Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Vampenguin | Book by Lucy Ruth Cummins | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster
Vampenguin | Book by Lucy Ruth Cummins | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster

Summary:  The Dracula family is heading out for a day at the zoo.  They start at their favorite exhibit, the penguins, where Baby Dracula switches places with a penguin.  The family then continues on their visit, oblivious to the fact that there’s a penguin in the stroller.  While the story is about a routine zoo trip, the illustrations show the penguin eating ice cream and shushing the other animals before they can give his secret away. At the end of the day, while the older family members are distracted buying a balloon, the penguin and Baby Dracula switch places once again, just in time for the drive home.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Lucy Ruth Cummins’ book Stumpkin is one of my favorites to read at Halloween, and this one makes an excellent companion.  Kids will get a big kick out of the antics of both the baby vampire and the baby penguin, especially since the adults and older kids are so clueless.  Perfect non-spooky Halloween fun.

Cons:  For any kind of scare, I must again defer to Poultrygeist

Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Hardly Haunted: Sima, Jessie, Sima, Jessie: 9781534441705: Amazon.com: Books
Hardly Haunted: Sima, Jessie, Sima, Jessie: 9781534441705: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A house that has no one living in it suspects it may be haunted.  She worries that no one will want to live there.  “If I’m on my very best behavior, maybe no one will notice how spooky I am.”  So she tries to suppress her squeaks, creaks, and groans, and almost succeeds.  But a wind blows through, bringing all the spooky sounds back to life.  It’s fun!  And the house realizes she likes being haunted, and she just has to find the right inhabitants.  When a family of ghosts heads up the hill, she realizes she’s about to go from haunted house to haunted home.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Perfect Halloween reading for preschoolers, who will enjoy making sounds just like the haunted house’s, with a nice message about self-acceptance thrown in.

Cons:  Those looking for something even remotely creepy better stick with Poultrygeist.

Poultrygeist by Eric Geron, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Poultrygeist: Geron, Eric, Oswald, Pete: 9781536210507: Amazon.com: Books
Poultrygeist: Geron, Eric, Oswald, Pete: 9781536210507: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  The spread before the title page shows a chicken crossing the road…and a large truck rounding a bend.  The title page shows a flash of light and some feathers smack up against the front of the truck.  And then…”What happened?” asks a ghostly chicken, rising from its flattened body on the road.  Ghostly animals appear to fill her in on the fact that she’s become…poultrygeist!  The chicken wants to be a friendly ghost, but the other animals insist she’s just being chicken, and should use her haunting powers to their fullest.  Finally, she pulls a scary face that terrorizes the other ghosts back into hiding.  The final page shows a happy squirrel about to cross the same stretch of road, with another truck barrelling around the bend.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  For kids who like funny scares, this one will surely get a lot of laughs, and older readers will appreciate the clever wordplay (“Cock-a-doodle-boo!”).  The neon illustrations against a black background provide a fun haunted look.

Cons:  More sensitive readers may find this more gruesome than funny, and especially be disturbed by the cute little squirrel on the last page.

Portions of this review was featured on Twinkl as part of their Great & Ghostly Guide to Halloween.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

Published by Balzer + Bray

Ophie's Ghosts: Ireland, Justina: 9780062915894: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Ophie learns that she can see ghosts the night her father is killed by a lynch mob, and his spirit directs her how to save herself and her mother.  The two of them flee to Pittsburgh, where they stay with relatives.  The cousins bully Ophie, but her Aunt Rose, who also has the ability to see ghosts, instructs Ophie how to use her gift.  When Ophie and her mother start working at Daffodil Manor, Ophie has her hands full serving mean old Mrs. Carruthers and trying to figure out with the various “haints” that occupy the house.  One spirit in particular, a beautiful young woman named Clara, is kind and helpful to Ophie.  Clara was killed in the house, but has no recollection of how it happened, and enlists Ophie to help her solve the mystery.  Although Clara seems kind, she’s a ghost, and Aunt Rose has warned Ophie that ghosts can always be dangerous no matter how friendly they seem.  As Ophie begins to unravel Clara’s mystery and close in on the murderer, it starts to seem as though danger is waiting for her in every corner of the spooky old mansion.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Part ghost story, part historical fiction, this engaging story will draw readers in from the suspenseful prologue, and keep them guessing all the way to the end.  Ophie’s life as a Black girl in the 1920’s, first in Georgia and then in Pittsburgh, is filled with injustice and hardship, and it takes all her strength and special gifts to turn things around for her and her mother.  I hope this book will get some award consideration.

Cons:  Not really a con, but more of a warning: if you don’t like spooky stories or aren’t quite ready for Halloween just yet, you may want to take this week off from reading the blog! 😉

See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat: 9781536216295:  LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: Books
Amazon.com: See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat: 9781536216295:  LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: Books

Summary:  In this sequel to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, the cat fills in for the dog who is out sick.  The narrator (referred to as “book”) has stories about the dog doing un-cat-like things like digging a hole, swimming, and protecting a sheep.  The cat is not pleased to be given these assignments, but finds some interesting ways to carry out her duties.  Dog appears at the end, just as the cat is about to faint under the stress of having to protect a sheep from a wolf.  Dog takes over, and Cat retreats to a hammock under the trees with a cold beverage in paw; “Now, THIS is the way to end a story!”  64 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  See the Cat is one of my favorite early readers, and the author-illustrator team has created another winner with these three stories that are sure to give new readers some laughs.  The first book won a Geisel Award, and this one is worthy of a similar honor.

