This husband-and-wife team tries their hand at a ghoulish version of a popular lullaby.
Little Monster is not happy. Daddy Monster wants to make him feel better, and so begins an odd lullaby that attempts to soothe, humor or, at the very least, distract the young creature from his foul mood. For the most part the text scans as the father sings, “Hush, Little Monster, don’t you howl. / Daddy’s gonna give you a… / screeching owl. / If that owl won’t say ‘whoo whoo’… / Granny Ghost will bring you a big, bad boo!” If Granny Ghost disappoints, a biting vampire, shedding wolfman, magic broom, sneezing ogre and invading zombies arrive on the scene, their antics continuing the rhyming song. Eventually Little Monster’s temper improves as all end up in the graveyard to play. Illustrations in saturated colors—many greens, yellows and reds—both evoke Goodnight Moon and portray the raucous action, and the small trim invites intimate exploration. Still, the book has a necessarily ephemeral feel—it is just a seasonal bagatelle.
Even though Little Monster eventually quiets down for a cozy night’s sleep, this interpretation isn't the sweetest version in town.
(Picture book. 3-5)
An engaging narrator, together with magical illustrations that often conjure surreal scenes, lets readers in on all there is to know about haunted books and how to be a good owner of one.
“Everyone has heard of haunted houses,” but “not many people know that books can be haunted too.” Book ghosts are likely “to meddle with stories and turn them upside down” or occasionally scramble the words on a page. It's important not to offend book ghosts, and their book should not be read “on the anniversary of the day the ghost first took up residence” in it. Readers “who make this mistake get sucked up into the book….” Lachenmeyer’s fantastical story comes to life in the artful hands of Ceccoli. Employing a technique that utilizes Plasticine puppets, digital photography and acrylics, she will have readers feeling as though they have entered the book ghosts’ deep, watery blue world, full of bubbles and populated by bizarre creatures such as a balloon-headed doll and swimming eyeballs. Children could be either fascinated or unsettled by the story’s premise, but few will deny the captivating quality of the pictures. Characters appear to have a lifelike sparkle in their eyes, and the transparent, ice blue ghost comes across as more mischievous than scary. The book ends on an upbeat note and with an unnecessary pop-up.
Although much talent is evident in this creative pairing, the result lacks overall appeal for the picture-book crowd; save for children with patience and a taste for the surreal.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Veteran Bauer sends an intrepid trick-or-treater into a deliciously creepy forest full of fantastical frights and rattling menaces.
Any child with a sense of adventure, keen eye and touch of courage will eagerly follow the unmetered rhyming text that takes this black-caped child deep into a forest of bones on Halloween. The verse propels both the character and readers forward through each taunting spread. “Bat bones, / cat bones, / rat bones and all are / looking at / YOU.” “Take care! / Beware! / Despair! / You can bet / you’ve just met / your worst nightmare!” But the observant explorer carefully sidesteps such scariness and instead shouts “ ‘BOO!’ / or ‘POOH!’ / or even ‘WAHOO!’ ” and then dramatically reveals a skeleton costume underneath the cloak. Now the skeletal creatures turn from frightening to welcoming as the child raises a bright orange sack declaring, “Trick or treat! / Smell my feet! / Give me something / good to eat!” Shelley’s superbly detailed illustrations in pen, India ink and watercolor help build suspense as the child goes from the city into the intricately twining bony landscape. A dusky palette dominated by grays and muted pastels turns brighter when the child’s spunky confidence is revealed.
Elegantly designed, this collaboration shows a great respect for children’s sensibilities regarding the fine lines between fear, fun and bravery. This title should be at the top of the book pile come autumn.
(Picture book. 3-6)
“Do YOU ever WONDER if somewhere, not too far away, there might be… / MONSTERS?” Whether readers do or not, it is hard to resist being swept up in the silly suspense of possibly becoming the target for this monster’s hungry attention.
