Horn Book Fanfare 2006

Horn Book Fanfare

Best books of 2006

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

Keeper of Soles written by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Yayo (Holiday)
When Death comes calling for Colin’s soul, the clever shoemaker notices his lack of quality footwear and offers first sandals, then boots, slippers, etc. — ”sole after sole” — in exchange for longevity. Replete with humor and cheer, this satisfyingly tricky variation on an age-old theme is illustrated with swirling colors and visual homophones. Review 5/06. (Primary)

Hardworking Puppies written and illustrated by Lynn Reiser (Harcourt)
“Along came a firefighter. The firefighter needed a hardworking puppy.” One by one, ten eager puppies are selected for important jobs, including “junior water-rescue puppy,” “apprentice sled puppy,” and, of course, “expert pet.” The engaging subject, puppy’s-eye-view illustrations, simple subtraction exercise, and appended “paw notes” are a bone-a-fide kid-pleasing combination. Review 5/06. (Preschool)

Emily’s Balloon written and illustrated by Komako Sakai (Chronicle)
Toddler Emily plays with her new friend, a yellow balloon; when the balloon ends up in a tree, it continues to provide companionship, looking “just like the moon” outside Emily’s bedroom window. Spare yet extraordinarily expressive illustrations reinforce the perfectly child-centered feel of this Japanese import’s minimal, matter-of-fact text. Review 7/06. (Preschool)

Flotsam illustrated by David Wiesner (Clarion)
When an inquisitive young beach-goer spots an old-fashioned camera in the surf and develops the film, the photographs reveal a wondrous undersea world (shell cities inhabited by tiny aliens, etc.) and then take the viewer back through time. Meticulous watercolors combine with Wiesner’s bountiful imagination to make this wordless fantasy involving and convincing. Review 9/06. (Primary)


Clay by David Almond (Delacorte)
“A stranger comes to town” is a classic theme in literature, and it’s shaded in Almond’s suspenseful tale with the arrival of a troubled boy and a golem — a Catholic golem, no less — in an English village. Atmospheric setting and rich imagery texture this resonant story of danger and faith. Review 7/06. (Middle School, High School)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick)
In a precise eighteenth-century voice, young slave/laboratory experiment Octavian tells of his bizarre life growing up in a household of rational philosophers on the eve of the American Revolution. Brilliant in its sustained complexity; exhilarating in its form; searing in its portrayal of human hypocrisy, this is an alternative narrative of our national mythology that simultaneously appalls and enthralls. Review 9/06. (High School)

The Last Dragon written by Silvana De Mari, translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside (Miramax/Hyperion)
In De Mari’s unique and vividly evoked post-apocalyptic fantasy world, elves are persecuted and dragons are nearly extinct. The last dragon, the last elf, and the child of the human couple who saved them fight for hope in a new era, proving the redemptive power of love and sacrifice in this heart-pounding — and heartbreaking — epic. Review 11/06. (Intermediate)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton)
Recent high school grad Colin, devastated by his latest romantic breakup, hits the road with his best friend Hassan (“Hassan Harbish. Sunni Muslim. Not a terrorist”). Exceedingly smart and funny, this novel charts a singular coming-of-age road trip that is at once a satire of and tribute to its many celebrated predecessors. Review 9/06. (High School)

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (Viking)
When Dewey joins her mathematician father in Los Alamos in 1943, she finds a community that respects her scientific mind but cannot protect her from hurt. Klages compellingly partners the historic drama of the Manhattan Project with the coming of age of an intelligent young girl. Review 11/06. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers (Amistad/HarperCollins)
In this Romeo and Juliet story set in modern-day Harlem, Damien is a semi-sheltered, college-bound model citizen, while street-strong Junice is fighting to keep her family intact after her mother is sent to prison. The fierce emotions of young love are dramatically conveyed in this lyrical, instantly approachable verse novel. Review 11/06. (High School)

Aggie and Ben: Three Stories written by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer (Charlesbridge)
A young boy gets a dog and learns good-naturedly about pet ownership. The clean, expressive panel illustrations are as unassuming as the humorous easy-reader text, which has both the simplicity and repetition needed to engage beginning readers and the deeply satisfying story elements that will keep them coming back for more. Review 9/06. (Preschool, Primary)

Thumb on a Diamond written by Ken Roberts, illustrated by Leanne Franson (Groundwood)
The kids of tiny, isolated fishing village New Auckland have never played baseball — a mere detail in their clever plan to earn a free trip to the big city. This sequel to Thumb in the Box portrays without a trace of condescension the kids’ wonder at such urban delights as escalators and buses; the baseball play-by-play is exciting if (delightfully) eccentric. Review 5/06. (Primary, Intermediate)

