Reviews of the 2024 Newbery Medal Winners


The Eyes and the Impossible
by Dave Eggers; illus. by Shawn Harris
Intermediate    Knopf    272 pp.
5/23    9781524764203    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781524764227    $10.99

Canine narrator Johannes lives wild in a park and serves as the Eyes, appointed by the penned-up Bison to report what he sees. The arrival of “rectangles full of nonsense” sets off a chain of events leading to collective animal scheming and to several worldview-expanding revelations for Johannes about his own origins and what’s out there beyond the park. This introspective adventure holds the appeal of a new perspective on the familiar world as readers piece together the bigger picture of what Johannes observes. His narration, though confident on some matters, allows them to pick up on hints that he might not know as much as they do (have the Bison really ruled the park for “millions of years or more?”) and then to watch him grow as he learns. Interspersed full-bleed spreads insert Johannes into existing landscape paintings, underscoring the idea that art changes his view of how he fits into the world. SHOSHANA FLAX


Honor Books

Elf Dog & Owl HeadElf Dog & Owl Head
by M. T. Anderson; illus. by Junyi Wu
Intermediate    Candlewick    240 pp.
4/23    9781536222814    $18.99

Clay and his family are suffering the accumulated ­tensions of a “global sickness” shutdown. Online school, isolation from friends, financial worries, too much togetherness — Clay needs escape, and he gets it via a charming elf-hound who has wandered up from the fairy Kingdom Under the Mountain. The dog also gives Clay access to a new friend, Amos, an owl-headed boy who inhabits a different parallel world that resembles a Puritan village. Once these worlds start to leak into one another, chaos is loosed upon Clay and his family. The tone is largely cartoonish, as set pieces of hilarious slapstick involve, for example, an out-of-control wool sweater that reverse-evolves into its original sheep. It’s a veritable plum pudding of energetic action and witty delights, but a ­foundation of traditional folklore elements — standing stones, half-buried sleeping giants, fairy mischief, portals to the underworld, the Wild Hunt, and predatory wyrms — creates an underlying hint of genuine menace. One of the guests at the big Midsummer’s Eve supernatural shindig is Death (“When he calls, we must go. But knowing that the night may be cut short is what makes it so sweet”). Balancing this chill is the devoted relationship between Clay and his dog companion, a theme that stands sturdily in the middle of the mayhem. Black-and-white full-page pencil illustrations contribute to both coziness and eeriness. SARAH ELLIS

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Simon Sort of SaysSimon Sort of Says
by Erin Bow
Middle School    Disney-Hyperion    320 pp.
1/23    9781368082853    $16.99

Seventh grader Simon and his family are new to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, an unusual town located in the National Quiet Zone, a center for scientific research that restricts radio transmissions. There’s no internet, and even microwave ovens are prohibited. They left their home in Omaha because, as Simon tells it, his family is odd, with a mother who is an embalmer and a father who plays the sackbut (“It’s a kind of trombone”). These initial details are only the beginning of what builds into a gallimaufry of ­eccentricity. One neighbor has an emu farm; Simon’s new friend, Agate, has siblings named Jade, Jasper, Coral, Onyx, and Mica and a large supply of witty radical T-shirts. There are funeral-home disasters, escaped wildlife, and plans for an elaborate prank choreographed by Simon and Agate. Hidden in all this jokey mayhem are small hints of a dark backstory. Why has the family relocated? Why can’t Simon be in a room with just one exit? When it is revealed to the reader that Simon was the sole survivor of a school shooting in his previous town, the tone of the story shifts abruptly, inviting a reread to view the tale in a new light given our insight into Simon’s past. This novel takes a considerable narrative risk and would be an excellent catalyst for discussion. SARAH ELLIS

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Eagle DrumsEagle Drums
by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Roaring Brook    256 pp.
9/23    9781250750655    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781250750662    $10.99

Hopson’s (Iñupiat) debut novel is the story of the origin of the Messenger Feast, an Iñupiat festival of song and dance. Piŋa follows in the footsteps of his two older brothers, both of whom died confronting a golden eagle. When he encounters the eagle, instead of attacking or freezing in fear, Piŋa accepts its challenge to learn what the Eagles can teach him. Piŋa brings his new understandings of song, drumming, dance, architecture, and community back to his family, to the animals who share their environment, and to the people whose stories sustain their culture. This retelling of a traditional tale benefits from Hopson’s personal connection to Alaska, where she was born and raised and where she and her family live. Set in the long-ago of oral tradition and accompanied by occasional colored-pencil and ink drawings, the tale evokes the tundra in all its seasons. Hopson deftly describes smells (the autumn earth, the “dusty rot” of the Eagle Mother), tastes (berries, roasted caribou meat, bitter Arctic hare fed on willow bark), and sounds (marmot whistles, bumblebees) that bring the land to life for the reader and ground this archetypal hero’s journey in the real world. LARA K. AASE

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Mexikid: A Graphic MemoirMexikid: A Graphic Memoir
by Pedro Martín; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial    320 pp.
8/23    9780593462287    $24.99
Paper ed.  9780593462294    $14.99
e-book ed.  9780593462300    $9.99

Martín’s humorous and heartfelt memoir recounts a momentous 1977 road trip with his “big Mexican American family.” Apá and Amá gather the nine Martín children to drive to Jalisco to pick up Apa’s father. The younger four “Somewhat Mexican” boys, including the author, travel in the family motor home, while the older “Somewhat American” siblings follow in a pickup truck. Martín captures each family member’s quirks — Amá’s habit of offering half bananas, or Apá’s whistling call — to bring their distinct personalities to life. Panels smoothly transition to splash pages with added visual guides and gags to create a dynamic flow. A full-color palette gives way to soft watercolor hues as the narrative evokes the past or, as Pedro learns more about his abuelo, integrates Ben-Day dots to lend a vintage comic vibe to Abuelito’s imagined adventures. Bits of Mexican Revolutionary history are integrated, reminiscent of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and myriad pop culture references, from Star Wars to superhero action figures, reflect contemporary nerdom. Spanish is integrated throughout, with translations and comical addenda provided at the bottom of the page. Deep familial bonds, a lovingly chaotic household, and a heartfelt exploration of culture and identity underpin this very memorable debut. JESSICA AGUDELO

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


The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of DreamsThe Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams
by Daniel Nayeri; illus. by Daniel Miyares
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine Querido    224 pp.
3/23    9781646143030    $21.99

Along the medieval Silk Road, a boy is cast out from the temple and nearly stoned to death by monks. He is purchased as a servant by a fast-talking merchant named Samir, for the price of six bolts of silk, and dubbed Monkey. Monkey watches Samir spin tales and make enemies everywhere he goes. In fact, the man is being hunted by six different “killing lines,” from a Viking berserker to a Mongol gunner — though at the end of the first chapter it’s Monkey who tantalizingly confesses: “That is why I killed him.” The book is warmly funny, with folkloric commitment to larger-than-life characters, exaggerated perils, and plenty of jokes, punctuated by Miyares’s lively and colorful illustrations. The formula of the six killing lines encourages readers to anticipate the unspooling of the tale; the twist regarding Samir’s eventual death is more a reward than a shock. ­Celebration of the cultural riches of the Silk Road, along with the geographic, ­religious, and material diversity of the setting, make for engaging historical fiction — and a rollicking good yarn. ALEX SCHAFFNER

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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