A pea green, neon-pink–horned creature with big, white eyes and a wide-open mouth with yellow stubs of teeth comes off as more ridiculous than terrifying. But the language warns of his impending approach through pointed questions: “And as he crosses the gloopy, schloopy swamp…do you think he’s imagining just HOW GOOD you’ll taste all covered in ketchup?” Vere strikes the perfect balance of humor and thrills—so much so that readers may not know if they should be shaking with fear or laughter as the story progresses. After the monster happily rides his red bicycle through the “dark and terrible forest,” “tiptoes through thorns and thistles” and “climbs up the cold and snowy mountains,” getting ever closer, he arrives in town, creaks up the stairs and “opens your bedroom door” because “THIS monster wants… / a disgustingly sloppy GOODNIGHT KISS!”
Share this cartoonish, mock-horror tale with the not-so-sleepy at bedtime or rely upon it as a superb storytime choice where all can have fun participating in the hilarious sound effects.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Just in time for Halloween, Walton and Hale (Twelve Bots of Christmas, 2010) combine their talents to become “Ludworst Bemonster,” author of a droll parody of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline.
Mimicking the rhyme and pacing of the beloved classic, they introduce readers to “twelve ugly monsters. / In two crooked lines, they bonked their heads, / pulled out their teeth, / and wet their beds.” It will surprise no one to learn that the “ugliest one was Frankenstein. / He scared people out of their socks. / He could even frighten rocks.” He proves particularly challenging to Miss Devel, who late one night finds the green monster without his head. Off he goes with Dr. Bone in a horse-skeleton–drawn hearse. When the monstrous menagerie visits him at the laboratory, most “eeeeew”-inducing are the “two huge new screws” on Frankenstein’s neck. The tale leaves Miss Devel to find the remaining rambunctious monsters completely silent…because “Each had lost his head!” The illustrations have traded sunny yellow for pumpkin orange backgrounds and make comically sly allusions to the original title.
Whether young readers recognize the relationship to the Parisian version or not, adults will appreciate the clever yet silly send-up. Most children, however, will see this as just another funny monster book.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Although there are many stories about the perils and rewards of a monster’s turning nice, this one goes a little further, touching upon being rejected by peers, being bullied and eventually being at ease with who one is.
Supposedly each letter in the word “monster” stands for a valuable character trait that all these creatures share: M is for mean, O is for Observant, N is for Noisy, S is for Super Strong, T is for Tough-to-Please, E is for Envious and R is for Remarkable. Sadly, the lime green, rectangular protagonist loses his “M” and his ability to be truly mean. Now he is “just The Onster.” Without his “mean,” he becomes the target of teasing and feels embarrassed when he is caught by the monster pack doing good deeds and fitting in with the more kindhearted and accepting young humans. Even when he purposely tries to do something bad, such as pulling “the flowers out of Mrs. Power’s yard,” he “just can’t bear to harm them, so he waters them instead.” The rhyming text proceeds at a steady clip, and Edmunds digitally renders scenes that aptly depict the monster’s back-and-forth feelings about becoming a nonthreatening, thoughtful and friendly Onster.
Readers will chime in with the “hip, hip hooray” this cuddly-looking creature earns when he finally embraces and celebrates his differences.
(Picture book. 4-7)
In this ode to hardworking mummy mothers, an impressive collection of careers is introduced with deliciously icky details sure to elicit appreciative “eww’s.”
With a palette dominated by saturated purples, greens, oranges and reds, a detailed, fantastical monster city comes to life. Alongside dragons, ghosts and one-eyed monsters, female mummies contribute their various talents to serve their bustling community. Readers meet a diverse cast, including a brave manicurist who specializes in sharpening claws, a doctor who prescribes “coffin syrup” to cure raspy moans, a waitress who serves frightening bowls of “Scream of Wheat,” a realtor who sells haunted dwellings and a dentist who expertly files vampires’ fangs. Each mummy expertly tackles the challenges of her profession whether it be working the graveyard shift or taming a classroom of rambunctious goblins. But in the end, “no matter where the mummies work— / In diners, stores, or schools— / They can’t unwind until they’re home… // To hug their boys and ghouls.” Kozjan obviously had fun creating the full-bleed spreads that successfully extend the humor in Horton’s well-paced, rhyming text. Readers will not mind the message delivered amid the amusing wordplay and clever, elaborate illustrations.
