Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Faery King Meets Liberated Woman: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Aislinn (whose Celtic name means "vision") has the "Sight," the ability to see faeries invisible to other mortals in her daily life as high school junior. Because her mother died because of her involvement with a powerful faery, Aislinn has lived by rules which require her to keep her special gift secret from mortals and unknown by the faery folk.

When she realizes that she is being stalked by a gloriously handsome faery king named Keenan and his pale, thin follower Donia, Aislinn fearfully keeps this threat secret from her grandmother and her boyfriend Seth. Then Keenan, assuming a "glamour," an attractive form visible to mortals, actually enrolls at her school and asks her out. Terrified of the faery's intentions, Aislinn turns to Seth and finally confides her secret power and her fear of Keenan and his followers, who are shadowing her every move. At last, believing that she must know Keenan's intentions, she agrees to meet him at a street carnival. As she strolls and dances with him and allows him to buy her a strangely irresistible drink, Aislinn realizes that she has compromised her mortality. Intoxicated by the faery wine and almost swooning at his beauty, by an act of will Aislinn manages to break away and hide herself in Seth's apartment, surrounded by its steel frame, where only the most powerful faeries may enter.

Despite her growing love for Seth and his determination to protect her, however, Aislinn realizes that her body is already changing, her mortality slipping away. When she confronts Keenan, she learns that he believes her to be the "Summer Queen" he has sought for centuries, and that she as Summer Queen and he as Summer King will be able to defeat the Winter Queen whose icy evil dominance threatens the world's survival. Aislinn reluctantly recognizes that she indeed possesses the powers of the Summer Queen, but her love for Seth requires that she renounce a marriage with Keenan and the irrevocable loss of her remaining mortality. Realizing that Keenan needs her desperately to retain his own magic, Aislinn bravely negotiates a way to live in both worlds.

In Wicked Lovely, Aislinn, like Bella in Stephenie Meyers' Twilight saga, is an intelligent modern heroine who must choose between a mortal and an immortal lover while remaining true to her own human values. Like Bella's story, on the level of a teenage romance Aislinn's story is every girl's dream--two very handsome and devoted suitors, each offering love and happiness; but on the philosophical level Aislinn's dilemma is every young woman's task--to make the life choice which leads toward the greater good. Author Melissa Marr manages to sustain two fully realized worlds, one modern and mortal, one ancient and supernatural, and merges these worlds with a fair degree of credibility. As the latest example of the "Urban Faery" genre, Wicked Lovely has much to offer mature teen readers.

Note: Although there is no overt sexual content in this book, there are oblique references and situations which make this book suitable for mature young adult readers.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Porker in Pink: Mercy Watson, Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo

Mercy Watson, the world's most pampered pig, is back for Halloween in her funniest adventure yet in the beginning chapter series by Newbery author Kate DiCamillo.

At first Mercy is underwhelmed by the too tight pink princess gown and the ear-pinching tiara that Mr. and Mrs. Watson procure for her, but when she finds out about the treats, visions of hot buttered toast dance in Mercy's head, and she slips into her frou-frou-ish frock in a flash and is off to trick-or-treat. "A porcine vision!" proclaims Mrs. Watson.

Of course, her first doorbell is that belonging to the spinster Lincoln sisters, supercilious Eugenia and her kinder, gentler sibling Baby.

"She looks just like a princess," gushes Baby.

"She looks just like a pig in a cheap dress," sneers Eugenia.

Baby sneaks Mercy into the kitchen for some Butter Barrel treats, where Mercy unfortunately encounters the Lincoln's cat General Washington, and the chase is on. With the Watsons in their holiday getups and the Lincoln sisters in full pursuit behind them, trick-or-treaters Stella and Frank think it's a Halloween parade and follow at full speed. It's a chain reaction rear-ender as all of them arrive just as General Washington gets himself stuck high in the top of a suitably spooky tree.

As usual, firemen Ned and Lorenzo and their long ladder are summoned to the rescue, which, as usual, gives Mrs. Watson a great idea. "We should have a party!" she exclaims joyfully. Fireman Ned urges little Stella and Frank to join the celebration. "You're in for a treat," he tells them. "The toast here is excellent."

Although her princess gown is still too tight, Mercy is content. "Bread was toasting; butter was melting.... It was worth it."

In Mercy Watson, Princess in Disguise Kate DiCamillo is in her finest comic form, and Chris Van Dusen's illustrations are the best yet.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

What You Wish For: Strange Happenings by Avi

In this collection of five tales of the supernatural, Newbery Award-winner Avi (who won his 2005 award for Crispin_ makes use of a popular device for fantasy, the mystical power of transformation.

