Pumpkin Potpourri: Toy Books for the Halloween Season
And in that dark, dark cupboard,
It's Halloween and we're having a party!
Will you help us get ready?
We need to hang our lanterns and take out our costume masks and hats.
Which creature do you want to be?
Halloween time is a great time for the genre of children's fare known as "toy and movable books." Things that go bump in the night are naturals for pop-up books, flap books, shaped books, and other design factors that make them part story and part plaything, with a spooky surprise always just ahead. They can be as complex as Maurice Sendak's Mommy?, with its sophisticated but slapstick gags, or as simple as Dorling Kindersley's new Halloween (DK) (DK, 2009) In this bright, tactile board book, the cover itself is a pumpkin-shaped trick-or-treat bucket, with an assortment of enticing "treats" spilling over the top. Inside, each die-cut page has its own text and adds a layer to the pumpkin's treat trove as the pages are turned. And when the treats are all gathered ("cookies and candies everywhere!") and the book is closed, there is a visual reminder of the jolly goings-on on each overlying page, popping out of the jack-o'-lantern's top.
Instead of revealing its surprises from the beginning, David A. Carter's In a Dark, Dark Wood: An Old Tale with a New Twist (Simon & Schuster) keeps the best for last. Carter's evocative darkling woods, with their swirling orangish fog, give way to a spooky house which, of course, the reader must enter. Following the traditional style of the cumulative tale, Carter's sturdy version takes us into the dark, dark house and up those familiar dark, dark stairs and through a door into that waiting dark, dark room, where there stands an old fashioned closed cupboard with a shadowy dark hand reaching forward to throw it open:
There was a dark dark shelf.
And on that dark, dark shelf,
There was a dark, dark box.
And in that dark, dark box
Thus far, not so scary, huh? But the lifting the last page reveals a huge. intricately constructed green ghost, which rises slo-o-o-wly and spookily from that last turn of page, one who is everything a pop-up ghost should be!
For slightly older readers, who like their Halloween humor a bit on the spoofy side, Colin McNaughton's witty classic Dracula's Tomb has all the right stuff. The cover is shaped like an old-fashioned six-sided coffin, with a long-fingered greenish hand reaching out to form the Velcro clasp.
If the reader dares to open the "coffin" (KEEP OUT! OPEN IF YOU DARE!! JOURNALS OF COUNT DRACULA. PRIVATE!), McNaughton gives the history and characteristics of legendary vampires, Vlad Drakul and the rest, with puns a plenty and a few appropriately "batty" riddles (What goes PALF, PALF? A bat flying backwards.) In the funniest section, "My School Days," Drac relates the fun and games at Dr. Frankenstein's School for Little Monsters, remembered as "the best nights of my life." Drac's report card shows him "truly amazing" at playing dead, but points out that he still has a bit of trouble transforming himself into a bat. ("He looks more like a plastic trash can liner," his transformations master reports.)
But there are plenty of the fine arts to study during Drac's school days. He's a natural for the lead in their Shakespeare drama, "Tomb B or Not Tomb B," and the class is visited by a real LIVE author, one Bram Stoker, who remarks that "he's going to write a book about us" some day. And his subterranean dorm room is comfortably equipped with a comfy, velvet-lined coffin, hygienic items such as a toothbrush with a bite out of the bristles and a fang file, and a fridge stocked with such treats as "I Scream" and "fangfurters," supplemented by a big bottle of "Biteamines." Even pets are apparently allowed in this dorm, including Drac's favorites, ghoulfish, Vlad the impala and Frankenswine.
Inside his casket, of course, lies the piece de resistance. Appropriately warned not the disturb the "last remains of Dracula," the reader lifts that lid to reveal an full-size pop-up of the vampire himself, along with appropriately spooky bats and serpents rising from the coffin.
All three of these books meet the main criteria for their genre--sturdy enough for plenty of use and clever enough to engage the reader while providing plenty of fun.
And in that dark, dark cupboard,