It’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse! By Laura Numeroff. Illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $6.99.
Mia: Time to Trick or Treat! By Robin Farley. Pictures by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov. HarperFestival. $4.99.
Just Say Boo! By Susan Hood. Illustrated by Jed Henry. Harper. $12.99.
Bedtime for Boo. By Mickie Matheis. Illustrated by Bonnie Leick. Golden Books. $10.99.
I Like Old Clothes. By Mary Ann Hoberman. Illustrations by Patrice Barton. Knopf. $16.99.
The Wednesdays. By Julie Bourbeau. Illustrated by Jason Beene. Knopf. $16.99.
Autumn means pumpkins, and Halloween, and lots of books about pumpkins and Halloween, and lots of fun for kids of all ages (and grown-ups like to play dress-up, too!). The youngest children, ages 1-4, have a treat in store in a new board book from the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie team of Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond: It’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse! Using new text by Numeroff and illustrations by Bond that are a mixture of the new and the old (some date back as far as 1985), the book simply and delightfully shows Mouse happily decorating seven pumpkins…or six, actually, since Dog takes one and does some decorating of his own. There is no age-inappropriate carving here – the decorations are made with paint, and things get only a little bit messy (luckily, the two friends are working outdoors and on newspaper – and when the paper doesn’t catch all the splatter, the grass does). The different pumpkins, from silly to friendly to very slightly scary, are adorable, as are Mouse and Dog themselves, and the book is just plain fun.
There is fun as well in Mia: Time to Trick or Treat! This (+++) book is for slightly older children, ages 3-5, and aimed mostly at girls with its story of three ballerina friends (kitten, hippo, giraffe) who want to wear matching Halloween ballet costumes but cannot agree on what color to make them. Of course, they compromise, tie-dyeing the leotards and tutus so all the colors they like are included. And then they do bits of ballet for the people who open their doors to them during trick-or-treat. The book includes a page of stickers so Mia’s fans can dress her and her ballerina friends up and decorate the book with appropriately Halloween-focused pumpkins, smiling bats and the like. The story is a little thin, but will be fun for girls who enjoy ballet and already know Mia and like her.
Just Say Boo! and Bedtime for Boo are both about sounds and how to handle them, and although only Just Say Boo! is tied directly to Halloween, both of these (++++) books fit the season quite well. Just Say Boo! offers a series of questions to which the book’s title provides the answer: “If a yip and a yowl/ make you shiver and scowl,/ what do you say?” And: “If the wind whirls and whines/ as it whips through the pines,/ what dooooo yooooou saaaaaay?” As the spellings make clear, Susan Hood plays some games with expectations here, and in fact “boo” becomes “Eww!” at one point and “Trick or Treat” and “Thank you” elsewhere. Jed Henry’s pleasant, autumn-toned illustrations of a happy night out in costumes help the story move along smartly, and also help Hood throw in a lesson or two: let a scary spider go instead of harming it, and reassure a toddler who gets frightened by all the noise. There is plenty of warmth here for a chilly Halloween evening. As for Bedtime for Boo, here Boo is a little ghost, not an exclamation, and here the many sounds mentioned by Mickie Matheis are ones that help Boo go to sleep after a long night of haunting. Boo’s Mama tells the sleepy but unable-to-sleep little ghost to relax and listen to the sounds of the house (although her comment, “Let’s use our ears,” is unintentionally funny, since Bonnie Leick’s cute pictures show the ghosts without any ears). Differing type styles and Leick’s illustrations help make the book visually attractive for ages 2-6, as Boo hears bats flapping, flapping; spiders clicking, clicking; skeletons rattling, rattling; wolves howling, howling; and other sounds, too, “as ghosts float by with a whoosh.” The ghosts-floating refrain helps make the book a pleasant Halloween-ish bedtime story for little trick-or-treaters, even though the holiday itself is never mentioned. And of course Boo drifts off to sleep with a happy smile as the sounds of the house make him feel relaxed and comfortable.
Speaking of comfort: the little girl who narrates I Like Old Clothes finds hand-me-downs very comfortable indeed. And it is easy to imagine her dressing up for Halloween – or other play time – in “clothes with a history, clothes with a mystery,” even though nowadays so many children wear pre-made Halloween costumes rather than ones based on discards. No matter: this little girl and her baby brother celebrate the anytime delights of “clothes that belonged to a friend of a friend,” “once-for-good clothes,/ now-for-play clothes.” Parents will quickly pick up on the nostalgia underlying Mary Ann Hoberman’s poem – which was originally published in 1976, with illustrations by Jacqueline Chwast – but kids ages 5-8 will more likely just hear and see the fun in the book, as the girl and boy try on matching or non-matching outfits, make puppets from old socks, and get the cat involved in dress-up. Today’s kids will enjoy following along (with the help of the new, warm illustrations by Patrice Barton) as the girl tells and shows all the ways in which “I like old clothes,/ Faded-out clothes,/ Not-so-new clothes,/ Where-were-you clothes.” In a society where just about everything is disposable, Hoberman’s sentiments seem rather quaint, but in a good way – and the (++++) book’s entire presentation is so enjoyable that it could even become the basis for a very modern discussion of the fun, rather than the duty or political correctness, of recycling and reuse.
Books for slightly older readers – preteens – can also provide a nicely creepy helping of fun at Halloween, although The Wednesdays is another of those seasonally appropriate books that are not directly about the holiday. Julie Bourbeau’s (+++) debut novel somewhat uneasily mixes humor with the weirdness of a story about the strange things that happen in an otherwise normal village on Wednesdays, and only on Wednesdays. The residents have adapted well enough: they shut their windows and doors and stay inside until the peculiarities have passed for another week. But Maxwell Valentino Bernard finds Wednesdays at home boring, and besides, when the book begins, this particular Wednesday is his birthday, and he ends up misbehaving just enough to let the wednesdays (the personifications of the day’s troubles get a small “w”) into the house, where they wreak the same kind of petty but nasty mischief indoors that they do to the unwary outdoors. It is that pettiness that quickly marks the wednesdays as sprites of some sort rather than full-fledged demons: Max goes swimming and, when he towels his hair, finds chewing gum in it; the blue pool water turns out to have dye in it that turns his skin blue; his shoes are missing when he goes to put them on; and so on. Tourists, unaware of what happens in town on this day of the week, have bigger problems, such as cars that don’t start and whose bumpers fall off. For no particular reason, Max ends up deciding to catch the wednesdays, and soon encounters a small and ugly dog named Thursday “because he always goes after wednesdays,” his owner explains. Not that the owner, himself a strange chap, has ever seen a wednesday, and not that Thursday has ever caught one; but still, Max realizes that if he is going to catch the whatever-they-are, he could use some help. The thing about the book is that the mystery evaporates very quickly: within 30 pages, Max has met a wednesday face to face, or face to silver eyes, anyway; and the wednesday has informed Max that Max’s name is really Next, and that propels the plot thereafter, as the oddities that usually occur on Wednesdays start affecting him on other days as well, and so he has to figure out what is going on if he is to avoid, if he can avoid, becoming a wednesday himself. Bourbeau has a good sense of fun, and she offers up some neat names (Mortimer Grimsrud, Dr. Conkle-Smoak), but when she turns things serious, even deadly, at the book’s climax, there is a creakiness to the plot and a sense that its parts fit together only because the author is pushing them so hard. The Wednesdays does have enough chills to make a suitable Halloween story, and the fact that Halloween falls on a Wednesday in 2012 makes it a particularly apt book to read this year. But it is really not much more nutritious than all the candy that kids traditionally over-consume on All Hallows’ Eve and thereafter.
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