Fanfare 2019 Annotations

Welcome to Fanfare, our choices of the best books of 2019. I believe we first published this list in 1939, recommending the best of 1938. Many of the titles are now mostly forgotten (or notorious: see The Five Chinese Brothers), but look: there is Andy and the LionMr. Popper’s Penguins, and The Hobbit. We can’t know which of the books on this year’s list will still speak seventy years from now but go ahead and speculate; it’s fun. And we do know, and in fact guarantee, that the books on this year’s list speak to right now, and we hope that one or several may speak to you.


Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here



Picture Books

The Little Guys
written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol; Roaring Brook
(Preschool, Primary)

Despite their diminutive size, the Little Guys are “the strongest guys in the whole forest.” Working together, there’s nothing they cannot conquer…until their greed leads to a tremendous tumble. With action-filled illustrations and spot-on comedic timing, Brosgol’s story hilariously turns the tables on a root-for-the-underdog narrative — and then turns them right back. Review 5/19.

written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper; Orchard/Scholastic

A woman says goodbye to her family and begins a three-hundred-mile canoe journey down the Hudson River. She paddles alone through rapids, portages around waterfalls, and sleeps outside at night, with Cooper’s exquisite watercolor and pencil sketches illuminating the details of the trip with a rhythmic mix of vignettes and wide landscapes. By the time she arrives at her destination, her family waiting, readers’ immersion in the adventure is complete. Review 11/19.

written and illustrated by Julie Flett; Greystone Kids

Over the course of a year, Katherena and her elderly neighbor spend time together, creating art and caring for nature. With season-specific imagery in the gorgeous digitally composed pastel and pencil illustrations, this tender intergenerational friendship story captures the warmth of human connection. Review 11/19.

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse
written by Jane Godwin, illustrated by Blanca Gómez; Dial

Double-page spreads packed with detail, action, and color follow a suitcase-toting mouse on a bike/helicopter/boat, land/air/sea journey. Jaunty interactive rhyming text encourages (and then reminds) viewers to find the tiny creature on every spread. A cheerful there-and-back-again adventure that’s also an excellent color-concept book for the very young. Review 11/19.

Field Trip to the Moon
written and illustrated by John Hare; Ferguson/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

During a class field trip to the moon, one child is left behind. Stranded with crayons and a sketchbook, the student begins to draw; this attracts the attention of some moon creatures who quickly become new friends. Skillfully paced panels, full-page illustrations, and double-page spreads with compelling pops of color drive a sly, sweet, and playful wordless narrative. Review 9/19.

written and illustrated by Oge Mora; Little, Brown
(Preschool, Primary)

Saturdays are Ava’s special days with her hard-working mom. But on this Saturday, everything goes wrong. When normally sunshiny Mom reaches her limit on making the best of things, Ava steps up to remind them both why imperfect Saturdays are still wonderful. Energetic cut-paper collages depict the pair navigating a colorful, bustling city in this splendidly crafted tale of meeting life’s challenges. Review 9/19.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle
written by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña; Kokila/Penguin

Daisy zooms through town on the back of her papi’s motorcycle. The vivid sights (murals “that tell our history”), sounds (words in English, Spanish, and Spanglish), tastes (raspados!), and colores act as an evocative tribute to Quintero’s California hometown and to the Mexican immigrant working-class people who built it. Review 5/19.

The Bell Rang
written and illustrated by James E. Ransome; Dlouhy/Atheneum
(Primary, Intermediate)

Ransome paints a heartbreakingly intimate picture of a loving family existing within the confines of an inhumane institution: slavery. The brief, repetitive text, narrated by a young enslaved girl, details the family members’ required daily tasks — until it is discovered that brother Ben has fled for freedom. Lush, expertly framed watercolors draw readers into scenes of tenderness, joy, terror, and despair. Review 1/19.

¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market
written by Raúl the Third, color by Elaine Bay; Versify/Houghton
(Preschool, Primary)

Little Lobo and dog Bernabé’s morning walk offers a dynamic tour of the sights, sounds, and smells of the historic Mercado de Cuauhtémoc in Juárez, Mexico. Comics-style illustrations burst with color and activity, with Mexican cultural references appearing throughout, and objects labeled in Spanish. The art invites repeated readings, with more to discover each time. Review 3/19.

written and illustrated by Christian Robinson; Atheneum
(Preschool, Primary)

Robinson’s debut as both author and illustrator is a wordless sci-fi picture book about cats, wormholes (or maybe parallel universes?), friendship, and play. A girl follows her cat through a portal — and another and another — encountering new friends and lookalikes before returning safely, happily home. Filled with color and cleverness, the book alters perceptions and stretches imaginations. Review 3/19.