"Be careful what you wish for--because you might get it" is the basic theme of these stories, together titled Strange Happenings Two of the stories have a contemporary setting. In the first, "Bored Tom," twelve-year-old Tom Fitzhugh is marginally involved but basically bored with his daily world of home and school. When he meets up with a talking cat named Charley, he takes the cat up on his offer to swap places, chiefly because he needs an exciting event to write about in a school assignment. Tom soon regrets his choice but finds that undoing the wish will not be easy.

The second contemporary story, "Curious," has a more chilling tone. Jeff Marley is strangely curious about the mascot for his hometown baseball team, the Rolerton Astros. This costumed character, called "the Alien," cavorts on field, mocking the players and umpires, and is popular with the fans, but when Jeff inquires about him, no one seems to know who the person inside the strange outfit is. When Jeff stakes out the stadium and watches the goings and comings of players and staff, he cannot identify the actor who portrays the character. Finally driven by his curiosity, Jeff begins serious surveillance from beneath the bleachers, where to his horror he finds out the horrifying truth about the real space alien behind the "Alien's" sponge rubber-clad persona.

Three of the stories hew to more traditional folkloric settings. "Babette the Beautiful" tells the story of a baby born to a queen who asked an ugly old sorceress to give her a flawlessly beautiful child. Babette is born perfect but perfectly invisible. As in the "Emperor's New Clothes," everyone pretends to see her as strikingly lovely until Babette herself finally looks, and fails to see, her own reflection in a mirror. "The Shoemaker and Old Scratch" is conceived in the traditional "pact with the devil" motif, in which a duplicitous cobbler fails to keep his deal with a mysterious cat and in turn is forced into a much harsher deal with the devil. The last tale, "Simon," tells the story of a spoiled and self-centered child who takes all his parents have to give. When his search for notoriety leads him to kill an enchanted Golden Bird, Simon is himself transformed into a bird until his selfish soul finds remorse.

These stories are indeed of strange, bizarre, and sometimes creepy happenings, but in Avi's skilled hands, they become modern cautionary tales which warn of the peril of wishing for more than one deserves.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Killer Book to Die For! Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler

Believe me, I've spent enough time on the hot seat in the story circle to know that it takes more than a wooden stake to nail the kids down on Halloween Day. Veteran queen of the holiday picture books Margery Cuyler has a proven killer-diller in her drop-dead funny classic, Skeleton Hiccups.

Sight gags abound in S. D. Schindler's glowing ink and gouache illustrations of a skeleton plagued by a persistent "hic, hic, hic." From first arising in bed (with a stone headboard carved with R.I.P.), through futile attempts to rid himself of the annoying hiccups in the shower, with a firm tooth brushing (where his jawbone flies across the room), and by determined bone-polishing (whoops, there goes the arm), a bony protagonist who, er, just can't get it together is just plain, well, rib-tickling.

Friend Ghost steps in with all the usual advice--swallowing a spoonful of sugar (falls through onto the floor!), nose holding while drinking (oops, no nose!), and drinking a glass of water upside down (water cascades from both eye holes), but nothing halts the hics. Finally, when his best ghostly groan fails to scare Skeleton enough, Ghost falls back on the most shocking sight he can come up with, Skeleton's own frightful face in the mirror. Skeleton's resulting heebie-jeebies send the hiccups hopping--right off the page!

Skeleton's expressions as he struggles with the mundane misery of the hics are appealing rather than alarming, but the gross-out level of Schindler's illustrations is high enough to keep kids focused as the riveting remedies send the hideous hiccups to their final rest.


Shakin', Not Quakin': Shake dem Halloween Bones by W. Nikola-Lisa

The author of Shake Dem Halloween Bones obviously agrees that what this country needs is MORE DANCING! And what better time to dance than Halloween, when you can hip-hop anonymously in your fanciest disguise?

In W. Nikola-Lisa's zippy, rhyming song, various fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters shake their bones to a bouncy beat.

Tom Thumb's a rockin'; he's a shaking' dem bones.
For a tiny little guy, he can shake it on home.
Come on, Li'l Tom, won't you dance with me
at the hip-hop Halloween ball?

Now look at Goldilocks
a-twirlin' them bears.
No wonder she busted
their rockin' chairs.
Come on, Li'l Goldie,
won't you dance with me
at the hip-hop Halloween ball?

