My Top Ten April Picture Books

I’m going to try and get back into the blogging habit. My work blog has been keeping me so busy, and I love it so! Here are my picks for the best “new” picture books of April 2012 (“new” as in, my library just received them this April, not based on publishing date).

The Duckling Gets a Cookieby Mo Willems

The Duckling Gets A Cookie by Mo Willems

Little Bird by Germano Zullo; illustrated by Albertine

I’ll Save You BoBo! By Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

I’ll Save You BoBo! by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

Faster! Faster! By Leslie Patricelli

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett; pictures by Adam Rex

One Special Day: A Story for Big Brothers & Sisters by Lola M. Schaefer; illustrated by Jessica Meserve

Beep and Bah by James Burks

Beep and Bah by James Burks

Larf written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

A bus called heaven by Bob Graham

a bus called heaven by Bob Graham

Owlet’s First Flight by Mitra Modarressi


The Three Bears’ Halloween by Kathy Duval – Book #11 in the Countdown to Halloween

Hello again! Just 18 more days until Halloween. I wonder, every year, if this is too early to carve pumpkins. I just can’t wait to have those funny and scary faces on my porch, but I’m always afraid that the pumpkins will spoil!

For this entry I’ve selected another picture book, but one that any age can enjoy. The Three Bears’ Halloween by Kathy Duval; illustrated by Paul Meisel is a must read at this time of year!

The Three Bears' Halloween by Kathy Duval; illustrated by Paul Meisel

Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear get all dressed up and go trick-or-treating on Halloween. As they make their way through the forest Baby Bear yells “Boo!” to all his friends in order to get his treats. Baby Bear believes himself to be very scary, that is why his bag is so full! When the family knocks upon the door of a very scary looking house, the door swings open. Just as the family is about to turn away, they hear a “Tee-hee-hee” coming from out in the yard! Frighten the family rushes inside and shuts the door. As they investigate the house (in a way that many readers will recognize from another tale with three bears) they are constantly scared by whoever is “Tee-hee-hee” -ing! Just as the family can’t take the fear and anticipation anymore the “monster” reveals herself and scares the Bear family out the door.

This story is a reversal of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Instead of Goldilocks being the one investigating a stranger’s house, the Bear family has been forced inside by Goldilocks’ scary laughing and attempts to frighten the family in a very fun Halloween fashion. The writing is very fast paced and relies heavily on the dialogue between the family members. The dialogue is, also, mimicking the Goldilocks story. Every time one Bear speaks, the other two chime in and add details to what they are seeing. For example:

“Someone’s outside!” said Papa.

“Someone’s peeking in the window!” said Mama.

“Someone with a scary broom!” said Baby Bear.

Children will remember similar dialogue from the original story.

“Someone has been sitting in my chair!” Roared Papa

“someone has been sitting in my chair!” Exclaimed Mama

“Someone has been sitting in my chair! And now it is broken!” Sobbed Baby Bear

This type of storytelling brings a beat to the words that will make following along easier for younger children while allowing for older children to participate by guessing what the next bear will say.

The illustrations really enhance the suspense that the bears are feeling. The shadow of Goldilocks that the reader sees changes as more and more parts of her costume are recognized by the bears. The illustrations are very detailed as well. Once inside Goldilocks’ home, a tiny mouse dressed up as a vampire can be seen in almost every picture. Usually he’s eating candy or hiding along with the bears. It’s fun to try to find him on each page.

This book will be a fun read for all ages. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Quick Facts:

Author: Kathy Duval

Illustrator: Paul Meisel

Ages: All ages

Series:  The Three Bears’ Christmas

Publisher: Holiday House, New York, New York

Can’t Keep Trackula of Jackula by Lisa Mullarkey – Book #10 in the Countdown to Halloween

Hi all! Just 21 MORE DAY UNTIL HALLOWEEN! Got Megan’s Halloween costume figured out (She’s going as the White Rabbit and I’m going as Alice. I’m always chasing after her, so may as well have a costume that fits), gotta figure out if I”m making or purchasing mine yet.

