Horn BOO! 2020

Are you going on a (virtual) book hunt this Halloween? Our annual roundup has you covered, whether your treat of choice is spooky squids, not-so-spooky spiders, or anything in between.

The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo!
by Elaine Bickell; illus. by Raymond McGrath
Preschool    Philomel    32 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-59320-215-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-59320-217-3    $10.99

Little Ghost is all ready for another night providing frights in the woods, but when she opens her mouth to shout, she’s distraught to learn that she’s lost her “BOO!” In search of it, she follows the sounds of her friends Owl, Pigeon, Rooster, and Cow, none of whom, sadly, can help her. Finally, a dejected Little Ghost turns to the reader for assistance: “Come on now, it’s up to you. / Let me hear you shout out, ‘BOO!’” This interactive feature is sure to be a crowd pleaser, as will the text’s playful rhymes, repetition, and animal sounds. McGrath’s handsome, folk-art-style illustrations employ a cool-colored palette that grows progressively brighter to complement the narrative action and reassure its preschool audience. ­CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Scaredy Snacks!
by Terry Border; photos by the author
Primary    Philomel    32 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-5247-4016-0    $17.99

A comical picture book about — and starring — real-life snack food, with a macabre twist (à la Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, rev. 11/11). Three friends — a sprinkle-covered cookie, a cheese curl, and a pretzel stick, all pictured in Border’s art “done by manipulating and photographing three-dimensional objects” — nervously approach the home of their neighbor, “Dr. ­Nuttenstein, Mad Scientist.” Once inside, they witness the Dr. Frankenstein-ish doctor — a peanut with glasses, twisted-wire appendages, and a head of white hair—trying to shock life into a Nutterbutter. They get caught; they get punished; they learn a lesson; all is well…until the final page-turn reveals the doomed sprinkle cookie’s fate. Jokes, puns, and sweet-and-salty characters make this a Halloween treat. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

Witchy Things
by Mariasole Brusa; illus. by Marta Sevilla; trans. from Spanish by Cecilia Ross
Primary    NubeOcho    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-8-41767-360-4    $16.95

The copyright page says this story was the winner of a contest that “aims to spread equality in literature that promotes respect for identity and battles against stereotypes.” Though its mission is clear, this isn’t a didactic tract; our introduction to the grouchy blue-haired witch protagonist is: “Oh, for the love of STINKING SKUNK FARTS!” She didn’t mean to turn her hair blue — though in Sevilla’s illustrations, it’s a beautiful balayage — and she decides to bolster her self-esteem by snatching a child. As it turns out, the boy is an amateur beautician, and his hair artistry turns the witch’s frown upside-down. Bold-hued illustrations with eye-catching patterns and details enhance the enchanting tale, whose message is worn with style. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

Happy Halloween from the Very Busy Spider: A Lift-the-Flap Book
by Eric Carle; illus. by the author
Preschool    World of Eric Carle/Penguin    10 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-59309-710-6    $12.99

It’s Halloween, and the Very Busy Spider is looking for her friends, and, one by one, from beneath flaps, they each appear. The sky changes from blue to purple to a warm black as the friends are located, and the only actual holiday motif to be found is a carved pumpkin being nibbled upon by, natch, the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Reviewing a foldout board book from a PDF requires a leap of faith, but this one looks like simple, un-scary fun for the youngest Halloweeners. ROGER SUTTON

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost
by Flavia Z. Drago; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
7/20    978-1-5362-1114-6    $16.99
Spanish ed.  978-1-5362-1414-7    $16.99

Ghost Gustavo is terribly shy, a problem compounded by the fact that the other monster kids can’t see him. His attempts to appear/appeal to the others — disguising himself as a lampshade, a surfboard, a sheet — are funny but hopeless; it’s only when he throws a Day of the Dead party at the cemetery and reveals his passion for the violin that the other monsters come to see him as he really is. While the logic of the story won’t stand up to much scrutiny, Gustavo is a sympathetic protagonist, and the illustrations are filled with appealing monsters and witty details. ROGER SUTTON

