Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Picture Book Reviews Part II

The Hallo-wiener
Author/Illustrator: Dav Pilkey
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
Pages: 32
Ages: 4 to 8

Dav Pilkey is a master of children’s humor. The author of the Captain Underpants series and The Dumb Bunnies brings his unique sense of humor and cartoon-style illustrations to life in this Halloween treat. Hallo-wiener tells the story of Oscar, the dachshund, who dreams of Halloween and scary costumes. Teased by his peers and fawned over by his mother, Oscar is the laughing-stock of obedience school. When he arrives home, his mother greats him with a surprise “I’ve made you a costume to wear for trick-or-treats!” It is a giant hotdog bun topped off with mustard. Groan! Yet, Oscar does wear the costume and the adventure begins. As with most tales of the harassed character, Hallo-wiener is predictable in its conclusion.

Sad to say, despite most children I know who enjoy this story, I was disappointed in it. The illustrations are bright with wonderful details which enhance key elements and lend humor to the story. However, though I believe that Pilkey’s drawings are fabulous; I feel as a storyteller he is capable of so much more. Why is it that a character who has been ostracized for superficial reasons only finds worth if he saves the day?

Readers who enjoy Pilkey’s other works will likely enjoy this story as well. However, with so many other truly phenomenal Halloween picture books available, I am happy to leave this to those who find it funny.

(*)My Rating: I will leave this one up to the reader.

Boris and Bella
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated: Gris Grimly
Publisher: Voyager Books
Pages: 32
Ages: 4 to 8

My eight year old niece asked me the other day where my copy of Boris and Bella was. After a thorough search of my home bookshelves which left me empty-handed, I nearly panicked. Before I turned myself over to a complete state of anxiety, I did a second search of my work bookshelf. Much to my relief, it was nestled safely among other books in my office. My personalized signed copy has been among my cherished books since I acquired it several years ago. I have probably read this story to my niece more than 100 times, and have read it to multiple classrooms of children over the years. If I were to be allowed to select only one Halloween picture book, then this would be the winner.

The reader learns early on that “Bella LeGrossi was the messiest monster in Booville… Boris Kleanitoff was the tidiest monster in Booville.” Carolyn Crimi’s odd-couple Halloween tale of a messy witch and a persnickety vampire is humorous and filled with wonderful word plays (“bar-boo-cue” and “boo-ffet”) and rhythmic tongue-ticklers. The unneighborly monsters attempt to outdo one another by each throwing the biggest Halloween bash. However, the other residents of Booville choose to attend Harry Beastie’s party instead. Rather than sitting around fuming about Harry’s party, Bella and Boris arrive separately ready to give Harry “a piece of their mind”. After awhile, the unlikely pair finds a mutual interest in dancing which dissolves the anger and hatred they have harbored towards one another. In the end, they discover that they just might be the perfect match for one another.

Crimini’s delightful play on words and rhythmic phrases are complimented by Gris Grimly’s pen and watercolor illustrations. Grimly’s ghoulish drawings and attention to details elevates this predictable tale and brings all of its characters to life.

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity of taking my niece to see Gris Grimly at a local indie-bookstore. His audience was equally filled with children and adults who admired his work, listened intently to the answers to their questions, and were mesmerized by the sketches he did in front of them. If you have an opportunity to see him at an event near you, I would certainly encourage you to do so.

(*)My Rating: *****

Cinderella Skeleton
Author: Robert D. San Souci
Illustrated: David Catrow
Publisher: Voyager Books
Pages: 32
Grades: 3rd to 5th (younger ages for read aloud with caution)

Most readers are familiar with the tale of Cinderella, but do you know the tale of Cinderella Skeleton? This is a ghoulish version of the classic tale and though it may be a picture book I will caution right from the start that this is not necessarily for younger children. Cinderella Skeleton lives in a mausoleum in Boneyard Acres. She is required to decorate the mausoleum with cobwebs and dead flowers. She is scorned by her stepmother and stepsisters who also prevent her from attending the ball hosted by Prince Charnel. With the help of a good witch, Cinderella is able to attend the ball and as with the original version she must leave at an agreed upon time. However, rather than just leaving behind a slipper, Cinderella Skeleton leaves behind her foot as well. The story continues in a similar manner to the original tale and ends in an expected manner, of sorts.

Robert San Souci is a skilled story-teller which is evident in this unusual variation on a childhood favorite. San Souci’s uses a style of verse that is rhythmic but not sing-song. It would be wise to practice reading this tale aloud before reading it to an audience because the unique style does require some rehearsing. It should also be noted that there are a number of word choices that depending on the level of the listener may require some explanation.

David Catrow’s illustrations are reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride or even Gris Grimly’s Monster Museum. The vibrant watercolors in greens, purples, and yellows are both eerie and haunting as they draw the reader in.

I enjoyed this haunting tale along with my upper grade students, but younger readers may either get lost in the text or be bothered by some of the references as well as the illustrations which depict those scenes. I would encourage parents and teachers to read the story in advance and to know their audience.

(*)My Rating: ****

So, what are you waiting for…grab a book, find a kid and start reading…
-Aly B

Rating Scale:

***** - it was amazing, definitely recommend it
**** - really liked it, recommend it without reservations
*** - liked it, recommend it
** - it was okay, recommend with reservations
* - didn’t like it, don’t recommend it

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