This school story for Christmas has a narrower audience than it depicts.

HO HO HOMEWORK

Is Jack’s substitute teacher really Kris Kringle incognito?

Young Jack, who appears to be a child of color with light brown skin and straight, black hair, is wishing for snow. Kids in his class think that all of their wishes will come true when they notice that their substitute teacher, Mr. Clausen, has a lot in common with Santa Claus. He appears white with light skin and curly white hair, including a full beard. Beyond his physical appearance, he also: has a fondness for milk and cookies; wears a red shirt, green pants, and black boots; has a big laugh that “sounded a lot like a ‘ho, ho, ho’ ”; knits stockings; makes lists; and uses a sled as a prop in science class. The titular “ho ho homework” is an assignment for the kids to make paper snowflakes and write their wishes on them. Jack is at first reluctant to do this because he is dubious about whether or not Mr. Clausen is, in fact, Santa Claus, but he ultimately does so, and he and “the whole neighborhood” wake to a white Christmas. The colorful, digitally enhanced watercolor art has an aesthetic that Tomie dePaola fans will recognize and enjoy. It depicts an apparently racially diverse classroom, but the children all seem to be united in a belief in Santa Claus, which feels unlikely.

This school story for Christmas has a narrower audience than it depicts. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-279688-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A cute, Halloween-y take on the old dare-to-be-you moral.

HARDLY HAUNTED

What could be worse for a house than to be haunted? Unless….

“There was a house on a hill, and that house was worried.” Overgrown with vines and frequented by a curious black cat, the abandoned abode fears that she will remain unoccupied because of her eerie countenance. Supplying the house with rounded, third-story windows and exterior molding that shift to express emotions, Sima takes readers through a tour of the house’s ominous interior. At first, the enchanted homestead tries to suppress her creaky walls, squeaky stairs, and rattling pipes. Despite all efforts to keep “VERY still. And VERY quiet. And VERY calm,” the house comes to find that being a rather creepy residence might actually be fun. The realization dawns on the decrepit dwelling with both relief and joy: “She liked being noisy. Maybe she liked being haunted.” Once the house embraces herself for who she is, the plot moves in a pleasant yet predictable direction: A cheerful family of ghosts loves the house in all her noisy glory and decides to move in. Sima’s lighthearted, cartoony style and cozy palette disarm the book of any frightening elements. The gentle, upbeat vibe makes it a fair choice to remind kids that their differences from others are the key to their belonging. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A cute, Halloween-y take on the old dare-to-be-you moral. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-4170-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A good choice to share with wriggly listeners, who will soon be joining in.

AT THE OLD HAUNTED HOUSE

A Halloween book that rides on the rhythms of “Over in the Meadow.”

Although Halloween rhyming counting books abound, this stands out, with a text that begs to be read aloud and cartoony digital illustrations that add goofy appeal. A girl and two boys set off on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. As the children leave the cozy, warm glow of their street, readers see a haunted house on a hill, with gravestones dotting the front yard. Climbing the twisty path to the dark estate takes time, so the story turns to the antics inside the house. “At the old haunted house in a room with no sun / lived a warty green witch and her wee witch one. ‘SPELL!’ cried the witch. ‘POOF!’ cried the one. / And they both practiced spells in the room with no sun.” The actions of the scary creatures within may seem odd, but the rhyme must go on: Cats scratch, goblins dust, monsters stir, and mummies mix. Eventually the three kids reach the front door and are invited in for stew, cake and brew. At first shocked by the gruesome fare, the children recover quickly and get caught up in partying with the slightly spooky but friendly menagerie.

A good choice to share with wriggly listeners, who will soon be joining in. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4778-4769-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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