The rockin' refrain and the vervy verses keep Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin and all the rest of the folktale gang shakin' it and not breakin' it until the final "Scoo-bee-doo-bee-doo-wah. YEAH!" This holiday book will give preschoolers a chance to work their wiggles out while having a happy time with some lilting and lively language.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not So Scary!: There Are Monsters Everywhere by Mercer Mayer

"There were monsters in my house. They would hide when my mom was around.

Dad said there weren't any monsters, but he was WRONG!"

After successfully showing kids how to dispatch a nightmare in the closet, alligators and monsters under the bed. and a "something" in the attic, Mercer Mayer takes a crack at handling ubiquitous monsters who may be just about everywhere in his bugaboo- banishing book, There Are Monsters Everywhere.

The chubby, rumpled little boy in Mayer's story knows the monsters are there but bravely soldiers on through his daily tasks, carrying out the trash, taking his nightly shower, and climbing the ladder to his top bunk despite the fairly silly-looking monsters he spies lurking in the shadows or imagines waiting for him just on the other side of the shower curtain or in the lower bunk (monsters are afraid of ladders).

Like Mercer's other protagonists, he takes matters boldly into his own hands--and feet, in this case. Spotting a handbill advertising karate classes, he realizes that he can "learn all kinds of scary moves" and he does. Bolstered by the ability to break a board with his bare hands, he karate-kicks the trash cans, punches the shower curtain, and frightens away the bedroom monster with his ferocious positions. He even faces the dark and fearsome basement ("I didn't want the monsters down there to think I was letting them off the hook!").

"Monsters everywhere? I don't care!"

Grownups know that the real scary things of life are nothing like Mayer's lumpy, big-eyed, greenish monsters, but we also know that real life take some courage, some strength to face our fears and to face them down with our own good sense and smart moves. Mercer Mayer's books are cute and funny, but their positive theme shines through the picture book charm and, we hope, stays with kids long after they put away childish things.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Can't Scare Me! A Very Brave Witch by Alison McGhee

A young and properly green witch, who has never experienced the joys of Halloween on her own, does her research from the Big Book of Humans, (Humans are afraid to fly, don't like pointy hats, are rarely known to cackle, and are definitely not green) and decides to find out first hand about this whole human Halloween thing.

There's nothing too bad, except, you know, the green thing. It's time for this brave witch to take a closer look. Hang on, Kitty, we're going in!

The first thing the little witch observes is a curious human custom which sounds something like "Trick a tree." "No one can trick a tree like me!" she boasts, and circles and swoops around a likely tree in a manner which would certainly trick any tree if a tree could be tricked. This maneuver leads to an unfortunate crash landing in the middle of three costumed trick-or-treaters, a witch, a ghost, and a skeleton.

When the kid-witch approaches with a sympathetic "That was quite a spill," the young witch thinks, "Yikes. A real human! I'm being touched by a human hand!" The kid-witch adds wistfully that she has always dreamed of flying. "Have I got a treat for you," responds the little witch, and she invites the girl-witch aboard for a flying tour around the witchy mansion aboard her trusty broom.

The cheery Halloween scene, with its dark and gloomy witches' mansion, bats, ghosts, and a bright orange-striped cat waving from the little witch's broom, helps young readers see the fun of Halloween from the other side in Harry Bliss's sweet and charming illustrations for A Very Brave Witch.

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A Message from the Dead: Dead Letter by Betsy Byars

In Betsy Byars' best and scariest Herculeah Jones mystery, Dead Letter, Herculeah's hair begins its warning frizzle when she finds a hastily scribbled message inside the lining of her vintage thrift shop coat:

"I don't want to die. I can't die. He's going to kill me. I know it. He keeps coming to the door. I've been a prisoner for days. There's no window. I don't know day from night. I shouldn't have signed. Now there's no reason not to kill me. He's back! Look inside..."
Immediately Herculeah's mind begins to search for leads to the identity of the victim--and the murderer. Herculeah goes back to the thrift shop and learns that the coat turned up in a box of riding equipment sold to the store. Then Herculeah goes to her police detective father Chico Jones to uncover the records of unsolved murders in the recent past. Although Chico withholds the name of the most likely victim from her, Herculeah eavesdrops on her father as he confides the name to her mom the name, adding that he doesn't want Herculeah getting following this lead into a dangerous situation.

Herculeah involves her chubby friend and fellow sleuth "Meat" in a library search of newspaper obituaries. There they find details of the death of a woman named Amanda Cole who died under unusual circumstances from a reported fall from her horse on the trails near her home on Elm Street. But when Herculeah goes to Elm Street to snoop around, she finds the old houses there being razed for the construction of new condos and is almost run down by the same mysterious black car which she realizes has been following her since she bought the coat.

