August 11, 2011


The 13 Nights of Halloween. By Guy Vasilovich. Harper. $16.99.

Pumpkin Trouble. By Jan Thomas. Harper. $9.99.

Pumpkin Cat. By Anne Mortimer. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $14.99.

Halloween Howlers: Frightfully Funny Knock-Knock Jokes. By Michael Teitelbaum. Pictures by Jannie Ho. HarperFestival. $6.99.

Never Kick a Ghost and Other Silly Chillers. By Judy Sierra. Pictures by Pascale Constantin. Harper. $3.99.

Pinkalicious: Pinkie Promise. By Victoria Kann. Harper. $3.99.

     It may seem a tad early in the year to be thinking about Halloween – all right, more than a tad – but quite a few Halloween-themed books have been appearing this summer, giving parents plenty of time to pick them up and have them on hand for a holiday that remains a favorite among American children. The 13 Nights of Halloween, for ages 4-8, is particularly clever, as Guy Vasilovich applies the well-known “12 days of Christmas” approach to a different holiday (somewhat along the lines of the 1993 Halloween-and-Christmas film A Nightmare Before Christmas). The adorable, huge-eyed little girl whose mummy (who really is a mummy) gives her 13 nights of gifts starts out by presenting the child with a skeleton key, then moves on to a two-headed snake, three baseball bats (flying mammals wearing baseball caps), four icky eyeballs, and so on. As in the Christmas rhyme, each new gift is followed by a repeat of the previous ones, which in Vasilovich’s illustrations leads to a series of parades, with the little girl proudly carrying the skeleton key at the front. The girl is so adorable and the gifts so ridiculous that there is nothing at all scary here – the child’s enjoyment of the singing skulls, corpses caroling, goblins gobbling, and so forth, is delightful to behold. And the final picture, in which all the creatures are crowded into a barn whose doors the delighted little girl has just opened, is a wonderfully silly climax.

     Pumpkin Trouble is wonderfully silly, too. Intended for ages 2-5, it is the simple story of Duck, who decides to make a jack-o’-lantern to show to his friends, Pig and Mouse…but runs into a little trouble when he falls into the hollowed-out pumpkin. As Duck stumbles around seeking help, Pig and Mouse see what they think is a pumpkin monster, and stuck-in-pumpkin Duck gets scared, too, since he thinks there must be a monster chasing everyone, and hilarity ensues – until Duck runs into the side of a barn and smashes the pumpkin, getting credit for fighting the monster and winning. So Duck decides to make a jack-‘o-lantern to celebrate, and…well, you can probably guess what happens next. Jan Thomas makes sure all the happenings are light and amusing from start to finish.

     Pumpkin Cat is also a short book, but it is a more serious one, showing how pumpkins grow by telling the story of friends Cat and Mouse, who work together in the garden watching seeds become plants that become flowers that become – eventually – pumpkins. Although the characters are anthropomorphic, Anne Mortimer draws them very realistically, and she also gives the feeling of reality to everything the friends do and everything they handle – watering can, flower pots, scarecrow and, eventually, a great big pumpkin. This is a simple and charming story for kids ages 4-7; there is nothing even slightly scary about its Halloween theme.

     There are, however, some mild frights in the (+++) Halloween Howlers, for ages 5-8. A book of knock-knock jokes that also includes some flaps to lift, it has a little bit of a story attached to the punch lines, beginning as kids shop for costumes and ending as they unload bags of candy and look forward to next year’s Halloween holiday. The jokes themselves are the main point here, though. “Knock, knock! Who’s there? Bury! Bury who? Bury scary, all these ghosts and monsters!” Or: “Bat! Bat who? Bat you can’t guess where we are going next!” And: “Disguise! Disguise who? Disguise giving me the creeps!” Also: “Water! Water who? Water you doing here?” And so it goes, from start to finish – a bit too much sameness, perhaps, but a nice helping of amusement from Michael Teitelbaum and some pleasant illustrations by Jannie Ho.

     Judy Sierra actually goes for a chill or two in the (+++) Never Kick a Ghost, a Level 2 book in the “I Can Read!” series. The title story features an unfortunate man who keeps kicking a ghost that keeps growing bigger until it nearly scares him to death. There is also a story of a pirate bride who gets accidentally locked in a treasure chest and emerges a century later as a skeleton. Neither tale is told super-chillingly, but they may be a bit frightening for at least some kids in the target age range of 4-8. There is lighter fare here as well, though, including silly epitaphs, a ghost-story parody about a big slobbery monster, and more. Pascale Constantin’s illustrations fit the stories well, although they do not really add much to them.

     And if young girls are tired by now of all the orange-colored, Halloween-themed books, they can always turn elsewhere in the “I Can Read!” series and find something pink: the Level 1 book, Pinkalicious: Pinkie Promise. Here, Victoria Kann’s pink and popular character uses up all the pink paint she borrows from her friend, Alison – and also all the red and white (which mix to make pink). But Pinkalicious has specifically promised not to use up all these colors, so Alison gets angry and the friends have a spat – but soon make up and make a “pinkie promise” to stay friends forever. The very simple (and very pink) story will suit Pinkalicious fans just fine, and serve as a reminder that there is still plenty of time before Halloween-mania overtakes everything.

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