Horn Book Fanfare 2004

Horn Book Fanfare

Best books of 2004

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

Home illustrated by Jeannie Baker (Greenwillow)
An urban neighborhood’s dramatic change — for the better — is chronicled in this wordless picture book’s detailed collages. Ever-greener scenes through a girl’s window provide viewers with much to pore over and tell an inspiring story of one community’s decades-long effort to nurture a desolate area back to life. Review 3/04. (Primary)

Where Is the Green Sheep? written by Mem Fox,
illustrated by Judy Horacek (Harcourt)
Red sheep, blue sheep, bath sheep, and bed sheep: this preschooler-perfect book introduces all kinds of silly sheep while subtly reinforcing concepts (thin/wide, up/down, near/far). A rhyming text and uncluttered illustrations provide plenty of opportunity for audience participation. “Where IS that green sheep?” The discovery is as satisfying as the search. Review 5/04. (Preschool)

Baby Brains written and illustrated by Simon James (Candlewick)
Mere weeks after his birth, the precociously intelligent Baby Brains is practicing medicine, then training to be an astronaut. But when he finds himself alone in the vastness of space, he wants his mommy. This warmly human picture book earns high marks for its gentle humor, blithe watercolors, and masterful pacing. Review 11/04. (Preschool)

The Red Book written and illustrated by Barbara Lehman (Houghton)
The Red Book is a red book about a girl in a snowy city, who finds a red book about a boy on an island, who finds a red book about a girl in a snowy city. . . . A balloon ride unites the two reader-characters; a similar ebullience will elevate readers of The Red Book, who can see mind-bending reflections of their own reading experience in the book’s metafictional pages.
Review 9/04. (Primary)

Swing Otto Swing! written and illustrated by David Milgrim (Atheneum)
Dick and Jane, move over. See Otto the robot learn to swing like his monkey friends. Whether read alone or aloud, this easiest of easy readers demonstrates that a limited vocabulary paired with the right pictures can contain a full-on story of heart and humor. Review 5/04 (Preschool, Primary)

Tiny’s Big Adventure written by Martin Waddell,
illustrated by John Lawrence (Candlewick)
Katy Mouse, a comfortingly knowledgeable older sister, guides Tiny Mouse through his first venture into the wider world: the wheat field. Lush engravings in a rich, glowing palette of blues and gold capture the journey’s joys as well as its anxieties. Waddell and Lawrence’s child-sized adventure is visually lovely, graphically distinguished, and beautifully cadenced. Review 7/04. (Preschool, Primary)

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Hyperion)
“Aggle, flaggle, klabble!” What is little Trixie desperately trying to tell Daddy? Something very important: she’s left her beloved stuffed rabbit at the Laundromat. Willems gets everything just right, from the familiarity of the everyday drama to the heightened focus of the illustrations, in which cartoon characters practically burst out of their sepia-toned photo backgrounds. Review 9/04. (Preschool)


The Fire-Eaters by David Almond (Delacorte)
In a remarkable novel set in 1962 northern England during the Cuban missile crisis, narrator Bobby Burns is keenly aware of both the impending disaster and his deep love for his “tiny corner of the world.” Powerful imagery, complex characterizations, and a strong sense of place fuel this many-faceted tale. Review 5/04. (Middle School, High School)

King of the Middle March by Kevin Crossley-Holland (Levine/Scholastic)
In the final installment of the Arthur Trilogy, Arthur de Caldicot, the thirteenth-century namesake of the legendary King Arthur, sets off at last on crusade. Crossley-Holland transfers Arthur’s vividness of experience directly to the reader in a novel of extraordinary richness, brimming with color and texture and grounded in a down-to-earth medieval setting and earned wisdom. Review 1/05. (Middle School)

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer (Jackson/Atheneum)
From the bones of folktale, Nancy Farmer builds an engrossing saga of a brother and sister caught up in the history and myth of the Viking Age. An attentively detailed setting and action-packed plot complement the elemental story. Review 11/04. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Pepins and Their Problems written by Polly Horvath,
illustrated by Marylin Hafner (Farrar)
Horvath’s deliciously silly stories about the Peterkin-esque Pepins pop with preposterous event, effervescent wit, and inspired zaniness. Horvath careens wildly down her postmodern path — she becomes a character in her own novel, interacting psychically with readers and taking blank-page breaks — yet manages to produce a whole that is not only unified and accessible but laugh-out-loud funny. Review 9/04. (Intermediate)

Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay (McElderry)
Twelve-year-old Indigo Casson struggles with bullies, makes a new friend and ally, and helps his younger sister come to terms with change. While the focus in this companion novel to Saffy’s Angel is on the introspective Indigo, McKay’s portrait of the unconventional Casson family is once again loving and hilarious. Review 9/04. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)
When Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are matched up with three boys at a rival high school for a pen-pal assignment, sparks fly, and both romance and revenge result. Moriarty takes the stuff of chick-lit — best friends, boyfriends, a letter/ diary/e-mail format — and creates a compulsively readable novel with enormous depth, wit, and poignancy. Review 3/04. (High School)

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
Pratchett’s pitch-perfect comic exaggeration, delivered with an unobtrusive wink, could carry a lesser book, but this tale of witch Tiffany Aching’s apprenticeship carries itself, with its grand, spacious magical mise en scène, high-stakes adventure, and the return of those boisterous Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men. Review 7/04. (Middle School, High School)

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Lamb/Random)
Fifteen-year-old Daisy, an anorexic, acerbic New Yorker, falls instantly in love with her English cousins’ farm — and with her English cousin Edmond. Idyllic love story abruptly becomes horrific survival tale when an unnamed enemy power invades the country. A captivating and deeply satisfying first novel. Review 9/04. (High School)


If Not for the Cat written by Jack Prelutsky,
illustrated by Ted Rand (Greenwillow)
Animals from jellyfish to eagles describe themselves in seventeen adroitly composed haiku. Prelutsky uses alliteration, euphony, and internal rhyme to create images that, though brief, are memorable. Rand’s art — which includes elegant, calligraphic illustrations reminiscent of Japanese ink paintings — is equally eloquent. Review 11/04. (Primary)


The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
Freedman builds to the great historic moment of Marian Anderson’s 1939 Lincoln Memorial program with the involving story of the singer herself. Readers will see just how persons and history walk in concert. Review 5/04. (Intermediate, Middle School)

A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968
by Diane McWhorter (Scholastic )
McWhorter’s history moves fluidly among principal actors, events, and social context to achieve both clarity and impact. Most impressive is the understated but forceful message of the importance of young people to the movement; this theme is complemented by the author’s clear respect for and rapport with young readers. Review 1/05.n (Intermediate, Middle School)

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing
written and illustrated by James Rumford (Houghton)
Design, illustration, and a text in two languages work quietly but brilliantly together to tell the story of Sequoyah’s invention of a writing system for the Cherokee language. The bookmaking is itself a testament to the power of the printed word. Review 11/04. (Primary, Intermediate)
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