Horn BOO! 2019

Welcome to our annual roundup of (not-always) scary seasonal stories, where you'll find, mostly, more pumpkins and puns than poltergeists. Happy Halloween!

Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party
by Erin Barker; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Blue Manatee   32 pp.    g
9/19    978-1-936669-77-6    $17.99 

Handsome china dishes and raised pinkies accentuate a fancy “banquet with friends in autumn twilight” in this festive counting book. The pumpkin-headed title character, a debonair host in a sky-blue suit and a stovepipe hat, welcomes his guests (a cummerbund-sporting skeleton, a monocle-wearing-mummy, a flapper-dressed vampire, etc.). The numbers are woven into a rhyming text that alternates guests’ introductions (“Lady Nightshade brings three jars of jelly to share”) with atmospheric elements (“While four swooping bats fly through the air”). As is appropriate for the season, readers count up until “the clock strikes thirteen.” Elegant watercolor and ink illustrations imagine the party’s spooky sophistication. JEANNIE COUTANT 

Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor
by Barbara Cantini; illus. by the author; trans. from the Italian by Anna Golding
Primary, Intermediate    Amulet/Abrams    64 pp.
8/19    978-1-4197-3690-2    $9.99 

Young zombie Ghoulia returns in a second book in this reluctant-reader-friendly series for the chapter-book set. Here Ghoulia must solve the mystery of Auntie Departed’s disappearance from Crumbling Manor with the help of unexpected (and very grouchy) visitor Cousin Dilbert. As in the first book, the appeal is in the attractive book design with frequent double-page spreads incorporating text into the colorful gothic-inspired illustrations. Funny details in both text and art abound (the doorbell howls rather than rings; a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock hangs on the wall). An offbeat but entertaining choice for Halloween reading. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO 

Click, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Betsy Lewin
Preschool    Little Simon    40 pp.
7/19    978-1-5344-5012-7    $7.99 

Halloween humbug Farmer Brown leaves candy on the porch and hangs a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the door. After hearing strange noises outside, he trembles under the covers. However, we know that those Click, Clack, Moo party animals are hosting a Halloween bash. The well-paced text and appropriately shadowy illustrations assure listeners that the only foul thing afoot is a costumed fowl. Originally published in 2013; the brief, sound effects–heavy text lends itself well to this new board book format. KITTY FLYNN 

Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet
by David Goodner; illus. by Louis Thomas
Primary    Houghton    40 pp.
7/19    978-0-544-76416-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-06430-5    $12.99 

“Ginny Goblin loves animals. Goats are some of her favorites.” If only the (offstage) narrator allowed Ginny to have a pet goat, then she might not seek out (using a submarine, a trap, and a rocket ship) a kraken, basilisk, and space alien as potential pets instead. In a clever twist, Ginny has the last laugh when she tricks the narrator into approving the pet she wanted all along. Elaborate monster-seeking scenarios, the title phrase as a refrain, and lively illustrations in ink and gouache make Ginny’s second humorous outing (Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box) perfect for reading aloud.  CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!
by Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera; illus. by Jorge Lacera
Primary    Children’s/Lee & Low   40 pp.
4/19    978-1-62014-794-8    $18.95
Spanish ed.  978-1-62014-851-8    $18.95 

Young zombie Mo Romero has an “absolutely despicable” craving: vegetables. His parents prefer such delicacies as brain-and-bean tortillas. Even when Mo prepares a meal for them of gazpacho disguised as “blood bile bisque,” it doesn’t win them over—at least not at first. This Halloween take on a be-yourself story—with occasional, naturally integrated Spanish—is full of wordplay both in the text (“Holy aioli!”) and in the muted digital illustrations (“RIP Juan Moortime,” reads a gravestone). Recipes are appended; “zombie finger foods,” anyone? Concurrently published in Spanish as ¡Los zombis no comen verduras! SHOSHANA FLAX 

Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale
by Lynne Marie; illus. by David Rodriguez Lorenzo
Primary    Sterling    40 pp.
8/19    978-1-4549-3061-7    $16.95 