Sure to be a hit at Halloween, Mother’s Day, during a discussion about puns and when the popular question arises, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” (Picture book. 4-7)
Angelito is not looking forward to the Day of the Dead. Even though he will be with his family when they arrive at the Land of the Living, his anxieties mount as the elevator door opens onto the raucous party atmosphere of El Día de los Muertos.
Bracegirdle crafts a colorful story about facing fears and accepting differences while seamlessly integrating Spanish words and phrases and information about the holiday’s traditions. Angelito’s older sister, Estrellita, teases him about how frightening and strange the Living are. While everyone in his family is excited about the upcoming festivities, Angelito is afraid of what he will encounter. When he gets separated from his family in the Land of the Living, he finds a friend in Pablo—wearing a skeleton mask—who Angelito believes is just like himself. They have fun together, but at one point both boys realize exactly what the other is. Here Bernatene departs from his lush and vibrantly hued full-bleed spreads to reveal a double-page close-up of both boys, set against ample white space, facing each other with shocked surprise. After running away, Angelito experiences a range of emotions conveyed through spot illustrations. Conveniently, the boys meet up to not only forgive each other, but to also play a trick on Estrellita.
Although a bit pat, the ending satisfies, and the story as a whole addresses many issues pertinent to primary-grade children.
(Picture book. 5-8)
Oliver the ghost is all prepared for his Halloween party after delivering invitations to his scariest friends—but what will he do when two young trick-or-treaters show up unexpectedly at his door?
In the hustle and bustle of getting everything ready, Oliver mistakenly drops an invitation to his party, and it lands near two human boys who are happy to be so honored. When night falls, Oliver’s guests start to arrive. The witches, the skeletons and the bats are greeted with a “BOO” from Oliver, but “a little cow and a little jack-o’-lantern” arrive and shout “Trick or treat!” Everyone, host and guests alike, is nonplussed. After some awkward moments full of plans to whisper hexes and cast spells, Oliver shouts, “TREAT!” Once welcomed, the two boys enjoy a night of dancing with skeletons, chasing ghosts and riding brooms with witches. With economical wording, flat illustrations executed in pencil and watercolor and clever foreshadowing, the story further impresses by delivering a most satisfactory ending. The morning after Halloween, Oliver discovers an invitation from young Jack inviting him to his birthday party.
Landry has carefully crafted a seemingly simple tale about graciousness, generosity and openness to new friendships and packaged it into what is sure to be a perennial Halloween favorite.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Rhyming call-and-response text propels this light trick-or-treating adventure to its pleasant end, where even the youngest child learns how to say “boo!”
Hood establishes a predictable, interactive rhythm from the get-go: “If the ghosts in the trees / wibble-wobble your knees, / what do you say? // BOO!” After this pattern is repeated a few times, the answers begin to vary, presumably in an attempt to further engage young readers. When wet leaves tug on sleeves, the children say, “Eww!” Or when an adult dressed as a skeleton offers candy to the costumed characters, they say, “Thank you!” Henry’s rather pedestrian illustrations, many of which have a washed-out sepia effect with muted oranges, yellows and browns, lack the vibrancy reflected in the text. The main trio of children—a vampire bat, witch and shark—are cute enough, though, particularly the pudgy little shark.
This wholesome, well-intentioned effort may result in an enthusiastic response even if the plot is a bit thin and the pictures fail to truly inspire.
(Picture book. 2-5)
Rhyming verse unfolds in hip-hop rhythm to describe the humorous antics of a most likable, bony feline in this tale of pursuing a dream no matter what.
A dramatic zap of lightning opens the story and magically awakens a cat from the grave. When the wind blows in a notice about a drumming audition, the cat rattles and rollicks out of the cemetery and through the city—alarming adults and impressing school kids along the way. When he arrives, the motley band is skeptical at first: “…they called him nuts. / ’Cause ‘You’re not gonna make it / if you ain’t got guts!’ ” Skeleton Cat responds with his refrain, “He went: / Rattle, rattle. Clink, clink. / Rattle, rattle, clink. / Tip tap. Clickety-clack. / Ka-plink, / ka-plink, / ka-plink.” Krall matches Crow’s energetic text with a palette of contrasting graveyard-emerald greens and bright, urban pinky reds set against jet black backgrounds. Just this side of garish, the vibrant palette perfectly focuses readers on the cool white skeleton of the aspiring drummer. The digitally rendered, cartoony art coupled with the “undercat” theme is sure to inspire an entertaining and highly interactive storytime. A warning for those reading this aloud: really practice that finale jam.
