Fanfare 2023 Annotations

Welcome to Fanfare, the Horn Book’s annual best books list! Being at the brink of the Magazine’s centennial — in 2024 — provides ample opportunity (slash excuse) to peruse our bound-volumes archive. For example: is this the one-hundredth Fanfare list? Turns out no: Fanfare started in 1939. From March 1938: “Horn Book readers have noticed perhaps that no Horns [ed. note: HORNS?! When did we start on stars? Don’t get distracted, self] appeared against books in the January issue. The Editors have decided to apply the special honor of the Horn after more time has elapsed. Hereafter the March issue will carry the list of the Horned books for the preceding year.” 

The issue has shifted (to January/February), but the process and philosophy remain much the same; and time and perspective are key. Which books stand out in our memory; which have remained in our hearts and imaginations; which, upon further reflection and many re-reads, embody excellence that year? We hope you enjoy the following fifty-four works, including picture books, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and folklore — our eighty-sixth list of titles so heralded by that “special honor of the Horn.” Happy Fanfare!  

Elissa Gershowitz 
Editor in Chief

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here

Picture Books

Nesting Dolls
written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton; Crown
(Preschool, Primary)

In a family of women with golden brown skin, Anyiaka, a Black girl with a much darker complexion, feels out of place. Through a set of nesting dolls, her Gullah Geechee grandmother provides reassurance. Vibrant, digitally created illustrations showcase this loving family’s closeness. Review 9/23.

The Hospital Book
written and illustrated by Lisa Brown; Porter/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

The now-older little sister from The Airport Book (rev. 5/16) narrates her experience in the hospital with appendicitis. Brown smartly keeps a tight focus on the girl’s relatable reactions and emotions and includes multiple subplots in her engrossing and detailed illustrations. Instructive, engaging, empathetic, inclusive…and an essential book about a common childhood occurrence. Review 3/23.

We Are Here
written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier; Orchard/Scholastic
(Preschool, Primary)

Charles’s poignant, lyrical message about the resiliency of Black people celebrates Black accomplishments, including in the arts and STEM. Collier’s bold and expressive watercolor and collage illustrations capture the narrative and suggest wonderment, reflection, strength, and self-love. Review 3/23.

written by Tziporah Cohen, illustrated by Yaara Eshet; Groundwood
(Preschool, Primary)

This inventive picture book uses graphic-novel conventions to imagine a time-travel tale that unfolds from a Passover Seder. Wordless but for some Hebrew and Aramaic text incorporated into the illustrations, it allows viewers to envision themselves within the Passover story and emphasizes the playfulness of traditions associated with the afikomen. Review 3/23.

Night in the City
written and illustrated by Julie Downing; Porter/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

Downing pays tribute to night shift workers in this narrative that shines a light on various activities that happen after many people’s bedtime. Detailed, animated mixed-media spreads ingeniously interweave multiple characters’ story lines, allowing viewers to make these discoveries on their own. An endlessly perusable book that celebrates interdependency. Review 3/23.

Friends Beyond Measure
written and illustrated by Lalena Fisher; Harper/HarperCollins

Clever, whimsical, detailed infographics chart the friendship of two girls: e.g., a Venn diagram shows what they have in common, a coordinate chart tracks their tree-climbing abilities. But… “I thought the fun would last forever!” A bar graph ranks narrator Ana’s many feelings upon learning pal Harwin is moving. Fisher provides a heartwarming celebration of friendship — and math. Review 5/23.

written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann; Schwartz/Random

Who will nab the apple? A text with a chanting rhythm bounces toward inevitable conflict and a funny twist ending. Crisp, bright illustrations use smart compositions, including dramatic perspective shifts, panels, and thought bubbles, in this perfectly paced picture book. Review 7/23.

Spanish Is the Language of My Family
written by Michael Genhart, illustrated by John Parra; Porter/Holiday

Manolo is inspired to practice harder for a Spanish-language spelling bee when he learns that his abuela was forbidden from speaking Spanish in school. Warm digital and acrylic illustrations brighten the text (with Spanish smoothly incorporated) in a story that depicts trauma but is ultimately uplifting. Also available in Spanish as El español es la lengua de mi familia. Review 7/23.

I’m From
written by Gary R. Gray Jr., illustrated by Oge Mora; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
(Preschool, Primary)

The speaker narrates where “I’m from,” evocatively describing the sights, sounds, smells, traditions, and experiences that he considers his own, from the joys of home cooking to the disturbance of microaggressions. Mora’s trademark collage-style art weaves together colored-pencil drawings, tissue paper, book clippings, and more, beautifully creating a tapestry of childhood. Review 9/23.

