Review: Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534413627)

Stumpkin is one of the pumpkins for sale outside a little shop in the big city. He is a nearly perfect pumpkin. He is bright orange, round and large. Unfortunately though, Stumpkin is missing his stem and only has a little stump instead. As Halloween grows closer, one pumpkin after another is selected to be turned into a jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood. They are placed up in apartment windows and look down at the little shop below. Even the gourd is selected before Stumpkin, leaving him all alone. But there is a happy Halloween ending to come!

Cummins’ story written in a simple style. She shows the difference between Stumpkin and the others, explaining why he is left behind. Children listening to the story will protest that they would pick Stumpkin first since he is so lovely. The feeling of being different and left out builds as the story moves ahead and Stumpkin is left alone and sad. The simple art adds to the appeal of the book with its bright oranges, black cat and jack-o-lantern grins. It is impressive how much emotion she can convey with a few dots and lines on a round pumpkin.

Perfect pumpkin pick for those looking for non-scary Halloween and autumn tales. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

3 Scary-Good Picture Books


Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (9781442402980)

Jasper returns for a second gently-scary story. In this picture book, Jasper needs some new underwear. He decides to get one pair of green creepy underwear, because he is big enough for them. When he wears them to bed, he finds out that they glow with a green light. Jasper quickly changes to plain white underwear, hiding the creepy underwear in the bottom of the hamper. Waking up the next morning, he realizes that he has the creepy underwear on! Jasper tries all sorts of things to get rid of the underwear, from mailing it to China to cutting it into bits, but the underwear keeps on coming back. What is a bunny to do? This picture book is a delightful mix of funny and scary with echoes of classic monster movies. Exactly the right pick for Halloween reading. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (9781452145891)

Deftly written in rhyme, this picture book features a mouthwatering pomegranate tree that is watched over by a witch. Still, the children of the town desperately want a pomegranate from the tree and are willing to go to war with the witch to get one. The children tried again and again, but the witch stopped them with water cannons and rolling walnuts. In the end though, the children got one delectable pomegranate to split among themselves. The next day, the tree was picked bare and the war was over. It was time for Halloween where a Kindly Lady gladly shared out pomegranates from her home. A lady that looks a lot like the glimpses readers get of the witch.

Doyen’s writing is spooky and rich. This is not a picture book for preschoolers, since the writing demands a longer attention span. Elementary classes would enjoy it or it could be added to a read aloud for older children on Halloween. Perhaps with pomegranate seeds to try. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (9781484730461)

A spooky ghost lives by a frightening dark forest in this picture book. The ghost is the one who is scared, asking the reader to keep on checking on what is happening in the forest. But the forest isn’t nearly as scary as the ghost expects, which adds a zingy humor to this story. The tone of the book is deftly handled, walking a line between shivery ghost story and Halloween party for friends. It’s a book that will invite children to be just as scared as they might like, but also enjoy doughnuts and some costumes too. The art is lovely and graphic, filled with zaps of bright color emphasized by white and black. A great read aloud for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Monster Trucks by Anika Denise


Monster Trucks by Anika Denise, illustrated by Nate Wragg (InfoSoup)

A revved up mix of trucks and monsters, this picture book will delight fans of either topic. Monster trucks are ready to race as their engines moan and rumble. There is Frankentruck, jumped alive by his electric cables. Werewolf Truck stops to howl at the moon. Zombie Truck is glowing and green. Ghost Truck appears suddenly out of the shadows. Vampire Truck is on the hunt for everyone’s fuel. As the race begins though, there is an unlikely entry, Little Blue Bus all cute enters the race. Soon the monster trucks are after her and she’s in a race for her life!

Denise writes in engaging rhyme that speeds the book alone, accelerating the pace along with the racing trucks. The addition of the little blue bus is wonderfully refreshing, playing on the horror movie motif and also adding a character that children can relate to. The rhythm of the book is also great fun to read aloud and this one will charm anyone listening with its dynamic subject matter.

Wragg’s illustrations are fabulous. He thoroughly embraces the idea of “monster” trucks and transforms them into real monsters while still making sure they are trucks as well. The headlight eyes are expressive and often evil, the bumper and hood leers are cleverly done, and the lightness of the little bus plays up the twist at the end.

