Friday, October 28, 2011

Not too scary

Each year there are new Halloweenish books, but as a school librarian I find myself returning to a few favorites to read aloud to my primary-grade students. (I work at an independent school where we can still celebrate Halloween.) 

Room on the Broom is such fun as a read-aloud that I can read it three times in a row, to my PreK class, my kindergartners and my first graders and not get weary of the bouncy rhyming text. I can read it three times the next week, too, and have just as much fun, oh, the kids do too. The writer of Room on the Broom ($6.99, Puffin) is Julia Donaldson and the illustrator is Axel Scheffler, a magical pairing that has graced a number of other picture books as well.
I always warn the littler ones that there's one part that's a little scary. And they usually tell me at the end: "That wasn't scary!"
The witch isn't a bit menacing. She has a cat and a black hat, but she also has "long ginger hair in a braid down her back." And when three helpful creatures ask in succession: "Is there room on the broom for a dog/bird/frog like me?"
The text is packed with delightful repetition. Three times, the witch loses something, hairbow, hat, wand. Three times, the broom lands for a search. Three times one of the aforementioned animals helps find the missing items.
Listeners will soon be delightedly repeating this refrain as the broom takes off with new passenger and recovered item: "...and whoosh! they were gone."
The broom breaks and a threatening red dragon enters the picture. No big spoilers here, but there are a couple more exciting and funny twists before everyone whooshes! off on a new broom.
Boo Bunny, by Kathryn O. Galbraith, ($6.99, Sandpiper) is perfect for preschoolers who might be approaching Halloween with a bit of trepidation.
The tale starts with one nervous little bunny out trick-or-treating for the first time.
Jeff Mack provides marvelous, vivid illustrations.
On the opening page, there's a small white rabbit on a mostly black background, just a bit of violet-blue sky peeking between the trees. The bunny's eyes are wide; he clutches a pumpkin-shaped treat holder.
The first words: "One shy bunny. One dark night."
The shadows are full of spooky sounds and movement. In a moment of panic, the white bunny crashes into an equally terrified scared brown bunny.
"One bunny quivers. One bunny shivers."
Tentatively, they join forces and together they are just brave enough to try trick-or-treating at one house.
That teamwork results in treats, a new friendship and huge leaps of confidence - literally.
The bunnies are shown bounding exuberantly over the last few pages.
"Two giant hops. One loud Whoooooo!
"Two bunnies giggle. 'Whooo-booo to you!'"
Mack's vivid blues, violets, pinks, greens and black are unexpected and effective.
It's a story that will hit home with many a toddler and preschooler. Halloween is often scary before it's fun
The costumes for the two bunny characters - green mask and cape and bumblebee - are adorable and preschool-appropriate. Their faces are equally adorable and expressive.
In The Witch's Children, by Ursula Jones, illustrated by Russell Ayto, (Orchard Books) humor and sweetness trump horror. 
"Look out," cry the pigeons, as they spy the witch's three cute kids entering the park on a windy day. Pigeons flutter into the trees; foxes run, squirrels scurry. They've had experience with these youngsters before. 
It's fine until a little redheaded nonwitch named Gemma needs help. Her sailboat has blown into the middle of the pond. The eldest child helps out by changing Gemma into a frog so she can swim out to her boat. Good solution until she wants to be Gemma again. He doesn't know that part of the spell.
Then the middle child tries to fix things by changing the ice cream lady into a princess who kisses the frog. Only now Gemma is a prince. Pretty soon pigeons are footmen and trees are a castle.
Chaos rules until the youngest witch child pulls out the only bit of magic she knows. 
"Mommy!" she bellows across a double-page spread.
The lovely witch mama swoops in on her broom, sets the park to rights, and mama and children fly off to eat cake on their roof.
This never fails to charm my 4- to 6-year-old audiences. The bad news - The Witch's Children appears to be out of print in the U.S. You can still get it in libraries, used - or as a paperback through AmazonUK, where it's not terribly pricey. 

The Witch's Walking Stick, written and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh ($16, Houghton Mifflin) is a sweet- natured, Cinderella-like story in which a good girl triumphs over her cruel elder siblings and a nasty, has-been witch.
On a walk through the woods, the elderly witch is left fuming when a playful dog grabs her magic walking stick and runs off. Over the years, the witch used the stick for thousands of evil wishes. Its magic is nearly gone, but she still enjoyed her nasty little tricks, such as turning squirrels into goldfish.
On the run from her miserable life, young Margaret meets the witch, who's concocted a ruse. She's just a wobbly old lady who needs her walking stick. She'll give Margaret a reward to bring it back.
Margaret is sweet, but smart, too. She figures out the secret of the stick and borrows it to make her life a little better.
By the time the witch gets her stick back, Margaret's siblings have learned a lesson, the little girl no longer sleeps on straw, the magic is used up and the dog has a home. The illustrations are simple and expressive.
The Perfect Pumpkin Pie, written and illustrated by Denys Cazet ($17, Atheneum) is a hilarious, slightly scary ghost tale about Mr. Wilkerson, a grumpy, impatient old man who drops dead on Halloween night as he's just about to bite into his wife's perfect pumpkin pie. I save this for at least second grade.
Mrs. Wilkerson buries him in the backyard and moves away. On another Halloween night, the new residents of the Wilkerson House, Jack and his grandmother, are baking a pumpkin pie when a ghostly white wisp rises in the yard.
"Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkin pie! I must have one before I die!" the cranky ghost moans. "It must be perfect or a ghost I'll stay, and haunt this house and never, ever go awaaaaaaaay!"
Grandma invites him in, but he's a picky ghost and her first pie is far beneath his standards. He returns again and again, providing opportunities for funny repartee between ghost and grandma, who gives back just as good as she takes. It's a great read aloud with swirly, wild watercolor-and-pen illustrations. Children will enjoy joining the ghost's refrain. There's also a surprise ending.

Reviews of Boo Bunny, The Witch's Walking Stick and The Perfect Pumpkin Pie originally appeared in The News Tribune.

-Rebecca Young


Books for Little Hands said...

Thanks for sharing this great selection of (not so scary) picture books. You've got to love witch stories and Boo Bunny looks like a great read for preschoolers.

Books for Little Hands said...

I posted your link on my face book page Books for Little Hands. Your blogs looks great. I'll be coming back to read some more :)