Review: Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak

Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak

Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak (9781911373827)

Oscar is a little skeleton who has lost a tooth. He thinks he looks entirely dreadful without it and wonders if he will ever find someone to play with. So when he sees a little girl burying a tooth, he asks her for it. But she is burying the tooth in order to have a wish come true. Then she takes another look at Oscar and starts to laugh. She agrees to give him the tooth if he helps her find a friend. The two head off, and she shows Oscar all of the lovely things she would show a friend, including rainbows, meadows, and the seaside. Oscar then brings her into his world and shows her parks and libraries and sleeping butterflies. The two realize at the end of the day together that they both got what they wished for, tooth or no tooth.

This Polish import is a treat just right for Halloween with its skeleton main character. Oscar is an entirely human skeleton with worries about making friends. The book plays against Oscar being a skeleton nicely as the little human girl isn’t scared of him for even a moment. There’s something very endearing about him and the entire book focuses on connections rather than frights.

The illustrations are what make this book special. Done in paper collage with 3D elements, the images are tactile and full of texture. The worlds of each of the characters is distinct in color and content. Oscar’s is dark with pops of color and the human world is bright and filled with sun, rain and rainbows. The play of the two against one another is visually gorgeous on the page.

Charming rather than scary, this is a autumn treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn (InfoSoup)

Samira is having a good day, enjoying school and spending time with her best friend, Frida. But then her teacher says something perfectly horrible. She explains that inside everybody is a skeleton with a skull, ribs, spine and more. Samira is horrified and soon can’t see anyone without seeing their skeleton without skin. She starts to avoid her classmates, particularly Frida. Luckily her mother has a great plan. She offers to remove Samira’s skeleton entirely right there in the kitchen. But Samira’s skeleton doesn’t want to lay still for the operation and runs outside and off to the park where Samira’s skeleton and Frida’s skeleton run around together and soon Samira can see Frida as herself once again. Of course, there is still tomorrow’s lesson to get through…

Samira is a child with a huge imagination, one that just won’t shut off easily either when it gets an idea. The story is a refreshing one with a parent who deals with the issue in a calm and playful way, saving the day. Samira herself is complex and interesting, a girl who visualizes ideas intensely, reacts to her own imagination with zing and has no problem being entirely herself.

The illustrations are fantastic with plenty of personality and good humor. Samira is an African-American child and her best friend is Caucasian. Another very clever aspect of this story is to show that we are all the same underneath our skin. So when Samira is seeing everyone as a skeleton, suddenly there is no race in the class, just bones. It’s a subtle message that the book introduces and never belabors.

A dynamic and funny look at the intersection of science and imagination. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

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.

New Halloween Books

Here are some newly released Halloween books that are sure to mix shivers and giggles:

skeleton meets the mummy

Skeleton Meets the Mummy by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Aaron Zenz

Sammy is looking forward to trick-or-treating with his best friend on Halloween night.  His mother catches him before he can leave and asks him to run some soup to his grandmother.  To get there, he has to head through the woods.  He gets scared along the way by a bat, the wind, and even a tree that looks like a monster.  So he’s already jumpy when he hears the footsteps behind him and sees the mummy chasing him!

Told in straight-forward prose, the illustrations are a large part of the appeal here.  They are crisp, clean and vivid.  The characters glow against the dark Halloween backgrounds.  This is a story with a funny twist, plenty of appeal and even a couple of bumps in the dark.

sleepless little vampire

The Sleepless Little Vampire by Richard Egielski

Little Vampire can’t figure out why he is having trouble falling asleep.  It could be the spitting spider.  It could be the flitting bats.  Maybe the cockroaches crawling on the floor?  Or the werewolf howling?  More and more Halloween characters enter the story and create their own noises:  a witch, skeletons, ghosts.  But none of them are the reason he can’t sleep.  Nope, it was just that he was trying too sleep too early.  It wasn’t morning yet!

Egielski bridges the pages brilliantly, moving from one possible cause of being unable to sleep to another.  The final reason will surprise most readers, though as they see the sky lighten they will be able to guess the ending on the final page.  The illustrations get increasingly busy as more characters enter.  The detail makes this a better pick to use one-on-one or with a small group of children. 

frangoline

Frangoline and the Midnight Dream by Clemency Pearce, illustrated by Rebecca Elliott

Frangoline was a perfect child, neat and clean.  Until the deep of night, when she put on her black cape and escaped the house.  The moon tried to warn her about being in bed, but Frangoline replied, “I’ll do exactly as I please!  I’m Frangoline!”  She climbed down the tree outside her window, ran across the lawn, blew raspberries.  She woke the forest animals but then yelled so loud that she scared them all away rather than them ever scaring her.  She danced and pranced in the graveyard and woke up the ghouls.  When they chased her up the church steeple, she finally got worried.  But where can she go if she’s cornered up there? 

There is a wild delight in this book and in the naughtiness of a little girl having such fun alone in the middle of the night.  The moon plays a big role in the book, warning her of the dangers but also being a sort of parental figure on each page.  The story is silly, clever and has the dark night creepiness along with the ghouls.  But nothing is drawn in a particularly scary way, instead it stays inviting with a strong sense of fun.

All three books are appropriate for ages 4-6. 

All were provided for review by Scholastic.

Book Review: Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

bone dog

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Right before his dog Ella died, she promised Gus that she would always be with him.  After she died, Gus didn’t feel like doing anything, not even leaving the house, but he did.  He didn’t feel like trick-or-treating, but he put on his skeleton costume and headed out anyway.  But when Gus started to head back home after his bag was full, he passed through a graveyard where it got dark and windy and creepy.  In moments, Gus was surrounded by skeletons, real ones.  At first the skeletons thought he was a real skeleton too, but when they found out that he was a boy, they threatened to steal his guts.  Just before anything happened, Ella showed up as a skeleton dog.  But what in the world can a small boy and a small skeleton dog do to stop a crowd of skeletons? 

If that paragraph above read like a rather strange storyline, then I wrote it correctly.  This is not a “normal” picture book.  It has a wonderfully shivery, scary part to it combined with the loss of a beloved pet, and then a great funny twist at the end.  It is not a disjointed book at all, but rather one that is unexpected which makes for a fun read. 

Rohmann’s art is done in his signature style.  The thick black lines mix successfully with the deep and subtle colors.  What grabs the eye is Rohmann’s layout of the pages, where whitespace is used as more than space for the words to appear.  The style stays consistent throughout the book, but the perspective is intriguing and adds much to the book.

A strange and superb choice for Halloween reading, this book should be shared throughout the year too as a celebration of intriguing, unique picture books.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Bones

Bones by Steve Jenkins

Really all any book needs is Steve Jenkins’ name on the front and his great illustrations inside.  Just those two things and you know it’s going to be great.  In this book, Jenkins turns his attention to bones and skeletons.  The size and shape of bones are explored as are skeletons of the human body and of various animals.  Information is given about bones and the illustrations of the bones are laid out on very colorful pages that highlight the bones but offer some vibrancy as well.  This book of bones should be in every school and public library.

Jenkin’s text here offers just enough detail to be informative but also never too much too be weighty.  It offers the same bright, freshness as the illustrations themselves.  His illustrations are studies in restraint as he works his paper magic using a very limited boney palette of colors.  The design of the book makes it rather like an archeological discovery, since you never know what bones you will find when you turn the page.  Several of the pages fold out to offer large scale illustrations, including a full human skeleton.  Along the way, readers are asked questions and get to think about the body, the bones and how they function.

A virtuoso book, pull this one out for Halloween and get some sweet science mixed in with the candy.  It is appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.