Horn Book Fanfare 2009

Horn Book Fanfare

Best books of 2009

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

Birds written by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow)
A young girl muses on birds, their colors and sizes, their movements and mysteries. Henkes’s poetic text is full of child appeal, as are Dronzek’s rich, versatile acrylic paintings, which contain overtones here of Chagall, there of Steig. Review 3/09. (Preschool)

Bubble Trouble written by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Clarion)
When Mabel blows a bubble, it engulfs her baby brother, who blithely floats away, chased by half the townspeople. Dunbar’s buoyant mixed-media illustrations capture the large cast of characters and are as nimble and boisterous as Mahy’s rhyming tongue-twister of a tale. Review 5/09. (Preschool, Primary)

Higher! Higher! written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick)
A small girl on a swing flies ever higher, past rooftops, clouds, and into space—where she meets up with her counterpart, a little green alien (“Hi! / High five! / Bye!”). The mix of adventure and security (the girl is always tethered to Earth by the swing’s chains) is preschooler-perfect and reinforced by the cheerful cartoonlike acrylics. Review 3/09. (Preschool)

The Lion & the Mouse illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Little)
The only text in this Aesop retelling consists of sound effects, all the better to showcase Jerry Pinkney’s character-revealing narrative watercolors, which (beautifully) set the story in the Serengeti Plain. And the absence of a wrap-up moral encourages children to draw their own conclusions about what makes a hero. Review 11/09. (Preschool, Primary)

All the World written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Simon)
A family stops at the beach, a farmers’ market, a park, and a café; returning home, they host friends and family for an evening of music. Frazee’s wondrous skyscapes and her joyous portrayals of people young and old build a story around Scanlon’s spare but warm and poetic text, whose child-friendly simplicity is reminiscent of Margaret Wise Brown. Review 9/09. (Preschool, Primary)

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story for Alphabet Town written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Knopf)
k won’t give a kiss good night. / l cries, ‘Don’t turn off the light!’“ Twenty-six children (the lowercase letters) try to avoid bedtime while adults (the uppercase) corral them toward the inevitable. The colorful block letters in this lively hybrid ABC/bedtime book have big round eyes, short limbs, and plenty of attitude. Review 7/09. (Preschool, Primary)


War Games by Audrey Couloumbis and Akila Couloumbis (Random)
Living in Nazi-occupied Greece, twelve-year-old Petros plays at espionage, helping his older brother distribute secret messages and aiding a resistance fighter hiding in the family’s well. Based on a true story, this vividly detailed World War II novel infuses boyhood mischief with heroic purpose and deadly stakes. Review 11/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Holiday)
In tart, insightful diary entries, South London teen Laura chronicles her life after Britain pioneers a stringent carbon rationing system—a challenge to daily norms that is soon eclipsed by food shortages, extreme weather, and rising civil unrest. This exemplar of speculative fiction expertly plays big-picture fears against social and familial drama. Review 5/09. (Middle School, High School)

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters written by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade/Random)
Second-grader Alvin Ho, “born scared and…still scared” and so afraid of school that he’s rendered mute, goes camping and discovers there are things more frightening than teachers. Look’s narrative, brimming with hilarity and appealingly jam-packed with Pham’s comical illustrations, will have chapter-book readers laughing in the face of fear. Review 9/09. (Primary)

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (Random)
With Dad in Iraq and the older boys away at school, it’s up to sixth-grader Brother and his grandparents to keep the family ranch going. Distinctively set in rural Oregon, this homefront story is intimate and honest, incorporating Christian spirituality in a natural and compelling way. Review 5/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Storm in the Barn written and illustrated by Matt Phelan (Candlewick)
Jack, a child of the Dust Bowl, has never seen rain—until he discovers a mysterious figure seemingly made of the stuff in an abandoned barn. Phelan’s sparing use of color in his debut graphic novel is stunning; his simple yet profound storytelling and expansive, emotive illustrations masterfully evoke the complex historical and emotional landscapes charted. Review 11/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Lamb/Random)
In late-1970s Manhattan, ordinary sixth-grader Miranda receives a series of anonymous notes that, remarkably, seem to come from the future. The larger mystery contains smaller ones (why does the “weird homeless guy” sleep with his head under the mailbox?). Thanks to the expertly crafted plot, they all mesh; thanks to the closely observed characters, they all matter. Review 7/09. (Intermediate)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Levine/Scholastic)
Seventeen-year-old Marcelo Sandoval, who has an Asperger’s-like disorder, takes a summer job at his father’s law firm. Predictably, his social skills are put to the test; unexpectedly, his moral beliefs also undergo a rigorous workout. Stork’s brilliant coming-of-age novel introduces an exceedingly well-wrought protagonist whose story is as inspiring as it is memorable. Review 3/09. (High School)

