This year there were so many fun new Halloween and Halloween season books to choose from, especially for the littlest trick-or-treaters, that we decided to share one more roundup to cover them all. If your new faves weren’t included, please let us know in the comments what other books you’d recommend.
This die-cut novelty book is so cute! Shaped like a black cat (it even stands up!), you undo a notch at the collar to reach the rhyming story within. “Black Cat sets out on Halloween / in the dark, without being seen.” Robie Rogge’s 12-page board book, One Black Cat, follows a kitty and trick-or-treaters as they enjoy Halloween. The adorable illustrations by August Ro are in fall-toned colors. I especially like the way Black Cat’s friend (at the end) is drawn.
In a Spooky Haunted House by Joel Stern is a beautifully made 14-page pop-up board book. We’re welcomed in for a funny tour through the rooms. “Now here’s a hallway where young witches learn to fly a broom. / This one’s flown right through a hole and found a secret tomb.” Just about every kind of (not-very-spooky) ghoul is depicted. My favorite scene reveals ghosts making pancakes; detail shows the other items in the kitchen, including a silly vampire bat. The well-constructed rhymes and fun art by Christopher Lee make this book a winning Halloween adventure.
Unicorns Are the Worst!by Alex Willan is the Halloween book for kids who aren’t that into Halloween. This funny story features a goblin who, of course, thinks unicorns are the worst—a clever twist on the ever-popular unicorn tales. Willan’s art contrasts the goblin’s world with that of the unicorns, building the pace. The variety in the illustrations really works. For example, a sepia-toned scene spotlights super-secret goblin magic, and panels throughout give sections of the book a graphic feel. There are also LOL images, such as where the goblin’s trying to wash that all that annoying unicorn glitter out of his smock.
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This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.
A brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year isHello School!(Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.
Sometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long(Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.
Finally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mackwith two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cakeand Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.
Reviewed by Jessica Palacios
You can click on the coloredlinks for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
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
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!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, 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.
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.
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 Storytugs 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Rooftoppers, (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12) by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan, is reviewed today both conventionally and unconventionally by Hilary Taber.
How to Live Just Below the Sky:
Sophie is a young girl with quite a past. Imagine if your life story began like this, “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.” Yet, that is precisely where, after a terrible shipwreck, Sophie found herself. Luckily enough, Charles Maxim found Sophie and became her guardian. Charles, a scholar, was on board the ship the night it sank. Since neither Sophie’s mother or father were thought to survive the wreck, Charles took her home. Charles takes care of Sophie very well in many ways, yet a few social workers feel that a young lady like Sophie should be receiving a more proper education than she is getting from a mere bachelor.
A vital clue to Sophie’s parentage comes to the surface right when Charles is almost certain that he will loose Sophie to the buttoned-up views of Miss Eliot, the a social worker assigned to Sophie’s case. Miss Eliot is determined to see that Sophie is put in an orphanage. Charles and Sophie decide to pursue the clue they find and that leads them to Paris! Only in Paris will they will find aid in their search from a very mysterious group of children. These children would have most certainly gone to orphanages if they had not chosen a life lived almost solely on the rooftops of Paris to escape the notice of interfering adults like Miss Eliot. Rooftopperswon starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly. This is simply a book that is not to be missed!
Now, let me mention here that I watched a video of the author addressing a young audience about reviewing her book for The Guardian in order to enter their young critics competition. In this YouTube video, Ms. Rundell asks that the review might be a little different, because the characters in this book, as the author says, “…do life slightly differently.”
How cool is it that she’s up on a roof?! Very cool!
So, even though this message was for a much younger reviewer than I currently am, I feel up to that challenge! Let the untraditional part of the review begin below!
If this book tasted like anything it would taste like dark chocolate. This book can’t be gulped down precisely because of all the lovely writing, even though you want to because of all the adventure. The wonderful, velvet-as-the-night-sky writing makes it less like candy you gobble down, and more like dark chocolate that you savor one piece at a time.
If this book/plot could smell like anything it would smell deep like chocolate and fresh like mint. However, it would have a tinge of smoke as well.
