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In this issue

For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

Horn Book Fanfare
In this issue of Notes, the Horn Book presents Fanfare, its annual choices for the best books of the year. From the more than four thousand books reviewed in The Horn Book Magazine and Guide, we chose twenty-three, ranging from books for the very youngest (Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Dinosaur vs. Bedtime) to those that offer a challenge for older teens (Tender Morsels, The Kingdom on the Waves).

Selected by the editors and reviewers of The Horn Book Magazine, the Fanfare list is not meant to be representative of anything beyond excellence, but I like that this year’s list has a little bit of almost (alas, no poetry or folklore) everything: fantasy, realism, hard books, easy books, read-alouds and read-alones.

What do we mean by best? The books chosen for the Fanfare list are those that demonstrate creative excellence and outstanding achievement in writing and illustrating for young people. Some of the books on this list are or will be widely popular with children; others will speak to a dedicated few. No book on this list is for every child, but we hope there is something here for all, just in time for holiday shopping — and reading.

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

Best books for preschoolers

On our list are five picture books that have toddlers’ and preschoolers’ keenest interests in mind — and that parents can happily read (“Again! Again!”) over and over.

In Mem Fox’s Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, a sequence of adorable pairs of babies join a growing multiethnic playgroup, the refrain reinforcing what they all have in common: “And both of these babies, / as everyone knows, / had ten little fingers / and ten little toes.” Snuggle up with your favorite baby and kiss those fingers and toes to both your hearts’ content. (1–5 years)  

A little witch girl and her cat catch all the ghosts in the house, wash and dry them, and find good uses for them in Kazuno Kohara’s Ghosts in the House! The smiling curtains, grinning tablecloth, and, of course, peacefully sleeping bed sheets are the perfect ending to a cheerful story not limited to Halloween reading. (3–6 years)

Who Made This Cake?, written by Chihiro Nakagawa and illustrated by Junji Koyose, features a horde of tiny workers using equally tiny yellow construction vehicles to make a gigantic (to them) birthday cake for a young boy. Trucks, frosting, and a cast of characters that look like Playmobil figures — that’s a combination no preschooler can resist. (2–5 years)

In Bob Shea’s boldly designed Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, a little red dinosaur takes on the world, from a pile of leaves (“ROAR!”) to a big slide (“ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!”) to a plate of spaghetti (“ROAR! CHOMP! CHOMP! ROAR! ROAR!”). Only one challenge manages to overwhelm our tired hero — but come morning, he’ll be roarin’ to go again. (2–5 years)

Kevin Henkes’s Old Bear celebrates the yearly surprise of changing seasons, as a hibernating bear dreams about his cubhood in four glorious, vividly colored spreads: spring pinks and purples, summer blues and greens, autumn reds and yellows, winter blues and whites. Everything about the book is in sync with the story’s soft, subtle nature and theme of change. See our interview with Kevin, just below. (3–6 years)

—Jennifer M. Brabander

Five questions for Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes’s first book, All Alone (1981), was accepted for publication when he was just nineteen. Since then, he’s won accolades — and readers’ hearts — for his picture books featuring memorable mice characters (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Sheila Rae, the Brave, Owen, etc.). Recently Henkes seems to have refocused on All Alone’s preschool audience with picture books such as Kitten’s First Full Moon (winner of the 2005 Caldecott Medal) and Old Bear, a Horn Book Fanfare choice this year.

1. Where did Old Bear come from?

It’s always difficult to pinpoint exactly where books come from, but this much I can figure out — for years I’ve wanted to do a young picture book about the seasons, and I’ve also wanted to do a book about dreams. Separately, the ideas never amounted to much. But then they combined, somehow, successfully in Old Bear.

During the early writing stages of Old Bear (before he was a bear), I stumbled upon a box of plastic animals in our basement. My kids had outgrown the animals, but I hadn’t been able to pass them on for sentimental reasons. As I sorted through them I found several bears, and I thought that bears would be fun to draw. At that moment things clicked for me. Hibernation, the changing of the seasons, dreams — the pieces of this particular book puzzle began to fall into place.

2. As your own children get older, your picture books are getting younger. What has prompted you to return to doing picture books for preschoolers?

Doing young picture books is a way to deny that my kids are getting older! But seriously, one book simply leads to another. When my son was a baby, I became interested in board books. I did five of them. Those led to Kitten’s First Full Moon. And Kitten led to A Good Day and Old Bear. But so much of the process is hidden even to me, the creator.