After Squidnight
by Jonathan Fenske; illus. by the author
Primary    Penguin Workshop/Penguin    32 pp.    g
7/20    978-1-5247-9308-1    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-9309-8    $7.99

There’s nary a ghost or goblin here — but there might as well be. Squids, as the creepily clever rhyming text claims, emerge from the ocean under cover of dark, “and while you snore / the squids squeeze / underneath your door” and draw on walls, dolls, and you — and that, as you’ll tell your parents, is how all this ink got everywhere. Shadowy art in black, white, and inky blue enhances the eerie atmosphere. Once After Squidnight gets its tentacles into you, you’ll never think of squids the same way again. SHOSHANA FLAX

Emergency Monster Squad
by Dave Horowitz; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-399-54850-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-54851-2    $10.99

This lively picture book in rhyming verse follows paramedic Sally (a pale human) and EMT Gus (a blue three-eyed monster) as they answer calls in their “amboolance.” They pick up a sick zombie, an injured skeleton, and a kraken whose eggs are hatching prematurely, and transport them to the hospital. Mixed-media illustrations in bold colors combine humor and information to excellent effect; there are labels for technical things like medical equipment as well as ordinary things like hats. Despite the book’s population of monsters (vampires and a mummy appear as well), the text provides solid information about the work of EMTs (including an appended glossary), making this a good choice for reading all year round. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

Rise of ZomBert
by Kara LaReau; illus. by Ryan Andrews
Intermediate    Candlewick    137 pp.    g
7/20    978-1-5362-0106-2    $15.99

Nine-year-old friends Mellie and Danny rescue a bedraggled cat they find hiding in a trash barrel. They don’t realize that he has just made his escape from a nefarious animal-testing laboratory run by the Trump-like CEO of YummCo., the largest employer in town. Mellie names the cat Bert, but Danny calls him ZomBert because of his habit of eating only the heads of his prey. Meanwhile, the lab is pulling out all the stops to find the missing cat. Why is he so important? Is Bert really a zombie? Can Mellie and Danny protect him? Readers will have to wait for the next series entry to find out; this one ends in a cliffhanger. Frequent digital sketches add suspense to a story with dead-on appeal for Halloween reading. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

When Pumpkins Fly
by Margaret Lawrence; illus. by Amanda Sandland and Margaret Lawrence
Primary    Inhabit Media    32 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-77227-249-9    $16.95

In the narrator’s remote Arctic Inuit community, provisions are flown in via cargo plane; and one October, that cargo includes pumpkins. The child tells of their flight (these “passengers” don’t need seatbelts) and delivery to the school, where each class gets one to carve. Specific Halloween-tradition details follow: Elders trick-or-treat along with kids; afterward, there’s a dance and costume parade. The book ends with the narrator tucked up in bed, thinking about the tunnaat (“ancient and wise beings”) and what use they might have for pumpkins. Brightly colored cartoony illustrations capture a snow-covered setting and close-knit community. Back matter provides notes on Inuktitut pronunciations. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

Beetle & the Hollowbones
by Aliza Layne; illus. by the author; color by Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    256 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-5344-4153-8    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-1-5344-4154-5    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-4155-2    $9.99

Twelve-year-old goblin Beetle’s old friend Kat Hollowbone is back in town. After a rough reconciliation with the sophisticated skeleton, Beetle comes to realize that Kat’s aunt is the real enemy: she wants to tear down the mall, which is the haunting ground of Beetle’s (nonbinary) spirit friend Blob Ghost. Beetle herself, in fact, might just be destined for a new type of relationship with Kat. Luminous art and creative panel placement make for a zippy read in this graphic novel, whose LGBTQIA+ ­representation is treated as matter-of-factly as its fantasy elements. SHOSHANA FLAX

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
edited by Jonathan Maberry
Intermediate, Middle School    Harper/HarperCollins    416 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-06-287767-3    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-287769-7    $9.99