A Walk in the Woods
written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney; Porter/Holiday

In this collaboration begun with the late Jerry Pinkney and continued by his son, Grimes follows a grieving boy who is comforted by nature — and by the discovery of his late father’s stories. The celebration of nature is as eloquent as the treatment of loss is moving. Review 9/23.

written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison; Little, Brown
(Preschool, Primary)

Being big “was good…until it wasn’t.” A young Black dancer learns this through various difficult interactions but also discovers that she deserves love and respect whatever her size. Harrison plays ingeniously with the picture-book format through expressive illustrations in soft pinks and grays, compassionately telling a story that is sorely underrepresented. Review 5/23.

written by Kevin Johnson, illustrated by Kitt Thomas; Roaring Brook
(Preschool, Primary)

A brown-skinned boy struggles to cope after losing a loved one. He uses a red cape to shield himself from the ­memories of the person he lost until he’s ready to remember. As the memories flood in, Thomas’s digital illustrations become brighter in this sensitively told story of grief. Review 7/23.

Bear with Me
written and illustrated by Kerascoët; Random House Studio/Random

This warm-hearted gem is wordless save for the rare, effective use of the titular phrase. A child is stymied in attempts to smuggle their stuffed bear to the first day of school, but finds ways to connect activities with their beloved companion. Ink and watercolor illustrations excel at capturing emotion, personality, and humor. Review 5/23.

Once upon a Book
written by Grace Lin and Kate Messner, illustrated by Grace Lin; Little, Brown
(Preschool, Primary)

Alice is invited inside a book she’s reading by one of the animal characters from it. She embarks on a thrilling journey of the imagination, traveling to a coral reef, outer space, and more. Delightful text and lush, full-bleed spreads bring readers into this appealing ­home-and-back-again adventure starring an Asian protagonist. Review 1/23.

My Powerful Hair
written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Steph Littlebird; Abrams

“Our ancestors say: / Our hair is our memories. / Our source of strength.” Lyrical text and resplendently ­flowing illustrations reflect a contemporary Indigenous girl’s sense of self and connection. In relatively few words, readers find out much about her family and cultural traditions. An understatedly powerful, ultimately hopeful tale. Review 3/23.

When the Stars Came Home
written by Brittany Luby, illustrated by Natasha Donovan; Little, Brown

Ojiig misses everything about home when his family moves to the city, especially the stars. Quilting a star blanket with Mama (identified as Anishinaabe in the back matter), hearing stories of their ancestors, and a visit from his grandparents help Ojiig to feel the city is home. Vibrant illustrations emphasize family and tradition in this affecting story. Review 9/23.

Maybe a Whale
written by Kirsten Pendreigh, illustrated by Crystal Smith; Groundwood

After Grandpa’s death, Mom takes the narrator on the trip Grandpa had planned to see “his whales.” Rich watercolor illustrations blur sea and sky and show whales in shadows and constellations. At night, they hear whales but still can’t see them, and the narrator knows Grandpa remains present. A tender ­testament to love and loss. Review11/23.

My Baba’s Garden
written by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith; Porter/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

Scott’s own Polish grandmother served as the inspiration for Baba, whose silent, meaningful gestures communicate her longing to pass on traditions to her grandson. Smith’s watercolor and gouache illustrations bring warmth to every inch of Baba’s kitchen and garden, and even find gentle beauty in earthworms. Review 3/23.

Do You Remember?
written and illustrated by Sydney Smith; Porter/Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

Mother and child lie in bed, sharing ­pleasant memories that include the child’s father. Then they remember departing home, the father staying behind. Back in the present: “Can we make this a memory, too?” “Just you and me.” This deeply affecting story, with illustrations marked by beguiling light and shadow, will spark many conversations. Review 9/23.

When You Can Swim
written and illustrated by Jack Wong; Orchard/Scholastic
(Preschool, Primary)

Wong celebrates the world that opens up for a child once they learn how to swim. His poetic text, combined with inclusive pastel and watercolor illustrations of swimmers of various races, ethnicities, and body types, encourages everyone to experience the water. Review 7/23.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here



The Blood Years
written by Elana K. Arnold; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
(High School)

This compelling, well-researched novel is set in Czernowitz, Romania, from 1939 to 1945. As antisemitic fervor mounts and the city is occupied by the Soviets and then the Germans, the danger for Rieke and her Jewish family grows increasingly dire. Arnold’s deeply personal narrative bears witness to the horrors of war and the redemptive power of love. Review 11/23.