Small in the City
written and illustrated by Sydney Smith; Porter/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

The you of Smith’s spare direct-address text only becomes clear well along this journey that you — by which I mean you, Reader — take in the company of a child on a mission in a city’s busy, at times overwhelming streets. Time and weather change the light in the cinematic sequence of image — small, large, wide-shot, close-up — that move expertly toward the embrace of the concluding page. Review 11/19.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here


With the Fire on High
written by Elizabeth Acevedo; HarperTeen
(High School)

High school senior Emoni Santiago is a proud Afro-Latinx young woman, an aspiring chef, a teenage single parent — and just about anything else she puts her mind to, assisted by her supportive abuela and caring friends and teachers. Acevedo (The Poet X, rev. 3/18) creates fully realized characters with complex lives to whom many readers will connect — and through them feel seen. Review 5/19.

Lovely War
written by Julie Berry; Viking
(High School)

Greek goddess Aphrodite narrates the interwoven stories of four young mortals swept up in the First World War to make her case for true love. Short, well-paced chapters carry readers across years, continents, and multiple perspectives; Berry skillfully addresses war, racism, loss, and love in all their complexity. A vividly described and achingly moving tale. Review 3/19.

Beverly, Right Here
written by Kate DiCamillo; Candlewick
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In this companion novel to Raymie Nightingale (rev. 3/16) and Louisiana’s Way Home (rev. 9/18), fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski runs away from home and finds not only a community (among the eccentric denizens of Tamary Beach, Florida) but also herself. Drawn with unusual depth, characters emerge as complex individuals and, collectively, as a force for positive change, goodwill, and grace. Review 9/19.

Penny and Her Sled
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow

In this fourth easy reader starring the endearing mouse-child, Penny anxiously awaits a snowfall — which never comes. No problem; this plucky and patient girl devises new ways to play with her sled all through winter (and beyond). Henkes’s colorful and lively illustrations capture both the changing of the seasons and the complexity of Penny’s emotions. Review 11/19.

A Place to Belong
written by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo; Dlouhy/Atheneum
(Intermediate, Middle School)

After their release from the internment camps where they spent WWII, twelve-year-old Hanako and her family leave America for Japan. Here her grandparents eke out a living as tenant farmers outside Hiroshima, the family’s daily hardships mitigated by prodigious, unconditional love. Readers will sink deeply into this engrossing, thought-provoking, introspective novel. Review 9/19.

Lalani of the Distant Sea
written by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Lian Cho; Greenwillow
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Lalani loves her island society, if not its strictly defined gender roles. When a legendary creature threatens her home, she courageously departs to try to save her people. A strong cast of secondary characters — and an intriguing collection of supernatural beings — enhance this riveting adventure. Review 11/19.

written by A.S. King; Dutton
(High School)

There are so many characters (with names like “The Freak,” “The Shoveler,” and “CanIHelpYou?”) in King’s exploration of a family poisoned at its roots by racism and selfishness that each section begins with a cast list. No matter; by book’s end, all of the connections have become clear — and the chilling details of the characters’ lives seared in readers’ minds. Review 3/19.

The Year We Fell from Space
written by Amy Sarig King, illustrated by Nina Goffi; Levine/Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Twelve-year-old amateur astronomer Liberty’s parents are going through a breakup — or, as she thinks of it, her family’s “free fall from space.” But then something does fall from space, a meteorite, with which Liberty begins to communicate. King’s sensitivity to her characters’ situational challenges — Dad suffers from severe depression; Liberty questions her own mental health — is stunningly, compassionately insightful. Review 11/19.

Pie in the Sky
written and illustrated by Remy Lai; Holt

A deceased father, a bratty brother, and a new country — Jingwen has a lot to deal with. Thankfully, there is cake, as Jingwen honors his father’s dream of opening a bakery, in ways both healing and hilarious. Abundantly illustrated with graphic-novel elements, this middle-grade novel looks delicious and goes down easy. Review 7/19.

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas
written and illustrated by Juana Medina; Candlewick
(Primary, Intermediate)

Medina guides readers through new changes for her Bogotá-dwelling protagonist Juana (and beloved dog Lucas) when Mami’s new “friend” Luis enters their lives. Copious interspersed art — along with Juana’s distinctive voice — bring this early chapter book’s cast and setting to life. A funny, empathetic sequel to Juana & Lucas (rev. 11/16). Review 7/19.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
written by Jason Reynolds; Dlouhy/Atheneum
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Ten city blocks; ten stories of middle-schoolers heading out after school, each filled with the warmth and wit for which Reynolds is known. The kids cope with a variety of situations and issues; throughout, they relate to one another and to readers in ways that capture the heart. Review 11/19.

The Fountains of Silence
written by Ruta Sepetys; Philomel
(High School)

Alternating the perspectives of four young people in 1957 Madrid, Sepetys’s riveting epic thoroughly and compassionately explores issues that plagued post–Civil War and post–WWII Spain. Lively characters and suspenseful, swiftly paced chapters keep pages turning. Excerpts from primary sources add another layer of veracity. Review 9/19.

