THE BEST HALLOWEEN PICTURE BOOKS OF 2017
by Christine Van Zandt
Creepy Pair of Underwear!
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Two things are clear from the start of this book: Jasper needs some underwear and, he’s not a little bunny anymore. He persuades his mother to buy a pair of underwear advertised as, “So creepy! So comfy!” That night, Jasper wears them to bed and the trouble begins.
In Aaron Reynolds’s 48-page picture book, Jasper soon decides that, even though he’s a big rabbit, the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish glow” and magical powers are a bit much. Instead of bothering his parents or confessing why he’s jumpy, he finds ways to rid himself of the dreaded underwear. When they keep coming back, Jasper self-reliant attitude conflicts with his fears
Interior spread from Creepy Pair of Underwear! written by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Peter Brown, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2017.
Peter Brown brilliantly conveys the somber mood in black and white images, offsetting the unusual underwear in neon green. When Jasper finally entombs his problem, Brown rewards the reader with a two-page wordless spread of darkness followed by Jasper’s eyes, surprised and oversized at the absolute blackness he has achieved.
The text’s refrain cleverly changes along with Jasper’s perspective. Acting like the big rabbit he professes to be, Jasper solves his own dilemma. Reader and rabbit receive an illuminating conclusion.
The team of Reynolds and Brown scored Caldecott honors with their previous book, Creepy Carrots! Featuring the same rabbit and a humorous plot, Creepy Pair of Underwear! will haunt you to read it again.
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
(Random House Children’s, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! brings us a Halloween adventure with this pair of favorite feathered friends Duck and Goose. This 40-page picture book will engage young children who, during this time of year, are eager to ask, What are you going to be for Halloween?
Goose, unclear on the concept states he’s going to be himself, of course, because “it’s important to always be yourself.” And, rightly so. But, fun soon follows when their friend, Thistle, appears and boldly states that she’s not telling them about her costume. It’s a secret. Then she cautions them to beware of the swamp monster tomorrow when they go trick-or-treating.
Of course, the mention of that ghoul haunts Goose that night and the next when he sets out, ready to collect candy. All seems okay until he’s told the swamp monster is looking for them!
In this book, Tad Hills continues the beloved series wherein emotions are explored in a gentle manner. Throughout, his illustrations, are expressive, capturing Goose’s trepidation. Particularly well depicted is the forest trick-or-treating scene—such fun to see how animals celebrate.
Children can relate to the slight apprehension surrounding Halloween that is paired with the excitement of get dressed up and, in the end, sorting their bounty.
Halloween Good Night
Written by Rebecca Grabill
Illustrated by Ella Okstad
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Halloween Good Night, a rhyming 32-page picture book, counts from one to ten using charmingly ghoulish families. Rebecca Grabill employs some standard spooky Halloween creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Refreshing additions include wood imps, globsters, and boggarts. “Lurking in the swampland, lanterns glowing like the sun, sits a massive mama globster and her bitty globby one.”
The captivating cadence of the lines is spiked with clues enticing the reader to question where everyone is going. Soon, we find ghosts “sail through your door” and boggies wait in your closest for “your bedtime once again.” This removal of the so-called fourth wall makes the audience part the story.
A not-at-all-spooky conclusion is followed by a quick countdown from ten to one. Because the number sequences are handled with interest even older kids will engage with this “counting book”—there is much more to the story.
Ella Okstad delightfully illustrates the funny scenes (such as seven goblins dumpster diving with Granddaddy Goblin). Colorful images infuse the shadowy darkness with mischief and humor.
Halloween Good Night shows us that monsters can be playthings like dolls or stuffed animals. Instead of fright, they bring delight.
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
The Christmas Show written and illustrated by Rebecca Patterson
(Simon & Schuster, 2014; $14.99, Ages 4-8)
The students are getting ready to perform their school’s nativity play. Their teacher, Miss Bright, has been working hard to prepare them. They have learned their lines and songs. They have their costumes and instruments. One little student, however, hasn’t been paying attention. He “wasn’t listening when Miss Bright gave out the parts,” so he doesn’t know his character. He does know “I’m meant to sing a little, but when did we all learn THIS song?” Oh, dear. How will he get through the performance?
The big day arrives and the show begins! It’s going well until little student makes some mistakes. His words aren’t timed quite right nor are his dance moves. The Important Angel is not happy and says that “SOME people should NOT be in shows AT ALL.” Well, that’s not very Christmas-y, is it? Luckily, little student has Granny who supports him.
I spent my childhood in London and The Christmas Show transported me back there. Illustrations of the students dressed in their red and gray uniforms and the Christmas pudding decorations and paper chains hung around the classroom remind me of my school days. The attention to details such as these and the children’s expressions enhance the book’s sweetness factor. A behind-the-scenes look at a school play, the story includes what goes wrong; after all, not all children are born performers. However, all children can be entertaining in their own way, and this book shows the positives of a performance that isn’t as polished as it could be.
Star Bright: A Christmas Story written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Simon & Schuster, 2014; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
The trumpets blare: good news! A very special baby is to be born, and the angels in heaven are getting ready, as are the Magi down on earth. But, the newest angel isn’t sure what present she can give for this wondrous occasion. How about music? Music to make the baby laugh. Music to sing the baby to sleep. But music was the gift of the songbirds. Other gift ideas don’t seem quite right and the newest angel is stuck. The universe felt so big. And she felt so small…Babies were so small. Would the baby feel lonely too? Then she notices that the Magi are lost, and inspiration strikes! She knows exactly the right gift, and a dark sky [is] made lovely with light.