3. What are some of the key differences between creating a book like Old Bear and creating your mouse books?

When I create a book like Old Bear, I try to be as simple and spare as possible. I don’t use dialogue, nor do I develop character in the same ways that I do in my mouse books. And yet, the concerns are the same — to keep everything tight and to think deeply about all aspects of bookmaking, including pacing, design, composition of individual illustrations, and type choice.

4. Old Bear spends most of the book asleep, but he has these wildly imaginative dreams — so the book is both calm/predictable and energetic/unpredictable. Just like preschoolers! Did you take young kids’ essential natures into account when you set up the book that way?

I knew from the start that Old Bear would be for young kids, but I wasn’t thinking specifically of the nature of preschoolers when I set up the structure of the book. I was only interested in making a piece of art that worked for me. I did intend for the dream sequences to be bright, colorful, fantastic islands dropped into the reality of Old Bear’s world. And I wanted the dreams to fit into that reality nicely and to flow smoothly from one sequence to the next. That’s why, in the spring spread, I’ve drawn Bear napping in a crocus, echoing back to the previous page showing Old Bear asleep. The flowers of spring presage the summer sun, which is a daisy. The strong diagonals of the summer rain lead into the strong diagonals of the autumn tree trunks. And so on . . .

5. We are obviously big fans of Old Bear, but we think parents will also want to know: have we (sob!) seen the last of Lilly?

I hope with all my heart that Lilly will resurface. I’ve got a few ideas, none of which have worked out yet. I remind myself that ten years passed between Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and Lilly’s Big Day.

I wrote a Lilly book in a white heat shortly after Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse was published. My then-editor, Susan Hirschman, wisely said something like, “I don’t think this is good enough for you. Anyone would publish it and it would do very, very well. But in the long run, I don’t think you’d be happy.”

I keep those words as a guiding principle. When and if I can make it good enough, Lilly will be back.  

—Martha V. Parravano

Best picture books for the early grades

Our picture book choices this year examine the strength of friendships and the power — and responsibilities — of imagination.

In Lynne Rae Perkins’s The Cardboard Piano, Debbie is disappointed when her best friend Tina does not share her love of playing the piano — especially after she makes Tina a cardboard replica to practice on at home. With word-balloon dialogue and intricate pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations, Perkins addresses a common childhood situation with her usual nuance. In the end, it’s fine that Debbie and Tina don’t share everything: as in all friendships, “mostly it evened out.” (5–8 years)  

In Traction Man Meets Turbodog, Mini Grey’s sequel to Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Traction Man Is Here!, Traction Man and his faithful companion Scrubbing Brush return for more adventures. After an excursion up “Mt. Compost Heap,” however, Scrubbing Brush lands in the trash and Turbodog — an annoying electronic pup — replaces him. The witty cartoon panels follow Traction Man on his mission to rescue Scrubbing Brush and deliver the message to “never give up!” when it comes to friendship. (5–8 years)

Allan Ahlberg’s The Pencil, illustrated by Bruce Ingman, features a pencil who draws into being a boy, a dog, a cat, a family, and all the things they need. When his creations start to complain (“My ears are too big”), he draws an eraser to take care of their dissatisfactions, but the thuggish eraser threatens to destroy the whole world. Can the intrepid pencil draw his way to a solution? Ingman’s free-wheeling, faux-childlike illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the energetic, provocative text. (5–8 years)

—Chelsey Philpot

Best fiction for middle graders

Three exceptional novels give middle-grade readers a lot to think about: illness and death, living life to the fullest, and finding your place in a family. At the same time, they all feature moments of genuine laugh-out-loud humor and unforgettable characters.

Twelve-year-old narrator Ted, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and his older sister, Kat, watch their cousin get on the London Eye Ferris wheel. But when the ride ends, Salim is missing. How did he disappear, and where is he now? Ted’s hyper-logical brain puzzles through The London Eye Mystery, in which author Siobhan Dowd places well-embedded clues young readers can follow as she ratchets up both the tension and our affection for Ted. (9–12 years)  

Sally Nicholls’s Ways to Live Forever is a heartbreaking yet joyful story about a dying child. Sam, age eleven, has leukemia. He keeps a journal of his final months, spent trying to achieve life goals (walking up a down escalator, seeing Earth from outer space) and asking such “Questions Nobody Answers” as “How do you know that you’ve died?” Nicholls creates a character and a world that is buoyant, honest, deeply moving, and entirely stripped of sentimentality. (9–12 years)

Readers who have grown up with Hilary McKay’s Casson family may be sad to find themselves at the end of the series. It’s great consolation, then, that Forever Rose is so satisfying. Eleven-year-old Rose (the youngest, the artist, the reluctant reader) narrates this story, which combines spillover issues from previous books with new (messy) relationships, challenges, pleasures, and — whoa! — two big surprises. (9–12 years)

—Elissa Gershowitz

Best fiction for teens

The year’s best young adult fiction featured strong-minded protagonists dealing with issues of mortality, morality, and identity in breathtakingly varied ways. From the American Revolution to a near-future dystopia, these six novels offer up uniquely memorable worlds and characters readers will be reluctant to part from.