For this entry I’m varying from the picture books I’ve been looking at thus far and changing gears to a good early reader chapter book. One of those difficult “next step up from the readers” books that I get asked about on an almost daily basis. Katharine the Almost Great is a good series for both boys and girls. Can’t Keep Trackula of Jackula by Lisa Mullarkey; illustrated by Phyllis Harris focuses around Katharine’s baby brother (Jack) and the influence of Halloween on Katharine’s wild imagination and her flair for the dramatic.

Can't Keep Trackula of Jackula by Lisa Mullarkey; illustrated by Phyllis Harris

Katharine the Almost Great, dubbed by her parents as “Almost” because they consider her a work in progress due to her dramatic nature, doesn’t like to admit that she is still scared of the monster’s of Halloween. After watching the movie Dracula with her cousin Crockett and her baby brother Jack (who loved whenever Dracula came on the screen), Katharine is spooked but not willing to admit it. After laying down on the couch for a short nap, she is awakened by someone biting her toe; her brother Jack. Katharine (basing her rationale around the movie), begins to believe Jack (who is teething) has become a vampire: JACKULA! As Jack struggles with his teething, sprouting teeth randomly and being up at all hours of the night, Katharine tries to convince her family that this is not her baby brother anymore, this is a vampire!

Katharine is further convinced when Vanessa, aka Miss Priss-A-Poo, hands her a book 101 Ways to Tame Monster Siblings and says that she (Vanessa) believed her little brother to be Frankenstein. As Katharine follows the tips in the book to prove that Jack is now Jackula, Katharine finds that she is getting in more and more trouble with her tired parents and eventually is accused by the school principal of stealing some Halloween costumes. Katharine will need to prove that not only is Jack a vampire, but that she did not steal the costumes before the Halloween parade on Friday!

This is a funny tale of a big sister dealing with her baby brother and her family as they all struggle through a very trying time, TEETHING. The Halloween atmosphere plays into Katharine’s imagination and her dramatic tendencies create trouble and stress on her mother and father. Older siblings will connect with Katharine as she tries to figure out why her cute little brother has suddenly turned into this “biting little monster.”

The dialogue and first person narrative really give young readers a character that they can connect with. Katharine, whenever she is in trouble or is stalling for time, will recite a random fact from her calendar of 365 useless facts (Did you know that cats have 290 bones and 517 muscles in their bodies?). This will often lead to an inner monologue that bounces around in a chaotic normal third grader fashion that children will enjoy, but also does not vary far from the topic.

The illustrations are dispersed to help break up chapters (which are nice and short). The paragraphs are blocked, indented, and double spaced so that each new paragraph is obvious. This is often helpful to early readers; it gives clarity to who is speaking and helps them see the breaks in written language which will carry into the next level of books and eventually their writing. This is a great Halloween story for those just gaining confidence in their reading. Katharine the Almost Great is a fun character and one that many girls and boys will connect with.

Quick Facts:

Author: Lisa Mullarkey

Illustrator: Phyllis Harris

Age: 2nd-4th grade

Series: Katharine the Almost Great: Uses her Common Sense, The Biggest Star by Far, Major Mama Drama, The Red, White, and Blue Crew, and Bent Out of Shape

Publisher: Magic Wagon, Edina, Minnesota

On A Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day – Book #9 in the Countdown to Halloween

Hello all! Just 23 more days until Halloween!! I know that I’m busier than ever!

For this entry I’ve chosen On A Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day; illustrated by George Bates.

On A Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day; illustrated by George Bates

This books tells the story of a trick-or-treater heading home one Halloween. As the clouds hide the moon, creating darkness and shadows, the boy’s imagination begins to run away from him when he thinks he hears a voice in the wind whisper “CRACKLETY-CLACK, BONES IN A SACK. They could be yours – if you look back.” As the boy races home and his fears grow bigger and bigger, the moon suddenly comes out and the boy finds out what is really chasing him on his way home.

A fun book to read aloud with the repetitious “Cracklety-clack, bones in a sack…” allowing children to chime in multiple times throughout the book. The writing really builds the suspense and anxiety that this young boy is feeling as his imagination runs wild on his way home. The fears and possibilities that a Halloween eve inspires really come full force when the moon hides behind the clouds.

