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Horn BOO! 2015

Don’t be frightened. The ten (not-so) terrifying tales reviewed by the Horn Book staff in our annual Halloween roundup are only make-believe. (Wait, what’s that behind you?)

horn boo_day_carl's halloweenCarl’s Halloween
by Alexandra Day; illus. by the author
Preschool   Ferguson/Farrar   32 pp.
8/15   978-0-374-31082-0   $14.99

When Mom blithely announces that she’s going over to Grandma’s for a while and that Rottweiler Carl and his girl (Good Dog, Carl and sequels) can hand out the candy to trick-or-treaters, well, you can see from the September/October Horn Book’s cover illustration that things don’t go exactly like that. Carl and the little girl take over the action in a series of wordless, sumptuous double-page spreads, donning the most minimal of costumes (a necklace for Carl; a hat for the girl) to join the Halloween festivities. Gratifyingly, Carl never looks anything but doglike, although his facial expressions belie his care for the girl as he gently guides — and eventually carries — her about the neighborhood. Per usual, the watercolor illustrations are gloriously hued, the red feather in the girl’s hat gorgeous against the October evening sky. ROGER SUTTON

horn boo_kimmelman_trick arr treatTrick Arrr Treat: A Pirate Halloween
by Leslie Kimmelman; 
illus. by Jorge Monlongo
Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-8075-8061-5   $16.99   g

Six young swashbucklers — including Toothless Tim, Rude Ranjeet, and “pirate chief” Charlotte Blue-Tongue — plunder their neighborhood for candy on Halloween. The digital palette of oranges and purples grows darker as the evening advances and the trick-or-treaters’ imaginations grow. The young pirates continue “a-romping” until a mysterious shadow that may or may not be a “big black monster, sly and cunning” gets “the frightened pirates running.” With its kid-friendly rhymes and abundance of pirate lingo (“TRICK ARRR TREAT!”), this appealing mash-up of Halloween and pirate themes captures the lighthearted fun of the holiday. Nothing can deter a band of pirates…as long as those pirates are home before dark. MOLLY GLOVER

horn boo_lester_tacky and the haunted iglooTacky and the Haunted Igloo
by Helen Lester; 
illus. by Lynn Munsinger
Primary   Houghton   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-544-33994-1   $16.99   g

Tacky the Penguin and pals (Happy Birdday, Tacky!, rev. 7/13, and others) get into the Halloween spirit by decorating their igloo and preparing trick-or-treat goodies. Actually, his penguin friends do all the work while “Snacky Tacky sampled the treats,” etc. On Halloween night, the haunted igloo is a spooky success, until three hunters dressed as ghosts arrive and demand “all yer yummy treats / Or we do something skearies.” Not a problem, if there were any treats left. But wait! Who’s this “skeary” hunter at the door? Is he the biggest hunter’s “twin brudder”? Tacky’s fans will recognize the odd-bird hero, but it’s enough to scare off the real hunters. The affectionate text and nonthreatening illustrations play up the absurdity of the situation. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_long_fright clubFright Club
by Ethan Long; illus. by the author
Primary   Bloomsbury   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-61963-337-7   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61963-418-3   $9.99

The first rule of Fright Club: don’t talk about Fright Club. The next rule? Only the truly scary can be members. Discrimination! cries a bunny, who wastes no time seeking representation, then organizing a demonstration. “HISS, MOAN, BOO! WE CAN SCARE TOO!” chant a butterfly, ladybug, turtle, and squirrel. And scare they do, disrupting the Fright Club meeting and proving their fearsome bona fides just in time for “Operation Kiddie Scare.” It’s a funny Halloween concept that delivers, through Long’s spry text — Ghost: “What are we going to do?!?” Vampire Vladimir: “NOTHING! If you ignore cute little critters, they eventually go away!” — and cartoony digitally colored (but very sparely, it’s mostly all shadowy grays) graphite-pencil illustrations. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

horn boo_masessa_scarecrow magicScarecrow Magic
by Ed Masessa; illus. by Matt Myers
Primary   Orchard/Scholastic   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-545-69109-3   $16.99   g

