Trick or treat! Enjoy our inaugural selection of new books for Halloween, with reviews written by the Horn Book staff. For more spooky books for middle graders, see “Slightly Spooky Middle-Grade Tales.”
by Kelly Bennett; illus. by Paul Meisel
Primary Candlewick 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-7636-4691-2 $15.99
A boy describes his baby sister’s transformation from cute-and-cuddly tot to bloodthirsty “Vampire Baby.” After sprouting two fanglike teeth, little Tootie cuts her chompers on everything within reach: toys, furniture legs, big brother’s appendages. No one takes his concerns seriously (Mom: “Take off that garlic necklace!”), so, fed up, he tries to give her away to a nice vampire family. Satisfyingly, he ends up baring his own teeth to defend his little sis. Bennett’s humorous conversational text plays to realism (i.e., Tootie is a normal teething baby and her brother’s imagination is getting the better of him) while Meisel’s clean-lined mixed-media illustrations agreeably maintain the baby-as-vampire conceit. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ
by Samantha Berger; illus. by Dan Santat
Preschool, Primary Little, Brown 40 pp.
8/13 978-0-316-12656-4 $16.99
Sometimes — when you have to go to school, when you have to take cough syrup — all there is to say is “MEHHRRRR!” The life of the little guy depicted here seems to be one unfortunate event after another, and he responds accordingly, if repetitively. This is a No, David! for slightly older kids, with intense but comical closeups of a toddler’s enraged face, turned Frankenstein-green for that festive Halloween touch. The ending is a sop to parents, as the boy meets a friend and his rage (and green skin) turns peaceable — but never fear, the monster still lurks within, bwah-ha-HAH. ROGER SUTTON
Me and My Dragon: Scared of Halloween
by David Biedrzycki; illus. by the author
Primary Charlesbridge 32 pp.
8/13 978-1-58089-658-0 $17.95
Paper ed. 978-1-58089-659-7 $7.95
e-book ed. 978-1-60734-608-1 $6.99
A boy and his dragon (Hameer and Sparky from Me and My Dragon) “enjoy the same stuff — except for trick-or-treating.” The boy loves Halloween, but the dragon is downright terrified. In an attempt to get his dragon ready for the holiday, the boy creates a number of costumes, hoping the creature can overcome his fear. But when the dragon is scared of his own zombie reflection and lights his tutu on fire, things start looking bad. Biedrzycki’s text and illustrations are balanced with sneaky jokes hidden throughout. His illustrations are colorful and vibrant, and his dragon is so expressive, you can’t help but laugh out loud. SIÂN GAETANO
Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat
by Eileen Christelow; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Clarion 40 pp.
8/13 978-0-547-85893-7 $16.99
It’s Halloween, and the five little monkeys are eager to trick-or-treat. With Lulu, the babysitter, as the group’s chaperone, the monkeys venture into the night and encounter several costumed friends. Mischief ensues as the trick-or-treaters swap outfits in a furtive masquerade. The little monkeys’ mother, however, has the last laugh. Playfully illustrated with a colorful parade of animals and disguises, Christelow’s latest Five Little Monkeys volume has none of Halloween’s horror and gloom. Instead, the book is a lighthearted farce, and bonus recipes for “Lulu’s Eyeball Cookies” and “Worm Juice” should put readers in a festive mood. LILY ROTHMAN
Click, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Betsy Lewin
Preschool, Primary Atheneum 40 pp.
8/13 978-1-4424-6553-4 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-6554-1 $12.99
Halloween humbug Farmer Brown just leaves candy on the porch and hangs a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the door. But he can still hear strange noises outside and he sees “a dark creature standing beneath the trees.” And now the crunching and creaking and tapping are getting closer — and closer! While Farmer Brown trembles under the covers, Cronin and Lewin don’t leave their audience in the dark. We know that those party animals of Click, Clack, Moo (rev. 3/00) fame are hosting their own Halloween bash in the barn. The well-paced text and appropriately shadowy illustrations assure listeners that the only foul thing afoot is a costumed fowl. A “quack, quack, quackle in the crisp night air” breaks the spooky mood and gets Farmer Brown to join the fun. KITTY FLYNN
Skeleton for Dinner
by Margery Cuyler; illus. by Will Terry
Primary Whitman 32 pp.