The three Scares (a Frankenstein’s monster–like Papa, a mummy Mama, and a vampiric-looking Baby) take their pet Plasma for a walk while their soup cools in its cauldrons. Zombie Moldilocks sleepwalks into their haunted house…where Papa’s stone slab is too hard, Mama’s sarcophagus is too tight, but Baby’s chair made of bones is just right. Goldilocks fans should enjoy the Halloween twists on a familiar tale, and the rich-hued mixed-media illustrations make it clear that none of this is meant to be too scary — in fact, Moldilocks ends up happier than her folktale counterpart. This wittily weird book is “JUST RIGHT” for readers with a sense of humor. SHOSHANA FLAX 

I Spy Spooky Night: A Book of Picture Riddles
by Jean Marzollo; photos by Walter Wick
Primary, Intermediate    Cartwheel/Scholastic    40 pp.   
7/19    978-1-338-35313-6    $14.99 

Twelve photographs of spooky scenes in and around a haunted house are paired with rhyming couplets that prompt readers to search for numerous objects hidden in the double-page spreads. Similar to the previous books in the I Spy series, this volume will hold appeal for picture puzzle fans. Originally published in 1996; now with new bonus challenges by Dan Marzollo and Dave Marzollo.  SHOSHANA FLAX

Give Me Back My Bones!
by Kim Norman; illus. by Bob Kolar
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
7/19    978-0-7636-8841-7    $16.99 

A pirate skeleton, upon finding its bones have been scattered in the sea, implores readers, in jaunty rhyme, to assist in putting itself back together: “Help me find my head bone, / my pillowed-on-the-bed bone, / the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone — / I’m scouting out my skull.” The text is both funny and informative regarding human anatomy — “Who can spot my shoulder blade… / Oh, scapula, come back!” — with clearly labeled diagrams at the beginning and end. It’s a little morbid, but Kolar’s digital undersea illustrations are friendly, cartoony, and understated, with humerus, er, humorous details (i.e., a squid making off with the pirate’s radius, ulna, and belt) that are all about silliness. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ 

The Great Pumpkin Contest
by Angie Rozelaar; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Tegen/HarperCollins    40 pp.
7/19    978-0-06-274137-0    $17.99 

Cats Mimi and Clara are at odds as they tend to their pumpkin patches in preparation for Cat County’s Great Pumpkin Contest. Mimi takes advice from books to produce one giant pumpkin, while Clara grows many beautiful little ones. Ultimately, this mellow autumn tale’s straightforward text conveys that kindness and teamwork yield the best fruit of all. Playful pastel-toned, mixed-media illustrations reward careful viewers with literary and feline references (“I Want My Cat Back”; “The Power of Meow”). A simple pumpkin life-cycle diagram is appended. KATIE SMITH

The Okay Witch
by Emma Steinkellner; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Aladdin/Simon    271 pp.
9/19    978-1-5344-3146-1    $20.99
Paper ed.  978-1-5344-3145-4    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-3147-8    $9.99 

After magically turning a bullying incident against its perpetrators, thirteen-year-old biracial girl Moth Hush learns about her true heritage as a witch. Her mother Calendula refuses to teach her anything about magic, so Moth “borrows” her mom’s diary and transports herself into young Calendula’s memories (shown in ghostly-looking panels), starting with her escape from persecution in colonial Massachusetts—all the while contending with school, friendship, and family drama. This endearingly illustrated and energetically paced graphic novel has an abundance of sweetness and warm humor (e.g., Moth is accompanied by funny Mr. Laszlo, the cat reincarnation of the gay, Jewish grandfather-figure who helped raise her) but also addresses serious topics of racism and misogyny. KATIE BIRCHER 

Pick a Pumpkin
by Patricia Toht; illus. by Jarvis
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
7/19    978-0-5362-0764-4    $16.99 

This upbeat picture book traces the process of turning pumpkins into Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. A serviceable rhyming text and soft, evocative mixed-media illustrations follow a (seemingly interracial) family as they bring home pumpkins from a farm, clean and prepare them, design and carve them (“invite around a friend or two — / form a PUMPKIN-CARVING CREW!”), and finally light the finished jack-o’-lanterns. The book has a pleasantly old-fashioned vibe (though with carefully incorporated modern-day safety precautions — adults cut the pumpkins’ tops off; kids use plastic saws). A dramatic penultimate double-page spread reveals a glowing, grinning jack-o’-lantern in all its glory; a final spread shows the kids dressed in their costumes, heading out into a festively decorated neighborhood for trick-or-treat. “Happy Halloween, everyone!” MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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