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I Love You More Than Moldy Ham

Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis. Abrams, $14.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1646-1

A furry, bulbous monster is preparing a feast—how better to show you care?—and the ingredient list offers gross-out gags aplenty as it parodies soppy, feel-good picture books: “Toenails, fungus, beetle knees,/ vulture vomit, thick headcheese./ I love you more than toadstool jam—/ more than chunks of moldy ham!” With an item missing, the monster heads out to find it, but the interlude feels tacked onto a story that is at its best when it’s reveling in the squicky details of everything that goes into the monster’s creation, a sort of blobby, translucent green cake: “Happily we sit to eat./ Dinner smells like sweaty feet!” Armstrong-Ellis (Ten Creepy Monsters) fills the pages with slime and sludge, and careful readers will even spy monster-themed parodies of works from da Vinci, Cassatt, George Rodrigue, and other artists. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fright Club

Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61963-337-7

After a witch, vampire, ghost, and other creatures convene for a tree house meeting of Fright Club, it soon becomes clear that the club’s first rule is that cute creatures need not apply: “Fright Club is for monsters only!” says vampire Vladimir as he shoos away a fluffy white rabbit. However, the club’s monsters aren’t very good at “ghoulish faces” and “scary moves,” and the bunny—along with a squirrel, turtle, and other traditionally unscary creatures—could actually show them a thing or two. Long’s dark, ghostly palette sets an appropriately eerie mood, and he has a lot of fun with the cuddly animals’ reign of terror (a butterfly wields chains, Jacob Marley style, as it chases a ghost). Don’t worry about what goes bump in the night, Long seems to suggest—daylight can be plenty scary, too. Ages 4–8. Agent: Paul Rodeen, Rodeen Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Monster Trouble!

Lane Fredrickson, illus. by Michael Robinson. Sterling, $14.95 (26p) ISBN 978-1-4549-1345-0

Winifred Schnitzel—a brown-skinned girl with big kewpie-doll eyes and two fuzzy pigtails—has a monster problem. They visit her bedroom every night, and although Winifred thinks they are adorable (and in the Mary Blair meets Monsters, Inc. world of Robinson’s artwork, it’s easy to see why), but her sleep cycles are suffering. Winifred sets a variety of traps to deter the monsters, but she inadvertently discovers that a sleep-deprived kiss works better than sticky nets or spike-covered chairs. Fredrickson’s rhymes bounce along at a rollicking pace (“Winifred knew that despite their uniqueness,/ she’d discovered that monsters have one silly weakness”), and there are plenty of giggles to be had in watching a sleepy Winifred send the monsters scattering as she tries to bestow gentle kisses on them. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agency: Lindgren & Smith. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Trick Arrr Treat: A Pirate Halloween

Leslie Kimmelman, illus. by Jorge Monlongo. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-8061-5

Multiethnic trick-or-treaters dressed as pirates conquer the streets of their suburban neighborhood, led by chief pirate Charlotte Blue-Tongue, who wields a blue lollipop and a glowing jack-o’-lantern. “Pirates sticking out their tongues,/ shrieking with their pirate lungs,” reads Kimmelman’s playfully assured verse, which is punctuated with pirate exclamations (“Fill my belly!” “Rot my teeth!”). The pirates’ nighttime roving eventually takes them aboard a pirate ship, but a “Big black monster, sly and cunning,/ gets the frightened pirates running” (the monster turns out to be a friendly dog). Back at the pirate chief’s house, “scurvy scoundrels have a party,/ playing games and laughing hearty,” with fellow neighbors dressed as aliens, ninjas, and more. Lit with sunset shades of pink and purple, Monlongo’s illustrations conjure a cinematic sense of theatricality while capturing the visceral excitement of fully escaping into character on Halloween. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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My Rotten Friend

Stephanie J. Blake, illus. by Mariano Epelbaum. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-5327-5

Give Blake and Epelbaum credit—they don’t go halfway on this story of ill-fated human-zombie friendship. Using an AAAB rhyme scheme, Blake (The Marble Queen) writes from the perspective of a blond, blue-eyed narrator, whose BFF has seen better days: “She’s my best friend, but I won’t lie,/ Penelope smells like something died./ Her hair is matted. She’s missing an eye./ Can you sort of see her brains?” Epelbaum gives Penelope a cute kitten T-shirt and skirt—as well as sickly green skin, a lolling tongue, and body parts that tend to become detached. The narrator sticks up for her friend, but after getting bitten herself, she starts “feeling hungry, but not for food...” Especially icky scenes include one of Penelope chowing down on brains (while flies sample her own), so while Epelbaum’s cartoons establish a sunny suburban atmosphere, this story is best for families who like their humor wicked. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Believe It or Not, My Brother Has a Monster!