When Meat has a dental appointment after school the next day, Herculeah goes back to the scene alone to investigate the riding trail. There on the secluded bridal path she is captured by a man with a menacing attack dog and locked up in a windowless stable--the same stable, she realizes, where Amanda Cole was held by her greedy nephew until she finally named him sole heir in her will. Alone in the dark room with a ferocious Doberman on guard, Herculeah wonders if Meat will come looking for her before it is too late!

Herculeah Jones is perhaps the best teenage girl sleuth in this genre since Nancy Drew. Newbery Award winner Betsy Byars' Herculeah Jones series is a great one for lovers of detective fiction. Short, pithy, with well-developed characters, proper attention to detective skills, and plenty of climactic action, the Herculeah Jones books are suspenseful fun for mystery fans from middle readers through early teens.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Love at First Bite: The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula by Eric Nuzum

Vampires are everywhere, from kid cartoons to 'tween and teen novels (see previous post, below), from Sesame Street to your cereal bowl. Eric Nuzum's book The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula is, as one reviewer says, "an oddly respectful as well as hilariously irreverent" look at vampires historically and sociologically, beginning with ancient Egyptian bloodsucker Nosferatu to modern cults and uses of the vampire archetype in pop culture.

Nuzum traveled to Transylvania's hot spots for vampires and visited the burial site of Vlad Drakul, a Romanian bloody ruler whose name was adopted by Bram Stoker for his nineteenth century blockbuster novel Dracula, which melded folklore and fiction to create the archetype of the modern vampire. At one point, even trying a cocktail of (his own) blood, Nuzum examines the reasons behind the non-stop popularity of the vampire in film, literature, and the modern mind.

Chuck Klosterman, author of the cult favorite Killing Yourself to Live, calls this one "the best book on vampirism I've ever seen." With praise like this, The Dead Travel Fast sounds like the perfect book to curl up with on All Hallow's Eve.


Twin Tryst: My Sister the Vampire: Switched by Sienna Mercer

Olivia Abbott is new in town, and, wearing her best pink skirt and a determinedly perky smile, enters her new middle school to begin eighth grade. Unlike her previous school on the coast, this one is old and ivy-covered, with dark, high-ceilinged halls and dusty black-and-white photos lining the walls. There seem to be a lot more Goth kids here, too, so many that Olivia feels "like a lollipop in a graveyard" among the black-clad students. Still, a pale Goth girl named Ivy gives her friendly directions to the office, and Olivia is happy to find herself in several classes with the strangely familiar-looking girl.

It is only when Ivy and Olivia see themselves together in a mirror in the girls' room that they realize that they look alike. In fact, they are as identical as twins. When they start asking questions, they discover that they are both adopted, have the same birthday and birthplace, and wear identical dark emerald rings from their real parents. Olivia and Ivy are sure they are real twins and can't resist the fun of switching identities. Using makeup to blend their different skin tones and exchanging eye makeup, Ivy pretends to be a bouncy cheerleader wannabe and Olivia becomes a gloomy Goth. "What better way is there for sisters to get to know each other than to be each other?" says Olivia.

While Ivy as Olivia has a power lunch with snooty pep captain Charlotte Brown and the other cheerleaders, Olivia, dressed as Ivy, meets up with Brendan, the boy Ivy has had a secret crush on for years. While the well-coached Ivy, costumed as Olivia, is replying "Re-e-a-a-lly?" to every remark at lunch, the friendly Olivia, as Ivy, meets and accepts a date with Brandon at the mall on Saturday. True to the twin-switch cliche', Ivy turns out to have an important meeting to plan the All Hallow's Eve party on Saturday, and the two decide that Olivia will have to pretend to be Ivy at the meeting so that the real Ivy can have her first date with Brandon.

When Olivia discovers that Ivy and her pale Goth friends are really vampires, new complications arise for the long-lost twins. In standard "double trouble" style, the two now-devoted sisters work through a series of comic complications, switching identities whenever necessary to make sure that Olivia makes the cheerleading squad and Ivy goes to the All Hallows Ball with Brendan by the end of the novel.

This spoof on twin pranks and teenage vampires is light and in good fun (no biting for these tame vampires--just rare hamburgers now and then), and the vampy identity switch makes for an, er, fangciful switch on the usual middle school BF story. My Sister the Vampire #1: Switched (My Sister the Vampire) is followed by sequels My Sister the Vampire #2: Fangtastic (My Sister the Vampire), My Sister the Vampire #3: Re-Vamped (My Sister the Vampire), and My Sister the Vampire #4: Vampalicious (My Sister the Vampire).

