Horn Book’s Best Books of 2011

Horn Book has selected what they feel are the best picture books, children’s books, and young adult books of 2011.

Picture Books

Naamah and the Ark at Night

Aboard the ark, Noah’s wife sings a lullaby while the storm slowly abates and the sea’s rhythm rocks the animals to sleep. Meade’s lush, dramatic, almost tactile watercolor collages are a fine complement to Bartoletti’s quiet yet propulsive verse, modeled on an ancient Arabic poetic form. A warmly affectionate and gorgeous book. Review 7/11.

The Money We’ll Save
Pa brings home a live turkey to fatten up for Christmas (“Think of the money we’ll save!”). His plan proves ill-advised as the bird overruns the family’s already-crowded tenement. Cole’s blithe, just-this-side-of-chaotic illustrations set this entertaining holiday story in nineteenth-century New York City. The ending of this highly original tale—a brilliant solution to the problem—is entirely satisfying. Review 11/11.

I Want My Hat Back
The title’s seemingly simple premise cleverly evolves, with a minimalist text, expert pacing, and a mordant ending, as a bear encounters a series of animals while looking for his missing hat. Klassen uses different colored typefaces (matching the illustrations’ palette) and subtle facial expressions to define each character in this sardonically humorous offering. Review 11/11.

A Ball for Daisy
Dog gets (red) ball; dog loses ball; dog gets (blue) ball. Raschka’s wordless take on an age-old story is fresh and wholly engaging: Daisy’s emotions, which range from joy to sadness and back again, are captured in every squiggly, impressionistic line. Notable both for the ingenuity of its artistry and the depth of its child appeal. Review 9/11.

Bone Dog
Trick-or-treater Gus is protected by the ghost of his beloved dog Ella when skeletons emerge from a nearby cemetery. Their triumph over the (more goofy than scary) skeletons is depicted across several wordless spreads in strong-lined relief prints. Poignant, parallel illustrations of boy and dog’s friendship frame their Halloween adventure and make this book satisfying all year long. Review 7/11.

Subway Story
In 2001, after a half-century of cheerful service, subway car Jessie is unceremoniously dismantled and dumped into the ocean. She finds new purpose in her second career as an artificial reef, home to many sea creatures. Cozy illustrations move the distinctly nondidactic recycling tale—based on real events—along to its affecting conclusion. Review 11/11.

Where’s Walrus?
In this wordless hide-and-seek romp, an escaped walrus hides in plain sight, eluding a zookeeper. Savage’s simple, graphically elegant art uses bold shapes, computer-aided repetition of forms, and plenty of white space. The illustrations have just the right amount of complexity to allow toddlers to stay one step ahead of the zookeeper—and rooting for the walrus. Review 3/11.

Press Here

Here is an interactive book that doesn’t need tabs, flaps, or apps. Tullet asks the reader to press, tilt, blow, and clap in order to change the color, shape, and order of his simply painted dots. Each page turn reveals the seemingly magic results, perfectly geared toward preschoolers—though older children and adults are also likely to suspend disbelief. Review 7/11.


Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus!
In this third entry in a remarkable early chapter book series set in Africa, Anna hatches a plan to help her neighbors in need after a drought. As usual, Anna and her sprawling, contemporary family are relatable, while Atinuke’s focus on the everyday and her spot-on dialogue mesh flawlessly with Tobia’s lively illustrations. Review 5/11.

Seventeen-year-old Briony blames herself for injuries to her twin sister and their stepmother; she believes she’s a witch and lives in fear of being caught and hanged. Vivid, vigorous prose tells a gripping, intricately plotted tale of magic, mystery, murder, romance, family drama, and sisterly love. Review 3/11.

Anya’s Ghost
In this graphic novel with true teen appeal, discontented Russian-immigrant Anya, desperate to fit in, is befriended by ghost Emily. At first, having a spectral BFF is great—until Emily’s supernatural powers grow to frightening proportions. This wryly hilarious (yet hair-raising) story of self-acceptance is told through perfectly timed, personality-filled sequential art. Review 7/11.

Dead End in Norvelt
Who knew that being grounded might afford Jack his richest summer yet? Gantos’s portrait of a real time and place (small-town Norvelt, Pennsylvania, in 1962) is shot through with loopy and unabashedly gross comedy but also conveys provocative meditations on history, coming of age, and community. Review 9/11.

Paper Covers Rock
Within the pages of his journal, Alex chronicles the drowning death of his classmate and the guilt of his own involvement. Suspenseful pacing, intriguing characters with complex relationships, and a richly detailed 1980s boys’ boarding school setting stand out in this intense exploration of the ambiguity of honor. Review 7/11.

Life: An Exploded Diagram
In Norfolk, England, the lives of working-class Clem and landowner’s daughter Frankie artfully converge against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as their clandestine romance takes shape under an illusory umbrella of safety. Life respects teen appreciation for more adult fare, with Peet’s layered narrative building toward its inexorable climax. Review 11/11.