A Faraway Island written by Annika Thor and trans. from the Swedish by Linda Schenck (Delacorte)
A twelve-year-old Jewish girl, evacuated with her younger sister from Nazi-occupied Vienna to a fishing village in Sweden, faces the challenges of the unfamiliar: family, language, food, landscape. Stephie’s gradual adjustment to her new life unfolds believably due to Thor’s focus on child-centered joys and humiliations and her unsentimental prose, which employs an immediate present tense. Review 1/10. (Intermediate)


The Mitten retold by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic)
A lost mitten keeps a number of animals toasty and warm—for a while. Aylesworth tells this folktale with tremendous gusto and skill; McClintock’s comic abilities are on display in small vignettes of the animals struggling to squeeze into the mitten—the physical comedy stretched, like the yarn, to the ultimate limit. Review 11/09. (Preschool, Primary)


Orangutan Tongs: Poems to Tangle Your Tongue written and illustrated by Jon Agee (Hyperion)
Agee’s infectious tongue-twisters are creative, hilarious, and presented in flawless meter and rhyme. Whether terminally tricky or resolving in a rare sayable line, the poems positively demand participation. Bold-lined, dynamic watercolor illustrations help readers (and listeners) parse the tangled scenarios and facilitate the pitch-perfect interaction between story and wordplay. Review 3/09. (Primary)

Button Up!: Wrinkled Rhymes written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Petra Mathers (Harcourt)
Who knew apparel—speaking in the first person, no less—could inspire such variety, impeccable form, and fun? “Bob’s on his bike / and I’m on Bob. / I’m Bob’s helmet. / I’m on the job.” The delicacy of Petra Mathers’s watercolors does not disguise their mischief. Review 5/09. (Preschool, Primary)

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated  by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton)
Sidman’s poems celebrate the way colors, and how we perceive them, change with each season: green is shy in spring, “queen in summer,” “tired, / dusty, / crisp around the edges” in fall, and in winter “waits / in the hearts of trees, / feeling / the earth / turn.” Zagarenski’s mixed-media paintings add a surreal touch, sustaining the poems’ sense of awe and mystery. Review 3/09. (Primary)


Mission Control, This Is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon written by Andrew Chaikin with Victoria Kohl and illustrated by Alan Bean (Viking)
In this outstanding history of the piloted Apollo missions, the authors transmit the excitement, tragedy, humor, and quest for knowledge that defined the golden age of the United States space program. Bean, an Apollo astronaut turned artist, lends his impressionistic paintings of the missions, along with extraordinarily articulate, detailed captions. Review 7/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Redwoods written and illustrated by Jason Chin (Porter/Roaring Brook)
A straightforward and informative text about coastal redwoods captions pictures that tell not exactly a different story, but one whose metafictional cheek will draw readers in—just as the book’s hero is drawn, by his imagination, high into the redwood canopy. Science and story are seamlessly pulled together in neatly crafted paintings. Review 5/09. (Primary)

Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals Are Big and Little Animals Are Little written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton (Candlewick)
Davies and Layton explore the rules that control what bodies can and can’t do, taking a close look at the difference between “little things” and “big things” to explain why there are no giant spiders and why humans can’t fly. The integration of humor (especially in the cartoon illustrations) and riveting scientific information, clearly and succinctly conveyed, makes this a standout. Review 9/09. (Intermediate)

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Jackson/Atheneum)
A visually sublime picture book takes young readers along on the Apollo 11 mission—from preparation to launch to moon landing to safe return. Floca distills a multitude of facts into a concise text, sparely lyrical yet concrete and relatable; watercolor and ink illustrations capture size, power, and perspective as well as moments of suspense and wonder. Review 5/09. (Primary)

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Holt)
With great empathy and humor, Heiligman’s lively narrative examines the life and legacy of Charles Darwin through the unique lens of his domestic life. Here’s a book that works as a history of science, as a biography, and, last but not least, as a romance. Review 1/09. (Middle School, High School)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (Kroupa/Farrar)
In 1955, a year before Rosa Parks was arrested, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat. Like Parks, she was jailed; unlike Parks, she was forgotten. Through interviews with Colvin and others, Hoose delves into the details behind this largely unknown incident, ensuring that readers will have Colvin’s courageous story forever seared into their memories. Review 3/09. (Middle School, High School)

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
With a tightly focused narrative and dramatic pacing, Partridge writes about the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery from the viewpoint of children and teenagers who participated. Equally as spectacular are the black-and-white photographs, expertly selected, that provide visual, visceral force and a powerful sense of immediacy. Review 11/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)
Stone’s account of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get women into NASA’s Mercury training program in the early 1960s is a perceptive, page-turning inquiry into the history behind some of our most iconic moments. Featuring first-person interviews, extreme testing details, and incisive historical analysis, Almost Astronauts is by turns fascinating, infuriating, and inspiring. Review 3/09. (Middle School, High School)

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf)
Part biography, part ode to the beauty of the seas, this portrait of “the world’s ambassador to the oceans” employs humanizing anecdotes, technical explanations, and straightforward but evocative narration to encapsulate the aquatic pioneer, his inventions, and his causes. Luminous illustrations capture the essence of what so enraptured Cousteau. Review 7/09. (Primary)
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