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Horn Book Fanfare
Best books of 2008

Picture Books | Fiction | Nonfiction

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. All Fanfare lists going back to 1938 are linked at the bottom of the page.

Picture Books

The Pencil written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Bruce Ingman (Candlewick)

A hardworking pencil and his paintbrush partner bring into being a whole world, populated with delightful specificity (everyone has a name — even a ball dubbed Sebastian). Then a thuggish eraser begins to run amok . . . A wry, madcap story with existential overtones perfectly abetted by Ingman’s freewheeling, faux-childlike illustrations. Review 11/08. (Primary)

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Harcourt)

A mother tells her own “sweet little child” about eight babies from different cultures and climes, and each of these babies, “as everyone knows, / has ten little fingers / and ten little toes.” The cadenced verse encourages participation; the baby-centric illustrations will engage even the youngest listeners. Almost as perfect as baby fingers and toes. Review 1/09. (Preschool)

Traction Man Meets Turbodog written and illustrated by Mini Grey (Knopf)

In this sequel to Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Traction Man Is Here!, the intrepid plastic hero meets his nemesis in the form of a talking robot dog: “Stop Intruder! I will be your pet!” it says. Over and over and over. A robust palette and graphic-novel stylings signal that Here There Be Action. Review 9/08. (Primary)

Old Bear written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow)

A hibernating bear dreams about his cubhood in four glorious spreads: spring pinks and purples, summer blues and greens, autumn reds and yellows, winter blues and whites. Henkes keeps text and art classically simple, while an unusually cohesive book design puts every element — from endpapers to typeface color — in sync with the theme of change and renewal. Review 11/08. (Preschool)

Ghosts in the House! written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara (Roaring Brook)

A witch girl and her cat catch some ghosts, then wash, dry, and repurpose them. Printmaker Kohara’s illustrations in warm black, pumpkin orange, and translucent white are as clean and friendly as the ghosts. Smiling curtains, a grinning tablecloth, and peacefully sleeping sheets provide a wholly satisfying ending to a happy Halloween story. Review 9/08. (Preschool, Primary)

Who Made This Cake? written by Chihiro Nakagawa and illustrated by Junji Koyose (Front Street)

Tiny children using equally tiny construction vehicles move mountains of flour and sugar, eventually baking a gigantic cake for one lucky (normal-size) boy. A smartly understated text gives viewers room to pore over delectably detailed scenes, in bright primary colors, of busy trucks and birthday cake — a feast for preschooler eyes and sensibilities. Review 11/08. (Preschool)

The Cardboard Piano written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow)

Debbie is dumbfounded when best friend Tina doesn’t appear to share Debbie’s passion for the piano. A straightforward yet emotionally complex narrative text; conversational asides in word balloons; and intricate illustrations in spots and double-page spreads work seamlessly together to present both the delicacy and the resiliency of friendship, without patronizing. Review 9/08. (Primary)

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime written and illustrated by Bob Shea (Hyperion)

A little dinosaur defeats his opponents — a pile of leaves (“ROAR!”), a big slide (“ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!”), a plate of spaghetti (“ROAR! CHOMP! CHOMP! ROAR! ROAR!”) — before succumbing to the day’s final challenge (“snore snore snore”). Eminently child-friendly, this book features illustrations that are as boldly energetic as its protagonist — and audience. Review 9/08. (Preschool)

Fiction

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick)

Boston, 1775: Octavian “commences a life of hazard” (not to mention irony), choosing to fight with the British, who promise him freedom, against the Sons of Liberty, who would keep him enslaved. But war is chaos, and freedom elusive. The novel’s epic sweep lets Anderson re-examine assumed historical truths and explore — excoriatingly, heartbreakingly — the human condition. Review 9/08. (High School)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

In not-too-distant-future America, twenty-four teenagers must compete in a brutal (and televised) annual contest from which only one will emerge alive. Protagonist Katniss, a strong contender, dares to question the games and, consequently, everything about her society. The plot’s twists and turns are addictive in this compulsively readable nailbiter. Review 9/08. (Middle School, High School)

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (Fickling/Random)

Twelve-year-old Ted, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and his older sister (and nemesis) Kat team up to solve their cousin Salim’s disappearance, seemingly into thin air. Through meticulously embedded clues and brilliantly executed twists, this character-centered mystery reaches an explanation both age-appropriate and genuinely fraught with danger. Review 5/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Graveyard Book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean (HarperCollins)

