Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Halloween books

Halloween is near, and for those kids who are looking for some new chills as they prepare for the big night, here are three new illustrated books reviewed by Lawrence Downes in The New York Times. Look for these books, and many other Halloween thrills, in the World Catalog / search boxes here on BookBag.

... There’s still
a quiet magic in Halloween, too. It’s embedded in the time of year, in the fading light, crunchy leaves and icy air. And it’s captured in three new books, gentle and dreamlike, here to rescue the holiday from adult dreariness.

And Then Comes Halloween, by Tom Brenner, with illustrations by Holly Meade, is as sweet a marriage of words and pictures as you could
hope for. In this book the magic day arrives slowly, step by step with deepening autumn, and the job of a family is to get ready. Their schedule is cued not by back-to-school sales and advertising inserts but by signs from the world outside. ... Brenner’s text and Meade’s cut-paper collages summon a family, a neighborhood, a whole world attuned to the simple pleasures of a homemade Halloween, “when tombstones sprout on lawns like mushrooms, and ghosts swoop from trees.”

Dad helps with the cardboard robot; a daughter cuts and tapes a paper witch’s hat and wig; children scoop seeds for a jack-o’-lantern. The revelry begins when night falls, swirls through the neighborhood and builds to a crescendo of shrieks and laughter. It subsides back on a living-room floor, with the candy spilled out, counted and divided. Weariness takes over, and it’s time for bed, to dream of next year’s costume. This home at Halloween is an enchanted place, and you’ll want to go there again and again.

Enchantment, more literally, is the subject of Spells, by Emily Gravett — or is it Gribbitt? — a cheeky picture book that tells the story of an imaginative frog who finds a book of spells. Its neat conceit is th
at the wishful frog is a self-starting magician — he begins conjuring things by merely tearing the book’s pages to make a sailboat, a hat, a spyglass and a castle, before hitting on a more effective technique: mixing strange words to cast spells on the way to becoming, maybe, a handsome prince.

But because his book — that is, the book inside this book — is already in shreds, startling mix-ups await.
The words of the spells are jumbled and interchangeable, as young readers will see when they encounter inside pages cut into flaps that can be flipped and read in various ways, and are sprinkled with magic words like “Slimykazoot,” “Alaka mince” and “Bim bam Barebum,” the last set of syllables being less nonsensical t
han you might think. A bit of fine print in the front of Spells tells us that the illustrations are rendered in pencil, watercolor, shredded paper and “a sprinkling of glitter,” and there’s glitter, too, in the mischievous spirit of this witty book.

Longing and magic are also central to Only a Witch Can Fly, by Alison McGhee, with illustrations by Taeeun Yoo. On Halloween night a little girl dreams of flying on her broomstick:

The dark night around you fills with Fly, fly,/ 
and bright yellow moonlight shines down. 
/ Cat, by your side, purrs a gentle Bye, bye,
 / and Owl stares up at a star, so far.
Your heart tells you now and you walk to the door. /Cat arches his back and croons, Soon.

The text is a sestina, described in a note as “a very old form of poetry that originated with French troubadours in the 12th century.” An old form, and a rigorous one, where “the same words, or related words, end the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time.”
The poem wears its rigidity lightly, weaving an effect that is languorou
s and incantatory. “How awful it is not to fly in the sky” (here, the would-be witch is crash-landing into pumpkins in the backyard), “With the moon and the stars so high / and the smoke rising up like a plume.”

The effortless quiet of McGhee’s words is beautifully matched by Yoo’s pictures — linoleum block prints done in rapturously moody greens and browns. As the girl tries and fails and tries again, she summons the help of a black cat, an owl and her little brother. It’s clear she’ll need some magic, too. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s fair to say that there’s more than enough magic in these pages for her, for young readers and for their parents, who might otherwise give up on finding anything truly enchanting about Halloween.

No comments:

Post a Comment