On the Come Up
written by Angie Thomas; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
(High School)

After winning a rap battle in her neighborhood, sixteen-year-old Bri becomes “hood famous.” Music industry doors start to open, but at a price Bri isn’t sure she’s willing to pay. With piercing characterization and indelible themes, Thomas has written a love letter to hip-hop that is also a clarion call to young women of color striving to define their world on their own terms. Review 3/19.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here


The Undefeated
written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Versify/Houghton
(Primary, Intermediate, Middle School)

“This is for the unforgettable / The swift and sweet ones / who hurdled history / and opened a world / of possible.” From these opening lines, readers are invited on a journey through the sorrows, triumphs, and resilience that is the Black experience in America. Nelson’s art transforms the text into an exquisite homage: every person, every face, every posture overwhelms the reader with beauty and awe. Review 3/19.

SHOUT: A Poetry Memoir
written by Laurie Halse Anderson; Viking
(High School)

Anderson’s three-part autobiographical collection of dynamic, mostly free-verse poems serves as a potent endnote to her landmark novel Speak (rev. 9/99). By turns furious, commanding, raw, and wistful, this collection is a praise song to survivors, a blistering rebuke to predators, and a testament to the healing power of shared stories. Review 3/19.

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality
written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy; Bloomsbury
(Intermediate, Middle School, High School)

Boyce and Levy eloquently describe, via various poetic forms, Boyce’s life-changing experience as one of twelve African American students who integrated an all-white high school in 1956 Clinton, Tennessee. The incorporation of fascinating primary sources, coupled with extensive back matter, adds to this exemplary account. Review 1/19.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir
written by Nikki Grimes; Wordsong/Boyds Mills
(High School)

Striking free-verse poems powerfully limn a childhood marked by trauma, loss, and abuse. Throughout, Grimes reveals how a passion for writing fueled her will to survive and allowed her to embrace her own resilience. A moving and searingly honest memoir. Review 9/19.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here.


Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace
written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan; Dlouhy/Atheneum
(Middle School, High School)

A gorgeous and thorough survey of Bryan’s time in a segregated army unit during WWII, with original paintings and drawings, letters, journal passages, photos, maps, and army posters appearing throughout. The dynamic book design and lavish production values make for a fully immersive experience. Review 11/19.

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti
written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper; Porter/Holiday
(Primary, Intermediate)

Notable collaborations flourish in this sophisticated picture-book biography: between the two subject brothers, between the veteran author pair, and between the authors and illustrator — in all providing a splendid tribute to the artistic impulse. As ever, Greenberg and Jordan find a unique entree into modern art for young readers. Review 3/19.

Torpedoed: The True Story of the WWII Sinking of “The Children’s Ship”
written by Deborah Heiligman; Godwin/Holt
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Heiligman seems to chart the course of each of the one hundred children on the SS City of Benares, torpedoed by a German submarine in 1940, with a death toll of 258 people, among them eighty-one children. Amply buttressed by photographs and excellent source notes, the narrative text is engrossing, suspenseful, focused, and respectful of both its readers and its subjects. Review 9/19.

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born
written by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin; Porter/Holiday

Lyrical, spare, accessible verse describes the gestation process of a human fetus. Detailed watercolor and gouache illustrations show not only the baby’s development but also an interracial family of three (and their two dogs) happily preparing for the baby’s arrival. Scientifically accurate and child friendly; a joyful celebration of new life. Review 5/19.

written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier, color by Braden Lamb; Graphix/Scholastic

In this graphic memoir chronicling her turbulent fourth-grade year, Telgemeier shares her childhood experiences with anxiety and emetophobia; there is plenty of humor, but never at the expense of the serious and complex subject matter. Expert use of scale and perspective animates the terror of panic attacks and the comfort of understanding and compassion. Review 9/19.

Moth: An Evolution Story
written by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus; Bloomsbury

In the pre-industrial world, the peppered moth, with its “speckled, freckled” wing pattern, was more likely to survive than the visible-to-predators all-black moth. Then nineteenth-century industrialization occurred: soot filled the air and the moths’ camouflage advantages were swapped. Thomas’s deftly paced narrative, including a straightforward explanation of natural selection, is enhanced through Egnéus’s breathtaking bold-hued and detailed mixed-media illustrations. Review 5/19.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation
written by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; Porter/Holiday
(Primary, Intermediate)

This superb picture book takes readers behind the scenes of the creation of MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington. Wittenstein’s text is tense (the speech was not yet finished on the night before it was to be delivered) and propulsive; Pinkney’s emotionally resonant loose-lined pencil and watercolor-wash illustrations incorporate collage to add authenticity and power. Essential American history. Review 9/19.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here

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