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
Recalcitrant Maud is probably the most unlikely inhabitant of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans to be adopted, and when the maiden Hawthorne sisters do so, Maud’s gratitude leads her into a very dangerous game. Schlitz plays the melodrama for all it’s worth but with a completely straight face, allowing genuine darkness and emotion to emerge. Review 11/06. (Intermediate)

Ptolemy’s Gate: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book Three by Jonathan Stroud (Miramax/Hyperion)
In alternate-universe London, power-hungry magician Nathaniel, principled commoner Kitty, and enslaved spirit Bartimaeus all resist a corrupt government in overlapping (and occasionally opposing) struggles. Humor, philosophy, and explosive action are masterfully interwoven, and the thrilling, inventive climax provides a stunning end to this intricately plotted, emotionally rich trilogy. Review 3/06. (Middle School, High School)

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
Eugenides (The Thief; The Queen of Attolia) is now the reluctant King of Attolia, striving to overcome his subjects’ hatred and his own aversion to the position. An action-packed plot and an irresistible hero (equal parts vulnerable lover and calculating conqueror) combine for a suspenseful, psychologically mesmerizing fantasy. Review 3/06. (Middle School, High School)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf)
Set in a small town in Nazi Germany, Zusak’s sweeping yet intimate novel is narrated with startling, wrenching compassion by Death itself. Exquisitely written and memorably populated, Zusak’s poignant tribute to words and
survival — and their curiously inevitable entwinement — is an unforgettable tour de force. Review 3/06. (High School)


Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman (Holiday)
Freedman demonstrates the rewards of focusing on specifics in this account of a pivotal event of the civil rights movement. Concentrating on the experiences of a few key participants in the boycott, the author gets readers on their side, prompting the kind of empathy that leads to greater understanding. Review 9/06. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick)
Wisdom, variety, and humor characterize these interviews full of incisive comments from thirteen fantasy writers, among them Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Nancy Farmer, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Philip Pullman. An unusual exposition of creativity and courage, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into the diverse ways imagination and fantasy work. Review 7/06. (Middle School, High School)

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Farrar)
Born in 1838, Margaret Knight was a professional inventor, defying the expectations of her times. With warmly engaging watercolors, diagrams of Mattie’s many “brainstorms,” and a no-nonsense yet dramatic narrative, McCully’s picture-book biography offers readers an inspiring heroine and provides insight into the workings of an inventor’s mind. Review 3/06. (Primary)

Wildfire written and illustrated by Taylor Morrison (Lorraine/Houghton)
Assaying the ecological effects that cause forest fires and the human efforts to contain and manage them, Wildfire comes at its subject from several directions, an approach that synthesizes tree science, meteorology, conservation, and firefighting technology for a comprehensive survey. Detailed paintings, landscapes and diagrams alike, convey both the science and the drama. Review 7/06. (Intermediate)

Ballet of the Elephants written by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Brodie/Roaring Brook)
A historic ballet performance featuring the unlikely combination of John Ringling North’s circus elephants, Igor Stravinsky’s music, George Balanchine’s choreography, and Vera Zorina’s dancing talent is brought to life with an artful text and graceful line-and-watercolor illustrations. Romantic and magical, this one raises the barre for picture-book nonfiction. Review 7/06. (Primary)

John, Paul, George, and Ben written and illustrated by Lane Smith (Hyperion)
Say, you want a revolution?” Well, you’ll find one here in this freewheeling introduction to our Founding Fathers. Part history text, part joke book, part “Peanuts” homage, this piece of mischief encourages readers to sort out the what-ifs, what-happeneds, and why-nots of early American history. Review 5/06. (Primary)

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Jump at the Sun)
A poetic telling of Tubman’s escape from slavery combines with stunning, larger-than-life illustrations to illuminate the spiritual life of the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Weatherford interweaves three voices — those of the narrator, Harriet, and God — to tell of the freedom journeys so richly evoked in Nelson’s powerfully atmospheric nightscapes. Review 11/06. (Primary)

Mama: A True Story in which a Baby Hippo Loses His Mama during a Tsunami, but Finds a New Home, and a New Mama written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt)
Two words of text (mama and baby) are set against illustrations saturated with color to tell the story of a young hippo separated from his pod after the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Winter’s treatment of this disaster is honest but reassuring, allowing readers a secure entry into the concept of loss. Review 5/06. (Preschool)

Dizzy written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Levine/Scholastic)
A virtuosic picture-book introduction to Dizzy Gillespie conveys how he used both his anger and playfulness to become one of the greatest innovators of jazz. Winter uses rhyme, repetition, and unexpected line breaks to reflect Dizzy’s musical style; Qualls’s large mixed-media art provides a dexterous combination of narrative and emotion. Review 11/06. (Primary)
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