Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth
The wonderful Stillwater the panda returns for a third time with another picture book filled with Zen. In this book, Stillwater spends time with the children as they prepare to go trick-or-treating. Then after they are finished, he brings them to a place where a panda tells them the story of Senjo. In the story, Senjo is in love with her best friend from childhood. But when her father gets ills, she is forced to marry a wealthy man. Ochu, the man she loves, leaves the village because he cannot bear to see her marry someone else. But as he is leaving, he sees Senjo on the bank and they run off together. Years later, Senjo feels she must try to reunite with her father. When they return to the village, Ochu speaks to her father and then discovers that Senjo has been ill in bed since the night Ochu left years ago. The two Senjos meet and merge together into one. So the question asked is which Senjo is the true one? It is a marvelous Koan that is not meant to be solved. Modern children may be frustrated by this type of story, but all the more reason for them to hear it.
Muth takes the setting of Halloween, combines it with a ghost story of sorts, and turns the holiday into something new. The children in the story are always talking about their candy and their costumes. Just as in the other Zen books by Muth, the children remain children completely. They ponder new ideas and discover new ways of thinking, but they are children still. Muth’s water colors are rich and autumnal here until the story within the story begins and the colors fade to whites and grays. Muth offers several great double-page spreads that really capture autumn and Halloween.
This is a very different Halloween story, but one that really has a place in every library. It is beautifully written, illustrated with elegance and offers a new perspective for readers. What more could one want? Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Alpha Oops! H Is for Halloween by Alethea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar
The mixed up alphabet antics continue in this second Alpha Oops book. A isn’t ready to go on, but H has to start a Halloween book anyway. H starts with Halloween, and the other letters join in for a Halloween-themed alphabet that is not in any particular order. As the letters reveal themselves, poor B keeps on trying to get his word in but is upstaged each time. He tries to be a buccaneer, but P is wearing the same costume for pirate. X has trouble finding the perfect word too, but S is there with a great idea. Keep an eye on the bottom of the page as the alphabet fills in with pumpkins bearing the letters that are in alphabetical order. You will just have to wait until the end of the book to find out what B has in store for you!
This book is filled with laughs thanks to the underlying story of the letters putting on a show. The asides from the different letters are very funny, offering a deeper story to this book than just the alphabet and letters. It turns this book into one that children too old for regular alphabet books will really enjoy.
Kolar’s illustrations are filled with great deep colors from an eerie yellowy green to vibrant reds to glowing orange. The book fairly pops with color and action. Make sure to take the time to look at the illustrations because he has filled them with critters, candy and plenty of additional laughs.
A bright, funny alphabet book that is a perfect Halloween treat. No trick. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Halloween Kid by Rhode Montijo
In a unique mix of wild west action and Halloween treats, this book tells the tall tale of the Halloween Kid. The Halloween Kid keeps Halloween safe for all children going trick-or-treating. Riding his trusty steed, he is able to truss up toilet paper mummies, wrestle vampires, tickle ghosts into submission. He was so good at it that Halloween was quiet for some time. But then the Goodie Goblins came to town and folks started talking about canceling Halloween entirely. The Halloween Kid hadn’t had to fight off baddies for a long time, so he was rusty. Unfortunately, that made him the target of an ambush. Now who can save The Halloween Kid?
Montijo has written a book in a slow drawl that is filled with plenty of action and lots of Halloween creatures. While the Halloween Kid is the powerful hero of the story, so are the children in the book. This is a book all about kid power and courage. The illustrations are done in a limited autumnal palette of oranges, yellows and black. They have a real cartoon appeal to them. Interestingly, they have been marked up a little as if printed on newsprint that has transferred to other pages. It makes for a book that feels timeless and well loved.
A Halloween story perfect for preschool audiences who would like a few monsters but almost no scares. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Broom, Zoom! by Caron Lee Cohen, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
What is to be done when Little Witch and Little Monster both need to use one broom at the same time? Little Witch notices the full moon and heads inside for the broom. Little Monster needs to use it right then. Little Witch still wants the broom, but when Little Monster shows her the mess, she lets him use it first. She even helps him clean things up. Now it’s Little Witch’s turn to use the broom to fly in the sky. She invites Little Monster to fly with her, though he’s not really sure he wants to fly at all.
Told in very brief text that is entirely conversation, this book is a winner for young children. Spare and minimal, the text still manages to tell a clear story about sharing and taking turns. Yet it never becomes didactic at all. Ruzzier’s illustrations are bright, clear and vibrantly colored. There is no white space here, just a saturated palette that makes for a compelling visual.