The illustrations in this book also add to the suspense. The illustrator has done a great job in showing what the boy thinks he is seeing and overlaying these sights on top of the actual objects. When the moon finally shows itself, children will be able to recognize the skeletons as the cornstalks and the heads as pumpkins. The illustrations are very dark (because the moon is behind the clouds, after all), so it is a book that needs to be looked at up close and personal.

This book will really add suspense and enjoyment to bedtime or any other time. It’s a great look at what our imaginations can do to us, particularly on a night like Halloween when the spooks and creatures of the night are known to prowl! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Quick Facts:

Author: Nancy Raines Day

Illustrator: George Bates

Ages: PreK thru 3rd (the “uneasiness” that the book can bring out when read may not be good for younger readers).

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, New York

Halloween Night by Majorie Dennis Murray – Book #7 in the Countdown to Halloween

It’s OFFICIALLY OCTOBER! Just 30 more days to All Hallows Eve!

This entry I’m going to look at Halloween Night by Marjorie Dennis Murray; illustrated by Brandon Dorman.

Halloween Night by Marjorie Dennis Murray; illustrated by Brandon Dorman

This book tells the story of a house full of monsters preparing for Trick-Or-Treaters on their favorite night of the year! Halloween! This story is based on ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Beginning with “‘Twas Halloween night, and all through the house every creature was stirring, including the mouse…”, fantastic illustrations and a cadence in the storytelling that children will recognize, this is a fun story to share just before bed!

The illustrations and words complement each other well and generate both a sense of “creepiness” and humor on every page! My favorite part is “By the fire in the kitchen, the witch stirred her brew; to make it more smelly, she threw in a shoe.” You can perhaps imagine the illustration accompanying this section of the rhyme.

The illustrator has used very bright colors, focusing mostly on greens and purples to give the creatures there “creepiness” but drawing the attention to their comical facial expressions with the use of some lighter colors. Each page is crammed with fun things to look at as the monsters set up the house for their guests. Children and parents will enjoy not only reading this story but scanning the pages to find new and fun things every time the look at it!

Quick Facts:

Author: Marjorie Dennis Murray

Illustrator: Brandon Dorman

Ages: PreK and up.

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, New York, New York

Boo! by Joe Fenton – Book #6 in the Countdown to Halloween!

Hi all! Hope you’re as excited as I am that the trees are starting to turn and the nights are getting chillier!

For this pick I’ve selected an adorable book: BOO! by Joe Fenton

BOO! by Joe Fenton

This book is a (mostly) wordless picture book about an adorable little ghost who is searching for the scariest costume. He decides to do some research out of a book titled Scary Things. Using objects he finds around the house and the inspiration from the book the little ghost tests out his costumes on his family. After many tries he still has not found the perfect costume. Just as he is about to give up a minor accident literally drops the perfect disguise in his lap, one that not only scares his family but wins “The Scariest Spook Competition.” You will never be able to guess what his costume ends up being!

A visually stunning and hilarious picture book that every child will love. The dark backgrounds bring the colorful costumes that the little ghost tries on to the forefront. His expressions really help lead the story; his joy when he thinks he has found a new perfect disguise, and his despair when he fails. Each family member is very distinct and as comical as the little ghost’s costumes.

A great read for all ages, everyone will love watching this little ghost attempt to draw a BOO! out of everyone!

Quick Facts:

Author: Joe Fenton

Ages: Really for all ages, but younger children (Preschoolers to first graders) will be the ones who get the most enjoyment out of this book.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, New York

Scaredy-Cat, Splat! by Rob Scotton – Book #5 in the Countdown to Halloween

Hi all! Sorry for the long delay! School has been brutal for the past couple of days! However, today, I get to talk about one of my favorite characters ever created for children, SPLAT THE CAT!

Scaredy-Cat, Splat! by Rob Scotton

Scaredy-Cat, Splat! is one of a series of books about this unique and hysterical little kitten. Splat is hoping to win the scariest cat prize at his school’s Halloween festivities. After a minor mishap with his first costume idea, his mother uses the inspiration from a spider found on Splat’s jack-o-lantern to turn Splat into a “scary sock spider.” On his way to school, Splat discovers that what he thinks is scary may not be what others in his class think is scary. Just as he is giving up on ever winning the prize for scariest cat, yet another “Splat mishap” allows him to achieve his wish as the scariest cat.