“This book is dedicated to Alvin Schwartz, for scaring the snot out of generations of young readers. And for making being scared a whole bunch of fun!” Maberry has compiled thirty-five short stories by contributors — Schwartz fans all, per the foreword — including R. L. Stine, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Auxier, and Tananarive Due. Each tale is creepy, eerie, or just plain weird. Terrifying toys, freaky felines, evil electronics. “The Weeping Woman,” “The Knock-Knock Man” “The Green Grabber,” “The Neighbor.” All the entries are pithy and punchy…perfect to “tell in the dark.” Brief contributor bios are appended. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

No Place for Monsters
by Kory Merritt; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Houghton    354 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-358-12853-3    $14.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-37929-4    $9.99

Children are disappearing at night from the suburban town of Cowslip Grove — and no one remembers that they ever existed. No one, that is, except new kid Levi, who teams up with classmate Kat to find his little sister after she goes missing, too. They soon realize it’s up to them to save their neighborhood from monsters living underneath the local ice-cream factory. Merritt’s black-and-white line drawings of legendary creatures — which are truly the spooky stuff of nightmares — and the interspersed shaky hand-lettered text add extra creepiness. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Ghost Squad
by Claribel A. Ortega
Intermediate    Scholastic    265 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-338-28012-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-28014-2    $10.99

Twelve-year-old Lucely Luna has big problems: her father’s St. Augustine, Florida, ghost-tour business is struggling; the bank is threatening to foreclose on their mortgage; and a sinister supernatural force is coming to take its revenge on the good ghosts in town — many of whom are Lucely’s beloved relatives. Fortunately, Lucely also has a devoted best friend, and together she and Syd set out to vanquish the invaders before Halloween night, when an “army of evil spirits” plans to wreak destruction on the city. The action is nonstop, the demons are truly creepy, and Lucely is a sympathetic and brave heroine. Dominican American Lucely’s conversations with her ghost relatives incorporate Spanish naturally and seamlessly. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

We’re Going on a Goon Hunt: A Petrifying Parody
by Michael Rex; illus. by the author
Primary    Putnam    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-9848-1362-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1363-3    $9.99

“We’re going on a goon hunt. / We’re gonna catch a green one. / What a spooky night! / We’re not scared.” You know the going-on-a-bear-hunt structure (and if you don’t, see also We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt, reviewed below). Here, the target is a grinning green monster, and the mixed-media illustrations show the costumed speakers traversing a cemetery and a haunted house and meeting other Halloween-appropriate creatures, as they grow “just a little scared,” then more scared, and ultimately race back home. Well-suited for storytimes, this companion to Goodnight Goon and The Runaway Mummy lets readers look the season in its green or translucent face and laugh. SHOSHANA FLAX

Trick-or-Treat with Tow Truck Joe
by June Sobel; illus. by Patrick Corrigan
Preschool    Houghton    24 pp.    g
7/20    978-0-358-06367-4    $8.99

In this vehicle-centric lift-the-flap title from the team behind the picture book Tow Truck Joe, a friendly red tow truck dons a pirate costume and heads out to meets its friends on Halloween night. A tow truck’s work is never done, though, and along the way, Joe stops to help various vehicles in distress (a monster truck, dressed as ­Frankenstein’s monster, with a flat tire, for example). The rhyming text bounces along, and the cheery illustrations feature such endearing details as a yellow cab dressed as a bee; a compact car with cat ears and whiskers; and a van wrapped up, hood to trunk, like a mummy. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt
by Mary Hogan Wilcox; illus. by Lynn Munsinger
Preschool    Charlesbridge    32 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-62354-118-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-888-3    $9.99

“We’re going on a pumpkin hunt / Going to find a big one…I’m not scared. / Are you? / Not me.” A group of farm animals in Halloween costumes sets off in search of a pumpkin. The pastel-toned palette of the ink-and-watercolor illustrations indicates that this “shiver-in-your-socks night” isn’t meant to be too scary; even the night sky is just a deep lavender — and the grinning pumpkin the animals ultimately find is the height of the thrills and chills. A preschool-friendly intro to Halloween, with plenty of opportunities for sound effects. (For a slightly spookier take on the bear-hunt rhyme, see We’re Going on a Goon Hunt, reviewed above.) SHOSHANA FLAX

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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