The Witches Three Count On Me! (Yates Davis & Lynda Bouchard)

Hello, friends! Our spooky series book today is The Witches Three Count On Me!, written by Yates Davis and Lynda Bouchard, and illustrated by Kody Kratzer.

During dinner on Halloween, a little boy misbehaves and is sent to his room, but he decides to “play a trick” by climbing out the window and running into the woods. There, he comes upon a group of three witches casting spells by moonlight, who quickly capture the boy and fly him on broomstick back to their lair. Knowing the witches plan to eat him, the boy uses his trickery skills to confuse the witches with a math riddle, fooling them and winning his freedom. The witches flee, and the boy runs home to his waiting mother and Halloween superhero costume.

Frightfully uneven. The unnamed protagonist doesn’t get off on a very good foot by beginning the story by calling his little sister ugly, something that makes her cry (the illustration is mildly devastating). From there, while he experiences some minor moments of peril, he does not seem to learn anything from his experiences, and shows no growth or remorse by the end. The rhyming text is well-balanced for the most part, with a few inscrutable verses that are difficult to read aloud, but the story itself drags, and the word problem during the climax causes an abrupt and jarring tonal shift. The artwork is similarly inconsistent, with some spreads nicely balancing autumnal hues and cinematic framing while others have noticeably flat features or oddly-exaggerated character expressions. This would definitely be better for older elementary children, owing to the difficulty the math problem and the length; JJ enjoyed the first few pages of witches, but lost interest quickly. Overall, this ambitious indie lacked the polish and direction that could have made for a better Halloween tale, and it wasn’t for us.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Hardly Haunted (Jessie Sima)

Hello, friends! Our book today is part of our Spooky Season series – an extra spooky book every Friday in October! Today’s title: Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima, a unique tale about being and loving yourself just as you are.

High on a hill sat a spooky old house – and that house was feeling worried. No one wants to live in her, and she finds herself lonely because of it; in fact, she thinks she might be haunted. She does everything she can to suppress her spooky qualities – her creaks and squeaks and rattles – even holding her breath to keep the creepy sounds at bay. Yet when a rushing wind causes her to scratch and howl and groan, the house realizes something: being haunted is kind of awesome. She decides to be herself, but she’s still lonely… that is, until a very special family comes to stay.

Delightful. This rather original take on the classic “be yourself” theme is a great mixture of humor, heart, and spookiness. Sima’s illustrations and story give off a sense of creepy-cute that never veers into scary; in fact, there’s a distinct Miyazaki-ish vibe to the anthropomorphic house and it’s surroundings, especially in details like the gothic style of the house, the windswept hill, and an expressive black cat that leads the reader through the house’s interior. The frequent use of onomatopoeia makes it a joy to read aloud, and the overall message is lovely. The length is perfect storytime at any age, and JJ loved the artwork, sound effects, and especially the little cat. A fantastically fun Halloween read with a great lesson, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird (Jason Rekulak, Kim Smith & Chris Carter)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird, a new story based on the show and characters by Chris Carter, written by Jason Rekulak, and illustrated by Kim Smith.

Little Fox and Dana are having a camp-out in Dana’s backyard, reading through spooky books (appropriately titled “The X-Files” themselves). Fox is a little more than jumpy, especially about the prospect of an alien sneaking up on their tent. Dana assures him that there’s no chance of this… just as a bright light shines over their tent! Fox is sure it’s aliens, but Dana calms him – it’s only the security floodlight. Then what’s that towering, creepy shadow?! Just Buster the dog sniffing out a squirrel. On it goes, with Fox following mysterious sights and sounds into the woods and Dana gently bringing him back down to earth, until Fox admits that maybe he was perhaps overreacting. The pair head back to their tent, not noticing that they weren’t alone in the forest after all…

This was delightful! A non-canon imagining of Mulder and Scully as children that takes the main themes of the show and distills them down to a kid-friendly yet fan-serving story. The plot is packed with humor, clever dialogue and misdirects, and even a mildly creepy twist ending that pays homage to the characters’ roots. Adult X-FILES/sci-fi fans will love details such as Scully’s parents drawn to look like the actors who played them, and a silhouette that closely resembles a xenomorph from the ALIENS series. The art is colorful enough to engage yet maintains a proper spooky atmosphere, and is sure to present the aliens as outerworldly but not scary. The length was great, and JJ and I loved it. A treat for fans to share with their little ones, and a fun, creepy tale all around. Baby Bookworm approved!

Disney Parks Presents: The Haunted Mansion (Buddy Baker & Xavier Atencio)

Hello, friends! We’re continuing our countdown to Halloween with a review of Disney Parks Presents: The Haunted Mansion, featuring the classic theme park song by Buddy Baker and Xavier Atencio and illustrations by James Gilleard!

Along with the included CD, this musical picture book takes readers on a spooky journey through Disney’s infamous Haunted Mansion. Using the classic lyrics of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the official theme song of the popular Disney attraction, the reader follows the same ghosts, ghouls, and ghastly sites as the ride, from the Hall of Portraits all the way to the hitchhiking specters at the exit gates, providing plenty of creepy fun along the way.

For such a simple concept, I was blown away by how well this worked as a picture book! Since the Disney rides all have some sort of narrative, it makes total sense that it could be translated to a children’s book. But a clever and unexpected element were the illustrations capturing the many visual gags, memorable tableaus and unique characters that the ride is known for, all in a very creepy yet fun style that really brings each character to new (after)life. It builds a story that is as wonderfully entertaining for both fans of the ride and those who are completely unfamiliar with it, which is the ideal balance. The lyrics of the song can be a bit tripping if you’re reading without singing and are unfamiliar with the song, but as there is a CD included, this seems like a minor issue easily rectified. The length is great, and JJ and I had tons of fun with this one. A must-read for Disney Parks fans, or wonderful spooky offering for anyone who enjoys a ghostly tale. Baby Bookworm approved!

I’m The Scariest Thing In The Castle (Kevin Sherry)

Hello, friends! Our book today is I’m The Scariest Thing In The Castle by Kevin Sherry, a spooky and silly story that’s pure Halloween fun.

Meet the vampire bat! He’s the scariest thing in the castle! He’s scarier than the spiders and the ghosts, scarier than the werewolf and the witch, scarier than the mummy and the skeleton. He’s simply the very scariest thing there is in this castle! That is, until the lights go out… 

This one was simple yet offers lots of laughs, especially for younger bookworms. The story introduces them to all the monsters and ghouls of the Halloween season, provides a hearty chuckle for its plot twist and resolution, and strikes a perfect balance between creepy and cute where the art is concerned. It’s a quick read, and JJ loved spotting the ghastly ghoulies she’s been learning about this month. This one would make a great gift for little readers to celebrate Halloween, and we liked it. Baby Bookworm approved!