July 06, 2017


Sheep Trick or Treat. By Nancy Shaw. Illustrated by Margot Apple. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

     Books that work well in their original form for kids can work equally well when republished as board books – if their stories are simple enough to fit the board-book format and their illustrations are involving enough to look good in board-book size, which is usually much smaller than that of the original book. Sheep Trick or Treat is a case in point. It is 20 years old, an age that may surprise parents who recall it from their own earlier years. The original 1997 version offered plenty of sheeplike Halloween fun, and the new edition presents the same in board-book format. Many Halloween-themed books for kids can be enjoyed all year, but this one is particularly closely tied to trick-or-treat time and therefore will be most fun in the fall – after which it can be put away until next year. The funniest part of Nancy Shaw’s story and Margot Apple’s illustrations is the beginning of the tale, as the sheep look for ways to create Halloween costumes for themselves. They sew “a costume for a giant ape” into which two of them will fit, and they shape their own wool “in pointy clumps/ to make a dinosaur with bumps,” and one becomes a mummy and another a caped and fanged vampire. The procession of the sheep toward “the Dell,” a nearby farm, is delightfully daffy, but trouble looms in the form of a wolf awakened by the noise of the sheep passing along the path. The sheep get suitable trick-or-treat snacks from the farm animals, such as apples, oats and sugar lumps from the horses, but turn down the spiders’ offer of a dried fly. Then the sheep head home – but they are not the only disguised animals out and about this night: there are wolves out there in (what else?) sheeps’ clothing. No worries, though – the sheep hide, then reveal their “scary lit-up faces,” and the wolves scatter, or rather “skedaddle,” as Shaw puts it, so the sheep return safely to home with their Halloween haul. Sheep Trick or Treat has an easy-to-follow story and pictures as enjoyable as those in all the Shaw/Apple sheep books, making it a fine seasonal board-book entry.

     Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee are a reliable team as well, and the board book from them this autumn – originally published in 2005 – is also suitably seasonal: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! Colandro’s poetry does not scan as well as Shaw’s, and Lee’s illustrations rate high for silliness but do not match Apple’s for warmth and charm. Still, kids who enjoy the antics of the swallow-anything old lady will have fun with this entry in the series, which starts with her swallowing a scared-looking bat, continues with a wide-eyed owl swallowed from back to front, and then a cat and even a ghost – which looks more alarmed than one might expect a ghost to be (that old lady is really something). The reasons for the sequence do not flow particularly well here – for example, the ghost is supposed to chase the cat and the owl is supposed to shush the bat – but the point, if there is one here, is not logic but sheer ridiculousness. The old lady manages to choke down a goblin, some bones, and finally a wizard, after which she yells a super-loud “TRICK OR TREAT!” and everything, inevitably, comes flying out of her mouth and scatters. That leaves the old lady, her hair very mussed indeed, with only a small, ladylike “Burp!” at the book’s end. None of this makes even a lick of sense, but it is not supposed to: the complete nonsense of the story and bounciness of the illustrations will be plenty to engage kids of board-book age. And unlike Halloween candy, the book has no calories – not that kids should be encouraged to emulate the old lady by swallowing it!

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