Horn Book Fanfare 2003

Horn Book Fanfare

Best books of 2003

Chosen annually by our editors, Fanfare is The Horn Book Magazine’s selection of the best children’s and young adult books of the year.

Picture Books

The Shape Game written and illustrated by Anthony Browne (Farrar)
A family outing to the art museum looks unpromising, until the experience proves transformative in more ways than one. While Browne’s signature craftiness offers plenty of visual puzzles and surprises, this book is first and foremost a heartfelt testament to the power of art. Review 9/03. (Primary)

Snow Music written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)
An invigorating picture book follows a boy and his friend as they search for the boy’s runaway dog one bright, snow-covered morning. Perkins’s lyrical text and creatively intertwined type and illustrations capture the stimulating sensations — particularly the sounds — of a winter’s day. Review 11/03. (Primary)

The Day the Babies Crawled Away
written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam)
The story of five wayward babies and the preschooler who “saved the day” is here told through rousing verse and dramatic black silhouettes that, set against glowing neon skies, highlight each integral gesture and detail. A stunning combination of jolly romp and high sophistication. Review 9/03. (Preschool)

Big Momma Makes the World written by Phyllis Root,
illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick)
Without sacrificing an iota of authority or reverence, Root and Oxenbury bring us the Creator literally as earth mother — with a baby on her hip and laundry to do. Root’s telling is folksy yet compelling; Oxenbury’s illustrations are at once homey and momentous, surprising the eye with their joyous variety. Review 3/03. (Preschool, Primary)

What James Likes Best written and illustrated by Amy Schwartz (Jackson/Atheneum)
Accompanied by detailed yet uncluttered illustrations, each of four vignettes from a little boy’s everyday life ends with open-ended questions recapping what James has seen and done and asking readers what he — or they — “liked best.” Preschoolers, for whom simple decision-making is still a thrill, will never tire of the choices Schwartz provides. Review 5/03. (Preschool)

Mary Smith written and illustrated by Andrea U’Ren (Farrar)
As the “knocker-up,” dependable Mary Smith serves as her English mill town’s version of an alarm clock, walking from house to house shooting dried peas at people’s windows to get them out of bed. U’Ren takes an amusing tidbit of social history and tells a cheerful story with on-target illustrations and a perfectly aimed punch line. Review 9/03. (Primary)

Hi, Harry! written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth (Candlewick)
Harry Tortoise wants a friend — “someone not quick who has time to play with a tortoise.” After a careful search, he finds someone who appreciates the slow life as much as he does. The spacious watercolor illustrations give Harry loads of personality and add emotional depth to the good-natured, truly toddler-paced story. Review 3/03. (Preschool)


True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (Kroupa/Farrar)
Canadian writer Brooks focuses on seventeen-year-old Noreen, pregnant and feuding with her boyfriend, but also explores the lives of two other women, one in her thirties and another in her seventies. This multilayered novel about love and trust features distinctive, memorable characters, both teen and adult. Review 5/03. (High School)

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)
With economy, grace, and humor, Henkes takes the stuff of summer novels — a twelve-year-old girl, a grandmother with a house by the sea, a first crush, the idea of summer as the time between — and turns it into a convincing, fully-realized portrait of a girl on the cusp of adolescence. Review 11/03. (Middle School)

The Canning Season by Polly Horvath (Farrar)
When thirteen-year-old Ratchet is packed off by her unloving mother to live with nonagenarian twin aunts in the wilds of Maine, what follows is Horvath at her best — simultaneously poignant and outrageous, tragic and hilarious. Review 5/03. (Middle School, High School)

Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore, illustrated by Tim Archbold (Farrar)
When Lizzie’s “magic potions” look like they’re actually working, her younger brothers Dan and Max find themselves facing one of life’s great mysteries, the confluence of magic and coincidence. With a dash of Anne Fine and a dollop of Helen Cresswell (in her Bagthorpe novels), Tim Kennemore serves up a rich domestic comedy. Review 9/03. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Heart’s Delight by Per Nilsson, translated by Tara Chace (Front Street)
Setting out a row of objects — from a bus ticket to a bottle of pills — that commemorate his first passionate romance, a seventeen-year-old boy brings himself and readers face to face with heartbreak. Both the pain and the wry humor of the story are real. Review 1/04. (High School)

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
Humor both slapstick and cerebral is shot through this essentially mythic tale of a girl’s quest to retrieve her baby brother from the fairies. Aiding Tiffany in her quest are the sustaining pastoral landscape, her grandmother’s wisdom — and the Wee Free Men of the title, a swaggering band of tiny blue warriors, as brave as they are funny. Review 5/03. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)
In this moving novel in verse, eleven-year-old foster child Lonnie discovers that writing poetry can ease the pain of and amplify the joy in his life. “You have a poet’s heart,” his teacher tells him; thanks to Woodson, he also has a strong and believable voice. Review 3/03. (Intermediate)


blues journey written by Walter Dean Myers,
illustrated by Christopher Myers (Holiday)
“If you see a dollar, tell it my full name / . . . Say I’m being sociable, and it can do the same.” Myers père, writing of love, racism, slavery, and just plain hard luck, lays down some cool poetry licks in these original blues lyrics, while Christopher Myers’s art — in “blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags” — sings its own lonesome song. Review 5/03. (Primary, Intermediate)

God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant (HarperTempest)
These twenty-three poems lightheartedly reveal God’s human side, describing his various attempts to buy a couch, climb a mountain, get a desk job, and so on. Though Rylant’s down-to-earth voice sparkles with wit, the thoughtful poems consistently convey a tender affection and sincere reverence for their subject. Review 7/03. (High School)


Strange Mr. Satie written by M. T. Anderson,
illustrated by Petra Mathers (Viking)
In this picture-book biography of Erik Satie, text and illustration combine to channel the spirit of the notoriously unconventional French composer. Like Satie’s repetitive, slowly advancing musical passages, Anderson’s words hypnotize the reader with oceanic rhythms; Mathers’s witty illustrations sometimes verge, appropriately, on the surreal. Review 9/03. (Primary, Intermediate)

In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights
by Russell Freedman (Holiday)
Can students be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance? Would the Supreme Court defend a school paper from censorship? Freedman offers a timely, conversational presentation on the Bill of Rights, selecting historical and youth-friendly examples to illustrate the freedoms and responsibilities we’ve come to think of as essentially American. Review 9/03. (Middle School, High School)

The Man Who Walked between the Towers written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook)
With heart-stopping images and a suspenseful text, Gerstein tells of aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 contrived to stretch a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and then walked — and even danced — across them, a quarter of a mile above the earth. Both haunting September 11 tribute and exhilarating story, this is spectacular nonfiction. Review 11/03. (Primary)

The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker written and illustrated by Peter Sis (Foster/Farrar)
The rich facility of Sis’s pen and imagination brings Charles Darwin’s omnivorous intellectual curiosity to life. Negotiating the intricately designed pages of this book will make readers feel like explorers themselves. Review 11/03. (Intermediate)
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