Calling all spooky candy-cravers! It’s time to dress up and greet the neighbors again! Here are five stories to get you in the groove:
Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
first published in the U.S. in 2001 by Dial Books for Young Readers
One happy, ginger-haired witch and her marmalade cat are sailing along on her broom when WHOOSH! The wind spins her hat to the ground.
Down they swoop to search for it, but no hat can they find until, luckily, a polite, little dog trots out of the shrubbery, her hat clutched in his teeth. “Is there room on the broom for a dog like me?” he asks. And of course, there is. Off the three of them soar.
That’s not the last of this witch’s troubles, though, and certainly not the last of her helpful hitchhikers! Eventually the broom is so overloaded, it breaks in two! And this time when they plummet to earth, there’s something Very Fierce awaiting them!
Julia Donaldson seems to wave her wand and jolly, children’s stories come tumbling out. This one, with its friendly, rhyming text, has been a favorite for gobs of kids for almost 15 years now — cheerful, humorous, with a zing of suspense there at the end! Axel Scheffler has teamed up with Donaldson many times, his lively, colorful illustrations brightening the pages with huge child appeal. A bewitching story for ages 2 and up.
Spells, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
first US edition 2009, by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
A frog with a heart for romance finds a book of magic spells. Hmpf, he thinks. I’d rather it were a book about pirates. Or castles, with me as a handsome prince.
Not to worry. With abundant ripping and folding of the worthless book’s pages, the frog creates a fairytale landscape, including a lovely, paper princess to escort to the ball. BUT THEN…in the sea of shredded paper, the frog discovers one snippet with these words: Spell to become a Handsome Prince
Suddenly this book holds all of frog’s future happiness. If only he can piece together the correct spell!
That’s not so easy, though, with all those fragments of paper to choose from. In this Magically Clever Book, you — the reader! — get to try to piece together the right spell as well. With a dozen half-pages to mix and match, you might just as easily create a spell that makes a Snabbit or Slimykazoot as a Handsome Prince. Persist long enough, though, and you’ll see how the frog fares with his dream girl.
Hint: Do not miss the fine print on the end papers. Also: do not miss the Lonely Hearts ad on the jacket flap. Emily Gravett’s sense of humor is spread from cover to cover in this wildly silly, interactive book for ages 4 or 5 and up.
The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Fluffy meringue pies and decadent chocolate cakes, crisp apple strudel and sweetly pink petit fours — Cora Lee Merriweather can turn out the most lip-smackingly-delicious baked goods you could wish for.
Cora Lee herself is, however, a bit of a sourpuss.
After Cora passes on, it’s someone else’s turn to occupy the Merriweather Bake Shop, but one after another of the new owners flee town lickety split! Cora Lee is haunting the place, they insist. So, the bake shop sits empty for many sad years…
…until spunky Annie Washington shows up. Annie isn’t about to take any lip from the ghost of Cora Lee. Turns out that Cora Lee can throw quite a temper tantrum, though, and finally Annie agrees to Cora’s terms: she’s got to make a cake so rich and sweet it brings tears to Cora’s eyes. Annie is one fabulous baker, but cake after cake does not pass muster for Cora Lee. What’s the secret to the perfect cake?
I think this must be the most mouthwatering ghost story ever, so do yourself a favor and settle in with something sweet to nibble while you read! All the right ingredients are here — a cantankerous ghost, a heroine with moxie, a puzzling conundrum, and a happy ending, plus so many confections! I am a huge fan of Marjorie Priceman’s vivacious artwork anywhere, and here again, it splashes and whirls across these pages with panache!
A recipe for making your own “Ghost-Pleasing Chocolate Cake” is included. Yummy fun for ages 5 and up.
Not Very Scary, by Carol Brendler, pictures by Greg Pizzoli
published in 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Melly is a darling little monster who is tickled green to get an invitation to her cousin Malberta’s place, where a surprise awaits her! Melly loves surprises.
She sets off with great anticipation, but when she hears something following her, she looks just a teeny bit nervous. Turns out to be a black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail. “Not the least bit scary,” Melly declares, with a brave smile on her face.
However, when a couple of skittish skeletons show up, and several wheezy witches, too — well now! Is Melly scared? “Not particularly scary,” Melly insists. (But she does give a little shudder.)
Melly’s short walk to Malberta’s is plum full of ghosts and mummies, goblins and spiders. Melly seems wobbly-kneed to me, but she only keeps yelling that they’re “not significantly scary!” When she finally reaches Malberta’s house, Melly is both glad and surprised! What is waiting for her there?