Henry, like Always
written by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song; Chronicle

Henry, a boy who presents as being on the autism spectrum, likes school, but he reacts to a schedule change with dismay. This short, heavily illustrated chapter book features empathetic prose, friendly illustrations, and a relatable and authentic character who succeeds in adjusting to what is, for him, a ­challenge. Review 3/23.

Warrior Girl Unearthed
written by Angeline Boulley; Holt
(High School)

The more Perry Firekeeper-Birch (niece of Daunis from Firekeeper’s ­Daughter, rev. 5/21) learns about the Native ­American Graves Protection and ­Repatriation Act — and about institutional ­non-compliance — the more galvanized she becomes in righting both centuries-old and contemporary wrongs. Boulley’s broad cast of characters sparks with wit, ­dimensionality, and resourcefulness; another riveting page-turner. Review 5/23.

For Lamb
written by Lesa Cline-Ransome; Holiday
(Middle School, High School)

An interracial friendship, and then a sexual assault, set off a brutal chain of events for shy Black protagonist Lamb and her family in 1940s Jackson, Mississippi. Cline-Ransome deftly creates unforgettable characters, each with a distinct voice, and exposes readers to the oppressive racism of the Jim Crow South in a devastating, all-too-realistic story. Review 3/23.

Let’s Go!
written and illustrated by Michael Emberley; Holiday
(Preschool, Primary)

The quintet of friendly critters from ­I Did It! (rev. 9/22) receives a party invitation: “LET’S GO!” Their epic journey is filled with challenges; cooperation and creative problem-solving prevail. ­Emberley’s cartooning is complex and compelling; the dialogue-only text is lively and charismatic. An excellent introduction to the comics format for early readers. Review 1/23.

Only Only Marisol Rainey
written and illustrated by Erin Entrada Kelly; Greenwillow
(Primary, Intermediate)

Second grader Marisol returns for a third adventure in this exceptionally strong series. Marisol helps a friend learn to ride a bicycle, navigates her best friend’s jealousy, and worries about a neighbor’s scary-looking, on-the-loose German shepherd. Well supported by lively black-and-white line drawings, the emotionally resonant text realistically conveys Marisol’s anxieties. Review 7/23.

Elena Rides
written and illustrated by Juana Medina; Candlewick
(Preschool, Primary)

Elena succeeds at riding her bicycle…after she “wobbles” and “bobbles” and “tries, tries, tries!” Medina’s purple elephant protagonist is endearing and relatable in her frustration, ­determination, and triumph. With dynamic text design, this cheerful early reader will grab attention in English and in Spanish (Elena monta en bici) or in a bilingual flip ­edition. Review 3/23.

World Made of Glass
written by Ami Polonsky; Little, Brown
(Intermediate, Middle School)

In 1987 New York City, twelve-year-old Iris shares a special bond with her father, a gay man who eventually dies of AIDS. Iris transcends her profound grief and makes inspiring efforts to change the conversation about the epidemic. A lyrical, genuine family story filled with love and caring. Review 3/23.

Link + Hud: Heroes by a Hair
written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey; Norton
(Primary, Intermediate)

With underwear on their heads and kitchen implements held high, brothers Lincoln and Hudson imagine themselves in various superheroic scenarios, wreaking havoc around their house. This tale about two highly creative, collaborative, and spirited siblings is told through a hugely engaging mix of comic-panel adventures and a copiously illustrated chapter-book format. Review 5/23.

Wishing Season
written by Anica Mrose Rissi; Quill Tree/HarperCollins
(Intermediate, Middle School)

This moving exploration of processing loss is punctuated with supernatural encounters between protagonist Lily and her late twin brother. Gradual revelations allow readers to develop an intimate understanding of the characters. Achingly sad but hopeful, the book poses questions about the powers of our connections to other people, to the world around, and beyond. Review 7/23.

Big Tree
written and illustrated by Brian Selznick; Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Across eons and miles — and from the unlikely perspective of two tiny sycamore seed siblings—Selznick touches on the vast histories and structures underpinning the natural world. Using his idiosyncratic blend of words and pictures, and with trademark elegant pacing, he thoughtfully intertwines botany, ecology, ­conservation, ­existentialism — with poignancy and emotional heft. Review 5/23.

An Impossible Thing to Say
written by Arya Shahi; Allida/HarperCollins
(High School)

In this verse novel set in 2001, ­Iranian American teen Omid learns to communicate with grandparents he hardly knows, and finds his voice amid discoveries about acting, poetry, and music. Memorable turns of phrase bring to life touching moments in Omid’s relationships and joyful times as he learns more about himself and about language. Review 11/23.

Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust
written by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez; Graphix/Scholastic
(Middle School, High School)

A golem resists the guards in Auschwitz. Baba Yaga and the fools of Chelm build a bridge for children hiding from the “nasties.” Five fantastical stories, all creatively depicted in thoughtfully varied graphic novel–style layouts, address aspects of the Holocaust. Amid the brutality, the stories — rewardingly — give power back to people under murderous persecution. Review 9/23.

The Notorious Scarlett and Browne
written by Jonathan Stroud; Knopf
(Middle School, High School)

Stroud’s crackling-good follow-up to The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne (rev. 1/22) continues the fantasy-adventures of teen outlaw Scarlett and her telepathically gifted companion, Albert Browne, across future scorched-earth Britain, from desolate landscapes to dystopian towns, pursued by ­post-apocalyptic ghouls, ruthless bounty-hunters, and religious zealots. A witty, fizzingly paced, and surprisingly heart-tugging romp. Review 5/23.

Parachute Kids
written and illustrated by Betty C. Tang; Graphix/Scholastic
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Set in 1981 Los Angeles, Tang’s compelling graphic novel follows the ups and downs of the three Lin siblings, undocumented immigrants from Taiwan whose status as “parachute kids” means increased responsibility and uncertainty. Themes of family, peer pressure, sexuality, sacrifice, and survival are naturally woven into a triumphant story of perseverance and resilience. Review 5/23.

written by Elizabeth Wein; Little, Brown
(Middle School, High School)

In 1937, seventeen-year-old Stella — the “Flying English Rose” — is eager to prove herself as the only female pilot in a cross-European race. On the first day, she witnesses a plane force a fellow contestant to crash fatally into the English Channel; who will be next? A compulsively readable murder mystery/thriller/romance/historical novel. Review 3/23.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here



Ancient Night
written by David Álvarez with David Bowles, illustrated by David Álvarez; Em Querido/Levine Querido
(Preschool, Primary)

Rabbit pours agave sap into the moon to keep it shining. Opossum steals the sap, unintentionally extinguishing the moonlight, but brings back a pot of fire from under the earth to place in the sky as the sun. Stunning illustrations combine with spellbinding text in an original weaving together of several Mesoamerican tales. Review 3/23.

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale
written and illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick

Unflappable Otilla and an unfailingly polite skull (pursued by a headless skeleton) make for odd but exemplary companions in this well-paced and enjoyable folktale retelling. The story is illustrated in classic deadpan Klassen style that’s both dryly hilarious and mesmerizing. Review 7/23.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here



written by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goade; Random House Studio/Random
(Preschool, Primary)

Two Native creators, spanning generations, deliver a lustrous celebration of generational memory. Caldecott Medalist Goade’s illustrations bring U.S. Poet Laureate Harjo’s 1983 poem to a child audience. Goade’s imagery — drawn from her own Lingít heritage — features the unmistakable iconography of  Pacific Northwest Coast art informing figures both terrestrial and celestial. Review 3/23.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here



An American Story
written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dare Coulter; Little, Brown
(Primary, Intermediate)

“How do you tell a story about slavery?” Alexander’s poetic text and Coulter’s innovative art — juxtaposing drawings of modern-day students learning about slavery with vivid painted and sculptural past scenes depicting people living their lives before they were kidnapped and “crammed in / small, hot spaces” — present a powerful counternarrative of an “American story.” The heart-wrenching book ends on an encouraging note about how truth-telling leads to healing. Review 1/23.

83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary
written and illustrated by Don Brown; Clarion/HarperAlley/HarperCollins
(Middle School, High School)

This rare chronicle of an ongoing war depicts, in Brown’s trademark sensitive comics format, Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the siege of the port city Mariupol. Spare, understated text synthesizes facts and quotes, and dramatic panel layout compositions, sketchy illustrations, and a grayscale palette convey life in a war zone. A powerful work of graphic nonfiction. Review 7/23.

Run and Hide: How Jewish Youth Escaped the Holocaust
written and illustrated by Don Brown; Clarion/HarperAlley/HarperCollins
(Middle School, High School)

Brown applies his signature graphic-nonfiction approach to the rescue of Jewish young people during the Holocaust. Individual poignant stories are conveyed through emotive art and quotes from survivors. There are hopeful elements, but the book doesn’t shy away from the grim fate of so many left behind. Review 11/23.

Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer
written by Lynne Cox, illustrated by Richard Jones; Schwartz/Random

Combining fact and imagination, Cox (herself a long-distance swimmer) tells the captivating tale of a real female loggerhead turtle, tracing her incredible ocean-spanning trip from her ­hatching place in Australia to an aquarium in South Africa and back again. Jones brings Yoshi’s story to life with textured illustrations bursting with color. Review 3/23.

Coretta’s Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King
written by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; Calkins/Astra

In a sophisticated, lyrical picture-book biography, Duncan alternates between prose and various poetic forms to tell the story of the titular civil rights activist who was much more than the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Christie’s evocative watercolors depict King as resolute, strong, and empathetic. Review 9/23.

written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka; Graphix/Scholastic
(Middle School, High School)

Krosoczka chronicles his time at age ­sixteen volunteering at a camp for pediatric cancer patients and their families in this graphic memoir. Lighthearted camp moments alternate with ­thoughtful, ­emotionally resonant conversations. The illustrations enhance the heartfelt storytelling, skillfully expressing changes in perspective, mood, and significance. Review 7/23.

Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods
written and illustrated by Grace Lin; Little, Brown
(Intermediate, Middle School)

Food, folklore, and history combine for a mouthwatering and enlightening read in Lin’s illustrated collection of stories about dozens of dishes, drinks, and staples of Chinese and Chinese ­American cuisine. A veritable feast of information, storytelling, and visual delights. Review 9/23.

Tomfoolery!: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books
written by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Barbara McClintock; Chronicle

This exuberant biographical tribute emphasizes Caldecott’s ability to capture action on the page, filling the lively text with bustling, active verbs. Exquisite, energetic illustrations are accompanied by several reproductions of Caldecott’s drawings, including one stunning wordless spread showcasing the illustration that adorns the medal bearing his name. Review 9/23.

Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir
written and illustrated by Pedro Martín; Dial
(Intermediate, Middle School)

This graphic memoir of a road trip with the author’s Mexican American family dramatizes the experience of growing up between two countries: stories your parents never told, relatives you never met, words you cannot fully translate from one language to another. Martín’s varied cartoon-style panels — and endearingly juvenile humor — will be appreciated by anyone who comes from a big family. Review 9/23.

They Hold the Line: Wildfires, Wildlands, and the Firefighters Who Brave Them
written by Dan Paley, illustrated by Molly Mendoza; Chronicle
(Primary, Intermediate)

An engaging text and graphically striking illustrations follow firefighters from the first indication of a blaze until the last embers are extinguished, providing an in-depth view of the work to protect people, homes, and habitats from out-of-control wildfires. Energetic and engrossing. Review 11/23.

There Was a Party for Langston
written by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey; Dlouhy/Atheneum

In 1991, Black literary luminaries gathered to celebrate Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, “the king of letters.” Bold, lively illustrations, created by the Pumphreys with handmade stamps, make the reader feel like a guest at the party that inspired this joyful picture book. Review 11/23.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It
written by Dee Romito, illustrated by Ziyue Chen; Holiday

A fascinating history of straws — from ancient Sumerian innovation to today’s mass-produced plastic version — morphs into a call to action. Straws of all types are front-and-center in the crisp digital illustrations, including one of litter on a beach and eventually a spread of more sustainable alternatives. Review 1/23.

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Germany
written by Steve Sheinkin; Roaring Brook
(Middle School, High School)

This riveting tale of suspense traces Slovakian Jew Rudi Vrba through his escape from Auschwitz and his trek with a friend to deliver harrowing testimony to the world about the horrors being inflicted by the Nazis. The immersive, heartrending narrative is complemented artfully by clearly presented historical context. Review 9/23.

Great Carrier Reef
written by Jessica Stremer, illustrated by Gordy Wright; Holiday

In 1976, the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Oriskany was intentionally sunk in the ocean off the coast of Florida and converted into an artificial reef by conservation scientists and Navy engineers. Wright’s striking art follows the process of the “Mighty O”’s makeover in Stremer’s clear, logical, and fascinating combination of natural and industrial science. Review 7/23.

Game of Freedom: Mestre Bimba and the Art of Capoeira
written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh; Abrams

Employing his distinctive ­two-dimensional style and engaging narrative text, Tonatiuh immortalizes Manoel dos Reis Machado, “Mestre Bimba,” and his contributions to the acrobatic Brazilian art form of capoeira. The illustrations depict movement effortlessly, and ingeniously use shadows to pay homage to the enslaved Africans who were Bimba’s ancestors. Also available in Spanish as Juego de libertad: Mestre Bimba y el arte de la capoeira. Review 11/23.

Read more by and about Fanfare authors and illustrators here

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