Slick production, heavy paper, an oversized (9 ¾ x 12 ¾ inches) format, and a handsome, stylized, 1950s sci-fi film look combine for a simple yet clever celebration of America’s favorite autumn holiday. “October 31 / It’s Halloween.” In a small New England–esque village-cum-subdivision, children prepare for Halloween. Inside golden and pumpkin-orange–toned rooms, a tableau reveals a clutch of retro-looking children carving jack-’o-lanterns and designing costumes. At midnight, with the trick-or-treating over and the children asleep, a mysterious enchantment causes hundreds of jack-’o-lanterns to rise and converge (along with a few broomsticks, some witches, ghosts, and quite a few ghouls), swooping through the night. A truck driver is amazed and startled, a convenience store is terrorized, and the sky is filled with grinning pumpkins that glow eerily and dance under a not-so-benign orange “pumpkin moon.” The next morning, the landscape is littered with pumpkin detritus while a newspaper headline asks and village kids wonder: “Halloween Hoax or Alien Invasion?” It’s impossible to approach this clever, handsome, British import without seeing it as a rather obvious homage to David Weisner’s Caldecott-winning Tuesday (1991). Spare, headline-like text combines effectively with Bartram’s bright autumnal palette. The interplay of spooky light and shadows, heightened by changing cinematic points of view, delivers a crowd-pleasing—if derivative—Halloween entry. A standout in a crowded pumpkin field. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-525-46713-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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A trite, knock-off sequel to Jumanji (1981). The “Jumanji” box distracts Walter Budwing away from beating up on his little brother Danny, but it’s Danny who discovers the Zathura board inside—and in no time, Earth is far behind, a meteor has smashed through the roof, and a reptilian Zyborg pirate is crawling through the hole. Each throw of the dice brings an ominous new development, portrayed in grainy, penciled freeze frames featuring sculptured-looking figures in constricted, almost claustrophobic settings. The angles of view are, as always, wonderfully dramatic, but not only is much of the finer detail that contributed to Jumanji’s astonishing realism missing, the spectacular damage being done to the Budwings’ house as the game progresses is, by and large, only glimpsed around the picture edges. Naturally, having had his bacon repeatedly saved by his younger sibling’s quick thinking, once Walter falls through a black hole to a time preceding the game’s start, his attitude toward Danny undergoes a sudden, radical transformation. Van Allsburg’s imagination usually soars right along with his accomplished art—but here, both are just running in place. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-25396-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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Series fans will enjoy revisiting familiar characters and exploring the island of Cuba with them.


From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 5

The Unicorn Rescue Society investigates the disappearance of a Cuban sea serpent.

In the fifth series installment, returning protagonists Uchenna and Elliot are in school, learning about water, when Professor Fauna calls them away. As the kids board the professor’s rickety single-propeller plane, they learn where exactly they are heading: Cuba. The island is in the middle of a massive drought, and Professor Fauna has reason to believe that the Madres de aguas (the Mother of Waters) has gone missing. It’s up to the society to find the sea serpent before any more damage is done to the people and wildlife of Cuba. As they set out on their mission of derring-do, they realize that once again they are up against their nemeses, the Schmoke Brothers. Via Yoenis, their Cuban American society liaison, Uchenna, Elliot, and readers learn about the political and economic hardships experienced by the people of Cuba, the island’s lack of basic goods and necessities, and Cuba’s need for real democracy (although the current role of the military is elided). This is conveyed within a quick, fast-paced read that’s ideal for kids who want a straightforward magical adventure. Uchenna is Nigerian, Elliot is white and Jewish, and Professor Fauna is Peruvian.

Series fans will enjoy revisiting familiar characters and exploring the island of Cuba with them. (Fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3142-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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