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Off-the-wall picture books

Here are some off-the-wall books for the Halloween season, from funny and not-very-scary for younger readers to suspenseful and weird for older readers.

seeger_dog and bear tricks and treatsIn Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats, best friends Dog and Bear prepare for and enjoy Halloween. They go shopping for costumes (Bear gets distracted when he spies “another Bear” in the mirror); receive trick-or-treaters (Dog takes the children’s treats rather than giving treats out); and go trick-or-treating themselves (they go as each other). Seeger’s simple, satisfying text is supported by lively India-ink and acrylic illustrations that capture the characters’ emotions, particularly through the use of their expressive eyebrows. Plenty of white space and the division into three chapters make this work both as an easy reader and a picture book. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 3–6 years)

chung_ninjaMaxwell, a creative (and hungry) young ninja, will inspire legions of nascent warriors with this tale of an epic snack-time quest — and sibling harmony. In Ninja!, Arree Chung’s humorous, vibrant illustrations and simple text achieve the right pacing for Maxwell’s singular mission: a plateful of chocolate chip cookies. With a confident “I AM A NINJA!” leap, he sneaks, creeps, tumbles, and climbs his way to the kitchen, where he steals his baby sister’s cookies and milk. When he’s caught, he is contrite, but he inducts baby sister into “the ways of the ninja” — and the book ends with the duo embarking on a new adventure together. Comic-style panels and full-page spreads rich with detail — both real and imagined — capture Maxwell’s over-the-top-ninja antics. (Holt, 3–6 years)

newgarden_bow-wow's nightmare neighborsBow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors is a fanciful wordless nighttime adventure perfect for sophisticated picture book readers. A stalwart canine sets out to retrieve his stolen doggy bed from the ornery ghost cats and kittens who live across the street in a haunted mansion complete with loose floor boards, secret passageways, and moving-eye portraits. Around every corner, it seems as though Bow-Wow may have found his doggy bed at last, but each time he’s mistaken. Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash tell the story through comic-book panels, spookily gray-scale with splashes of vivid color that amp up the humor and suspense at just the right moments. A fresh and funny look at things that go bump in the night. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 3–6 years)

browne_what ifWith its sophisticated visual humor, What If…? is Anthony Browne at his artistically weird and psychologically complex best. Worrywart Joe is going to his first birthday party, but he’s lost the invitation — so he and his Mom aren’t sure of the exact house. As they walk down the street, hoping that what they see through each house’s front window will reveal the party’s location, Joe’s worries are made manifest through the strange, surreal scenes they view. Just as he asks, “What if I don’t like the food?” they pass a house containing four Tweedledee and Tweedledum–like schoolboys sitting around a table laden with worms, eyeballs, snails, and a smiling soft-boiled egg. When Joe and his mom finally get to the last house on the block, the strange silhouettes reveal themselves to be…a very cheery children’s birthday party. (Candlewick, 3–6 years)

From the October 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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