Horn Book Fanfare 2018

Horn Book Fanfare, Our choices for the best books of 2018

Here is Fanfare, the Horn Book’s annual list of the books we really loved the most. I wish I could tell you there was some more objective criteria, but there isn’t: these are the books the Horn Book editors, in consultation with our reviewers, are happiest to have read. They are books that both confirmed and stretched us as readers; they represent publishing at its best.


Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

Picture Books

Hello Lighthouse
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Little, Brown

Throughout this informative and gorgeously illustrated volume, we follow the routines of a lighthouse keeper and his growing family. The book uses its tall, narrow trim size and apt circle motifs to impressive effect. Intricate pen-and-watercolor illustrations juxtapose cozy interiors with spectacular seascapes. Review 3/18.

The Patchwork Bike
written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd; Candlewick

Centering on a beloved homemade bicycle, Clarke's spare, poetic text describes the child narrator's life at play in a desert village. Rudd's tactile paintings on brown cardboard let the rough recycled material show through; heavy strokes of acrylic energetically skip across the corrugated surface. The medium perfectly suits a story about the beauty and value of handmade objects. Review 11/18.

I Really Want to See You, Grandma
written and illustrated by Taro Gomi; Chronicle

One day, Yumi and her grandmother impulsively set out to meet. They keep passing each other — on progressively more adventurous modes of transportation — becoming increasingly determined to get together. The book's wide, long, landscape orientation and brief, repetitive text emphasize the situational humor, while warm colors entice viewers and convey the pair's mutual devotion. Review 7/18.

A Parade of Elephants
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow

Henkes's latest preschooler-perfect picture book is simultaneously a (multi)concept book and a bedtime story. Five elephants, each a different color, march across the pages, over, under, up, down — always jubilantly purposeful. And at day's end, they lift their trunks to send stars scattering across the sky, lending this clever and adorable book pourquoi-tale overtones as well. Review 9/18.

Pie Is for Sharing
written by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Preschool, Primary)

This aspirational picture book explores the concept of sharing through a lens both intimate and expansive. Detailed watercolor and gouache illustrations give the text's musings a specific setting — a lakeside picnic — taking us through a summer day of shared food, play, spaces, and time. Finally, the community gathers to watch fireworks, for "many can share one light." Review 5/18.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star
written and illustrated by Grace Lin; Little, Brown
(Preschool, Primary)

Night sky–dwellers Little Star and her mother are baking an enormous mooncake. Little Star can't resist sneaking some bites, her trail of crumbs forming so many galaxies in the inky-black sky. It's all mesmerizing — Little Star's astral home; her outsized sense of mischief; the dwindling cake as a stand-in for the waning moon; and Lin's lyrical text. Review 7/18.

Julián Is a Mermaid
written and illustrated by Jessica Love; Candlewick
(Preschool, Primary)

You'll want to be a mermaid, too, as this buoyant tale takes a boy on his metaphorical (and literal) journey to his true self. The lesson is lightly made; the gently resplendent watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations bring us right into the worlds that Julián inhabits and creates. Review 5/18.

written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales; Porter/Holiday

In Morales's revelatory picture book, two "migrantes," a mother and child, find their spiritual home — at the public library. "We are stories. / We are two languages. / We are lucha. / We are resilience. / We are hope." Sumptuous mixed-media illustrations in a strikingly vivid color palette illuminate this eloquent homage to the "dreamers, soñadores of the world." Review 11/18.

The Field
written by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; NorthSouth

With a cow pasture on a verdant Caribbean island temporarily converted into a futbol (soccer) field, the game is on. The brief text captures the intensity and forward propulsion of the action; vibrant, dynamic illustrations are full of movement and saturated with color. A universally appealing story made particular by the specificity of setting and language, with words in Creole incorporated throughout. Review 5/18.

The Party and Other Stories [Fox + Chick]
written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier; Chronicle
(Preschool, Primary)

Three entertaining short stories introduce the odd-couple, sometimes-contentious friendship between Fox and Chick. Ruzzier ingeniously combines a picture book's trim size; spare, repetitive beginning-reader text; and a comic's dialogue balloons, sound effects, and simply structured panels in finely etched and textured pen, ink, and subdued watercolors for an unusual, funny, and compelling reading experience. Review 7/18.