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Not So Scary! Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting

"I peer outside.
There's something there
That makes me shiver, spikes my hair.
It must be Halloween."

Glowing green eyes shine from their hiding place as a pumpkin-scattered landscape is lit with the glow of a rising orange moon in Eve Bunting's lilting tribute to the shivery thrill of a young child's first Halloween. As the story wanders down a twilight lane we see disguised children costumed as witches, ghosts, a werewolf, devil, vampire, and a mummy "in a winding sheet" making their way to the door of a decorated farmhouse. As the large green eyes are joined by three sets of smaller green eyes in the dark under the porch, the young spooks and goblins claim their treats from the jolly homeowners.

As the moon grows silvery and the trick-or-treaters are back home in their darkened houses, we see the mystery eyes belong to a mother cat and her three kittens, who now emerge to claim Halloween night for themselves.

Jan Brett's illustrations for Scary, Scary Halloween are some of her finest. Unlike her usual softened pastels, she works here in the traditional Halloween palette of vibrant green, gold, and orange, and her illustrations cast a jewel-like glow over the pages. Her costumed children are realistically portrayed and just scary enough to extend the text as it describes "pointy chins" and "sunken mouth and sunken eye." Bunting's rhyming text practically reads itself with a mesmerizing rhythm, and Brett's pictures provide clues to the true identities of the spooky characters: a sneaker-wearing skeleton is sure to prompt the listeners to guess that the scary apparitions are kids in costumes, while the spooky green eyes are likely to be identified as belonging to cats before they finally emerge at the story's conclusion. For kids who may still find Halloween somewhat frightening, this book is the perfect preparation for the the joys of being a little bit scared--or a little bit scary yourself!

Scary, Scary Halloween is a beautiful little book sure to become a Halloween classic for many years to come.


Just the Facts, Ma'am: Horrible Harry at Halloween by Suzy Kline.

It's Halloween, and Ms. Mackle and her third grade class are in costume for the holiday. Ms. Mackle is a full-dress witch, with raisins for warts and a tall black hat. The kids' costumes range from a fairy with a wand and pixie dust, to a bear with thick (and hot) fur, a doctor in scrubs, and even a centaur with its hind hooves on roller skates. Despite the variety, however, the question of the day is--"What's Harry going to be?"

As the kids watch the clock, they reminisce about Harry's earlier costumes: in Kindergarten he was a spooky Count Dracula; in first grade he was a slimy Loch Ness Monster; and in second grade he was a snake who was late for school because he had to squirm all the way across the playground to get to the door.

Just as the late bell is about to ring, Harry Spogger, "Horrible Harry," steps into the classroom. The class is totally boggled. There stands Harry, wearing a suit and tie and sporting polished black shoes. Where's the long-awaited costume?

Harry pulls out a shiny badge with the number 714 and pins it to his lapel with a flourish. "I'm Sgt. Joe Friday of the L. A. Police Department," he announces. As the confused class looks blank, Ms. Markle laughs and tells the class all about Joe Friday, the famous detective in the old television police show Dragnet.

The disappointed class gets to see Joe Friday in action after lunch, however, when fairy Mary discovers that her magic pixie dust (a.k.a. baby powder) is missing from its shiny box. Harry, alias Joe Friday, whips out his notebook and begins to interrogate the robbery victim. Harry, who "has a nose for the clues," quickly sniffs out the smell of talcum on Sidney and deduces that he's the perpetrator, having sneaked a bit of "pixie dust" to soak up the sweat under his fuzzy bear mask.

As the grand finale for Halloween Day, Ms. Mackle reads "The Headless Horseman" to the class, and everyone follows Harry's lead in pulling their costumes up over their heads to greet their music teacher with a headless class (and teacher) when he opens the door!

At Accelerated Reader level 3.2, Suzy Kline's Horrible Harry at Halloween provides "just the fun, Ma'am" for the beginning chapter reader at Halloween.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Super-size Pop-up: Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski

Its blurb says Jan Pienkowski's 1979 classic, Haunted House, is "the best-loved pop-up of all time." And the 2005 edition is "new and improved!"

Regardless of the hype, this is a clever, funny, and marvelously crafted book. The cover pictures a shiny, but worn front door, snake hanging from the mail slot, with a note proclaiming "Let yourself in." The text is a one-sided conversation, the remarks of the ailing homeowner as he takes his house-calling doctor on a tour. As the cover is opened, it reveals a creaky pop-up staircase with a ghost under the stairs, one behind the door flap, and a drop-down spider on his web under the stairs.