The best-selling duo Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds bring their special touch to Christmas. A charming story set to pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations, Star Bright: A Christmas Story tugs at your heartstrings. It’s a lovely, simple story about searching your heart for a gift that will bring joy, and in being so, it is a wonderful gift in and of itself.
Both books were reviewed by Rita Zobayan
Today’s Flashback Friday – Father’s Day Favorites from Rita Zobayan.
Daddy Hugs 1*2*3
Written and illustrated by Karen Katz
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2005,
Prices vary per format
The Very Best Daddy of All
Written by Marion Dane Bauer
and illustrated by Leslie Wu
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004,
Prices vary per format
Father’s Day is just around the corner and to honor the occasion, I’m reviewing two picture books that have been daddy favorites in our household for years.
The first is Daddy Hugs 1*2*3 by perennial kidlit favorite, Karen Katz. This counting book is perfect for the younger crowd (ages 1-3). Its bright and action-packed illustrations feature Daddy playing with Baby with hugs at every number.
“Here I come! It’s Daddy!”
Four “Yay, you did it!” first-step hugs
Six “I gotcha now!” hide-and-seek hugs
Eight dancing on Daddy’s feet cha-cha hugs
Kitty is along for the fun and can be spotted on many of the pages. Numbers accompany the words, so the young readers can identify numerals. This is a sweet book that highlights the milestones in infant/toddler life. The story ends with good night kisses and is perfect as a bedtime book, as well.
The Very Best Daddy of All written by Marion Dane Bauer is a quiet book that presents the many ways through which fathers express and demonstrate love for their children.
Some daddies sing you awake.
Some hold you snug and tight.
Some take care of your mama, so she can take care of you.
Each page cleverly presents animal fathers. For example, Some tuck you in, safe and warm, when the sun’s about to go features a duckling cozying up in its father’s wing. Some daddies comb your hair, gently, gently, so you’ll be fresh and neat is paired with a gorilla combing his fingers through his child’s fur.
Leslie Wu’s pastel illustrations capture the warmth and strength of the animals in their landscapes. See the zebras on the savanna as the sun sets and the songbird feeding its baby in their nest.
The title suggests there is a very best daddy of all. Who is it? Your child will enjoy reading the book to find out.
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
– ⭐︎ Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014.
I had the privlidge of hearing Tim Federle speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a little over a year ago. Taken by his personal story as well as his charm and sense of humor, I bought his then newly released debut novel, Better Nate Than Ever, and, of course, had him sign it. Little did I know that his book would become one of my favorite middle grade novels in addition to being the most talked about middle grade book of 2013!
Fast forward a year plus later. I’ve now been given the opportunity to review Federle’s fabulous follow-up called Five, Six, Seven, Nate! (Simon & Schuster 2014; $16.99, Ages 10-14).
Nate Foster is your not-so-average kid from Jankburg, Pennsylvania. He’s never really fit in with the other boys. He prefers practicing his singing and acting with his best friend and self-appointed acting coach, Libby. Much to his family’s chagrin, Nate’s landed the role of second understudy for E.T. in E.T.: The Broadway Musical. The only reasons his parents let him chase his dream of becoming an actor are his Aunt Heidi, an aspiring actor herself who lives in New York City, and because Nate is drawing an income from the production.
Nate finds out that Broadway is not all glitz and glamour, people and situations are not always as they first appear to be, and hard work sometimes pays off, despite a lack of formal training. Federle addresses difficult topics and feelings encountered by this late tween/early teen age group with both honesty and sensitivity. This heartfelt coming of age book with its diverse cast of characters is truly inspiring and takes the reader through a gamut of emotions. Bravo! I look forward to future Federle performances.
See Tim Federle discuss writing for kids in this New York Times video.
Mama Built a Little Nest, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, $17.99, Ages 4-8), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Big, beautiful collage illustrations and a sweet rhyming text make MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST the perfect choice for young nature lovers and bedtime snugglers. Ward’s bouncy, playful sing-song text borrows from the familiar “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to introduce fourteen bird species that build an amazing variety of safe, cozy nests.
Each page zooms in close to a nest to reveal its special details. The cover features a weaverbird pulling layers of grass over, under, around and through its pear-shaped nest, hanging delicately from a thorny branch. Ward writes: Mama built a little nest/ She used her beak to sew/ a woven nest of silky grass/ the perfect place to grow. Those who want to know more will delight in the additional paragraph providing information about each species.
Jenkins, a Caldecott-honoree, brings his signature cut paper collage style in a manner that showcases Ward’s text without overwhelming it. His careful pairing of textures and color accents are bold but simple, depicting the birds and their habitats in realistic fashion. Jenkins makes the familiar birds like eagles, penguins and robins look as beautiful as the more exotic species like hornbills and swiftlets. Their nests are equally detailed and impressive.
Interior spread from Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, ©2014.
This book is a terrific introduction to nonfiction for little ones, and is also a welcome addition to classrooms and libraries. An author’s note shares the story that inspired the book, and offers online resources for more information.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I borrowed a copy from my public library. The opinions expressed here are my own.