SLJ’s Reviews of the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winners

Following Kwame Alexander's closing keynote at SLJ's ninth annual Day of Dialog, Alexander and Roger Sutton announced this year's Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners, all of which were starred by SLJ. Check out the full reviews, author interviews, and much more.

Photo © Julian Hibbard for
School Library Journal

Following Kwame Alexander's closing keynote at SLJ's ninth annual Day of Dialog, Alexander and The Horn Book's Roger Sutton announced this year's Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners, all of which were starred by SLJ. Check out the full reviews, author interviews, and much more below.  


redstarBRYAN, Ashley. Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. illus. by Ashley Bryan. 56p. reprods. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481456906.

Gr 4-6 –Using real documents from an estate appraisal dated July 5, 1828, Bryan has created beautiful portrait paintings for 11 people who were named and priced as property on the Fairchildses’ estate (the documents are reproduced fully in the endpapers and in segments throughout the work). Relying on narrative poetry to explore each figure’s inner and outer life, Bryan gives voice to their history, their longing for freedom, and their skills as artisans, cooks, musicians, carpenters, etc. Each person has two visual portraits, with each accompanied by a poem (on the opposite page). Collaged historical documents of slave auctions freedom over mefill the negative space of the first portrait frame. The second portrait depicts that person in a private dream, often a dream for safety, family, community, or the freedom to create. Peggy, a self-taught expert herbalist and cook for the Fairchildses, knows that although she works hard, everything goes to the estate. She dreams of her Naming Day ceremony and her parents calling to her, “Mariama! Mariama!” Each portrait reflects the role of song, call-and-response, ceremony, spirituality, community, and griots in living a double life—doing what was demanded while keeping close in their hearts the “precious secret,” the constant yearning for freedom. Expertly crafted, these entries will deeply resonate with readers. Referenced in the poems are slave independence in Haiti, the drinking gourd, the North Star, and songs such as “Oh, by and By,” “This Little Light,” and “Oh Freedom.” VERDICT A significant contribution to U.S. and African American history that will elicit compassion and understanding while instilling tremendous pride. A must-purchase for all collections.–Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, MA

[See the Fuse #8 Production blog review by Elizabeth Bird and an SLJ Q&A with Bryan.]


redstarCORDELL, Matthew. Wolf in the Snow. illus. by Matthew Cordell. 32p. Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250076366.

wolf-in-the-snowK-Gr 2 –In this mostly wordless picture book, a girl gets lost in a snowstorm while walking home from school. At the same time, a wolf pup gets separated from its pack. The girl discovers the pup and carries it through dangerous and icy terrain to reconnect with its pack, and the wolves assist the girl by howling to attract her searching family. Cordell’s artistic approach is a little more free-form than in his past titles. It works well in depicting the twisting trees in the snowstorm but is more challenging to pull off with the characterization of the girl. Yet he succeeds. Only her eyes are visible in her large red triangular parka, with a scarf across her mouth and nose, as she trudges through the snow; there is so much emotion in her eyes that viewers know all that they need to know about this almost comically bundled, shapeless figure. Cordell’s landscapes do a wonderful job showing the vastness and desperation of the girl’s journey, his blended watercolors of the snow and trees adding eloquence to the experience. VERDICT A heartwarming adventure about helping others, best shared one-on-one to pore over the engaging images.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

[See the "Fuse 8 Production" blog review by Elizabeth Bird.]

redstarSCHWARTZ, Joanne. Town Is by the Sea. illus. by Sydney Smith. 52p. Groundwood. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554988716.

