Little Goblins Ten. By Pamela Jane. Illustrated by Jane Manning. Harper. $16.99.
Hampire! By Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Illustrated by Howard Fine. Harper. $16.99.
Pinkalicious and the Pink Pumpkin. By Victoria Kann. HarperFestival. $6.99.
Trick or Treat, Marley! By John Grogan. Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey. Harper. $17.99.
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless. By Allan Woodrow. Illustrations by Aaron Blecha. Harper. $5.99.
Scary but not too scary – that’s the watchword for Halloween-themed books for younger readers, and also for scary books that are not quite tied into Halloween but have some of the same elements as ones deliberately focused on the candy-coated holiday. Little Goblins Ten is a good example of a book that takes a nursery rhyme and “repurposes” it for Halloween. The rhyme here is “Over in the Meadow,” a pleasant counting rhyme about various animal families doing everyday things. Pamela Jane transforms it into not-very-scary silliness that is nicely complemented by Jane Manning’s amusing illustrations. For example: “Over in the forest/ Where the shadows come alive/ Lived an old mother mummy/ And her little mummies five./ ‘Moan!’ said the mother;/ ‘We moan,’ said the five./ So they moaned and they groaned/ Where the shadows come alive.” From number one (mommy monster) through number 10 (father goblin), all the odd-looking but smiling creatures do what comes (un)naturally, until everyone gets together for Halloween fun at the end. Seasonal amusements don’t come much better than this.
Hampire! is not exactly a Halloween book – there is no specific tie-in to the day – but it is certainly the sort of book that parents will enjoy reading with young children on or around Halloween. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen here offers a barnyard tale with what seems to be a creepy element: a Hampire with “red-stained fangs” who leaves red droplets on the grass after prowling the farm. The frightened animals are careful to stay home all night, every night, until the time that one restless duck decides he simply must have a midnight snack. He goes into the farmhouse, loads his plate with goodies, and walks out – quickly attracting the attention of the Hampire (a huge, cloak-wearing pig). The best of Howard Fine’s very good illustrations is the one showing the Hampire looming over the duck, who carries his laden plate of snacks in temporary blissful ignorance of what is behind him. An amusing chase that involves the duck, a chicken and a pony soon ensues, until eventually the Hampire bursts into the shed where the others are hiding – and, of course, turns out not to be fearsome after all (and the red drops turn out to be something other than blood). Funny and silly, this book – like Little Goblins Ten – gives parents of kids ages 3-8 a chance to provide some nonthreatening and very enjoyable Halloween fun.
Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious is in a Halloween mood, too, and fans of the pink-loving girl will have a great time with Pinkalicious and the Pink Pumpkin, a lift-the-flap book about Pinkalicious’ search for a pumpkin of her favorite color at a farm run by Mr. Pink. Of course, pumpkins are orange, and everywhere Pinkalicious looks, that is all she sees – but the plucky pink lover never gives up the search, even when her brother, Peter, teases her with a pink balloon, and her parents show her some pink flowers (which, however, are not pumpkins). Eventually, though, it turns out that there is a pink pumpkin, courtesy of Mr. Pink himself, and everyone is very happy to see it – Pinkalicious most of all. The flaps are fun, the simple story moves along nicely, and the character of Pinkalicious is as delightful as ever, whether she is chasing a pink piglet or watching an excited Peter falling harmlessly off hay bales.
Somewhat less enjoyable, no matter how hard it tries to be heartwarming, is the (+++) Trick or Treat, Marley! This is the latest John Grogan picture book based loosely on his adult bestseller, Marley & Me. Other children’s books by Grogan have shown Marley at Christmas, at school and interacting with kittens. Fans of the franchise will enjoy this one, too, but others will likely find it a little bit too sloppily sentimental. It simply tries too hard to be adorable. It is not just that Marley gets constantly into trouble – it is that everyone in the family enjoys all the messes he makes, no one blames him for anything, and all the illustrations by Richard Crowley show super-happy people and a super-happy dog, no matter what the narrative says is going on. So the kids, Cassie and Baby Louie, smile broadly while scooping out a pumpkin by hand, even though baby Louie is saying, “Yuck-yuck!” When Marley gets his head stuck in the pumpkin and smashes it (the pumpkin, not his head), Mommy watches with an expression of mild amusement and no apparent concern about cleaning up the huge mess. And so on. Even when Marley accidentally gets caught in a sheet and briefly frightens the kids, the picture Crowley shows is entirely intended to amuse. Marley himself is super-cuddly and super-cuddlable – so much so that even dyed-in-the-wool dog lovers may find the whole book a bit much.
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, the first book in a new series by Allan Woodrow, is a bit much, too, but middle-grade readers will find at least parts of it funny, thanks both to Woodrow’s writing and to Aaron Blecha’s illustrations. This is another book that is not specifically tied to Halloween but that fits the season well. Woodrow’s hero is a reluctant one – very reluctant. He wants to be a villain, not a hero at all (fans of the animated movie Despicable Me will quickly get an idea of how this goes). Zachary has a nemesis, goody-goody Amanda Goodbar, who has a way of getting in his way and therefore ends up getting blamed for doing evil things that Zachary really wants to get blamed for (or get credit for). Zachary also has a henchman, Newt, who isn’t very good at being evil but who does help Zachary carry things around and save the town from zombies and so on. Actually, Zachary wants to turn the town’s mayor into a zombie, but things backfire when it turns out that the mayor himself is thoroughly rotten, and so is the “lieutenant mayor.” The book becomes a battle of silly evilness (or evil silliness), complete with a jar of boll weevils, some zucchini-flavored gum, and multiple applications to a consortium of bad guys known as SOURBALLS (the Society of Utterly Rotten, Beastly, and Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels). There is also a fair amount here about mustard. This first Zachary Ruthless book is just odd enough, just peculiar enough, to attract young readers (likely boys rather than girls) who want something other than more-typical goody-goody books about really nice people (Zachary gets sick to his stomach when his super-sweet parents say they are going to send him to Good Samaritan School for the summer). The plot elements are fairly predictable, and it is obvious that Zachary is going to turn out to be better than he wants to be, so the book gets a (+++) rating for a high level of obviousness. But it’s certainly worth a look, especially at or near Halloween.