“Stupid bluefish” Travis Roberts and “lowlife trailer-trash loser” Vida “Velveeta” Wojciehowski star in an understated yet powerful novel. Both young teens are suffering from recent losses, and both have weighty secrets to protect. Schmatz has crafted a story of friendship that is subtle and poignant, believable and rewarding. Review 11/11.

The Scorpio Races
Celtic legends about vicious, flesh-eating fairy horses underpin this brilliant novel: a fantasy with a vividly and realistically evoked island setting, rich in sensory detail; a thriller that’s also a love story. The alternating voices of Sean and Kate, both desperate to win Thisby’s deadly annual horse race, combine to take readers on an unforgettable, exhilarating ride. Review 11/11.

The Watch That Ends the Night:
Voices from the Titanic

This moving verse novel chronicles the Titanic’s fateful 1912 voyage. Leaving melodrama at the dock, Wolf masterfully plays with poetic form, depicting this compelling journey through myriad distinct historical and fictional voices, providing the personal stories of wealthy and poor passengers, the crew, the undertaker, and even the iceberg. Review 9/11.

Blink & Caution
Running from family trauma, two street kids in Toronto meet and find themselves caught up in dangerous situations involving a faked kidnapping and a sadistic drug dealer out for revenge. Written in meticulous prose, this terrifying crime-drama is both intensely suspenseful and deeply affecting. Review 3/11.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Yelchin presents a briskly paced, chilling portrait of 1950s Stalinist oppression with believable narration by ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik, whose naive illusions about life devoted to the Soviet Communist party unravel over two days. The ominous tone of the sinister-looking illustrations perfectly complements the story’s exposure of that political system’s cynical essence. Review 9/11.


America Is Under Attack:
September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell
Partnered by watercolor illustrations that convey the drama and tragedy of 9/11 without sensationalizing, this minute-by-minute account of that terrible morning has journalistic immediacy and commemorates both victims and heroes. Review 11/11.

Amelia Lost:
The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
Fleming’s gripping narrative begins the day the Coast Guard lost radio contact with Amelia Earhart on her doomed flight around the world; by the time the author begins her chronological account of Earhart’s life, readers are hooked. Taut, cinematic, immediate, and dramatic; an exemplary biography adventure. Review 3/11.

Can We Save the Tiger?
This gracefully organized and beautiful overview of endangered animals is an eloquent appeal and consciousness raiser. Engaging conversational text conveys information lucidly; pencil and oil paint illustrations, mostly black and white with occasional color, fill the large pages with creatures whose expressive eyes bespeak their kinship with us all. Review 5/11.

An inspired choice, to convey the nature and scope of Jane Goodall’s vocation by showing us the childhood from which it sprouted, leaving Jane’s adult life to a final spectacular page turn. Drawings and writings from the young Jane’s hand companionably find space in McDonnell’s humble pen-and-watercolor pictures. Review 3/11.

Heart and Soul:
The Story of America and African Americans

Majestic oil paintings bring passion and dignity to this ambitious survey of African American history, focused through the storytelling of a distinct voice. Nelson seamlessly moves from the Colonial era through to the election of Obama, with portraits of the great and unknown alike giving faces to the history. Review 11/11.

My Father’s Village
Nivola provides a lovingly evoked remembrance of her childhood visits to the small Sardinian town where her father was born. The tight-knit, traditional community comes to life in child-friendly, remarkably unsentimental prose and finely detailed watercolor and gouache paintings that include both expansive and intimate scenes. Review 9/11.

A biography presented in graphic-novel form, told in the first person—an unusual treatment that’s spectacularly successful in presenting its equally unusual subject, Nobel Prize–winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. Ottaviani and Myrick expertly employ the format to capture personality, reveal thought processes, and even explain complex physics. Review 9/11.

Drawing from Memory
Part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history, this harmoniously designed book uses text, photos, drawings, and paintings to take a fascinating look at the relationship between the young Say and Noro Shinpei, the popular Japanese cartoonist who took him on as an apprentice when Say was only twelve. Review 9/11.

Swirl by Swirl:
Spirals in Nature

“A spiral is a snuggling shape. It fits neatly in small places. Coiled tight, warm and safe, it waits…for a chance to expand.” A simple, poetic text explores spirals in nature while exquisite full-bleed scratchboard illustrations suffuse every spread with shape, color, and movement. An elegantly constructed book in which form and subject merge completely. Review 9/11.

Balloons over Broadway:
The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

An early love of figuring out “how to make things move” propelled Tony Sarg’s career with marionettes, before his eventual invention of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s famous giant balloons. Sweet’s economically told story, combined with her mixed-media collage illustrations emulating his whimsical creations, is an effervescent depiction of Sarg’s belief that work and play should mix. Review 11/11.

A Wetlands Survival Story
The New Jersey Meadowlands might seem an unpromising focus for an ecological primer, but author-artist Yezerski buoys solid scientific writing with expansive and detailed pen-and-watercolor spreads of the changing fortunes of the region. Thumbnail portraits of denizens (from fish to pesticide to mobsters) add interest and humor. Review 3/11.


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