This is a truly Happy Halloween book, crammed with all the standard scary creatures, but none of the fright. Greg Pizzoli’s clean, simplified line makes mummies chummy and vultures cultured, while the smooth coffees and charcoals of nighttime are spiffily punctuated with lime, bittersweet, and grape jelly outfits for these cute monsters. An appealing and upbeat choice for ages under-Two and up.
The Mystery of the Flying Orange Pumpkin, wirtten and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
published in 1980 by The Dial Press
Mr. Bramble is a friendly neighbor, who welcomes Brian, Ellis, and Joan with their packet of pumpkin seeds and helps them plant some in his garden. Together they weed and water and tend the plants.
Weeks go by, and one pumpkin is growing splendidly. They even give it a name — Patterson — and dream of the excellent jack-o-lantern it’ll make come Halloween.
But then Mr. Bramble moves away! And Mr. Klug, who moves in, is a gruff old codger who can’t abide kids in his garden and won’t hear of them using his pumpkin for anything. He’s going to make it into a pie!
All is not lost, though. Clever Mrs. Wilkins next door has some tricks up her sleeve, just in time for Halloween. Turns out there’s a way to make everyone happy…almost!
Steven Kellogg wrote a little set of mysteries for preschoolers back in the 70s and 80s, each with a color in the title. The Mystery of the Missing Red Mitten, The Mystery of the Stolen Blue Paint, The Mystery of the Magic Green Ball, and this little Orange Pumpkin number. They are a dear size for little hands, and feature Kellogg’s masterful line drawings with just little splashes of the corresponding color throughout the book. Completely charming, humorous, clever stories and lots to look at in the pictures.
The mitten mystery has been republished in a large format with full color. My opinion: I don’t think you can beat the tiny size for tiny people. Search for these in a library or at used book sites.
Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine, by Peter Bently, illustrated by David Roberts
published in the U.S. in 2014 by Andersen Press
It’s just an ordinary day for this flock of sheep. Eunice, Lambert, Old Uncle Ramsbottom and the others are serenely munching grass, when…ZOOM!
An aeroplane streaks past and quite turns their heads. Trotting over to the aeroplane festival, the flock spies a “spiffing” yellow number that’s unattended and before you can say Bob’s-your-uncle they’re airborne.
Following some stomach-churning loop-de-loops as they get the hang of this thing, the sheep unanimously agree to set off and see the world. Such adventures they have!
Meanwhile, the chap who owns that plane is madly searching for the “thieves in white sweaters” who’ve pinched it. Will he catch those wooly crooks, or not? You’ll have to read to find out.
It’s a whirlwind of a story, with marvelous,dapper language and a funny, clever ending. The invigorating illustrations convey a 20’s-era, Inspector-Clouseau style, with verve and dash and humor. Even the words, in stylized font, curve and climb about the pages, adding to the merry sense of frolic. Coming to us from the UK, this is sheer fun for ages 3 and up.
Circle, Square, Moose, by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2014 by Greenwillow Books
Moose — that dear, attention-seeking, irrepressible fellow — is back! Have you met him, yet, in Z is for Moose? If not, I highly recommend you make his acquaintance there first. It’s a book that makes me laugh out loud!
If you know Moose, you know he cannot stand to be off-stage. Won’t take no for an answer. And will intrude, quite happily, even where he’s not invited –or perhaps especially when he’s not invited — making mincemeat of your plans.
This time around, it’s a book about shapes which Moose hijacks for his own blustering purposes. Our trusty referee, Zebra, is also back, attempting to control Moose’s mayhem. But Moose is spinning things so wildly out of control, is there any way whatsoever to prevent him from ruining the book?!
A million giggles — that’s this book’s rating. Bingham and Zelinsky have brilliantly paired up again bringing concept, narration, personality, and hilarious illustration together for an encore worthy of their first smash hit. I was skeptical that Moose could pull it off again…but he did! Enjoy this with ages 3 or 4 and up.
The entire text of this ribbeting book is written with just two letters: A and H.
But these two letters, combined to make AH HA!, AAHH!, and HA HA! can express so very much more than you might think!
To begin with — “AAHH!” sighs the sanguine frog, lolling on his back in the cool, blue, pool.
“AAHH!” cries the frog, when the dog thwaps the jar with his paw, tumbling the frog right out. But “AH HA!” the frog proclaims triumphantly, when he clambers onto a rock, out of the boy’s reach.
Back and forth the tide turns for this endearing, hapless, little frog in a delightful comedy of errors. Who will win out in the end? The boy? Or the frog?