PB-Schwartz-TownIsbytheSeaK-Gr 3 –This first-person narrative portrays a day in the life of a loving family in a seaside mining town. As the tale begins, Schwartz lays the foundation for a comparison of the boy’s daily routines, illuminated by sunshine, with the father’s world underground. The rhythm is established and continued at logical junctures with the protagonist’s introductory words: “It goes like this….” He then describes what he notices when he awakens, swings with his friend, eats a bologna sandwich, and visits the grave of his grandfather—also a miner. As the boy gazes at the sparkling water or basks in the light pouring through the diaphanous bedroom curtain, he is cognizant that “deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.” These phrases are also repeated periodically as the blackness that occupies most of the related spreads presses down on—and eventually eclipses—a small border depicting the father and coworker crawling through the mines. The voice is matter-of-fact, without judgment, and self-aware. Readers are left to draw their own conclusions. As in Smith’s illustrations for Jo Ellen Bogart’s The White Cat and the Monk, the ink and watercolor scenes are characterized by companionable relationships and strong brushwork; effectively evoking the story’s subject and qualities, the blackness forms shadows, window frames, silhouettes, outlines around objects (heavier around the father’s teacup than the mother’s), and, at the family dinner, a tangled mass under the table. VERDICT Art and text meld for a powerful glimpse at a way of life that begs inspection. A thoughtful and haunting book that will stay with readers.–Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library


redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 464p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062498533.

YA-HS-Thomas-TheHateUGiveGr 8 Up –After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. VERDICT Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

[See SLJ's Q&A with Thomas and the "Teen Librarian Toolbox" blog review by Amanda MacGregor. ]


redstarGRIMES, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. illus. by various. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781619635548.

nf-sp-grimes-onelastwordGr 6 Up –In this innovative and powerful compendium, Grimes pairs original poems with classics from the Harlem Renaissance. In a brief historical note on the period, she acknowledges the significance of black artists giving voice to the experiences of black life and cites the continued relevance of the literature of the period in a society that, decades later, still struggles with racial identity and injustice. The author credits as inspiration the messages of hope, perseverance, survival, and positivity she finds in the work of poets like Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Langston Hughes, and she, too, explores these themes in her own poems. Furthermore, Grimes brilliantly uses the words of her literary predecessors to structure the book, employing the golden shovel, a form in which the words from selected lines or stanzas are borrowed, only to become the last words of each line in a new poem. The result is not only a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance but also a moving reflection on the African American experience and the resilience of the human spirit: “The past is a ladder/that can help you/keep climbing.” In addition, each pair of poems—each of Grimes’s works follows the poem that inspired it—is accompanied by a full-color illustration by a prominent African American illustrator. Featured artists include Pat Cummings, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, and Javaka Steptoe, among others, and the back matter contains brief poet and illustrator biographies. VERDICT This unique and extraordinary volume is a first purchase for all middle school poetry collections.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

[See SLJ's interview with Nikki Grimes and "4 Poetry Titles To Share with Tweens."]

redstarPECK, Richard. The Best Man. 240p. Dial. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803738393. MG-Peck-The Best Man

Gr 4-6 –The inimitable Peck frames his latest novel with weddings. Opening with a flashback to a hilariously disastrous wedding when Archer Magill was in first grade, the book closes with a significantly more staid one that occurs when he is in sixth grade. Most of the story, though, takes place between these two events, during Archer’s fifth grade year. A military-based student teacher both disrupts Archer’s class and enriches it, as does a new student who uses a wheelchair and comes from a British aristocratic background. High jinks abound, but so does serious content; in response to antigay bullying, Mr. McLeod gives the students a lecture in which he publicly outs himself, a particularly poignant moment. Outside school, Archer also shares daily adventures with his car-loving father, his grandfather (an elderly architect whose work is all over town), and his uncle Paul, whose romantic interest in Mr. McLeod might just well lead to another wedding. Here, the Newbery Award–winning author explores what it means to love and what it means to be a man. VERDICT A modern, funny, and realistic tale featuring strong, nuanced, and unforgettable characters. An essential addition for middle grade collections.–Jill Ratzan, Congregation Kol Emet, Yardley, PA

[See the "Teen Librarian Toolbox" LGBTQIA+ round up.]


redstarHEILIGMAN, Deborah. Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers. 464p. bibliog. chron. ebook available. index. notes. reprods. Holt. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780805093391.