"Come in, Doctor. Yes, it's a quaint old place--chilly, though!"

As the poor doc follows from spooky room to spooky room and at last to the attic, the patient recites his symptoms. He can't sit still in the parlor with a gorilla, a whirling clock face and flying geese over the mantel. His appetite is flagging in a kitchen with a monster popping out of the stove, a giant cockroach in the oven and an octopus in the sink. He can't get anyone to visit in the guest suite with an octopus in the tub and a black cat rising out of the toilet.

The insomniac patient then leads the doctor on to his own bedchamber, where a skeleton jumps out of the chifferobe, vampire teeth rest in a glass inside the bedside table, and a ghost flickers above the bed. As the two finally reach the attic, a moving saw cuts its way out of a shipping crate from Transylvania and a giant vampire bat rises with enormous wings and bares its long teeth.

"Do you think it's all my imagination, Doctor? Doctor? Where are you....?"

To best set off its original wry premise, Pienkowski's book uses a large format (12 inches by six inches) and large, child-finger-friendly pop-ups, flaps, pull tabs, and thumb wheels to tell a really cool story of a visit to a super haunted house. And the price is right!

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Rattle of the Bones: The Bones of Fred McFee by Eve Bunting

Tossed thoughtlessly among a pile of pumpkins on their wagon, a brother and sister bring home an innocuous-looking plastic skeleton and cheerfully set about decorating their yard and front door for Halloween. But when they name the skeleton Fred McFee and hang him high in their sycamore tree, he seems to take on a life (or death) of his own.

He isn't real, but it's hard to tell.
He's plastic, head to toe.
But all of his bones are joined so well,
No one would ever know.

At night when the wind howls overhead,
With ghoulish, ghastly glee,
Our skeleton dances the dance of the dead
There in our sycamore tree.

But then, as Fred McFee swings high in their tree, the hens stop laying, the rooster seems to be gone, and their dog Sam howls all night long. What's even spookier is Fred's sudden disappearance from the tree and the appearance of a mysterious fresh-dug rectangle of earth below.

"There's a mound below that is long and lean,
Beneath a sycamore tree.
And the mound is brown in frost green grass,
We know what it might be!"

The children can only look at each other in amazement, respectfully limn the grave with a border of shells, and wonder how it all transpired. And still, as they wonder...

When the wind howls overhead,
And shakes the sycamore tree,
We hear the dancing of the dead--
The bones of Fred McFee.

Eve Bunting's dark and windswept verse and Kurt Cyrus' scratchboard and watercolor illustrations go together like black cats and witches' brooms in this wonderful Halloween readaloud. Pair it with Bunting's fun and funny In the Haunted House, in which a girl bravely leads her dad through the neighborhood house of horrors--and have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Take Your Sister with You!: Angelina's Halloween by Katharine Holabird

Angelina has a common problem: she loves her little sister, but sometimes she wishes Polly didn't have to do everything she does and go everywhere she goes.

In Angelina's Halloween big sister Angelina and her best friend Alice design their own ultra-spiffy firefly costumes for Halloween, but little sister Polly has to be content with the less glittery ghost costume Mrs. Mouseling makes for her. Still her mother makes sure that the two sparkly fireflies take Polly along on the Halloween rounds with a firm "Don't forget your sister!"

The girls take a dare to tour the haunted house and join the village Great Costume Parade. When the prizes go to the two fireflies and a small ghost, Angelina and Alice try to take the little ghost home to show off their ribbons, but to their surprise, it is little Henry under the ghost's sheet, not Polly. Alarmed, the big girls search frantically unitl Polly is finally found generously sharing her treats with a group of small wizards.

"Next Halloween I think I will be an acrobat!" says Angelina as they return home. Copycat Polly begs to be an acrobat, too. "First I will have to show you some of my tricks," Angelina sensibly replies. And the final page shows Angelina showing her little sister how to do a perfect cartwheel.

Angelina's Halloween, illustrated in her usual soft, detailed style by Helen Craig, shows all the fun and just a hint of the spookiness of Halloween night in a way that will appeal to small children and perhaps encourage their older siblings to take them along.


Baby Boos! Boo Who? A Spooky Book by Joan Holub

Joan Holub's attractive little board book takes full advantage of the flap book format in her Boo Who? A Spooky Book.