Kenn Nesbitt, illus. by David Slonim. Scholastic/Cartwheel, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-65059-5

In a raucous story from U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Nesbitt (Bigfoot Is Missing!), a boy describes the Halloween night when his brother brought home a monster (and an array of animals): “He then snuck seven bats inside./ The spiders ran and tried to hide.” Slonim’s (I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel) rattlebrained cartoons convey the animal guests’ antics, which include commandeering a computer and rocking out to “Monster Mash.” When the boy’s worst fear comes true (“I hope our parents don’t find out!”), the animals transform into cuddlier counterparts (robins instead of ravens, gerbils instead of spiders, and a shaggy dog instead of a monster), only to revert to their glowering selves on the final page. The 11th-hour transformations may confuse some readers, but the mischief the animals get up to should keep them entertained. Ages 4–6. Author’s agent: Jill Corcoran, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Even Monsters Say Good Night

Doreen Mulryan Marts. Capstone Young Readers, $14.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62370-256-4

Nervous at bedtime, especially “on Halloween when the monsters were all out,” a girl named Avery relies on her mother to defuse her fears. One by one, Avery’s mother explains that monsters, werewolves, mummies, and other creatures all sleep at night, just like children—except for vampires, who “just sleep during the day” (which isn’t actually all that reassuring). Subtle background textures help enliven otherwise flat images, which don’t evoke much trepidation on Avery’s part (Marts seems more interested in capturing the homey details of Avery’s house and the monsters’ crypts and lairs). By book’s end, Avery is fully reassured, even bidding the monsters good night (it turns out they are all her neighbors—perhaps a move is in order?). It’s a mild and somewhat unfocused offering, but similarly timid readers might find comfort in knowing that vampires and skeletons sleep with teddy bears and nightcaps. Ages 3–7. Agency: Bright Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Carl’s Halloween

Alexandra Day. FSG/Ferguson, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-374-31082-0

What better time than Halloween for rottweiler babysitter Carl and his human charge, Madeleine, to get up to a little mischief? In this holiday addition to Day’s long-running series, when Madeleine’s mother steps out to visit Grandma, she invites daughter and dog to pass out Halloween candy at home. They have other ideas, donning costumes (a necklace for Carl, a feathered hat for Madeleine) and setting out to acquire candy of their own and attend a Halloween party. Day’s paintings exude a tender, homespun charm, underscoring the idea that Madeleine is safe as can be with her stalwart protector. Cozy details abound—vintage-looking paper decorations adorn the party where costumed children (and Carl) bob for apples and play a toilet-paper mummy-wrapping game—and Day concludes with a zinger, as Madeleine’s mother returns to tell them, “Next year, you two will be able to go trick-or-treating yourselves.” Ages 3–7. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Very Fairy Princess: A Spooky, Sparkly Halloween

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton,
illus. by Christine Davenier. Little, Brown, $18 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-28304-5

Gerry is having “a hard time choosing a costume that works with my wings and crown,” and she’s quick to set her father straight when he suggests that she simply dress up as a fairy princess. “That not a costume,” she says. “That’s what I am!” Rather than make Gerry’s costume conundrum the heart of the story, Andrews and Hamilton focus on her ingenuity, first in coming up with a perfect wings-friendly costume (an angel) and then by coming to the rescue of a classmate whose dentist costume gets doused with ketchup at lunch, a stain that “sends totally the wrong message about dentists!” A few costume adjustments for both girls result in a winning Halloween parade, captured in loving detail in Davenier’s characteristically loose and lively illustrations. No tricks here, just treats—sparkly ones, of course. Ages 3–6. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Runaway Pumpkin: A Halloween Adventure Story

Anne Margaret Lewis, illus. by Aaron Zenz. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-63450-214-6

It’s hard not to see Lewis’s (Fly Blanky Fly) story as a Halloween-themed answer to The Runaway Bunny, as a cherubic pumpkin tells his mother about everything he hopes to do on Halloween night. Unlike the rabbit parent in Brown’s classic, this mother isn’t a total helicopter pumpkin: she ensures her child has whatever he needs, be it a pirate costume for trick-or-treating or a blanket for visiting his ghost friends at a haunted house, but promises to send him on his way; eventually the younger pumpkin realizes that Halloween might be even better when spent with Mom. Wordless scenes of the small pumpkin’s imagined adventures alternate with the unfolding parent-child conversation. Built around the refrain “for you are my little pumpkin,” Lewis’s dialogue can be stilted, but Zenz’s (Orangutangled) cute-as-a-button pumpkins, ghosts, and mummies hit just the right note of sweetness. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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