The Witch's Child

The Witch’s Child by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith.

If you are looking for a great creepy Halloween book, this is it!  Even better, it isn’t technically a Halloween book, so you could use it anytime you want a good scare.

Rosina is a horrible, mean witch.  She was powerful enough to give herself anything she wanted, except a child.  One October night, she builds herself a daughter out of straw and leaves and clumps of hair.  But she cannot bring her Rosalie to life.  She tries different things to bring Rosalie to life, but nothing works, so she discards her and forgets about her.  Then one day, a young girl enters the witch’s house, finds Rosalie, and lavishes her with affection.  The witch returns to find this child holding her forgotten daughter and it fills her with rage.  But as she moves to attack the girl…

Would I spoil the ending?!  Tee hee! 

The language and illustrations of this picture book both contribute to the creepy theme.  Yorinks has little touches throughout the book that make it all the more shivery.  The first page of the book, featuring the witch flying toward the reader without a broomstick, just flying, is paired with some very atmospheric writing that will have children clutching each other when you read it aloud.  The witch turns children into thorny bushes, a horrible fate, but then Yorinks adds that they are “stunted and prickly and rooted to the ground.”  The witch grabbing a “long knife” to attack the girl is wonderful, as is the pacing of that section where each beat brings the tension up a notch.  Whew!  And the illustrations are right there too, increasing the tension, adding to the horror, creating a witch without a broomstick or pointed hat that is all the more horrible for missing those details.  There is nothing cartoonlike or comforting about this witch.

Recommended for reading aloud at Halloween parties in classrooms for grades 2-4.  Children as young as 5 will enjoy the story, but the nuances will be appreciated by slightly older children who want a good thrill with their Halloween goodies.

Prickly Sea Stars

Prickly Sea Stars by Natalie Lunis

This book is part of the No Backbone! series that focuses on invertebrates.  The book offers fascinating glimpses of the world of sea stars or starfish.  Take a close look at the eyespots that sea stars use to see on the tips of their rays.  Or be amazed at the way that starfish eat by pushing their stomachs out of their mouths and into the shells of clams and mussels.  Readers will also be astounded by the colors and textures of these animals.

The glory of this book is the photography which offer close examination of sea stars in all of their variety.  The images are bright, clear and illustrative of the points being made in teh text.  The text of this nonfiction book is accessible, friendly, and interesting.  It will be appropriate for first and second grade readers to read on their own, but interested children as young as 3 and 4 would be able to learn all sorts of facts when it is read aloud to them. 

Off for Awhile

I am off at a conference today, the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference, where I will be giving a speech on Library 2.0. I’ll be at the conference all this week and then will be off on vacation for the following week. A vacation with no laptop tagging along! So I will post more at the tail end of October.

Cowboy & Octopus

Cowboy & Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

This book somehow snuck by me, and I found it on the library shelves.  How could I have missed it!

Cowboy and Octopus meet in the first chapter, play together and start being friends.  The other chapters in the book offer great slapstick comedy, strange bean humor, and knock knock jokes.  How could you go wrong?! 

Once again Scieszka and Smith have created a zany world that children will love to enter.  The illustrations are purposefully stiff and cut-out.  They deepen the humor of the situation, rather than competing with the cleverness of the words. 

Share this with preschoolers, but also with older elementary age children.  They will enjoy the humor more deeply than younger children.  All children will head back to the library seeking their other favorites by this team. 

The Magic Rabbit

The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate.

Ray the magician and his rabbit are best friends.  They do everything together, including their act.  But one day something goes wrong, and the two are separated.  Bunny is lost in the city alone.  He finds a nice park, but when night falls he is again alone.  He wanders the streets until he finds a perfect clue to lead him back home.

The illustrations of this picture book are done in black and white with touches of yellow gold stars scattered throughout.  The illustrations are highly detailed with many small touches.  Somehow even without color, the pictures of Bunny and Ray at home are cozy and his time on the street go towards bleak and cold.  The words are equally effective, easy to read aloud, and don’t talk down to the audience. 

Share this book as a great read aloud.  Children fascinated by magic will definitely enjoy it, but it is also a treat for any 4-6 year old.

The Little Red Fish

The Little Red Fish by Taeeun Yoo.