For little ones already a bit familiar with the usual characters of the Halloween season, the reading experience in this little book comes from the skillful rhymes which pose the question (which some kids can probably answer without the prompting of the object beneath the flap) and the pleasant illustrations of those icons of Halloween.

Scratch and hiss.
Who is this? (black cat)
Who has a wide grin
that is lit from within? (jack-o'lantern)
Who has bony knees
that knock in the breeze? (skeleton)
Who sleeps upside down,
then flies around town? (bat)

The descriptions get a bit more advanced as they go on to include spiders, a mummy, and a werewolf. A bonus is that all suggest possible costumes that the young reader may encounter during the season, making them much less scary to meet when trick-or-treat time rolls around in real life.

The final flap has the best surprise.

Who's that hiding?
Who could it be?
Take a look inside
and you will see!

Beneath the last flap is, of course, a mirror. Boo Who? It's you!

Although the flap is a fragile format for small hands, Boo Who? makes such good use of the genre that it's worth the small price of this wonderful little book for the smiles it provides.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The "Everything" Pumpkin Kit: The Halloween Jack-o'-Lantern by Carlos deVito

Carlo de Vito's "kit" book, The Halloween Jack-O-Lantern: Everything You Need to Help You and Your Family Enjoy the Scariest Month of the Year! doesn't come with a big fat orange pumpkin to carve, but it has just about everything else you need to light your Halloween night.

De Vito's compact little kit includes a book which explains the origin of the jack-o-lantern. He includes versions of the tales of the "will o' the wisp" and of "Wicked John" or "Jack," who was such a mean-hearted trickster that he couldn't get into Heaven or the Devil's domain and was forced to wander with his lantern in the darkness through eternity. De Vito explains how the American pumpkin came to replace the European turnip and other vegetables as the preferred lantern for Halloween.

Also included in the book are a list of "famous pumpkin movies" from Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, classic pumpkin poems, and a scary tale by Nathaniel Hawthorn. Sure to be used are the recipes for yummy-sounding pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies, roasted pumpkin seeds and even pumpkin chili. The basics of pumpkin carving are also laid out, step by step, with appropriate tools, clean-up advice, and safety instructions included.

The CD included in the kit features a flickering, candle-lit, and handsomely carved jack-o-lantern to display on your television screen during your Halloween party (a la the famous Yule log), as well as Halloween sound effects, including the usual screams and howls and spooky organ music.

As a bonus the kit contains stencils of various facial features for your own homemade jack-o-lantern, so that you can choose eyebrows, smiles or frowns, noses, ears, and other facial features to individualize your creation and amaze and delight your trick or treaters.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vampires, Werewolves, and True Love, Oh, My! The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

As summer fades and Earth spins into the darkness of winter, stories of vampires, werewolves, and deadly danger for star-crossed love seem somehow more believable. Dwelling as it does on the dark side of fantasy, the best-selling Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series is a natural for the season of the supernatural.

In the series opener, Twilight, Isabella (Bella) Swan moves to the small, rain-ridden town of Forks, Washington, to give her newly remarried mother, Renee, some space. Her dad, a loving but strangely disengaged figure absorbed in his job as police chief, leaves Bella mostly on her own as she begins her senior year at Forks High. Although Bella is befriended by a few classmates, she is interested only in a strikingly handsome but seemingly hostile student, Edward Cullen, with whom she is assigned as lab partner in her biology class. Despite his apparent attempt to remain distant, Bella and Edward are unerringly drawn to each other with an unnatural fascination.

As Edward's resistance wanes, the two begin to spend time together at school, and their attraction grows into what appears to be overwhelming love. Slowly, Bella draws out the truth that Edward is a member of a coven of vampires created by his "father," local surgeon Carlisle Cullen, who rescues dying humans by transforming them into immortals and who, unlike others of their kind, satisfy their bloodlust by killing only wild animals. Inexplicably attractive to vampires, Bella is readily accepted by Edward's family, but she is thus isolated from her father and friends by her knowledge of Edward's true nature. Bella is especially troubled by the stories of her Native American friend Jacob, whose tribal legend tells of mythical man-wolves whose war with vampires ended in a boundary pact generations before.

While on an idyllic forest outing the with Cullens, an encounter with a dangerous coven of murderous vampires from outside the territory threatens to Bella's life, and soon she realizes that she is being stalked by their tracker, James. Despite Edward's attempts to protect her, Bella is eventually trapped and attacked by James, whom Edward destroys and whose fatal bite is reversed by Edward's quick action. Bella and Edward manage a plausible cover story for Bella's injuries, and the book ends with Edward and Bella, their love renewed, dancing at the Forks High prom.