Cons:  I missed Dog.

We Give Thanks by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Beach Lane Books

Amazon.com: We Give Thanks: 9781442465077: Rylant, Cynthia, Ruzzier,  Sergio: Books
Amazon.com: We Give Thanks: 9781442465077: Rylant, Cynthia, Ruzzier,  Sergio: Books

Summary:  “We give thanks for mittens and for coats and boots and hats.  We give thanks for yellow dogs and yellow kitty cats.”  A frog and a rabbit show their gratitude for different aspects of their lives, like food, family, and nature.  They travel around their neighborhood, then end up back at home where they prepare a feast as friends and relatives start to arrive.  “Bless our nights and bless our days and bless all those we meet.  We give thanks for everything, and now…it’s time to EAT!”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  With many of those Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving books feeling more problematic each year, I am thankful for books like these that focus on gratitude and make perfect Thanksgiving read-alouds.  Cynthia Rylant’s rhyme is bouncy and fun, and Sergio Ruzzier (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators) has done an outstanding job creating an animal world to complement the text.

Cons:  The Thanksgiving feast seems to be a little light on vegetables (although some may consider that a pro, not a con). 

Rescuing Titanic: A True Story of Quiet Bravery in the North Atlantic by Flora Delargy

Published by Wide-Eyed Editions

Amazon.com: Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North  Atlantic (Hidden Histories): 9780711262782: Delargy, Flora: Books
Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North Atlantic  (Hidden Histories) : Delargy, Flora: Amazon.co.uk: Books

Summary:  On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail from Southampton, bound for New York.  The next day, the Carpathia left New York, heading for various ports in Europe.  A few nights later, just after midnight onboard the Carpathia, 21-year-old radio operator Harold Cottam received a message saying, “Come at once…we have been struck by a ‘berg.”  As soon as Captain Arthur Rostron got the message, he turned his ship around and headed full-speed for the Titanic, navigating through iceberg-infested waters to see if he could save anyone.  Around 4:00 a.m. the Carpathia reached the lifeboats and started bringing survivors onboard.  The heroism didn’t end there, as the ship headed back to New York, with passengers and staff providing food, clothing, and medical care.  The Carpathia docked in New York on April 18, where it was greeted by a crowd of 30,000 people.  Includes a glossary and lists of sources and further reading.  80 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  I had pretty much vowed to never read another Titanic book for the rest of my life, but I really enjoyed this one, which focused on the heroism of Captain Rostron and others on board the Carpathia, usually just a footnote in the Titanic tragedy.  The illustrations are well-done and really support the text, and there’s lots of interesting information about all things nautical, as well as the historical stuff.

Cons:  My Heart Will Go On is now stuck in my head.

The Secret Explorers and the Missing Scientist by SJ King

Published by DK Children

Amazon.com: The Secret Explorers and the Missing Scientist: 9781465499899:  King, SJ: Books

Summary:  Kiki is tinkering with a bicycle near her home in Ghana when she gets the signal that the Secret Explorers have a mission.  When they’re all gathered, they learn that they’ve been assigned to the Arctic, and Kiki and marine specialist Connor are the two chosen to go.  When they get there, they find a ship stuck in the ice and learn that one of the scientists has gone missing.  As they carry out their rescue mission, they learn a lot about the polar environment, and have a close encounter with a polar bear.  Not only do they find the scientist, but Kiki’s engineering skills allow them to free the ship from the ice as well.  Includes additional information on the Arctic, the people who live there, and polar bears; a quiz; and a glossary.  128 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Somehow I’ve missed this series until this book, #7, which got a starred review from School Library Journal.  Kids who like science and reading nonfiction will enjoy learning all the facts that are woven into the story and given in the backmatter.  There’s a diverse cast of characters that apparently answer the call from all around the globe when there’s a new mission. I was a little vague as to the group works, so definitely start with book 1.

Cons:  Even though there are plenty of illustrations, there’s no credit given on the cover or title page. Unless SJ King is also the illustrator?

Boogie, Boogie, Y’All by C. G. Esperanza

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Amazon.com: Boogie Boogie, Y'all: 9780062976222: Esperanza, C. G.,  Esperanza, C. G.: Books
Boogie Boogie, Y'all: Esperanza, C. G., Esperanza, C. G.: 9780062976222:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Although not everyone in her neighborhood loves graffiti, this girl sees it as beautiful art decorating the walls and trains of her community.  Some people complain about it, while others are too busy to notice it.  In the park, there’s a big block party, and suddenly the art comes to life and joins in the celebration.  Everyone boogies away except the girl, a friend, and their dog, who shake up some cans of spray paint and get busy creating art.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A rollicking rhyming book that celebrates the art and life of an urban neighborhood.

Cons:  I didn’t really understand the ending.

Hispanic Heritage book list

For some reason, interlibrary loan has been very slow recently, so I’m low on books to read and review. Don’t worry, September is a big month for new books, so the good stuff is coming. In the meantime, I recently added a book list for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) that you might want to take a look at. You can find it under the Book Lists section on my blog (just move the cursor to Book Lists and you should get a drop-down menu of all the lists), or use this link.