveras, the iconic skeletons associated with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, but they attained their greatest popularity during the twenty-four years that he drew them. Posada died poor and relatively unknown, but interest in his work grew steadily after his death, and now Tonatiuh brings his story to a child audience. In his signature flat illustrative style reminiscent of the Mixtec (an indigenous Mesoamerican people) codex, Tonatiuh digitally layers various colors and textures onto simple, black-outlined line drawings. Appropriately, Posada’s own artwork also plays a prominent role in the book and provides a nice complement to Tonatiuh’s illustrations, especially in a series of broadsides that ask the reader to consider the relationship between art and politics in Mexican culture. The straightforward narrative incorporates biographical highlights and personal anecdotes, while extended sidebars illustrate the different processes of lithography, engraving, and etching (one of which contains a small error). An author’s note, glossary, bibliography, and index round out the full assort-ment of nonfiction features, making 
this book a worthy successor to Tonatiuh’s 2015 Belpré– and Sibert honor–winning Separate Is Never Equal (rev. 7/14). JONATHAN HUNT

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books:

brown_drowned citystar2 Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School Houghton 96 pp.
8/15 978-0-544-15777-4 $18.99

To date, the majority of children’s and young adult books about Hurricane Katrina are microcosmic stories or accounts of a single person or family. Here, in powerful comic-book format, Brown delivers the full force of the storm and its impact on the city as a whole. Beginning with Katrina’s inception as just a breeze in Africa, he traces its path across the Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico. Evacuation procedures in New Orleans, both successful (eighty percent of the residents left) and unsuccessful (promised buses for the poor never arrived), are outlined in chilling detail as readers see residents gridlocked in traffic and also see the resignation of those remaining. When the storm hits New Orleans, Brown hits readers with the consequences: flooding, fear, frustration, desperation, and death. He follows with the overwhelming numbers: broken levees releasing one million gallons of water a minute; twenty-five thousand people taking refuge in the Superdome (and fifteen thousand in the convention center) without adequate food, water, or toilets; ten thousand rescues by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and 33,500 rescues by the Coast Guard; plus floodwaters teeming with snakes, refuse, oil, and dead bodies. Hovering above all is the lack of coordinated help from myriad governmental agencies. Captioned with meticulously documented facts and quotes from victims, the art records these events, as it portrays people being saved or drowning, or a baby hoisted in the air above the rising waters, its fate unknown. While commanding, these images are not sensationalized. If a book’s power were measured like a storm’s, this would be a category five. Appended with source notes and a bibliography. BETTY CARTER

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Boys Who Challenged Hitler star2 The Boys Who 
Challenged Hitler:
Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club

by Phillip Hoose
Middle School, High School   Farrar   198 pp.
5/15   978-0-374-30022-7   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-374-30272-6   $9.99

This account of a little-known resistance movement in which Danish adolescents stood up to their Nazi occupiers is an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. In 1940, Germany invaded Denmark under the guise of friendship. While nearby Norway fought back against the Nazis, the Danish government let Hitler set up shop. Enter teenaged Knud Pedersen, who — along with his brother Jens — decided that “if the adults would not act, we would.” Knud and Jens joined up with some mates to form the Churchill Club (so named for the British prime minister). The group used civil disobedience to pester the Nazis, creating disturbances ranging from relatively restrained (switching German signs around, cutting enemy telephone lines) to positively dangerous (arson, stealing German firearms). These actions fired up “Hitler’s tame canary” — as Winston Churchill himself described Denmark — leading to a larger-scale Danish revolt against the Germans, but Knud and his friends missed much of the excitement due to imprisonment (many for just a few months, Knud for over two years). To research the project, Hoose visited Pedersen in Copenhagen, conducting nearly twenty-five hours of interviews; the two men then exchanged some one thousand email messages. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of Denmark’s stormy social and political wartime climate, showing how the astonishing bravery of otherwise ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A bibliography, notes, illustration credits, and index round out this essential title. SAM BLOOM

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illus. by PJ Loughran
Middle School, High School Dial 128 pp.
1/15 978-0-8037-4123-2 $19.99 g

Lowery offers a revealing look at a childhood spent in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a teenager, the Selma, Alabama, native was there to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak out for black voting rights; she was tear-gassed and beaten on “Bloody Sunday” (as Lowery writes, in perhaps the understatement of the century, “It was not a good day to be around white people”); and she was among the three hundred people who marched from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging (“After that first time [in jail], I wasn’t so afraid, because I was with my buddies and we knew we had each other’s back. What we could do with each other’s backs, I don’t know. Those white policemen had billy clubs and guns”) and casual even as she parcels out often-harrowing memories (such as her time spent in the jail’s “sweatbox”: “There was no air…There was no toilet…There was nothing but heat in an iron box”). Period photos are incorporated seamlessly into the book design, and Loughran captures the emotions of the times with boldly colored illustrations. An epilogue of sorts — “Why Voting Rights?” — gives an excellent explanation of the significance of the right to vote for African Americans while making mention of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act. A strong addition to the canon of civil rights books for young people. SAM BLOOM

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


weatherford_voice of freedomstar2 Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of 
the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford; 
illus. by Ekua Holmes
Intermediate Candlewick 45 pp.
8/15 978-0-7636-6531-9 $17.99

Weatherford’s latest picture-book biography (Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, rev. 11/06; I, Matthew Henson, rev. 3/08; among many others) chronicles the life of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, from her beginnings as the youngest child of Mississippi sharecroppers, through the evolution of her political awareness, to her lasting impact on the civil rights movement. Weatherford incorporates direct quotes (indicated by italics and sourced in the endnotes) into her free-verse text, using a conversational, colloquial voice that makes the transitions seamless. The book tackles complex and little-addressed aspects of life under Jim Crow (such as Hamer’s forced sterilization under a Mississippi law) and of the civil rights movement (such as the battle she waged at the 1964 Democratic convention against proposed compromises that would have weakened the movement). Artist Holmes, in her children’s literature debut, elevates an already-excellent narrative with richly colored collage illustrations that layer meaning upon meaning with scraps of historical photos, newsprint, maps, musical scores, and more. Using shadows, patterns, and alternately vast and intimate perspectives, she adds emotional heft to the contrasts between Hamer’s public stature and personal experiences. This majestic biography offers a detailed, intelligible overview of Hamer’s life while never losing the thread of her motivations, fears, and heroic triumphs; and places the civil rights movement in personal, local, national, and international contexts. An extensively detailed timeline, an author’s note, source notes, and a bibliography are appended. CLAIRE GROSS

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2016.



  1. I can’t get enough of Duncan Tonatiuh’s books. There’s just something about his style. Love that he pays homage to his indigenous roots in the way he draws and love his use of digital collage. In addition to Funny Bones, I had to buy his book Salsa with Jorge Argueta! Gorgeous. And don’t get me started on Separate is Never Equal! Congrats!

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