Summary: “Five Little Pumpkins” gets a slightly scarier reworking, starting with ten spooky pumpkins, and moving on from nine black cats down to two skinny scarecrows. They all get together for a big Halloween party until one full moon sends everyone off to bed. A little girl in a clown costume witnesses the whole thing, finishing off her evening asleep, her trick-or-treat candy scattered around her bed. Don’t miss the patchwork-inspired endpapers and the rhyme and illustration on the title page. Includes an author’s note telling about his childhood inspirations for his artwork. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This rhyme is perfect for preschoolers, and the macabre illustrations provide just the right amount of spookiness for Halloween.
Cons: So many new Halloween picture books to read aloud this year, children are going to be begging me to stop.
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
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.
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).
Summary: Eli misses his dad, who’s been working long days for the last week and a half. He wants to help, but his parents tell him school is the place for him. Now that the family is free, Eli’s parents want him to get all the education he can. Finally, on day 10, he’s allowed to go paint the fence surrounding the new cemetery where Union prisoners of war are buried. The next morning, everyone dresses in their best clothes, arms full of flowers, to march together in honor of those dead soldiers. The children lead the way to the cemetery, where everyone decorates the graves with the flowers. They spend the rest of the day listening to speeches, praying, and celebrating their hard-won freedom. Includes an author’s note, additional information on the origins of Decoration Day, a timeline, two photos; notes, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: A fascinating look at an early (maybe the earliest; the history is unclear) celebration of Decoration Day, the holiday that eventually became Memorial Day. Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper has captured the day magnificently, and the text, combined with the extensive back matter, will give kids a new perspective on the day.
Cons: There was a of information covered for a picture book. If you’re doing this as a Memorial Day read-aloud, plan on spending some time…I had to go back for a second read to get it all.
Summary: Amira is excited when she sees the crescent moon in the sky; Ramadan has ended and Eid is the next day. There will be a big celebration, and she’ll get to skip school. But then she remembers that tomorrow is also picture day, and she’ll miss being in the photo with the rest of her class. Her mother assures her that she’ll take plenty of pictures of Amira at the big celebration, but it’s not quite the same. The next day, though, Amira dons her shalwar kameez, leaving the pink dress she was going to wear for picture day hanging in the closet. As predicted, Amira and her family have a wonderful celebration, but on the way home, Amira is feeling sad about having missed picture day. An abundance of leftover goody bags gives her an idea, and she is able to make it to school in time for the picture and to share some of Eid with her classmates. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Eid and a glossary. 40 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: The colorful illustrations and realistic story make a great introduction to Eid for those who don’t celebrate it, and a story that will be relatable for those who do.
Cons: The author’s note states that Muslims “do not know the exact date for Eid until they spot the new moon’s crescent”. This confused me, because I was able to Google the date (the evening of May 12 until the evening of May 13) for 2021.
Summary: Muriel is excited that Passover is approaching, but sobered by the knowledge that there probably won’t be much at her Seder dinner. It’s 1933, and her father has lost his job. As she walks home through the streets of Washington, DC, she spies a ragged man performing magic tricks in front of the Lincoln Memorial. When she gives him the only penny she has, he tells her to hurry home where she’ll find a Seder dinner waiting. When she gets home, though, the house is as empty as it has been for weeks. Her parents are trying to decide whose dinner they might be able to share, when there’s a knock on the door. It’s the man from the Lincoln Memorial, and in an instant a magical dinner has appeared. Friends and neighbors join Muriel and her family for the meal, which goes far into the night. Just before midnight, Muriel remembers the wine in Elijah’s cup. When she looks, she sees that the cup is empty, and she realizes who the mysterious stranger was. Includes notes from the author and artist and a note on the Passover holiday. 40 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Based on a story by I. L. Peretz (also the basis for Uri Shulevitz’s 1973 book The Magician), this story blends magic with a real time and place (Washington, D.C. in the Great Depression), offering hope in difficult times. The illustrations, based on Marc Chagall’s art, do an excellent job with the magic realism as well.
Cons: The magician is a little creepy looking in a scary clown kind of way.
Summary: “First day of the new year,” begins this book, showing a girl, her brother, and their parents waking up on New Year’s Day. The year of “firsts” continues: first snowfall, first short sleeves, first summer storm, first new teacher. Some events are repeated: by the end of the year, the count is up to 384 for sister-brother fights, but the two manage a gift-getting, hugging reconciliation on Christmas. The final pages show the last wake-up, last snowfall, and last bedtime stories before cycling back to the first day of a new year. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This is a perfect book to start a new year, with charming watercolor and ink illustrations and milestones that will ring true for most readers.
Cons: 384 seems a conservative estimate for sibling fights in a year.
Summary: While a boy celebrates Passover with his family, a little white kitten waits outside the family’s house. Inside is light, laughter, and food. Outside is darkness, silence, and nothing to eat. The boy enjoys all the parts of the Seder dinner, eating each food and singing, while the kitten waits in the darkness. Finally, it’s time to welcome Elijah. When the boy opens the door, the kitten is there waiting for him. “And that’s how Elijah found a home.” Includes an author’s note with additional information about Passover. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A fun introduction to Passover, and cute illustrations portraying the multicultural family celebration and the adorable kitten.
Cons: It might have been nice to have an activity or some additional resources about Passover.
Summary: The girl telling the story is excited that her grandmother has invited her to help make the soup for New Year’s Day. The name of the soup is Freedom Soup, and making it inspires Ti Gran to tell the story of Haiti, and how the slave revolt there led to freedom for their ancestors. The story has been passed down from Ti Gran’s mother and grandmother, and both the girl and Ti Gran like the idea that she will someday pass it along to her own children and grandchildren. When the soup is done, it’s time to share it with the family, and everyone enjoys it to the last drop as they celebrate a new year. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Haiti and the author’s own grandmother and a recipe for Freedom Soup. 32 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: A perfect way to celebrate New Year’s and effortlessly learn something about history and cooking in the process. The vibrant illustrations make the story come alive.
Cons: The recipe is billed as “kid-friendly”, but there’s a pretty long list of ingredients and will definitely require a good deal of adult help.
Summary: When Sophie’s grandmother tells her that the heart of a person who fasts during Ramadan is “pretty and sparkly” like Sophie’s new ring, Sophie decides she wants to fast. Waking up before sunrise is tough, though, and Sophie falls asleep at breakfast, and again during morning prayers. By lunchtime, she is famished, and her little brother is tempting her with his delicious cookie. Grandma finds her eating cookies, and reassures her that her sparkles are growing, and that there are other ways to celebrate the holiday. She and Grandma spend the afternoon preparing a pizza dinner, which the whole family enjoys after sunset. Includes an author’s note about Ramadan. 32 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Children of all faiths will connect with this story, and those who don’t know about Ramadan will learn about it through the eyes of another child who is a lot like them.
Cons: The reasons for fasting during Ramadan aren’t explained in either the story or the author’s note.