Clever, clever, clever! And funny. And suspenseful. A delight for the small fry to be able to “read” along, it’s a read-it-over-and-over book for squirts from under-Two and up.
Animal Crackers Fly the Coop, written and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
published in 2010 by Walker & Company
So there’s this hen who loves to tell jokes. Loves to crack up the crowd, if you hear what I’m sayin’. Has dreams of being a…comedi-hen.
This punny book, a comic spin on the Bremen Town Musicians, is as full of gags, puns, and one-liners as your average Jimmy Fallon monologue. I can’t quite predict at what age these will strike your particular child’s fancy, but you’ll know — when they’re at the stage when a play on words makes ‘em groan, hit them with this book. They won’t be able to resist re-telling these at the supper table, is my guess.
O’Malley’s illustrations are bold, black-line drawings, digitally colored in cool tones. He uses solid, ample, close-ups that grab us and haul us in. There’s a bit of a retro vibe to them; a sense of Paul Galdone, to my eye, which is an excellent thing. And did I mention the puns?!
Good Night, Gorilla, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathman
published in 1994 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
In case you have somehow missed this book — I don’t know, maybe you’ve been living on Mars for the past two decades? I mean, it’s in paperback, it’s in board book, it’s in Spanish, it’s in German…it is everywhere! But just in case…I’m adding it to the list today because …it is a Splendidly Funny Book.
It’s supposed to be bedtime at the zoo. There’s nothing sleepy about the little gorilla’s face, though. (Sound familiar?)
In fact, the scamp snitches the key ring right off the zookeeper’s backside, let’s himself out of his cage, then quietly shadows the keeper as he goes on his goodnight rounds, opening all the cages! The zookeeper, oblivious to the line-up of freed animals following him, returns home through the quiet neighborhood, and goes to bed.
All the zoo animals sneakily tuck themselves up in his cozy, purple bedroom as well. Gorilla even decides to snuggle right IN the bed, his head poofing down into the soft pillow.
Mrs. Zookeeper drowsily switches off the light and tells her husband, “Goodnight, dear.”
But…”Goodnight!” come SEVEN replies from the darkness! Huh?!
Mrs. Zookeeper takes matters firmly in hand — back to the zoo with all of you! — but if you think that’s the last she’s seen of gorilla…you just don’t know what a sneaky guy he is!
Buckets of fun for ages under-Two and up.
Hope something here makes you and your fellow-readers smile!
Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron
by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
She was intelligent.
She was an individual.
A doting mother.
She knew what she wanted, and she knew just how you fit into her plans. And you’d better just straighten up and do what she said!
She was Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneer in the art of photography, who didn’t give a hoot
what the critics said or how miserable it was for her models to hold long poses or how many time she failed. She had a vision to pursue — a vision to capture what was beautiful in her world and what was intrinsic to her friends’ natures, through the brand new medium of photography.
Susan Goldman Rubin’s outstanding new biography of Julia Margaret is an absolute joy to read. With captivating detail, her prose creams along, introducing us to Julia as a child in colonial India, living in a world of wealth and privilege among “mynah birds and green parakeets” until at age 3 she was sent to France to be raised by her grandmother. Feeding us manageable tidbits about the new inventions and processes of photography, Rubin guides us through Julia Margaret’s life, her love of art and beauty, her marriage and bustling household, and her first experiments with photography when she was almost 50 years old.
Cameron quickly became nearly obsessed with
learning and refining this art. During the next 11 years, she not only took thousands of photographs — a painfully slow, laborious process — but developed her own style and voice, and persisted in that until her work was finally recognized. Today, her photographs hang in museums in the United States and England, including MOMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Julia’s personality is bohemian, eccentric, and at times domineering, yet her work is soft, beautiful, and romantic. In just about 60 pages, Rubin vividly introduces us to her, adding colorful recollections from her models and famous friends from Alfred Tennyson to Lewis Carroll.
This text is accompanied by Bagram Ibatoulline’s gorgeous paintings. Wow! As always when I see his work, that’s what I find myself saying. Rich, full color spreads usher us into this 1800s world with grace and atmosphere, and keenly portray the strength and seriousness of Julia. His figures, light, and use of color are a marvel . There are also many small, sepia sketches, a number of reproductions of Cameron’s photographs, and even an Arts-and-Crafts-styled border running along the page edges, so the whole book is visually splendid.
Additional material includes a bibliography and listing of museums where you can see Cameron’s work. I hope many of you will find your way to this title. It’s an excellent book that could be read with children as young as 7, or enjoyed by older children …and adults!
Thank you, Susan and Bagram!