The second book in the series, New Moon begins as Bella is reluctantly preparing to celebrate her eighteenth birthday at a lavish party at the Cullen's planned by Edward's "sister" Alice. Bella particularly dislikes the thought of growing older than Edward, who is a perpetual seventeen, but goes along with the festivities until, in her usual klutzy manner, she gets a messy cut on her finger. Jasper, Edward's older "brother," cannot control his response at the sight of her blood, and although the scene is resolved amicably, Edward realizes that her association with him leaves Bella is in constant danger. Edward immediately leaves Forks, telling Bella only that he had decided she is not good for him.

Bella is devastated by Edward's seeming rejection and falls into a deep depression. Gradually, though, she forms an easy relationship with Jacob, the laid-back Quileute son of her father's best friend. Jacob, however, seems strangely preoccupied at times, and finally reveals to Bella that some young men of his tribe, in apparent response to danger from the James' coven of vampires, seem to be shape shifting into the werewolves told of by their tribal ancestors. Then, hiking in the forest, Bella is saved from attack by one of James' coven only by the sudden appearance of five huge wolves who destroy the vampire while Bella escapes. Reluctantly, Bella comes to understand that Jacob, too, is one of these shape-shifting werewolves.

Despairing of ever seeing Edward again and aware that James' blood-lusting mate may attack at any time, Bella is herself drawn into risky behavior with Jacob, deciding to try cliff-diving with the daredevil young Quileutes. Recklessly deciding to jump from the cliffs alone, Bella is near death when rescued by Jacob.

Bella then learns from Edward's clairvoyant "sister," Alice, that Edward left her only because he realized he was a danger to her life and to any hope for future mortal happiness. Rejecting existence without her, he has gone to Rome to request that the Volturi, a vampire family of Mafia-like status, end his existence. Alice and Bella follow and manage to free Edward by promising the Volturi that Bella will soon be transformed into a member of the Cullen coven. New Moon ends with Bella and Edward returning to Forks and a reluctant promise from Bella that she will avoid Jacob and his friends, the sworn enemies of vampires, and marry Edward after their graduation.

The latest book in the series, Eclipse opens with Bella's and Edward's imminent high school graduation. Bella is becoming troubled at the fast approach of her promised marriage to Edward and her transformation from a mortal woman to an immortal vampire. Torn by her desire to be with Edward always and her connections to her parents and her very real bond with her friend Jacob, Bella is also beginning to fear the actual transformation itself, especially the pain and the "newborn" phase of overwhelming bloodthirstiness, as well as the final loss of any expectation of having children and growing older with her family.

As Bella deals with these feelings, she and Edward learn that the unexplained murders which have gone on for some time are the work of a group of new vampires, whose lust for human blood has led to serial killings in nearby Seattle. Edward and Bella eventually learn that the new vampires are the creation of James' vengeful mate Victoria, who is leading their bloody sweep closer and closer to Forks. As Edward realizes that Bella cannot give up her bond with Jacob, the Cullen coven and the shape-changing Quileute werewolf pack are drawn into a curious alliance against their mutual enemy. When the eventual showdown occurs, Victoria's coven is finally overcome and destroyed. However, Bella is dismayed and repulsed by the horrible blood lust of the "newborn" vampires and frightened to know that she may experience the same evil urge for years after her transformation. She now recognizes fully that this transformation may, as Edward fears, indeed mean the irrevocable loss of her own soul.

Still, Bella sees no other future for herself. Unable to imagine life without Edward and fearing the retribution of the Volturis if she does not keep her promise, she makes a heart-wrenching break with Jacob and accepts Edward's grandmother's ring and her troth with Edward.

With overtones of Romeo and Juliet, the "demon lovers" of folklore, Dr. Faust, and occasional humorous flashes of Superman and Lois Lane, Meyer's saga of Bella and Edward achieves a certain compelling and sensually graceful prose as it tells a convoluted tale of unnatural but enduring love.

A fourth book, already titled Breaking Dawn, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2008 and will doubtless open immediately with best-seller status.

For more information about the next book, see Meyer's website, which dishes the goodies about the forthcoming book and another book, tentatively titled Midnight Sun. For information about the movie of Twilight, now in the pre-production stage, take a look at the Forks, Washington, (yes, it's a real place) local newspaper, which recently reported on the September 13 "Twilight Day," celebrating Bella's fictional birthday.

Bet Forks, Washington, will have a lot of Bella and Edward lookalikes at their local Halloween parties!

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