A strong entry in the Halloween book race, this picture book will be adored by truck fans and those looking for a little monster thrill. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.


Review: Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa

Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa

Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa, illustrated by Matt Myers (InfoSoup)

A shivery and wonderfully strange autumn read, this picture book explores what happens on the night of a full moon. It all starts with the moon bright in the sky and a scarecrow that starts to move. Magic is building all around, and creatures begin to emerge from the ground and the shadows. As the others arrive, the scarecrow unties himself, removes his clothes and then his skin! As a skeleton, he dashes around ready to play. He jumps rope with a vine, takes a dip in the pond, bowls with pumpkins, plays hide-and-seek. At snack time they all feast on worms and slug balls. By the time the sun rises, it’s all tidied up and Scarecrow is back to work on his post.

This picture book is not sweet and quiet, rather it’s a wild raucous picture book that has some darkness mixed in. So it may not be for every child and may not be ideal for right before bed. There is joy in a picture book that takes a autumn figure like a scarecrow and unveils the skeleton underneath. The magic at play all around in a rural area is also a treat to see come alive. The book is written in rhyme that bounces and dashes along, carrying this zingy story forward even faster. Halloween is not mentioned at all, but this would be a great pick for a read aloud at a Halloween event where scary darkness is to be expected and embraced.

Myers sets a great tone with his illustrations, creating a wonderful glow of the moon and a deep darkness of night. The skeleton’s white bones pop on the page as he gallivants around. The dark purples, blues and greens capture nighttime in the country. Against that backdrop, the strange creatures who come from the shadows and the ground are a mix of friendly and fearsome that works very well. They are just enough to be creepy but not really frightening.

Jaunty rhyme, a spooky night and one wild skeleton make for a treat of a book for a Halloween read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Fright Club by Ethan Long

Fright Club by Ethan Long

Fright Club by Ethan Long

Released August 11, 2015.

The night before Halloween, all of the monsters in Fright Club met for one last time to finalize their plans to terrify children. But just as they were about to begin showing their scary faces, a little bunny knocked on the door. The bunny asked to join Fright Club, but the monsters just laughed and sent the bunny away. The monsters went back to demonstrating their frightening faces, but none of them were actually scary at all. Another knock came on the door and it was a wolf insisting that critters be allowed into the Fright Club too and not be discriminated against. The monsters went back to practicing but then there was a pounding on the door. It was the critters with torches and signs, insisting that they were scary too. The monsters slammed the door and hid inside, waiting for them to go away. Instead of going away though, the critters got in and frightened the monsters, proving that they were ready for Fright Club after all. And it turned out that more frights meant a better Halloween night!

Long does great broad comedy in this picture book. The pace is fast and there are plenty of jokes combined with humorous action to keep it all moving briskly along. The kid appeal is also here with a Halloween theme as well as cute monsters who really couldn’t scare anyone without the help of the critters. The use of classic monsters like vampires, mummies, witches and ghosts makes for a book that has a classic flair as well.

The illustrations stick to a gloomy palette that adds plenty of atmosphere. Shadows and light are used very effectively, from the shine of the torches to the the monsters hiding in a room surrounded by light rather than shadow. The subtle use of color within that shadowy overall look really works well, almost popping against the grey darkness.

A Halloween treat, this picture book is much more fun than fright. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury Publishing.

Review: I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster

i am a witchs cat

I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster

A little girl believes that her mother is a witch and that she is her mother’s black cat.  Dressed in a cat costume, the little girl gives examples of the witchy things that her mother does each day.  She has potions in the bathroom that the little girl isn’t allowed to touch.  She buys weird things at the grocery store.  She goes magical herbs (like carrots) in her garden that she then uses to make potions in the kitchen.  She has a group of friends who come over and they cackle together.  All of these examples are shown in the pictures to be completely normal and easily explained.  But a nice little twist at the end of the book will have readers wondering if perhaps there’s some truth to her mother being a good witch!

Told entirely in first person by the unnamed little girl, this book is jaunty and playful.  It is a very positive depiction of a family of two, their interactions together glow with warmth and connection.  The dynamic between the beliefs of the little girl about her mother and the mundane truths shown in the illustrations will have children trying to figure out whether the mother is a witch or not.  It’s a simple premise for a book that lets the unique illustrations shine.