There is something about books where the bottom falls away and you are left holding a book that has pulled you out of reality and into a whole new world.  This picture book does that, even better it does it with a library!

JeJe’s grandfather is a librarian and they head to the old library together.  This is the first time that JeJe has been allowed inside, and he marvels at the rooms filled with books.  JeJe has brought his red fish along with him in its bowl.  Eventually, JeJe falls asleep, when he awakens his fish is gone!  He searches for it and finds its tail sticking out of a book.  Then, as the text in the book says, “something magical happened.”

The sepia tones of the art speak to the history, quiet and dimness of the old library.  The fish offers one touch of red color throughout the book, allowing children to follow him to the magical book, which is also red. 

Part of the reason I love this little book is that it is unapologetically different.  From the art to the message, it has a sweet strangeness to it that is wonderful to read.  It is free from garish color, lacks any pop-eyed cartoon creatures, and speaks to something that is old-fashioned and forgotten.  What a lovely door into a world of imagination!

Recommended for reading at bedtime.  This one won’t stand up to a wild story time, though it would be fascinating to see if the book’s quiet sense of wonder would evoke the same reaction in a group of children.  I’ve seen it happen with other books!

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small.

Running errands with Mom is such a bore, until a boy discovers that today, dinosaurs come with everything.  Buy a dozen doughnuts, get a triceratops.  Get a shot, receive a stegosaurus.  With each purchase, the boy gets more ecstatic and his mother more frazzled.  Eventually, the pair have quite a herd of dinosaurs heading back home with them.  Mom needs to lie down for awhile, but when she sees the dinos in the yard, she has a brilliant idea.

I love this book.  I love its sense of play and fun.  I love that there is no waking from a dream, just people who now have to deal with a group of dinosaurs in their lives.  It is a book that speaks to getting things for “free” like kittens but also speaks to the utter joy of childhood and open possibilities. 

Don’t save this just for children who like dinosaurs, though they will be thrilled with it.  The book has a good enough story to be read aloud to children ages 4-7 at any time.  Nicely, while it appeals to children, adults will also enjoy the humor, meaning that it is a great one to become a read-aloud favorite.

Wicked Lovely

Nominated for a 2007 Cybil Award in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.

Since she was a tiny child, Aislinn has been able to see what other humans can’t: the fairies who walk among us.  Her Gram taught her to be careful, never show them that she can see them, and to live in fear of being discovered.  But now Aislinn is being followed by two court fey, powerful fairies who don’t seem to be stopped by iron.   Aislinn has always been told never to let anyone know she sees fairies, but she eventually has to confide in her best friend Seth.  Will the two of them be able to figure out how to keep Aislinn safe?

The above is a very simplistic summary of a detailed and complex book.  But the joy of the novel is discovering its complexity through reading it.  I wanted to give nothing at all away in order to allow you to experience the fun of discovery with no spoilers.

The fairy world here is not one of glitter and pink, rather it is a world where beauty cannot be trusted and choices can mark the rest of your life.  The complex fairy society is fascinatingly real.  Additionally, the characters are well written and complex as well.  Aislinn is a real modern heroine, refusing to accept the way things have always been done and deciding to forge ahead herself. 

This is a book that mixes horror, romance and tension into a tight novel.  I read it with some fear that it was going to head too far in one direction, but instead it walks a tightrope between genres. 

Recommended for fans of Holly Black, I also think that lovers of vampire novels would enjoy this.  Let’s hope there are more books coming from Marr.

The Wizard

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Brandon Dorman.

This is a gorgeous new edition of Prelutsky’s poem which originally appeared in Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep.  Prelutsky’s skill with words is as evident as ever as is his connection with children.  I appreciate that Prelutsky is not worried about the use of words like “gaunt” “perplexed” and “fiendish.”  Rather he allows the poem itself to frame and support these jewel-like words, giving children a chance to reach for them. 

The illustrations in the book are equal to Prelutsky’s work.  Dorman has brought the world of the wizard alive using interesting perspectives, lush colors, and scores of details in each image.  It is a book worthy of poring over, growing with, and adoring. 

Highly recommended as a read aloud for elementary age children learning about poetry.  It will also be successful in storytimes about magic for preschoolers.  But I do think that its darkness and its words will be most appreciated by slightly older children.