Dear Substitute
written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Disney-Hyperion

A routine-loving girl writes poem-like letters expressing her anxiety about the unexpected appearance of a substitute teacher. With humor and sympathy, Scanlon and Vernick capture this realistic and relatable situation. Raschka's lush yet childlike watercolor and gouache paintings convey the girl's worry while also making the school setting fresh. Review 9/18.

written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Preschool, Primary)

Beginning with "baby blue" and closing with "new blue," this richly painted picture book is as much a meditation on the cycle of life as it is an exploration of the titular color as a leitmotif in the friendship between a boy and his dog. Review 9/18.

They Say Blue
written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki; Abrams

A girl considers the wondrousness of the world around her, prompted by the colors she encounters over the course of her day. Tamaki skillfully employs elements of sequence throughout the book, reinforcing themes of progression and growth. Lush, vivid acrylic paintings combine scratchy line work with watery brushstrokes, establishing a visual tension that echoes one's connection between the everyday and the astonishing. Review 7/18.


The Poet X
written by Elizabeth Acevedo; HarperTeen
(High School)

Fifteen-year-old Xiomara, a self-described "morenita and big and angry" Dominican girl from Harlem, finds rare moments of peace in writing poetry — until devout Mami reads Xiomara's candid journal. This verse novel offers an arresting portrait of one young poet coming into her own as well as a wealth of truths about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. Review 3/18.

written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile; Houghton
(Intermediate, Middle School)

The 1988-set prequel to Alexander's Newbery Medal–winning verse novel The Crossover (rev. 5/14) offers a highly satisfying origin story of Josh and JB's father, Chuck "Da Man" Bell. An irresistible combination of rhythmic poetry, fast-paced basketball action, and poignant meditations on family and loss is furthered by Anyabwile's interspersed high-energy comics. Review 7/18.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
written by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin; Candlewick
(Middle School)

Elf historian and diplomat (and spy) Brangwain Spurge and goblin archivist Werfel overcome their societies' longstanding mutual distrust to save their own skins — literally. Anderson's wry and affectionate prose tells half the story; the rest comes from Yelchin's digitally assembled pen-and-ink illustrations, which resemble medieval woodcuts, with masterful touches of humor, whimsy, irony, and menace. Review 9/18.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
written by Jonathan Auxier; Amulet/Abrams
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Crafted out of some ugly realities of nineteenth-century British life, this is a hopeful story, beautifully told, about a "climbing girl" and the "soot golem" who saves her — or does she save him? Auxier brilliantly weaves together strands of Jewish folklore, Blake's poetry, Shelley's Frankenstein, the history of child-labor reform, and magical realism to create his own unforgettable story. Review 11/18.

Be Prepared
written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol; color by Alec Longstreth; First Second/Roaring Brook

Brosgol's fictionalized graphic memoir finds nine-year-old Vera struggling to fit in at Russian Orthodox summer camp. The culturally specific story (including untranslated Russian words) is made relatable with its accessible, vulnerable, and hilariously kid-centric tone. Exposition and dialogue flow naturally within smartly paced panels, inked in an appropriately monochromatic army-green palette. Review 5/18.

Finding Langston
written by Lesa Cline-Ransome; Holiday
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Alabama "country boy" Langston finds himself lonely up north in 1940s Bronzeville — and finds himself, too, in the books he discovers in the now-historic Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This short novel's canvas is small and sparely painted; its hero a quiet kid who speaks on behalf of readers everywhere. Review 9/18.

The Journey of Little Charlie
written by Christopher Paul Curtis; Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In this entry in the Buxton Chronicles set in 1858, Charlie, twelve-year-old son of white South Carolina sharecroppers, is forced to accompany cruel plantation-overseer Cap'n Buck to Detroit to retrieve stolen property. When Charlie realizes that the "property" is runaway slaves, he finds it within himself to do the right thing — eventually. A nuanced and powerful examination of conscience and the human condition. Review 3/18.

Louisiana's Way Home
written by Kate DiCamillo; Candlewick

In Raymie Nightingale (rev. 3/16), Louisiana Elefante reassured her friends: "We'll rescue each other." Now it seems that Louisiana needs rescuing, from the "care" of her flighty, unstable granny who brings her to a motel and then splits. DiCamillo's characteristic emotional candor, belief in found families, and dedication to rock-solid friendships make Louisiana's Way Home ring perfectly true. Review 9/18.

