12 Picture Books for the Fall 2018 Holiday Season

This is the latest in our series of quarterly seasonal roundups, this time showcasing new picture books for Halloween, Deepawali, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Cherokee National Holiday, and Thanksgiving.

This is the latest in our series of quarterly seasonal roundups, this time showcasing new picture books for Halloween, Deepawali, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Cherokee National Holiday, and Thanksgiving. We continue to look for fiction and nonfiction books about a variety of festivals and cultural celebrations, and are hopeful that our coverage will be more inclusive and expansive over time.

Cherokee National Holiday

Traci Sorell. We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. illus. by Frané Lessac. 32p. Charlesbridge. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781580897723.
K-Gr 2–Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, offers readers a look at contemporary Cherokee life as she follows a family through the seasons of the year as they take part in ceremonies and festivals. The book opens, “Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles—daily, throughout the year….” Beginning in the fall (uligohvsdi) with the Cherokee New Year, a variety of rituals and cultural symbols are introduced, all in spare, lyrical, accessible language. Traditional foods, crafts, and songs are part of the engaging narrative, as is the refrain, “we say otsaliheliga.” Cherokee words are presented both phonetically and written in the Cherokee syllabary. Lessac’s lovely gouache folk-art style paintings bring the scenes to life.

VERDICT This informative and authentic introduction to a thriving ancestral and ceremonial way of life is perfect for holiday and family sharing.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Halloween

Laurie Berkner. Monster Boogie. illus. by Ben Clanton. 40p. S. & S. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481464659.
PreS–This is an energetic adaptation of a song by Berkner. The story line is simple—a monster shows up in a child’s room at night but instead of being scary, he wants to dance. The creature invites everyone to dance, including readers. Clanton’s artwork is vividly colored and is so exuberant, the monster seems to come right off the page. Kids will identify with the feeling of being scared by monsters and hopefully transfer the confidence of being able to dance with them rather than being afraid. This book would make an enjoyable storytime selection with extensions that could include singing the song and making crafts.

V­ERDICT A fun read-aloud choice for libraries with preschool populations.–Debbie Tanner, S D Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Lucy Ruth Cummins. Stumpkin. illus. by Lucy Ruth Cummins. 56p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534413627.
PreS-Gr 3–What does every self-respecting pumpkin aspire to be? A jack o’ lantern, of course. Stumpkin is big and round and “­orange as a traffic cone”; he’s full of ­promise, except for one minor flaw—he has no stem. Still, as Halloween approaches, he sits expectantly on his shelf outside a bodega waiting for someone to take him home, carve him up, and place him in their window. One by one, the windows in the building across the street fill up with smiling jack o’ lanterns as the number of pumpkins on display in front of his shop dwindles. What will become of this poor, stemless pumpkin? After a tense few pages featuring a prominent trash can, a spread of pure black and some mysterious triangles, the shopkeeper comes up with the perfect solution. The illustrations, rendered in gouache, pencil, ink, and brush marker, feature a palette of black, white, orange, and a touch of green, while the people are all represented in black silhouette.­

VERDICT A perfect holiday read-aloud for city kids and ­country dwellers as well.–Barbara Auerbach, ­formerly at New York City Public Schools

Jill Esbaum. Frankenbunny. illus. by Alice Brereton. 40p. Sterling. Nov. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454921721.
PreS-Gr 2–Spencer knows monsters aren’t real, but can’t help believing in Frankenbunny due to the constant torment from his two older brothers. He’s brave when it’s easy, like in the sunshine or when talking to his father, but not so much at bedtime when his brothers inform him that Frankenbunny loves to jump out of the closet. Esbaum’s story is told in the second person, which is not often found in picture books, but might help some kids relate to the story of mean older kids taunting their younger sibling. Brereton’s art makes the work shine; her cartoonish yet expressive design and use of dark backgrounds illustrate danger while helping the colors pop at just the right time.