Stripping off his layers of straw and clothing, a skeleton finishes his workday as a scarecrow and meets up with “ghoulies and ghosties” to “dance under the moon.” A large cast of monsters (furry, scaly, two-headed, or giant) spend all night with the scarecrow, playing games (including hide-and-seek and jacks) and fighting mock battles until the sun starts to rise. Myers’s inventive “troublesome” creatures and ecstatically animated skeleton are depicted through strong black outlines and thick, bold strokes. The rhyming (though occasionally stumbling) text and playful illustrations make this a festive read-aloud. SIÂN GAETANO

horn boo_mcgee_peanut butter and brainsPeanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale
by Joe McGee; 
illus. by Charles Santoso
Primary   Abrams   32 pp.
8/15   978-1-4197-1247-0   $16.95

While the rest of the horde demands “BRAINSSSSS” for “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” all zombie Reginald wants is a good ol’ PB&J. After striking out at the corner café, the school cafeteria, and the grocery store, Reginald lurches toward a little girl and her paper-bag lunch — sending the townspeople into a panic. But this humorous story ends happily for everyone once the other zombies get a taste of the classic sandwich. The illustrations’ rounded shapes and pastel watercolor washes portray zombies who are more cute than scary, and full of personality. Signs and balloons with images of brains inside cleverly communicate the zombies’ food preferences in a nonverbal way — after all, zombies aren’t very articulate. KATIE BIRCHER

horn boo_munsinger_happy halloween witch's catHappy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
by Harriet Muncaster; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Harper/HarperCollins   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-06-222916-8   $15.99

In I Am a Witch’s Cat, readers first met the imaginative little girl who enthusiastically maintains, “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” In this outing, Halloween approaches, and the mother-daughter team heads to the costume shop, where the girl gives an array of options a whirl: “Maybe a silver skeleton? / Too bony! How about a pink ballerina? / Too frilly!” Her final decision is a satisfying, gentle twist on the story’s premise. This book’s standout feature is Muncaster’s unique, endlessly perusable art: three-dimensional scenes combined with mixed-media flat illustrations and textured fabrics, photographed and digitized. KATRINA HEDEEN

horn boo_patricelli_booBoo!
by Leslie Patricelli; illus. by the author
Preschool   Candlewick   28 pp.
7/15   978-0-7636-6320-9   $6.99

In this board-book treat, Patricelli’s diapered baby picks a “just right” pumpkin, helps Daddy carve a familiar-looking jack-o’-lantern (a pumpkin selfie, if you will), and chooses a scary costume: “W-w-what’s that? Oh. It’s only me.” Trick-or-treating with Daddy is a bit spooky, too, until the little ghostie discovers there’s candy involved. The lively color-saturated illustrations play off the simple, direct text, adding humor and silliness to the mix. Two interactive double-page spreads — “How should we carve our jack-o’-lantern?” and “What should I be?” — involve young listeners in the fun and prep newbies for these holiday highlights. KITTY FLYNN

horn boo_stine_little shop of monstersThe Little Shop of Monsters
by R. L. Stine; 
illus. by Marc Brown
Primary   Little, Brown   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-316-36983-1   $17.00   g

Two children’s literature icons team up to create this funny-scary adventure. “If you think you’re brave enough, then come with me” to the Little Shop of Monsters. Two children — a boy, reluctant; and a younger girl, more daring — view the shop’s merchandise, from the Snacker (whose favorite treat is hands) to the Sleeper-Peeper (who hides under kids’ beds). The litany of introductions settles into a predictable pattern — until the clever twist at the end, which will have readers quickly turning the last page (“Phew! You just escaped!”). Stine’s direct-address text is pitched for delicious thrills and chills, while Brown’s cheery palette and over-the-top depictions of the monsters offset the terror just enough. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

horn boo_ward_there was an old mummy who swallowed a spiderThere Was an Old Mummy 
Who Swallowed a Spider
by Jennifer Ward; illus. by Steve Gray
Preschool, Primary   Two Lions   32 pp.
7/15   978-1-4778-2637-9   $16.99   g

“There was an old mummy… / who swallowed a spider. / I don’t know why he swallowed the spider. / Open wider!” Anyone familiar with the original folksong can guess what happens next in this twisted twist: the mummy’s belly (or what used to be his belly) is soon full of things that go bump in the night. The new rhymes have a few bumps, too, but this mummy tale is wrapped up perfectly. (Ironically, the macabre ending of the original would be redundant here.) Cartoonish digital illustrations use lots of wide, fearful eyes and luminous backgrounds to make the graveyard and haunted-castle settings glow with Halloween anticipation. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more Halloween reading, click on the tag Halloween books.

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