A toddler escapes the murder of his family by “the man Jack” but is pursued by ominous forces throughout his childhood, which he spends in the local graveyard as the adopted son of kindly ghosts. Creepy, bittersweet, and action-filled, this unconventional ghost story, enhanced with dark fairy-tale motifs, is as accessible as it is accomplished. Review 11/08. (Middle School, High School)

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (Knopf)

A parallel magical world free of aggression becomes a haven for
fifteen-year-old Liga, mother of two girls, both conceived by rape. But over time, strangers breach her new home and lead her and her daughters back to a richer life in the real world. This extraordinary tale of healing is resonant with mythic imagery and masterful prose. Review 9/08. (High School)

Forever Rose by Hilary McKay (McElderry)

In the final installment of the Casson family saga, eleven-year-old Rose feels left out as older sibs Caddy, Saffy, and Indigo increasingly lead their own lives. The hectic but beautifully orchestrated plot includes triumphs, challenges, and two startling surprises. McKay delights us once again with her hilarious mayhem and entirely unsentimental celebration of kindness. Review 5/08. (Intermediate)

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls (Levine/Scholastic)

Eleven-year-old Sam, dying of leukemia, documents the final four months of his life and his pursuit of eight goals, from being a teenager to seeing Earth from space. Grappling with spirituality and family relationships, Sam is a fully authentic, vividly alive character whose story elicits remarkable heights of joy and depths of grief — often simultaneously. Review 1/09. (Intermediate)

Nation by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)

Two civilizations meet when a tsunami shipwrecks an English vessel on a small tropical island; a British girl and a native boy are the sole survivors. In Pratchett’s microcosm, all assumptions — about religion, imperialism, justice, even civilization itself — are open to question. Pratchett’s signature humor and imaginative powers are much in evidence. Review 9/08. (Middle School, High School)

The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow)

J.J. Liddy (from The New Policeman) is now grown, with children of his own — who must save the world from an ancient threat. Thompson’s adeptness at blending realism, fantasy, and Celtic myth is matched only by her remarkable fluency in shifting tones, from comic to folkloric to heroic. Review 5/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Nonfiction

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

This dual biography is chock-full of facts and anecdotes about the Lincolns, separately and as husband and wife. Copious primary source material includes captivating photographs, handwritten correspondence, newspaper clippings, and even Mary’s favorite recipes. The handsome volume is inviting both for reference use and pleasure reading. Review 11/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan (Flash Point/Porter/Roaring Brook)

Authors Greenberg and Jordan (Chuck Close Up Close) are masters at conveying the power of contemporary art, and their portrait of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and The Gates engages the reader in just what the excitement was all about. Plentiful and gloriously reproduced photos are an essential part of this superbly designed book. Review 1/09. (Intermediate, Middle School)

The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body written by David Macaulay with Richard Walker and illustrated by David Macaulay (Lorraine/Houghton)

Could the human body be more complicated? David Macaulay brings his eye, wit, and pencil — all equally sharp — to this exploration of human physiology. The imagination and precision of the pictures will lead readers into the detailed text; the text will lead them back to the pictures. Impeccably symbiotic. Review 9/08. (Middle School, High School)

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion)

Using the collective “we” to honor “the voice of every player,” this pitch-perfect history, the product of extensive research, features a folksy and conversational storytelling style and loads of attention-grabbing details. Nelson’s grand slam, though, is the art: each oil portrait transmits a proud formality, and his from-the-ground perspectives render the players appropriately larger than life. Review 5/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick)

The 108 writers and illustrators who contributed to this historic tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are a literary dream team — Katherine Paterson, Jack Prelutsky, and Jerry Pinkney, to name a few. The final illustration, of an empty chair in the Oval Office, leaves us to imagine the future even as we ruminate on the past. Review 11/08. (Intermediate, Middle School)

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City written by Janet Schulman and
illustrated by Meilo So (Knopf)

Gracefully, easily, and with a journalist’s knack for the right details, Schulman brings together natural and social history to tell the story of a New York City hawk who captured headlines in 2004 when humans removed his nest. Keen-eyed yet elegant watercolors play an equal part in making this story soar. Review 3/08. (Primary, Intermediate)


Printable (1-page) list

past Fanfare lists:
1930s & 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s

 
 
   
 
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