The Parker Inheritance
written by Varian Johnson; Levine/Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

This ambitious puzzle-novel comprises a tangled historical mystery, a satisfying multigenerational family story, and an exploration of race and racism in two connected timelines. An intelligent, endearing African American preteen girl protagonist and warm relationships add to the novel's considerable appeal. Review 3/18.

The Season of Styx Malone
written by Kekla Magoon; Lamb/Random
(Intermediate, Middle School)

For ten-year-old narrator Caleb Franklin, life in Sutton, Indiana, is dull and ordinary. Then smooth-talking teen Styx Malone starts coming around, and the summer becomes extraordinary. The rule-breaking exploits of Caleb, his older (and more cautious) brother Bobby Gene, and Styx provide laugh-out-loud humor, nail-biting adventure, and poignant connections. Review 9/18.

Love to Everyone
written by Hilary McKay; McElderry
(Intermediate, Middle School)

McKay sketches the scope of WWI's Western Front and provides an intimate look at three young people growing up in Britain before and during the war. She moves gracefully from the hilarious to the heart-breaking, painting scenes with spare, lucid detail in a novel rich with the complexities of family, love, and friendship. Review 11/18.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears
written by Meg Medina; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Medina writes with sincerity and humor about sixth grader Merci's experience in a sometimes meddlesome, but always supportive, working-class Cuban American family. Merci works hard to fit in at (and help pay for) her elite academy; she navigates both difficult truths and maturing relationships at school and at home in a fully realized, authentic story of growing up. Review 9/18.

The Book of Boy
written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr; Greenwillow
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In 1350 France a man and his servant, Boy, embark on a pilgrimage: the man to collect holy relics that will get him into heaven; Boy to ask St. Peter to cure his disfiguring hump. As Boy's true identity is slowly (and masterfully) revealed, readers find themselves immersed in the world of medieval Europe, evoked with a remarkable, earthy immediacy. Review 7/18.

The Prince and the Dressmaker
written and illustrated by Jen Wang; First Second/Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School )

This dazzling graphic novel has all the trappings of a fairy-tale rags-to-riches romance — and it is one, in a joyfully subversive way. Talented young dressmaker Frances designs ladies' haute couture…for Prince Sebastian to wear as his secret alter ego, Lady Crystallia. The sympathetic protagonists face many obstacles as they fight for the freedom to be their authentic selves, but ultimately do get their happily-ever-after. Review 3/18.


The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
written and illustrated by Don Brown; Houghton
(Middle School, High School)

A powerful presentation of the ongoing Syrian Civil War in comics format, punctuated with the stories of many individual refugees, with their own (documented) words incorporated to great emotional effect. Sketchbook-like yet expressive illustrations lend the subjects universality, while varied panels perfectly control the pacing, thoughtfully guiding readers through difficult subject matter. Review 9/18.

Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World
written and illustrated by Christy Hale; Porter/Roaring Brook
(Primary, Intermediate)

The meetings of the two title features provide opportunities for some excellent page-turns and die-cuts as readers go from "lake" to "island" to "bay" to "cape," and so on, learning not just these geographic formations but also their mutual dependence. And the jumbo-sized foldout map at the end is a splendid surprise. Review 7/18.

Hey, Kiddo
written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka; Graphix/Scholastic
(Middle School, High School)

Krosoczka's honest and profound graphic memoir describes being raised by his loving (if sometimes verbally abusive) grandparents due to his mother's heroin addiction and habitual incarceration. His childhood art and handwritten letters are seamlessly incorporated into expertly rendered ink illustrations with limited-palette gray and orange washes. Review 9/18.

Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
written by Elizabeth Partridge; Viking
(Middle School, High School)

Employing a unique and powerfully affecting structure, Partridge intersperses chapters outlining the history and events of the Vietnam War with the often-wrenching stories of eight people — seven veterans and one Vietnamese refugee — affected by the conflict. A remarkable work of nonfiction: intimate, immediate, and unforgettable. Review 3/18.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
written by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña; Getty
(Middle School, High School)

Meet "an icon. Orgullo mexicano. Maestra." This graphic-novel biography traces the artist's five-decade evolution through Peña's striking black-and-white illustrations, Iturbide's own photographs, and Quintero's lyrical narration. Author and illustrator embrace Iturbide's ethos, rooted in "intimacy and respect" for one's subject and in curiosity about life in liminal spaces. Review 9/18.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For previous years’ Fanfare lists, click on the tag Fanfare list.
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