Applause for this very silly and slightly spooky cool cat that follows his own beat! (Picture book. 4-6)
Luring readers with a golden, holographic display type for the title and a grooving green monster on the cover, Catrow pairs his freakishly imaginative artwork with the lyrics to the perennial favorite.
The entire song serves as the rhythmic text in this over-the-top visual experience. Adults who read this aloud will find it difficult not to sing it instead, but a slower oral pace is necessary so that younger eyes can take in the decadently gruesome, bizarre and otherwise weird things that populate the pages. The surreal images are created with a combination of pencil, watercolor, gouache and ink. Kids will either cringe or be fascinated by the spiderlike eyeball with blood vessel trailing behind, the skull with two eyes in one socket outfitted with an octopus bottom or the huge Venus flytrap/insect hybrid. The party reaches a crescendo when the coffin bangers arrive with “The Crypt-Kicker Five,” and out come emaciated rocker skeletons riffing on guitars and impressing with gyrating moves à la the Rolling Stones. On the final pages, two normal kids and a dog come to the door of the creepy castle…and “catch on in a flash” when doing the “monster mash.”
Reserve this for older preschoolers and primary-grade children who may need a fun outlet for candy-fueled Halloween craziness. Clever and odd—but ultimately not essential.
(Picture book. 4-7)
What begins as a lyrical bedtime book featuring a friendly, freckled ghost evolves into a gentle rhyming interactive story for not-so-sleepyheads.
Lush language describes a spooky, dilapidated setting where “a family of ghosts” lives. Boo is the “littlest” and can finally stay up late and go a-haunting. After a rollicking evening of games with the big ghosts, Boo and his mama return home. When Boo protests that he is not tired enough to sleep, Mama suggests he “listen to the sounds of the house.” Once his eyes are closed, he can hear the ghosts whooshing, bats flapping, footsteps tapping, spiders clicking, a clock ticking. The thrice-repeated noises get more boisterous and potentially scary: Witches cackle, skeletons rattle, monsters moan, wolves howl. But always there is the gentle, reassuring sound of the ghosts’ whoosh. Leick’s illustrations with muted colors and soft textures feature amiable, transparent human-headed ghosts who cavort and cuddle on full-bleed pages. This is most successful on double-page spreads, less so in the frameless side-by-side pages, especially where the gutter cuts off an owl’s wing.
Quibbles aside, this is a sweet tale for young preschoolers getting into the Halloween spirit. Similar tales abound, so purchase as needed.
(Picture book. 2-4)
Ever wanted a ghost? Answer in the affirmative, and this fictional handbook should offer all the expert advice needed to make sure “your ghost will haunt you forever.”
The opening page warns: “A ghost is a big responsibility. Are you sure you want a ghost friend of your very own? If not, CLOSE THIS BOOK NOW.” For those brave, committed few, the page turn reveals a wash of white issuing forth from a child’s book to create a friendly, smiling ghost. The text continues to read like a combination sales pitch and owner’s manual. Ghosts are better than a pet or a brother or sister. Ghosts are afraid of parents, the dark and other ghosts. Ghosts never get dirty, so do not try to wash them. As the instructions continue, Buscema’s brightly hued, retro-style illustrations inject lighthearted humor, portraying a diverse cast of kids dedicated to providing the best care to their new specters. Who knew that when a person shivers and it is not cold, it means they have bumped into a ghost?
This is a solid choice for sensitive readers, since it provides an alternate, if somewhat sweet story, where ghosts are anything but scary.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Pace and Pham have choreographed a delightful tale of a winsome young vampire trying to make her ballerina dreams come true.