NF-Heiligman-VincentandTheoGr 7 Up –Central to understanding the artist Vincent van Gogh was his relationship with his younger brother Theo, recorded for posterity in the nearly 700 surviving letters they wrote to each other. Here, Heiligman delivers an exquisitely told, heartfelt portrayal of that deep emotional and intellectual bond. It was an attachment solidified in the brothers’ youth and, at times, a volatile one, given the artist’s passionate, often obsessive connection to his work and his financial insecurity. Despite Vincent’s fluctuating moods and fragile mental health, Theo’s support and love never flagged, even when his other responsibilities and personal health issues intervened. The author frames their lives in “galleries,” from their childhoods to their early deaths, delicately detailing their work, frustrations, successes, differences, and difficulties. Interspersed are croquis—impressionistic sketches of events and family members, friends, lovers, and fellow artists. Despite knowing how this story ends, readers will be deeply moved by Heiligman’s portrayal of the brothers’ poignant relationship, experiencing with them its highs and lows. Reproductions of van Gogh’s sepia ink drawings open the sections, and a color insert of reproductions is included. An extensive bibliography and source notes conclude this well-documented title. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s compelling Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist takes a more straightforward approach to the artist’s life and features quality reproductions. VERDICT A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more. Libraries would be wise to purchase a volume of the brothers’ letters along with this book.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

[See SLJ's Q&A with Heiligman.]


NF-Sheinkin-UndefeatedredstarSHEINKIN, Steve. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. 288p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. photos. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439542.

Gr 6 Up –Proclaimed “the greatest all-around athlete in the world” by legendary football coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, Jim Thorpe dominated sports in the early 1900s. His natural athleticism, in tandem with Warner’s innovative coaching style, helped establish the Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s football program as one of the nation’s best, eclipsing perennial gridiron powerhouses Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Despite the fame and attention Carlisle received because of its winning team, a stark reality existed: the cultures of these same young men were being systematically eradicated by the school (e.g., prohibiting students from speaking Native languages, forcing them to cut their hair). Operating under the premise that the “Indian problem” could be solved by stripping students of their cultural identities, Carlisle founder and superintendent Richard Henry Pratt, a U.S. Army captain, vowed to “Kill the Indian; Save the Man” through any means necessary. Sheinkin has created a rich, complex narrative that balances the institutionalized bigotry and racism of the times with the human-interest stories that are often overshadowed by or lost to history. Within this framework, he brings to life the complicated, sometimes contentious relationship between a coach and a star athlete, their rise to glory, and the legacies they left behind. VERDICT A thoroughly engrossing and extensively researched examination of football’s first “all-American.” Highly recommended for U.S. history collections.–Audrey Sumser, Kent State University at Tuscarawas, New Philadelphia, OH

[See the "Teen Librarian Toolbox" blog post by Karen Jensen.]

redstarSWEET, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. illus. by Melissa Sweet. 176p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544319592. POP

Gr 3-7 –Throughout his life, E.B. White (1899–1985) divided his time between New York City and Belgrade Lakes in Maine. He drew inspiration for his books from the bucolic setting near author Sweet’s own home and studio. Readers and writers will relate to stories of White’s some-writerchildhood—he was “scrawny” and “fearful” but in love with words. As a child, he contributed short pieces to magazines, winning awards for his studies of nature, dogs, and his family. Some of his youthful creations, such as essays, poetry, and a handmade brochure, are included. Readers may be surprised to find that “Andy” spent his adult years at The New Yorker working with writers like John Updike and James Thurber and that his most ubiquitous book may actually be The Elements of Style. Much of the information on White’s adulthood is organized in the volume by his major children’s publications. Portions of handwritten and typed drafts of Charlotte’s Web will serve as inspiration for young writers. The book is illustrated in Sweet’s signature watercolor and collage, which incorporates wood and hardware, vintage office supplies, and quotes from White. Detailed tableaux invite careful inspection and reward readers with connections to the subject’s work. Photos of the author and the animals upon which he based his stories will delight readers. In addition to providing carefully chosen words and beautiful illustrations, the biography serves as a stealthy introduction to primary source material, and for the teacher librarian, the text is a rich source of nonfiction features, including a how-to on using a manual typewriter. An afterword by White’s granddaughter is an added bonus. VERDICT Drop everything and share widely.–Deidre Winterhalter, Niles Public Library, IL

[See SLJ's sneak peek at Some Writer and the "Heavy Medal" blog post by Jonathan Hunt.]

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