10/13 978-0-8075-7398-3 $16.99 g
Big Witch and Little Witch decide to “brew a stew.” As the stew simmers, Big Witch — impressed by their tasty concoction — states that they simply “must have Skeleton for dinner.” Skeleton, passing by, misinterprets her statement and fears the worst. What follows is a comedy of errors in which the childlike skeleton attempts to save itself (and its other friends on the invitation list) from being eaten. The occasionally rhyming verse, along with some changes in text size and font, creates a natural rhythm for Halloween-themed read-alouds. SIÂN GAETANO
Your Skeleton Is Showing: Rhymes of Blunder from Six Feet Under
by Kurt Cyrus; illus. by Crab Scrambly
Primary Disney-Hyperion 32 pp.
7/13 978-1-4231-3846-4 $16.99
A child helps a lost ghost dog in a graveyard “ventur[e] through the gloom / to try to find his master’s tomb.” As the twosome passes headstones, readers learn something about each grave-dweller’s demise (self-inflicted or accidental), the mourners they left behind, or the deceased’s afterlife. Black-and-white gothic-style illustrations, enhanced by pops of color and buoyed by characters’ cartoonish features, complement the dead-on pacing, tone, and content of these ghoulish yet funny rhyming poems. The dog reunites with its master while the child finds a new (living) canine companion in the spirited collection’s satisfying conclusion. CYNTHIA K. RITTER
by Jane Feder; illus. by Julie Downing
Primary Scholastic 40 pp.
8/13 978-0-545-47815-1 $16.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-47816-8 $3.99
“Scarlet and Igor were very good friends. The trouble was, they could never agree on anything.” In three brief stories, vampire Scarlet and mummy Igor argue over what to do and eat, what to name a kitten, and whether to draw or paint. Eventually this odd-couple learns how to compromise and work together. Feder’s early-reader text addresses experiences that are relatable to children, and it includes useful repetition and age-appropriate vocabulary. Downing gives the “spooky friends” distinct and humorous personalities, while the generous white space in her spare pen and watercolor illustrations allows new readers to easily digest the entertaining action. CYNTHIA K. RITTER
The Spooky Box
by Mark Gonyea; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Holt 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-8050-8813-7 $14.99
A knock at the door reveals a mysterious black box. While the offstage narrator speculates about what could be inside, each spread shows the scary possibilities: bats, rats, spiders, and more. Eventually, the reader lifts a flap to reveal the answer: two smaller boxes, leading to more guesses. The lively direct-address text should keep children engaged (“What do you think could be inside?”), and Gonyea’s graphically bold illustrations make the most of his black, gold, and white palette with flat shapes showing possibilities that are just suspenseful enough to keep the pages turning. lolly robinson
The Little Leftover Witch
by Florence Laughlin
Primary, Intermediate Simon 77 pp.
8/13 978-1-4424-8677-5 $15.99
Paper ed. 978-1-4424-8672-0 $5.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-8678-2 $5.99
When a contrary little witch breaks her broom, she is stuck on the ground until the next Halloween. Pointy-nosed Felina shelters with the Doon family, who over the course of an eventful year come to love her. Adult readers will see a metaphor for healthy, happy child-rearing (the true magic is love), but kids will simply root for Felina as she first accepts people food, a bed, and a bath; then goes to school and conquers reading; and finally gives up her witch hat and officially becomes one of the family. Originally published by Macmillan in 1960, Laughlin’s brief novel reflects old-fashioned sensibilities (spanking is occasionally threatened) but is perennially fresh and genuinely affecting. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO
Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Haunter’s Halloween
by Debbie Leppanen; illus. by Tad Carpenter
Primary Beach Lane/Simon 40 pp.
8/13 978-1-4424-3398-4 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-3399-1 $12.99
These Halloween-y poems told from shifting perspectives — the scared trick-or-treating youngsters’ and the creepy monsters’ — are great for both the expert cadence (they sound smashing aloud) and also the balance of tone. Some are mildly chilling: “I’m a ghoul, / that’s what I do. / Don’t ask me home / or I’ll eat you!” Others are humorous: “Can anybody tell me / (if anybody knows) / why skeletons aren’t freezing / when they don’t wear any clothes?” The digital illustrations embody this mix, too: children wide-eyed with fear are greeted by benign-looking creatures just having a good time. A fun-filled, jaunty Halloween treat. KATRINA HEDEEN
Ol’ Clip-Clop: A Ghost Story
by Patricia C. McKissack; illus. by Eric Velasquez
Primary, Intermediate Holiday 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-8234-2265-4 $16.95 g
On October 13, 1741, heartless moneygrubber John Leep sets out to evict the Widow Mayes from one of his properties. After being chased by a ghostly echo of horses’ hooves, John arrives at the widow’s front door visibly shaken and nastier than ever — he steals a coin from her rent payment to ensure that she loses her home. Little does he know it’s the last cruel deed he’ll ever commit. The dark, muted shades of Velasquez’s oil paintings enhance the hair-raising text. SHARA L. HARDESON
Some Monsters Are Different
by David Milgrim; illus. by the author
Preschool Holt 40 pp.