The deadpan text includes plenty of good advice for anyone with dancing aspirations: “Always drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals…get a good day’s sleep…move with your head held high,” and “Practice! Practice! PRACTICE!” But this vampire differs quite a bit from her fellow dance students, with her black leotard and winged cape, her pointy fangs and her ability to “poof” into a bat at the most inopportune moment. Not only does she not fit in, but she also frightens her classmates and alarms Madame with the absence of her reflection in the studio mirror. As the evening of her big debut nears, the vampirina’s supportive family rallies around her and creates a beautiful costume of spider lace and swan feathers. Then “the lights dim… / the music swells, / and the curtain opens”—as does a dramatic double gatefold to reveal the five dancers executing an exuberant performance. The pen-and-ink–and-watercolor illustrations paint a cozy blue-gray world for the vampires’ home, contrasting with the brighter, lighter dance school portrayed in pinks. Deft strokes capture facial expressions that reveal nervousness, effort, fear, surprise, confidence and joy. By the show’s end, the prima vampire has exceeded everyone’s expectations, including her own.
Readers will applaud this elegantly designed, well-told story. Brava, indeed.
(Picture book. 3-6)
No one wants a relative to stand out too much, especially for the wrong reasons. A young girl hopes her beloved grandmother—who just happens to be a witch—would learn to be more conventional. Corderoy sets a conversational pace to help readers sympathize with the main character’s plight: “My granny’s kind of different…” What follows are spreads dominated by pinks and purples that capture the peculiar occurrences that whirl around Granny wherever she goes. The rhyming text describes Granny cooking “icky soup” full of “slime and sludge and bits of froggy-poop” and driving a “crazy car” with “no roof or seats or wheels…most bizarre!” But often the text only hints at a situation gone awry, and it is Berger’s hilarious digital illustrations that will have readers giggling here and squealing there. At one point the girl convinces Granny to give being “normalish” a try. The makeover initially seems a success, “but something wasn’t right. She seemed like someone else’s granny, strolling home that night.” When Granny ends up in bed bored and sad, the girl soon realizes that grandmother’s witchy ways should be celebrated instead of changed.
Nestled among the burping bats and mischievous frogs, a lesson on appreciating differences is charmingly presented. Let this tale work its magic throughout the year.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Looking for a simple title about Halloween for the youngest readers? Rhyming text sets up an interactive guessing game that may just be the treat to share with the toddler and early-preschool set.
O’Connell begins, “It’s Halloween night and I’ll be a fright! With this pointy hat and my spooky cat, I'm a… / WITCH!” Or “I’ll dress in all white,” or “Watch out, I might bite!” With a couple additional hints plus the flat cartoon visual clues provided by Morris, little ones are sure to shout out the correct answer each time. Children dressed up as a witch, ghost, bear, vampire and princess “run through the gate and can hardly wait. / We ring the bell and then we yell… / ‘TRICK OR TREAT!’ ” Although the relatively small trim size may prove a challenge at larger storytimes, the bright hues, oversized text and large images relative to the page should easily work for smaller groups. Although this fails to break any new ground, it will likely become a popular choice for debut trick-or-treaters.
Get ready for enthusiastic participation, and do not forget to find the small spider placed on each spread.
(Picture book. 2-4)
The title refers to Halloween, when the trio of stories within supposedly occurred. This graphic-novel look at seemingly disparate happenings is likely to have readers giggling more than shivering.
Bar-el builds light suspense as he warns readers about the slightly scary spoofs on classic horror stories found in the pages that follow. The first tale, “Broom with a View,” shows a bratty girl’s comeuppance after she bumps into a real witch and is taken on a wild ride with the good-hearted green gal, learning in the process that kindness can be cool. The second story, “10,000 Tentacles Under the Tub,” depicts the over-the-top antics of two boys in costume as Aqua-Ranger and Aqua-Ninja who, after an evening of rambunctious and disrespectful behavior, find themselves in a battle for their lives when cunning mermaids beckon them into the horrific depths beneath their very own bathtub. The final yarn features a quartet of full-of-themselves girls who enjoy terrorizing fellow trick-or-treaters. Then they meet another foursome of equally frightening girls, who turn out to be vampires eager to drink their blood. Huyck illustrates the rapidly paced action in classic comic-book style, making sure to skillfully depict every shock, scare and look of relief.