Highly recommended, this is a very sweet Halloween story that is sure to appeal to toddlers who are looking for monsters and witches with no scare. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from book received from Simon & Schuster.
Hush, Baby Ghostling by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre.
It’s morning, so it’s time for Baby Ghostling to head to bed in their castle tower. Mother ghost tucks him in and urges him to think about monsters, owls, bats, and more. She leaves the darkness on in the hall, because he is scared of the light. And finally, she reassures him that the blonde boy he sees in his dreams is not there because “childlings” are make-believe.
This is a clever twist on the bedtime story. I especially like the part about leaving the darkness on in the hall. Beatty’s text is rhyming and has a nice lilting rhythm. It is a lullaby of a book where the rhymes work well. Lemaitre’s illustrations nicely combine a softness of background and light with characters drawn in thick lines. The parts about the different monsters, bats and owls are illustrated with a variety of beasts, but they appear playing in playgrounds, blowing bubbles, and doing other silly, everyday things.
This is perfect for a Halloween story time with smaller children because it isn’t scary at all. In fact, children will enjoy being seen as the frightening ones. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by Anastasia Suen.
Librarians here in Wisconsin know just how lucky we are to have the CCBC in our state. The CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) offers insight into new books with a great eye for multicultural gems and great children’s poetry books.
They have started a new service for librarians called CCBC Shorts which are book recommendations via Blip.tv. Wisconsin librarians can watch the webinars live (here is the upcoming schedule) and everyone out of state can watch the programs once they are launched on Blip. The first Short covers titles for Halloween and new books of note from 2009.
Dear Vampa by Ross Collins
When the Wolfsons move in next door to the Pires, the differences are clear. The Pires are amazed when their neighbors stay up all day and complain when there is noise at night. The pets of the two families don’t get along at all. And when the Pires take to the sky as bats, the Wolfsons shoot them out of the sky. That’s was it. The Pires moved away much to the surprise of the Wolfsons who just may not be as normal as readers may have thought.
Collins’ art is wonderful. You can see more of it on the Harper Collins website where several of the pages are available. The use of black, white and red for the Pire family is striking against the full-color world of the Wolfsons. The stylized colors are carried throughout the book to great effect, especially on the pages with both families in the same room. Collins has a knack for humor both in his understated and brief prose and in his illustrations which really tell the full story.
This is a great addition to any Halloween story time. It has vampires but is much more about the neighbors than about any scary aspects. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Haunted Party by Iza Trapani
I read a lot of counting books, but they rarely make it to my review pile. It’s even more rare for a rhyming, counting book to make it! But this book beat those odds.
This book is about a ghost who is having a Halloween party. To the party come a whole series of monsters: skeletons, goblins, werewolves, vampires, witches, mummies, and more. Each monster is counted and joins the chaos of the party where they merrily cavort until 10 children knock on the door to trick-or-treat. Frightened, the monsters flee the house in reverse order, until just the ghost is left. The book ends with a little jump, perfect for goosebumps on Halloween.
Trapani has done a counting book right. The counting is part of the book, but not the only reason for it. There is a strong storyline here that keeps the book on track and interesting. The rhyming is done well, creating a book that is easy to read aloud and has a bouncy, friendly quality. There is a refrain that groups of children will love to chant along with: “at the haunted house of the ghost.” Trapani’s illustrations are filled with deep colors that evoke the autumn. There are also many small touches that bring the haunted feeling to life: spiders, eyes peeking from under the floorboard, worms and rats.
Halloween fun for those who enjoy the thrill of monsters and the chill of a bit of creepiness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Boo to You! by Lois Ehlert
A new Ehlert picture book is always cause for celebration, a Halloween celebration in this case.
The mice are in the garden preparing for their harvest party. But then the cat shows up, making them very nervous. The mice continue to decorate, creating jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins and other vegetables. When the cat appears in the middle of the party, the mice have found a way to defend themselves with very funny results.
Ehlert excels at simplicity. Her books have a minimal number of words, but still have a storyline, action, and humor. Perfection to share with toddlers and preschoolers with shorter attention spans. Ehlert’s illustrations are always wonderful. Here she works with paper combined with garden objects and photographs of squash and vegetables. She perfectly captures the feel of late autumn with seeds, pods, and twine. Her collages are great fun to pore over and try to figure out what they are made out of. She uses pumpkin seeds as teeth to great effect! Children will want to talk about the illustrations, touch them to see if they can feel them, and just linger for awhile in Ehlert’s world.
Highly recommended, this is a great Halloween book for little children. It has no witches, monsters, or anything frightening. Just mice, a cat, and lots of squash. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.