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Reviews of 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Picture Book Winner

bryan_freedom-over-mestar2 Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
by Ashley Bryan; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate, Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    56 pp.
9/16    978-1-4814-5690-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-5691-3    $10.99

A historical document dated July 5, 1828, lists the property to be sold from the Fairchilds’ estate. Hogs. Cattle. A handmill. Men. Women. Children. While no information beyond the gender and name — and price — of each of the eleven enslaved people is noted in the appraisal of the estate, Bryan lovingly restores their humanity and dignity, giving them ages, true African names, relationships, talents, hopes, and dreams. Here is the account of eleven human beings, all of whom are aware of what they contribute to the Fairchilds plantation and, more importantly, what they would like to contribute to the world. Each slave is afforded two double-page spreads of poetry: the first spread serves as his or her introduction; the second is devoted to his or her dreams. We meet Peggy, the Fairchilds’ cook, who is praised by the Fairchilds for the spices she adds to meals at the Big House. In “Peggy Dreams,” she remembers her life in Africa and reveals that she’s proud of her ability to heal injured fellow slaves through her work with roots and herbs. Bacus is known for his metalwork in fencing the Big House, but his dream admits that the pounding of the metal is “an outlet for anger, for rage…a blow for justice…a cry for respect.” Bryan’s art is just as intentional. Facsimiles of the historical document serve as background for each slave’s introduction page, portraits of their faces taking precedence as they gaze out at the reader. The portraits are etched in a manner similar to wood carvings, suggesting the mask each slave wears for day-to-day life on the plantation. In contrast to the dry, parchment-like tones of the introductions, the dream spreads are in gloriously brilliant colors, as bold as the aspirations of the individuals themselves. EBONI NJOKU

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

cordell_wolf-in-the-snowstar2 Wolf in the Snow
by Matthew Cordell; illus. by the author
Primary    Feiwel    48 pp.
1/17    978-1-250-07636-6    $17.99    g

A series of illustrations before the title page sets the scene: a prairie landscape in winter, home to both humans and wolves. Setting off alone toward home from school as a blizzard descends, a bundled-up child in a red hooded parka encounters a small, vulnerable, lost wolf pup. Using the howls of the wolf’s faraway pack for direction, the child carries the pup over fields and hills, across streams, and through the forest (and past intimidating forest-dwelling creatures) to deliver it to its family. When the child, exhausted, collapses in the snow on the return trip, the wolves repay the favor by staying with the small human and howling until, guided by the wolves’ cries, the child’s parents arrive. Cordell’s pen-and-ink illustrations balance detail and emotion: the wolves appear realistic, while the human faces and figures are stylized and cartoonlike. The setting is brought to life through changing sky colors, cold breaths, and extensive snowscapes in watercolors. The hand-lettered, inky text, wordless except for sound effects, supports the cinematic feel created through the use of varying perspectives and loosely demarcated panels. Suspenseful page-turns and aerial views on double-page spreads keep readers worrying about the protagonist until the very end, when the family is shown by the fireside with steamy mugs and pet dog — a cozy contrast to the fraught outdoor adventure. ELISA GALL

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


schwartz_town is by the seastar2 Town Is by the Sea
by Joanne Schwartz; illus. by Sydney Smith
Primary    Groundwood    56 pp.
4/17    978-1-55498-871-6    $19.95

“From my house, I can see the sea. It goes like this — house, road, grassy cliff, sea. And town spreads out, this way and that.” There’s a distilled, haiku-like quality to this boy’s description of an ordinary summer day in a seaside coal mining town in the 1950s. As the boy moves through his day — swinging on the beat-up playground swing set, eating a baloney sandwich, visiting his grandfather’s grave, listening to the radio, watching the sun set — the focus shifts among three locations: home, the ocean, and the mine deep underground where the boy’s father is working. “And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.” The sea is made of light, the mine of darkness; and home is a mixture. The narrative is infused with a quality of slightly anxious waiting that illustrator Smith captures beautifully, especially in a wordless four-panel spread that shows the afternoon light moving across the boards of the kitchen floor as the family awaits the father’s return. Our narrator falls asleep thinking about the dark tunnels underground and undersea, and about his future: “One day, it will be my turn.” The six small square paintings that accompany this page reflect the tension of this knowledge, equal parts anticipation and anxiety. This is a moving story, and a fine example of text and pictures in perfect harmony. SARAH ELLIS

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced at Day of Dialog on May 31st, 2017. For reviews of the fiction and nonfiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb17.




  1. What a joy it was to hear Ashley lead us in “STILL GOT IT!”
    A nourishing day full of love, laughter, determination, imagination. renaissance and resistance! There was space within the interview/ conversations for each person to reach inward and take time to think. Empathetic questioners who’ve been inside the books- this is what makes all the difference. I’m still humming with the echo of it all.

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