This bare-bones supernatural story still entertains despite its indistinctive quartet of heroes.

The Halloween Nightmare

THE ESCAPE OF THE WITCHES

Four friends visit a place where it’s Halloween every day, which inspires several witches there to escape and terrorize the friends’ town in Scygiel’s YA horror yarn.

Danny Hays, Bobby Brown, Jeff Casey, and Adam Holmes, all just past their teens, have been childhood pals and next-door neighbors for years in Oak Mill, Michigan, and they crave adventure. A Sunday trip to the local oak mills holds promise, but ultimately nothing comes of it. It’s there, however, that a magical crow spots them and follows them home. The next night, the same crow and a ghost named Charles visit each friend’s room; Charles drops off letters and mischievously leaves their bedroom doors ajar. The missives contain a time, date, and location back at the mills, where the crow and Charles, after having some fun scaring the friends, invite them to the Halloween Village, accessible through a secret room in the town’s Haunted Mansion. The village, where it’s Halloween 365 days a year, is populated by witches and mummies and boasts a wealth of candy. The affable residents tell the young men that they’re there to learn the history of Halloween and the 600-year-old town. The downside is that four witches take the opportunity to flee the village for the sole purpose of frightening all the people in Oak Mill. Scygiel’s short novel is a quick read that highlights all the fun of Halloween. It’s certainly enjoyable, though never outright scary, as nearly everyone in the village welcomes the four guys and the witches’ plan isn’t truly sinister. The author forgoes giving Danny and friends individual personalities, though, so they’re disappointingly interchangeable: they’re all 20 years old, live with their parents, and say many of the same things, such as, “You got that right.” The action is likewise repetitive: each friend is shown waking up, saying good morning to his mother and father, and asking about the open door and letter, for example. Nevertheless, Scygiel ups the ante in the final act as the four buddies determine to stop the witches and take them back to the village. There’s also a hint of another potential nightmare awaiting the friends at the end of the novel.

This bare-bones supernatural story still entertains despite its indistinctive quartet of heroes.

Pub Date: April 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5246-0595-7

Page Count: 116

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

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Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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Light, friendly, and not at all preachy—a gentle win for a kinder world.

ABCS OF KINDNESS

Rhyming couplets use the alphabet to simply explain the abstract concept of kindness.

Each letter of the alphabet stands for a word that adds nuance to the notion while line drawings of pink-cheeked stuffed animals—bear, bunny, elephant, mouse, lion, and giraffe—illustrate the behavior. The verses hint at exactly how to act kindly. Some are concrete: “Ii is for inviting everyone to play.” Some suggest attitudes that facilitate kindness. For example, “Bb is for believing things will be okay in the end!” and “Hh is for hope—tomorrow’s another day!” While many might take issue with the simplistic assertion that “Ee is for everyone—we are all the same,” taken as a whole, the book will lead even the youngest toddlers to the message. Organizationally, the book devotes one page each to 11 letters while 14 others share pages. “Zz is sleeping peacefully when your day of kindness is through” sprawls across a final double-page spread, showing all the animals fast asleep. Creating an ABC book is harder than this makes it look. The true test is what is chosen to represent Q, X, Y, and Z. “Quiet times,” “Yes I can,” and the aforementioned “zzz”s ably rise to the challenge. “Xx is for kisses” is a bit of a stretch but understandable. Pastel backgrounds, uncluttered design, and unforced rhymes keep the focus on the concept.

Light, friendly, and not at all preachy—a gentle win for a kinder world. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-12307-2

Page Count: 22

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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