VERDICT A solid addition to holiday shelves and any monster-themed storytime.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Rachel Kolar. Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters. illus. by Roland Garrigue. 32p. Sleeping Bear. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585363926.
PreS-Gr 2–Traditional nursery rhymes are transformed into not-too-scary Halloween fun. An introductory poem invites readers to trick-or-treat and is followed by a collection including typical frightening fare like ghosts, witches, zombies, and skeletons. Mary’s little lamb becomes a ghost (“Mary had a little ghost,/his face was white as cloud;/and everywhere that Mary went/he followed in his shroud.”) and Miss Muffet, instead of being frightened by the spider, eats it for dessert. The rhymes scan well, making the poems perfect for reading aloud with a flashlight tucked under your chin.

VERDICT A fun addition to public libraries’ Halloween poetry collections and Mother Goose retellings.–Mary Kuehner, Arapahoe Library District, CO

Adam Rex. Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? illus. by Adam Rex. 48p. Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484704974.
PreS-Gr 2–A parade of vampires, ghosts, and other creatures do not scare Darth Vader, but something does! When costumes are removed, revealing a group of kids ready for some rowdy play, Darth Vader is finally unnerved. In a particularly hilarious illustration, children swarm him as he yells out, “I AM MOST DISPLEASED.” A small girl raises her fist in the air and stomps as she mimics him, one girl makes googly eyes, and a diaper-clad baby with pacifier gets in on the action. In a final desperate meta-scene, Vader experiences real fear. Is the book about to close? With his typical offbeat humor, Rex notes that the illustrations were created in Photoshop and then superimposed on a swamp created with “paper, clay, paint, moss, glue, sticks, stones, foam, sponge, and schmutz.” The result is appropriately dark and textured with the children adding lightness and whimsy. Star Wars references abound and will delight fans; non-fans will appreciate the quirky humor.

VERDICT Perfect for Halloween collections and beyond, no library will want to be without this humorous addition to the Star Wars collection.–Lisa ­Taylor, Florida State College, Jacksonville

Diwali

Margarita Engle with Amish Karanjit and Nicole Karanjit. A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal. illus. by Ruth Jeyaveeran. 32p. further reading. glossary. maps. Millbrook. Sept. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781512432053.
Gr 1-4–Coauthored with her daughter and Nepali son-in-law, this winning story in verse by Engle explores a Hindu tradition during the five-day festival of Deepawali (also known as Swanti or Tihar, or, in India, Diwali or Deepavali). Following an earthquake earlier in the year, search and rescue dogs were used widely to find trapped survivors. Now, several months later, brothers Alu and Bhalu search the city of Kathmandu for “a stray dog—a kukur—to honor with food and gratitude.” Finally, when the sky is dark and “sparkling with fireworks,” the boys find a lonely puppy and bring her home, much to the delight of their sister, parents, and extended family. Inspired in part by the childhood experiences of Engle’s son-in-law, as well as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the story strikes just the right balance between warm family and holiday tradition, perseverance in the face of tragedy, cultural exploration, and animal rescue.

VERDICT An excellent choice for most collections.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

Rina Singh. Diwali Lights. illus. by Rina Singh. 24p. Orca. Aug. 2018. Board $9.95. ISBN 9781459819085.
PreS–This gorgeous board book features photographs of adorable babies and toddlers experiencing the Diwali holiday in wide-eyed wonder, surrounded by the gentle love and affirmation of adults. Babies will love looking at the children’s faces, and the bright colors and emotions portrayed will make this a favorite for repeated reading. The informative text emphasizes the love and wonder the children feel while presenting the basics of the celebration. The text does an excellent job balancing universal ­experiences with culturally specific ones. This book presents an age-appropriate view of the holiday from morning until night.

