Reviews of the 2024 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction and Poetry Award Winners and Honor Book

Nonfiction and Poetry Winners

Nonfiction Winner

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
by Nicholas Day; illus. by Brett Helquist
Intermediate, Middle School    Random House Studio/Random    288 pp.
9/23    9780593643846    $19.99
Library ed.  9780593643853    $22.99
e-book ed.  9780593643860    $11.99

The Mona Lisa wasn’t the world’s most famous painting when it disappeared from the Louvre in 1911. Day starts his narrative at the point of the theft, then jumps forward and backward, tracing Leonardo da Vinci’s career, what (little) is known about the painting’s subject, how the Mona Lisa became a pop culture icon, and its whereabouts today. In between the story’s many diversions (e.g., early forensic science, the media’s role in hyping the theft), readers also follow the path of the painting away from the museum and into the pages of history, which Day delivers with a dose of whimsy as he describes a case that had more than its share of ridiculous moments. The book combines age-appropriate true crime with art history and historiography. The nonlinear structure may take some getting used to, but it serves the book’s goal of drawing parallels between elements of the theft and the Mona Lisa’s current place in our culture. Helquist’s cartoonlike black-and-white illustrations do an excellent job of matching the narrative voice and bringing the book’s dramatic moments to life. A lengthy source list is appended. SARAH RETTGER

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Poetry Winner

Kin: Rooted in Hope
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    208 pp.
9/23    9781665913621    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781665913645    $10.99

From a single photograph and sparse information to a fully realized lineage of excellence, an African American author, with dramatic illustrations by her son, traces their family’s roots. Carole Boston Weatherford (Standing in the Need of Prayer, rev. 9/22) deftly weaves a myriad of locations, entities, and mindsets into her imaginative and moving chronicle. Personification poems introduce various locations she visited, such as the Chesapeake Bay (“Surely as I spill into the Atlantic, the current / of greed swept me into the triangular trade”) and Wye House plantation in Maryland (“I witness more cruelty than I care to recall / the sin of slavery haunts my every hall”). Most powerful are the poems that give her ancestors a voice. From brief mentions in enslavers’ ledgers and other historical documents, Weatherford gives life to kin such as “Nanny / Nancy / Nan Copper, House Servant (born c. 1763)” and Isaac Copper, an elder who taught younger enslaved people Bible verses — among them, Frederick Douglass. Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s (illustrator of Call Me Miss Hamilton, rev. 3/22) scratchboard and digital black-and-white renderings match the poems’ intensity, with the compositions’ points of view being as dynamic and varied as the styles of verse. Fans of Bryan’s Freedom over Me (rev. 11/16) and Nelson’s Heart and Soul (rev. 11/11) will appreciate this extensively researched and deeply felt genealogical exploration. Appended with an author’s note, an illustrator’s note (unseen), and a comprehensive bibliography. EBONI NJOKU

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Nonfiction and Poetry Honor Book

Fungi Grow
by Maria Gianferrari; illus. by Diana Sudyka
Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    48 pp.
10/23    9781665903653    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781665903660    $10.99

The partnership of an action-oriented text and vibrant watercolor illustrations creates an enthusiastic introduction to the growth and effects (both positive and negative) of various forms of fungi. Gianferrari explains that fungi spores disperse in various ways: some “puff” with the wind, others “plop” with the rain, and still others spread through “stink and slime”: “pee-ew!” Sudyka illustrates each onomatopoeic word with large lettering that graphically reflects the sound. For example, the letters in puff look like cotton balls, those in plop are thin with long vertical lines resembling falling rain, and flies swarming around the grisly black and gray shivery lines of pee-ew are appropriately gross. This complementary pattern of text-telling and illustration-showing continues as Gianferrari discusses how fungi grow: mycorrhizal fungi’s delicate filigree threads connect trees to the “wood-wide web,” while sometimes fungi “erupt” from rotting wood. A particularly dramatic illustration shows brown and rust and gray artist’s bracket fungi covering a decaying stump. This passion for fungal biology is obvious not only in Gianferrari’s use of scientific terms and explanations (in small type) throughout but also in the comprehensive back matter: a glossary that expands text definitions, a discussion of how fungi heal and help, some related facts, a diagram of one mushroom’s life cycle, sources, recommended reading, and pertinent online resources. Terrific. BETTY CARTER

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The 2024 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on June 20th, 2024. For reviews of the other winning titles and more, click on the tag BGHB24.

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