If this book could look like anything it would look just exactly like the cover art, which is a wonderful thing to know if you are at all drawn to the book by the cover. Also it might look like this:
Who I liked best and why:
I believe that Charles is one of my favorite bachelors in all of children’s literature. Children’s literature is so full of wonderful adult characters, but Charles pulls at my heartstrings because he has a true gift of making sure that Sophie has her eye on the important things in life. Charles, the author writes, “…had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.” Charles is wonderfully caring about all the important things, while being at the same time so wonderfully uncaring about the things children usually get scolded about that are so unimportant. Sophie climbs trees, learns the capitals of every country in the world, and is taught important things by Charles such as, “It’s the things you read at the age you are now that stick. Books crowbar the world open for you.” He never wastes breath on things like, for example, the jam that is spilt down Sophie’s shirt when they are on their way to a concert for her birthday. You have to love a character like that.
What I liked best and why:
1) The Concept of the Rooftoppers
Sophie and Charles make an odd pair of runaways as they flee London to Paris, but compared to the tribe of rooftoppers they meet they are practically normal. These rooftop-dwelling children are wonderfully drawn characters. I’m reminded of Peter Pan when I read about them, but these children seem more real than Peter Pan ever did. They really do live on window ledges, drainpipes, rooftops, and just below the sky. Not having the ability to fly, but equally as homeless as Peter Pan ever was in this world, they have made a gritty Neverland of their own. The more I read this book the more I believed that it could be possible to evade most of the world by living on roofs, and certainly these children are trying to do just that. They are trying to avoid the social workers, and to live free from orphanages just like Sophie. The more I read about how hard, but wondrous it could be, the more I understood why Sophie could be drawn to knowing more about such a life.
2) Dizzy spells while reading a book? Cool!
I admit that my hands became a little shaky sometimes while holding the book every time someone jumped from one roof to another or even when that option was up for discussion between the characters, but it only added a sense of adventure to the whole scene. Adventure should leave you feeling a little dizzy and/or shaky, so I’m okay with that.
3) Matters of Importance
All in all, it was a book that spoke to my heart about all the things I always had sensed were the most important, and it did that poetically. Love, trust, music, mothers, and books are some of the most important things in life. I had always believed that this must be true, and it is nice to be reminded of that in passages like this one, “Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath.”
How was that, Ms. Rundell? I have to admit that this type of reviewing took more time, but I think it was worth it. Rooftoppers is a wonderful book that you simply must read right away!
Parents often despair to me that their teens only read romance or trashy novels once school is out. I like to remind them that when they themselves are lying by the pool, they probably aren’t reading Tolstoy, and that their kids read plenty of examples of great literature during the school year. Our goal is to get them to read during the summer instead of spending hours on Facebook or YouTube.
Keeping that in mind, I suggest books that are romantic, but that offer more insight into the human heart and soul. My top romantic picks are below:
ROMANCE FOR TEENS WITHOUT VAMPIRES OR WEREWOLVES
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS ($17.99, Penguin Teen) by John Green
Literary rockstar John Green writes intelligent stories with interesting, offbeat characters. Hazel meets Augustus at the Cancer Kids Support Group, and they seize the day. For the girl who’s not interested in Bella and Edward. 12+
Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket, writes the story of a girl who writes the story of her failed romance as she returns all the souvenirs of their time together. Intelligent, interesting characters, great dialogue. 12+
THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY($17.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) by Jenny Han
Wildly popular series of three books. Summer romance for Sarah Dessen fans. 12+
Also for Sarah Dessen fans. For years Samantha Reed watches the Garrett family next door who her politician mother loathes. Then one summer Samantha falls in love with Jase Garrett which means first she has to lie to her mom, and then lie to him. 13+
THE CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF YOU AND ME ($17.99, Dial/Penguin) by Jess Rothenberg
Adorable romantic fantasy about a 15 year old girl, Brie whose heart literally breaks when Jacob her boyfriend calls it quits. She plots her revenge from heaven. 12+
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times author events and other exciting special events.