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Halloween is full of surprises

October 12, 2003|Reviews are provided courtesy of Publishers Weekly, where they first appeared. Copyright 2003, Publishers Weekly.

One Witch

Laura Leuck, illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Walker & Co.: 32 pp., $15.95

Laura LEUCK'S ("Goodnight, Baby Monster") smooth counting rhyme tracks a witch as she collects nasty "goodies" from ghosts, goblins and the like. "Two cats / inside a pail / gave the witch / a fish's tail. / Three scarecrows / stuffed with straw / gave the witch / a blackbird's claw." After hoarding nine icky ingredients, the witch concocts a potluck stew and issues invitations; the rhymes now let readers count down, from 10 to one. "(Everybody loved it too!) / They saved the last bowl just for ... / you!" S.D. Schindler's ("Runaway Pumpkin," also reviewed here) closely observed, echoes-of-Gorey images make good on the surprise conclusion: The witch abruptly turns to the unsuspecting audience, proffering a steaming dish. Ages 3-8


Annie Was Warned

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Alfred A. Knopf: 30 pp., $15.95

Annie's parents caution her against going to the "creepy old Montgomery Mansion," but she's not one to turn down a dare. "Annie was warned ... but Annie wasn't scared," Jarrett J. Krosoczka ("Bag- head") intones atmospherically as slanting, curving spreads depict her slinking down deserted streets, ducking tree branches, checking over her shoulder and beaming her flashlight at a black cat: "But Annie wasn't afraid of anything! After all, she was born on Halloween night." At last she grimly approaches the house's dark door -- and a gatefold opens on a surprise birthday party. Krosoczka advances his story with sly agility, adding a subtle visual clue too. A delicious mix of suspense and wit. Ages 4-8


The Runaway Pumpkin

Kevin Lewis, illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Scholastic/Orchard: 32 pp., $15.95

In Kevin Lewis' ("Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo") rhyming tale, it is Halloween day when an enormous pumpkin bounces downhill and through the Baxter family farm. At the sight of this "thumpety/ bumpety/ thumpin'/ bumpin'/ round and rolly/ runaway pumpkin!" the Baxters think not of personal safety but of Granny's pumpkin recipes. S.D. Schindler ("Skeleton Hiccups"), in amusing but untidy compositions, gives each person an astonished expression and a thought-balloon flash of pumpkin bread, soup or pie. Crisis averted, the resourceful family carves a humongous jack-o'-lantern while Granny bakes. A solid choice for children who prefer a slapstick celebration to chills and thrills. Ages 4-7


Little Lit: "It was a dark and silly night ... "

Edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly

HarperCollins/Cotler: 48 pp., $19.99

For this third "Little Lit" anthology, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly asked contributors to start a story with the phrase "It was a dark and silly night." Diverse participants, including Patrick McDonnell ("Mutts"), J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh, achieve results that range from outstanding to so-so.

In the standout category, Lemony Snicket and "Evil Eye" artist Richard Sala make "silly" an acronym for "Somewhat Intelligent, Largely Laconic Yeti." A girl searches for this snow-covered beast, and the strangely uplifting outcome will surprise those who expect a series of unfortunate events. William Joyce, in a mock-1909 newspaper strip, makes a happy return to the artwork of his "Leaf Men." His outrageous tale of "Giggle-illium, the long-searched-for silly atom" does homage to cartoonist Winsor McCay and the sci-fi of Melies and Verne.

Less successful is an entry that comes courtesy of Neil Gaiman ("Coraline") and Gahan Wilson, who draws big-eyed, troll-like kids. In their ghoulish tale of a tot party in a zombie-filled graveyard, no one comes to harm; instead, the nostalgic corpses demand a singalong of "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Surreal turns by Joost Swarte and Carlos Nine also disappoint, but an ineffably weird reprint of a 1952 "Jumpin' Jupiter" comic by Basil Wolverton recalls early Dr. Seuss. As usual, there are a couple of games too. The endpapers, designed by Martin Handford ("Where's Waldo?"), picture monsters invading a city inhabited by the Little Lit characters (as well as humans). Barbara McClintock ("Dahlia"), in her singular neo-Victorian style, creates side-by-side images of a teddy bear picnic and challenges readers to "Find the 12 differences." This alternately cute and creepy volume lives up to its subtitle. Ages 4-up


On My Way to Buy Eggs

Chih-Yuan Chen

Kane/Miller: 36 pp., $15.95

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