This wonderfully written picture book will have kids and parents laughing as Splat attempts to fit in, falls short, but always find that he has a place as his own person. This story is about the uniqueness of each individual person, and the fact that no one is perfect. We all mess up, but just like Splat, we can always make the best out of the worst circumstances. The interactions between Splat and his mother or his classmates are wonderfully written and have the wit that can be found in most everyday occurences with preschoolers.

The illustrations add to the humor of Splat the Cat, in particular his “scary spider” face that is not scary at all will have most children giggling every time they see it (heck, I giggle every time I see it). The illustrations use the white page well, juxtaposing the blackness of Splat and highlighting his abnormally large and bendy tail. The words and illustrations complement each other. The illustrations could tell the story all by themselves, but the words add to the humor and allow children to feel what Splat is going through.

This story, as well as all the stories in Splat’s sagas, are a wonderful read and will capture the interest of any child. Parents, educators, and children will all love to hear about Splat and his want to be the scariest cat!

Quick Facts:

Author: Rob Scotton

Series: Splat the Cat, Love, Splat, Merry Christmas, Splat, Splish, Splash, Splat, Splat the Cat: Back to School, Splat!, Splat the Cat: Good Night, Sleep Tight (this one is an early reader)

Ages: All ages

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, New York

Miss Smith and the Haunted Library by Michael Garland – Book #4 in the Countdown to Halloween

Welcome back! Hope everyone is getting as excited as I am for September to end and October to finally arrive! Halloween is only 39 days away!! Woo-hoo!! For #4 in this countdown to Halloween I’ve chosen a professional librarian must have! Miss Smith and the Haunted Library by Michael Garland.

Miss Smith and the Haunted Library

This is part of a series by Garland about Miss Smith, her incredible storybook, and her unique classroom of students, including Zack. Miss Smith is Zack’s favorite teacher, and one fall day she enters the classroom (in her bright red short hair, black leather jacket, and Blondie pin) and announces they will be taking a field trip to the library! At the library they meet Virginia Creeper, the librarian with “…blue hair, pale skin, and deep dark eyes…” who decides to read to them from Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook. Previous readers of this series can just imagine the chaos that occurs as this librarian reads the tales of the Headless Horseman, Frankenstein, Dracula, and others. THEY COME OUT OF THE BOOK! The whole library is filled with the best villans and monsters of literature (and Halloween!) as the librarian selects different parts of their stories to read. Just as Zack and his fellows students begin to really worry, Virginia Creeper hands out apple cider and cookies and the party begins! The best Halloween Party any child could ever imagine attending! But when the seniors’ book club attempts to come into the library it is up to Zack to finish reading the stories and return the characters to the Incredible Storybook before the monsters can scare the seniors’ reading club!

This book is a well written and fun read for school age children. Miss Smith and her Incredible Storybook seem to cause mischief and mayhem wherever they are, but children are given great characters to find out more about. The author doesn’t tell the stories of the characters, but children will instantly become intrigued to discover more about them after reading a few brief words about their notorious natures and seeing the fantastic illustrations.The author even includes “Where to Find Scary Creatures: A guide by Virginia Creeper” at the back of the book. It is a listing of all the characters mentioned that came out of the Incredible Storybook, a picture of them, and what story they belong to. Children can use this guide to discover more scary stories and to learn the tales behind some of literatures best villans and monsters (and Halloween favorites!).

The writing is very fast-paced and fun. The story moves quickly and the actual writing leaves a lot of the storytelling to the pictures. The author just adds context to what the reader is looking at on a particular page. This allows children to focus more on the detailed illustrations than on the writing.

The illustrations, their detail, and their boldness, add to the fun and joy of looking at this book. The comical nature of the monsters detract from their “scariness,” while at the same time there is so many of them piling up on each page you can sense the anxiety of numerous villans being in one space. Each page is just cramped with different characters for children to look at. You will need to go through this book more than once to see every nuance (my favorite is when Miss Smith and the Red Queen are arguing behind Virginia Creeper’s chair, can you find it too?). The author has added some fun things for adults as well such as Miss Smith’s “Blondie” pin and the seniors’ reading club’s book of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

A fantastic story of Halloween’s best literary characters which is also a great resource for more “scary stories” for children to find out more about! Until next time, HAPPY SCARY READINGS!