7/13 978-0-8050-9519-7 $14.99
“Some monsters are afraid. / Some are not.” Page by page, Milgrim lists contrasting quirks and habits of monsters. Drawn boldly and brightly, these monsters — more adorable and wacky than frightening — stand out against the clean white of the pages. The visual differences in color, shape, size, types of appendages, and facial expressions reinforce the uniqueness of each monster. However, they are all “absolutely, positively, completely, perfectly wonderful… / just the way they are!” The message is a familiar one, but it is reassuring and transferable enough to include even the littlest monsters in your life. JENNIFER LU
How BIG Could Your Pumpkin Grow?
by Wendell Minor; illus. by the author
Primary Paulsen/Penguin 32 pp.
8/13 978-0-399-24684-5 $16.99 g
There are BIG pumpkins, of course, but what about those that are ENORMOUS, GIGANTIC, and COLOSSAL? Minor imagines just such JUMBO pumpkins, placing each in a signature American scene (a MIGHTY pumpkin on Mount Rushmore, for example) for a bit of geographical literacy and a good deal of juxtapositional fun. The artist’s proven talent for classic landscapes here gets a wink with the STUPENDOUS jack-o’-lanterns plomping their grinning selves down like they owned the place. Facts about each place depicted are appended. ROGER SUTTON
Ghost in the House
by Ammi-Joan Paquette; illus. by Adam Record
Preschool Candlewick 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-7636-5529-7 $15.99
“There’s a ghost in the house, / In the creepy haunted house, / On this dark, spooky night, all alone.” The cute little ghost (a benign powder blue, with wide eyes and worried-looking eyebrows) is joined, one by one, by a mummy, monster, skeleton, and witch. Then a little boy arrives, scaring them all away. The bouncy rhyme in this cumulative story is engaging, and the scariness level is just right for the very young. Digitally created illustrations, though rather pale and bland, feature clean compositions and an inventive use of type that will keep viewers focused and anticipating each new arrival. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO
A Very Witchy Spelling Bee
by George Shannon; illus. by Mark Fearing
Primary Harcourt 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-15-206696-3 $16.99
Young witch Cordelia combines her love for magic spells with her enthusiasm for spelling words — for example casting an O spell to change her cat into a coat. When the Witches’ Double Spelling Bee (held once every decade) rolls around, Cordelia thinks she’ll be a shoo-in, but her skills are put to the test against thirteen-time winner Beulah Divine. It’s difficult to make a subject like spelling memorable, but Shannon’s text engagingly demonstrates the relationships between words while Fearing’s kinetic pencil and digital illustrations lend a Saturday-morning-cartoon quality to the characters and the comedic spell-casting action. RUSSELL PERRY
Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley; adapted by Gris Grimly; illus. by the adapter
Middle School, High School Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins 196 pp.
9/13 978-0-06-186297-7 $24.99
Adeptly “assembled from the original text,” this graphic novel adaptation abridges Shelley’s tale while staying true to its spirit. The inventive illustrations relocate Frankenstein and his creation to a goth-y, Tim Burton–esque time-out-of-time with a mix of modern, nineteenth-century, and steampunk sensibilities. A muted palette of sepia, gray, and olive tones is effectively punctuated by black, pinks, and purples, and, in more gruesome moments, bilious green. Grimly makes excellent use of his format with dynamic shapes, sizes, and pacing of panels; the novel’s epistolary sections have an elegant (if difficult to read) handwritten look. KATIE BIRCHER
Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters
by Jane Yolen; illus. by Kelly Murphy
Preschool Candlewick 32 pp.
7/13 978-0-7636-5727-7 $14.99 g
A whole passel of googly-eyed creatures (some with two eyes, others with one, three, four, or more) cavort around a park, to the rhythm of Yolen’s spare, easy-to-follow rhyming text: “Monsters hopscotch. / Monsters slide. / Monsters swing and piggy-back ride.” A story line emerges from Murphy’s multi-hued (but, happily, in subdued shades) oil, acrylic, and gel illustrations: a mother monster and her children — one is red with spots, the other is yellow with stripy arms and legs — are having a blast until a tussle at the water fountain leads to hurt feelings. No worries: an apology and balloons make everything “all better,” and the siblings toodle off out of the park, furry-hand in furry-hand. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ
From the September/October 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.