VERDICT A first purchase for board book collections everywhere.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Grace Lin. A Big Mooncake for Little Star. 40p. Little, Brown. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316404488.
PreS-Gr 1–Little Star’s mother admonishes her not to eat the giant mooncake, which she left cooling in the night sky, but Little Star has her own ideas. Little Star makes a mischievous choice. “Yum!” Each night, she wakes from her bed in the sky and nibbles from the giant mooncake. “ ‘Little Star!’ her mama said, shaking her head even though her mouth was curving. ‘ You ate the big mooncake again, didn’t you?’ ” Rather than scolding, Mama responds with a kind offer to bake a new mooncake. Observant eyes will recognize that the final pages showing Little Star and her mama baking a new mooncake are a repeat of the front papers—a purposeful hint that the ritual is repeated monthly as Little Star causes the phases of the moon. Artwork is gouache on watercolor paper. Each page has a glossy black background and small white font. The cherubic Little Star floats through the darkness, her mooncake crumbs leaving a trail of stardust in the sky.

VERDICT The relationship between Little Star and her mother offers a message of empowerment and reassurance. Lin’s loving homage to the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is sure to become a bedtime favorite.–Lisa Taylor, Florida State College, Jacksonville

Thanksgiving

Jonathan London. Duck and Hippo Give Thanks. illus. by Andrew Joyner. 32p. (Duck and Hippo: Bk. 3). Amazon/Two Lions. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781503900806.
PreS-Gr 2–The third book in the series follows serious, industrious Hippo and free-spirited, playful Duck as they prepare for Thanksgiving. Hippo is looking forward to “a good, old-fashioned Thanksgiving.” Duck is happy to help Hippo with preparations, including inviting their friends Elephant, Turtle, and Pig. On Thanksgiving, Hippo spends the day busily preparing for the dinner. When he is finished, he sits down to wait for his guests to arrive. When they finally do, they each have a surprise for Hippo. In the end, Hippo is able to relax his convictions of what Thanksgiving should be and enjoy his friends for who they are. This message of appreciation fits in well with the Thanksgiving theme. The cartoon illustrations match well with the playful tone of the story.

VERDICT A fun choice where the first two books are popular and wherever friends and family gather.–Kimberly Tolson, Millis Public Library, MA

Ethan Long. Fangsgiving. illus. by Ethan Long. 32p. Bloomsbury. Sept. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681198255.
PreS-Gr 2–Vlad the Vampire’s family cannot forego the family drama and spectacle of creating the perfect Thanksgiving, in this silly take on holiday dinner. Vlad and his friends from Fright Club—Witch, Ghost, Mummy, and Frankenstein—have been busy all night preparing the perfect Thanksgiving for Vlad’s family. However, when the family arrives they have different ideas about meal preparation that include eyeballs, earwax, maggot meatballs, and other unappetizing treats. With Halloween still fresh in the minds of children, Long’s use of monsters to portray a family Thanksgiving is ingenious. Similar to Valensteinsand Fright Club, Long utilizes a dark palette to create an ironic mood; however the monstrous characters are portrayed in a nonthreatening way for young readers.

VERDICT This engaging picture book celebrates the gathering of family and friends; helping young readers to understand and appreciate the value of giving thanks.–Jewelee Painter, Springfield Elementary School, Rilleyville, VA

Mary Lyn Ray. The Thank You Book. illus. by Stephanie Graegin. 32p. HMH. Sept. 2018. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780544791367.
PreS-Gr 2–The idea of being grateful and exploring happiness is the core of this relentlessly cute little book. A group of human children with round heads, varying skin colors, and button eyes occupy a quaint world full of equally adorable bipedal animals dressed in human clothes. From tiny birds in bowler hats and bow ties to long-necked deer in peacoats and pom-pom hats, the illustrations portray a warm, cozy, and happy world full of farmers markets, picnics, parties, and friendship. The text focuses on experiences of happiness that kids can actually relate to, and is poetic enough to evoke real feeling and understanding of the concept of gratitude for the good things in life. The book also references the idea that thank you is also for when bad things improve.

VERDICT Discussions of gratitude, happiness, and kindness are always needed, and this small book makes the medicine go down with a delicious spoonful of sugar. Perfect for one-on-one sharing.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County ­Library, MN

These reviews have been excerpted from the School Library JournalJuly 2018 issue.

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