Quick Facts:

Author: Michael Garland

Series: Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook, Miss Smith Reads Again!, Miss Smith Under the Ocean

Age: 5-11 ( younger children may enjoy the pictures, but young school age children from grades 1st-5th will probably get the most enjoyment out of this particular book).

Publisher: Dutton Children’s Book, New York, New York (A division of Penguin Young Readers Group)

Where’s My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi – Book #3 in the Countdown To Halloween

Hello, hello, hello! And welcome back!

Today I’ve gone with an adorable picture book by Carolyn Crimi; illustrated by John Manders called Where’s My Mummy?

Where's My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi; illustrated by John Manders

Although not a story about Halloween, many of the characters associated with this eerie night are found in this fun to read book. Little Baby Mummy doesn’t want to go to bed, he wants to play one more game of “Hide and Shriek” with Big Mama Mummy. Without waiting for an answer, Little Baby Mummy runs outside and hides. Once he realizes that Big Mama Mummy isn’t coming, Little Baby Mummy begins running around the graveyard, swamp, and caves of his home asking all his neighbors if they have see his Mummy. Little Baby Mummy interrupts all his neighbors as they are getting ready for bed: Bones is gargling with goo, Glob is scrubbing his face, and Drac is cleaning out his ears. When a mouse scares Little Baby Mummy, he finally does find his Mummy and they both get ready for bed.

A fun book to read with the repetitive questions of “Mama Mummy is that you?” that kids can be prompted to say as you read aloud to them. The descriptive sounds of the creatures “Clank clink clank. Woo boo woo. Clank clink Cloo” as Bones comes across the swamp gargling with goo, for example, adds suspense and allows the children to guess what the creature may be that is coming onto the page.

The pictures are very “comic book” -esque, with the sharp lines of the characters and the softer tones of the background. The normally scary characters of Dracula and the Glob being humanized as they get ready for bed. It’s comical to see Drac cleaning out his pointy ears with Q-Tips and a cloth. The vivid purple and red of the clothing of the scary characters are juxtapoised against the gloomy and gray background to really make them jump off the page. Children can clearly see that monsters are just like them, they have a bedtime ritual too!

A really fun book to read that is a great lead up to bedtime with Little Baby Mummy’s snores “Wee wee wee. Snoo snoo snoo. Wee wee SNOO!” as he cuddles his Teddy Mummy in bed end this book!

Quick Facts:

Author: Carolyn Crimi

Illustrator: John Manders

Age: 3 and up (there may be too much dialogue for younger readers and they may not recognize the characters being used).

Publisher: Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Five Little Pumpkins by Iris Van Rynbach – Book #2 in the Countdown!

Hello all and Happy Hauntings!

To continue on with this picture book countdown to Halloween I’ve selected a personal all-time favorite! Five Little Pumpkins by Iris Van Rynback

Five Little Pumpkins by Iris Van Rynbach

This classic felt-board (or finger game) tale has been beautifully retold and illustrated for young readers. “Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate” view a Halloween night from their perch and decide to follow the trick-or-treaters to a haunted house. We follow these five jack-o-lanterns on their night time escapade.

Preschoolers will enjoy the fun rolling rhymes which they probably already know. The short, quick, sentences and bold letters make this book easier for early readers. The familiarity that children will have with this rhyme and the finger games that are associated with it add another dimension. Playing the game while reading will help keep children’s attention focused on the story being told.

The soft illustrations and their child-like feel bring out the joy of this Halloween night. These watercolors also include great detail that children will enjoy exploring. On top of illuminating the dialogue and action, they include a cat who follows along with the pumpkins. It’s fun to ask children to search for the cat in a “Where’s Waldo?” fashion.

A classic Halloween favorite that is a great book for Preschoolers and Early Readers. If you’ve never heard this tale before I know you will enjoy it! Hope everyone is having fun getting ready for All Hallows Eve!


Quick Facts

Author: Iris Van Rynbach

Ages: 0-7 (Preschool and Early Readers, although all ages will enjoy!)

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Honesdale, Pennsylvania