A good choice for readers new to the format and those looking for a quick hit of Halloween silliness.
(Graphic novel. 7-9)
Tiny Grouch, Grump and Gloom ’n’ Doom (who has two heads) continually bicker about who is the most impressive monster. When the solution they come up with turns out to be different from what they expected, a surprising but welcome lesson is eventually learned.
Caldecott Honor winner McDonnell (Me…Jane, 2011) produces a special tale that seamlessly blends an engaging text, gentle humor and skillful illustrations that readers of all ages can appreciate. The monstrous trio smash, crash and bash about, and a black cloud literally hangs over the castle where they live. A coordinated stroke of genius leads them to “make a MONSTER monster. The biggest, baddest monster EVER!” “[S]ome tape, tacks, staples, and glue…some gunk, gauze, and gobs of goo… [and] bolts, wire and a smelly old shoe” form a huge creature that comes to life via lightning strike. But instead of making a scary, intimidating monster, they have brought to life a sweet, polite, life-loving being whose first words are “Dank you!” Soon, the small threesome finds they cannot change their creation’s pleasant nature—he repeatedly blurts out his favorite phrase—and learns that respectful, mannerly companionship can lead to fulfilling and sunny results…like watching the sunrise at the beach while sharing jelly doughnuts. The story charms, but it is the overall thoughtful design that makes this a frightfully amazing book to read.
Make time to share with young monsters everywhere.
(Picture book. 3-6)
This countdown romp begins with a front-cover portrait of 10 smiling and grimacing monsters before they set forth on their perilous adventure.
“Ten creepy monsters met ’neath a gnarled pine. / One [a ghost] blew away, and then there were nine.” So continues the predictable rhyme, with the various creatures meeting mostly unfortunate ends: The zombie loses his foot, the mummy snags his wrappings, and the vampire glances at the sunrise. Some do not perish but are only distracted; the werewolf cannot resist howling at a shocked full moon, and the sea monster, in one of the funnier (though incongruous) spreads, “found his love,” who is a startled woman in a bathing suit and cat’s-eye glasses near the shore. As the numbers dwindle, only a squat, goblin-green monster remains, until this “one creepy monster rushed home at a run.” The page turn reveals a green mask hanging from a bedpost, Halloween candy spilling out from a sack underneath the bed and a contented boy, who “pulled up his blanket, and then there were none.” Armstrong-Ellis injects just the right amount of humor into her portrayals of the ghoulish bunch, keeping the tone appropriately light, despite the body count.
Best for younger readers who prefer thrills and chills with an occasional giggle.
(Picture book. 3-5)
Waga is a monster that is mean, tricky and possesses the “biggest scare.” But when Waga loses that scare, the monster’s very existence is in jeopardy.
It is evident Hiti comes from the comic-book world. The text is pared down to essential declarations, exclamations and gleeful sound effects in this rapidly paced title. In settings of mostly teal, deep red, white, black and gray, Waga stands out as a brilliantly orange phenom outlined in black that appears to be a combination of a golem, troll and mischievous elf. The first few pages boast of Waga’s terrifying reputation in the monster world, but a page turn early on abruptly reveals an instantly saddened creature. The scare is gone, and if Waga fails to recover it by morning, “Waga will disappear for good.” The remainder of the book follows Waga on a search through the “creepy woods,” “the dark, dank cave” and the graveyard, eventually leading to the sudden, surprising revelation of where the biggest scare is. “Waga had left the scare / …IN YOUR ROOM!!! BOOOO HA-HAH-HA-HA-HAH-HAAA…” Waga has overcome his wildly swinging emotions and is now presented as most threatening and scary on the final page, with his many sharp, pointy teeth bared and hands poised to grab.
The ending may leave younger or more sensitive readers unsettled, so save this slim, adrenaline-fueled tale for those who crave a true, if ephemeral, fright.
(Picture book. 5-8)