In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow

Summary:  The husband-and-wife team that brought you When Spring Comes have teamed up again with this look at fall.  Squirrels, acorns, apples, pumpkins, and beautiful falling leaves are all featured in the close-up paintings rendered in the brilliant hues of the season, accompanied by only two sentences of text that stretch over the whole book.  A girl and her dog move throughout the book.  By the end, they are gazing at a white sky, ready for the first snowfall.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to the season.  We can only hope there will be similar homages to winter and summer.

Cons:  The first sentence stretches on for 19 pages, which may not be the best modeling for how to avoid run-ons.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (The Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

Published by Little, Brown

Summary:  In this nearly wordless book, a cat runs away and gets chased by an alligator, bear, and chicken (in that order).  The story unfolds alphabetically, but kids will have to figure out what the word is for each picture.  There’s a happy ending, as a unicorn distributes valentines; the cat waves goodbye to his friends, uses an X on a map to get home, gives a gigantic yawn, then catches some zzz’s.  The whole alphabet is listed on the last page, along with a list of all the words shown in the story.  48 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  An intriguing introduction to the alphabet, engaging readers who will have to both figure out the word for each letter and the story those words are telling.

Cons:  The title doesn’t exactly roll right off your tongue.

Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale by Corey Rosen Schwartz, pictures by Deborah Marcero

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary:  What if Cinderella had a twin?  It would make the work easier, as they could divide the chores.  And each one could handle one of the evil stepsisters.  Even going to the ball wouldn’t be so bad, as long as they were willing to divide the jewelry and share the coach.  But the prince is a different matter.  There’s only one Prince Charming.  He has a great time dancing with both Cinderella and Tinderella until midnight, finds the glass slipper, and winds up at their home.  Forced with a difficult decision, the twins bring back their fairy godmother, who magically creates a twin prince.  Before long, there’s a double wedding, then Cinderella and her prince go on to rule the land, while Tinderella and her prince go on to win all the highest math awards.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Schwartz’s infectious rhymes from her ninja fairy tales are back to entertain readers with an unusual and fun twist on the Cinderella story.

Cons:  While the pictures are cute, I missed the Dan Santat illustrations from the previous tales.

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Stuffed animals Mama Lion and Tigey are ready for the big car race, going up against such stiff competition as Bun Bun, the Flying Pandinis, and the Knitted Monkeys.  When the flag waves, they’re off, and Mama Lion and Tigey take the lead.  Losing a wheel sets them back, though, and they’re grateful when the Pandinis take a break from the race to help them.  They enter once again, and the race becomes closer than ever as they approach the finish line (with the Knitted Monkeys trying a few unscrupulous tricks to win).  The finish proves perfect for everyone, as Mama Lion and Tigey learn that winning isn’t always the most important result.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Jon Muth takes a break from his Zen picture books to create a detailed world of stuffed animals and a memorable race.  Gentle lessons are inserted through the story, reminding readers that the journey is more important than the final destination and friendships are more valuable than finishing first.

Cons:  American children may not know what a “spanner” is when one is used to repair the broken wheel.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Jasper Rabbit, the protagonist of Creepy Carrots! is back in a spine-tingling tale of underwear gone bad.  He convinces his mom that he’s old enough to handle a creepy pair of underwear, but when he wears them to bed, he discovers they glow in the dark.  He quickly changes to white, burying the creepy pair in the hamper.  The next morning…he’s wearing the creepy underwear!  He tries throwing them in the trash, mailing them to China, and cutting them into shreds, but they keep coming back.  Finally, Jasper takes them on a long bike ride (the creepy carrots make a guest appearance), and buries them deep in the earth.  Will they come back again?  Or has Jasper finally succeeded in ridding himself of this creepy pair of underwear?  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Just in time for a Halloween story hours comes this perfect blend of spooky and funny from the Caldecott Honor winning team that brought you Creepy Carrots!  Any child who doesn’t want to read this book upon seeing the cover should probably be checked for a pulse.

Cons:  Well…creepy underwear is kind of a con.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  Marco is a fox who wonders many things about the world.  He tries asking other foxes, but no one seems to think his questions are important, never mind having any actual answers.  When an antlered ship arrives at the harbor near his house, Marco goes down to see it, and meets the three deer who have come looking for a crew.  The young fox volunteers, along with a flock of pigeons, and the animals set sail for adventure.  They’re excited, but the voyage proves difficult, as they deal with storms, pirates, and pigeons who don’t like to work.  But slowly, friendships are formed, and after discovering one island, the whole crew decides to move on to further adventures.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Unquestionably a Caldecott contender, with illustrations that are both gorgeous and humorous (check out the pigeons playing checkers instead of working).  The story is a gentle celebration of both curiosity and friendship.

Cons:  Those pirates are too cute to really seem ferocious.

Nothing Rhymes With Orange by Adam Rex

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  A lonely orange stands by and watches as other fruits star in catchy rhymes: “Hit the beach in your cabana with a peach or a banana.”  He goes from trying to join in, to realizing there’s nothing that rhymes with orange, to deciding he doesn’t really want to be part of it after all as the rhymes grow increasingly crazy.  “I think cherries are ‘the berries’ and a lychee is just peachy/Thus Spake Zarathustra is a book by Friedrich Nietzsche.”  Finally, though, “the fruit are feeling rotten/’cause there’s someone they’ve forgotten.”  The orange perks up, and really gets excited when the apple calls him “smorange” and makes up a rhyme all his own.  The final two-page spread shows the orange happily leading the whole pack of fruit (and Nietzsche).  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The funniest book I’ve read this year (okay, maybe it’s tied with The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors).  It’s hard to do it justice, but the orange’s commentary as the fruit are frolicking all over the pages hit my funny bone in just the right way.  Kids will love the design of each page, with the text and illustrations conveying the increasing chaos of the fruits’ antics.

Cons:  I checked out the pronunciation of Nietzsche on YouTube, and it doesn’t actually rhyme with “peachy”.  More like “peach-a”.