And what illustrations they are!  Muncaster has created miniature worlds out of paper, fabric and other materials and then photographed them for the illustrations.  They have a wonderful wit and dazzle to them.  At first the 3D effect is subtle enough to be missed, but once it catches your eye you will be entranced with these unique and lovely illustrations.

Filled with Halloween magic, this book is one amazing treat.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

monsters monster

The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom just knew they were the biggest monsters around.  After all, they lived in a big castle on top of a tall mountain that overlooked a little village.  And to top it off, their favorite word to use was “NO!”  When the three little monsters got into an argument about who was the biggest and baddest monster of all, they decided to settle it.  They built their own huge monster, who came to life after a jolt of electricity.  But this big, big monster may not be exactly who they were expecting.  A great pick for Halloween tales, this is a playful and silly take on monsters.

McDonnell has created three very cross little monsters who would not scare anyone.  Yes, they are loud, grumpy and constantly arguing, but they are not frightening thanks to their small size.  Then to trump that, he has also written a large monster who could be quite frightening with a personality that will surprise.  It makes for a delight of a book.  McDonnell’s writing is perfect for reading aloud, setting the right pace and tone to make it a wild rumpus of a read.

His art is equally fun, sometimes giving full-page spreads, but also intermingling smaller illustrations filled with movement and zing.  The blotches of ink on those pages add to the hustle and bustle of the tone.  The art is playful and filled with humor.  It will work best shared with smaller groups, since so much of the fun is in the illustrations.

Get your hands on this one for Halloween reads, it’s sure to be a favorite and asked for again and again.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood

just say boo

Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood, illustrated by Jed Henry

If you are going to get just one Halloween book this season, this is the one!  Head out trick-or-treating with three siblings dressed up as a witch, a bat and a shark.  The neighborhood is filled with others out on Halloween, but there are still moments when you can be scared.  So what happens when you get a wobble in your knees from ghosts in the trees?  Or a wolf howls nearby?  Or the wind whips and whines through the trees?  You say BOO! 

Told in a rollicking rhyme, this book begs for audience participation.  The book follows a rhythm and pattern nicely, giving listeners the perfect cue to shout BOO! along with the story.  Hood nicely changes it up towards the end, reminding children to thank people for candy with a playful nod. 

Henry’s illustrations have a wonderful playfulness to them but also turn to the dark and shivery nicely too.  Once out on the streets, the colors turn to pure Halloween with oranges, purples and blacks adding to the atmosphere.  Back inside, there is lots of yellow, eliminating all of the creepy shadows nicely.

A perfect book for Halloween where you want audience participation and not to scare anyone.  This book is much more about the small shivers of Halloween than the big frights.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: The Scariest Thing of All by Debi Gliori

scariest thing of all

The Scariest Thing of All by Debi Gliori

This story of a very frightened young rabbit is uplifted by the marvelous illustrations.  Pip was a very little rabbit and had a huge list of things that he was scared of.  The list included rain because it reminded him of the sound a leggy wiggler makes in its web, bubbles in the water reminded him of a gobbler hiding at the bottom of the pond, and tree stumps were like the teeth of a giant wood troll.  He exhausted himself because he was so worried and frightened all the time.  He was so tired he fell fast asleep until dinnertime.  When he woke up, he heard a dreadful Raaar! Pip ran and ran, as far away from the sound as he could.  Finally, he stopped deep in the woods.  He saw a scary thing nearby, and heard the sound again.  Pip was going to have to be brave and smart to figure out what was making that horrible noise.

Gliori’s story of a small rabbit who is afraid of almost everything will resonate with children.  The ending has Pip becoming a much braver rabbit.  The book does conclude a bit too quickly and neatly.  Gliori spends much of her story developing the depths of fear and panic that Pip is living with.  All of that plays out very strongly, creating a firm foundation for the story. 

The art here really makes this picture book special.  It moves from the sunny warmth of Pip’s family and home to the dark blueness of a woods at night.  Throughout the woods scenes there is an incredible blue moon rising above him, giving a haunted feel to those pages that is marvelously chilling. 

This would make a great pick for a preschool Halloween story time because it has monsters and creepy things but won’t frighten.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.