By turns hair-raising, humorous, and touching, The Graveyard Book, a coming-of-age tale with a twist, follows young Nobody Owens’s formative years growing up in a cemetery, raised by (mostly) kindly ghosts. Neil Gaiman’s dreamlike prose has a true storyteller’s tone and cadence, and his tale is as bittersweet as it is action-filled. (12 years and up)  

Kate Thompson follows up her ingenious 2007 fantasy The New Policeman with this year’s The Last of the High Kings. The sequel continues to draw upon Irish lore and trickster tales, as the son and fairy-changeling daughter of Policeman protagonist J.J. (now grown) must protect the world from ancient anarchic spirits. This is both warm family story and rollicking fantasy. (12 years and up)  

Survivor meets “The Lottery” as Suzanne Collins, author of the popular Underland Chronicles, returns with what promises to be an even better series. The Capitol requires each of its twelve districts to send two teens to an annual TV reality show from which only one will emerge victorious—and alive. With addictive twists and turns and a tough-as-nails heroine, The Hunger Games is a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary. (12 years and up)  

Terry Pratchett’s Nation is the story of two young teens: Mau, the sole survivor and de facto leader of his island nation after a devastating tsunami, and Daphne, daughter of a British aristocrat and the sole survivor of the shipwreck that lands her on Mau’s island. Separated by language and culture, the two form a star-crossed friendship as they rebuild their shattered conceptions of humanity, spirituality, and the nature of the world. Funny, wrenching, and powerfully emotional. (12 years and up)  

With The Kingdom on the Waves, M. T. Anderson finishes the saga begun in the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and National Book Award winner The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party. Octavian, an escaped slave with a classical education, joins the British Army when Lord Dunmore promises him his freedom in exchange. Anderson continues to skewer historical hypocrisies as he brings his sweeping opus to an unforgettable close. (14 years and up)

Margo Lanagan, Australian author of such evocative short story collections as Black Juice, makes her U.S. novel debut with the brutal, haunting Tender Morsels. Lida, raped repeatedly by her father and by village youths, retreats with her two daughters to a parallel world without aggression, fear, or pain — until strangers begin to breach its borders. The story of how Lida finds her way back to a full life is painful but ultimately triumphant. (14 years and up)

—Claire E. Gross

Best nonfiction

As any parent of a dinosaur-lover knows, an allegedly “too hard” book whose subject is of interest to a reader will pull that reader right up along with it. Here are our choices for the best nonfiction of the year, each selection suited for a wide range of ages.

With its easygoing, intimate text and celebratory watercolors, Janet Schulman’s Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City, illustrated by Meilo So, is both nature study and social history, at home on a junior birder’s bookshelf as well as the toniest of Upper East Side coffee tables. (6 years and up)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond offers yet another view of a moment in Central Park history, when “seventy-five hundred and three shimmering saffron panels” graced the park’s walkways. Authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan are superb explicators of contemporary art, and this is one of the most beautifully designed books of the year. (9 years and up)  

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue provides the setting for a lavishly illustrated and engagingly informative compendium of history. Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out commands the talents of more than one hundred children’s authors and illustrators to tell the story of this national landmark and its inhabitants. (9 years and up)  

In The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Candace Fleming uses an abundance of reproductions of primary sources, textual and visual, to bring to life the sixteenth President and First Lady. This is among the very best of the many books published in anticipation of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. (9 years and up)

That Lincoln’s cause was not completed in his lifetime, or even century, is evidenced by Kadir Nelson’s magisterial We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. The collective “we” of the narrative voice honors all the league’s players and provides plenty of play-by-play to draw readers in; full-page oil paintings elevate the players into heroes. (9 years and up)

For the pre-pre-med or just more-than-ordinarily curious, David Macaulay offers entrée into The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body. The book is technical but engrossing, its explanation of human biology and anatomy blessed with hundreds of the artist’s eye-opening and brain-expanding drawings and diagrams. (12 years and up)  

—Roger Sutton

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