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Secrets of the Witch: An Initiation into Our History and Our Wisdom

Julie Légère and Elsa Whyte, illus. by Laura Pérez. Wide Eyed, $22.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-7112-5799-3

The history of witchcraft from antiquity to the modern day unfolds in this artful guide. Directly addressing apprenticing witches, Légère and Whyte write in an intimate storytelling style: “Dear sister, If this book has found its way into your possession, then it means it is time for you to begin your apprenticeship.” Collage-like spreads featuring haunting, stylized imagery by Pérez approach a broad range of topics explored in short, approachable sections. The authors examine changing perceptions of magic and witchcraft throughout time (with notable focus on the persecution of alleged witches), providing intriguing reflections on how events and cultural zeitgeists have influenced such perceptions: “Having fallen into relative obscurity in the 18th century, we began to be talked about once more in the following decade.” Additional sections introduce common practices and divination tools, famed witches of the past, and concepts and materials relating to witchery. Readers curious about the broader roots and evolution of witchcraft will find a valuable resource in this elegant and insightful volume. Ages 9–14. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Season of the Witch: A Spellbinding History of Witches and Other Magical Folk

Matt Ralphs, illus. by Núria Tamarit. Flying Eye, $18.95 (80p) ISBN 978-1-912497-71-3

In a light introduction to witchcraft, Ralphs provides readers with an overview of magical practices from the ancient world to the present day, focusing on regions including South Africa, Japan, and Slavic countries. Sections devoted to dispelling myths provide insight into the origins of misconceptions about and depictions of witches (green-skinned witches’ 1939 provenance in the film The Wizard of Oz), while others address the true meanings of witchcraft and its legitimate practices. Tamarit’s artwork features a quirky cast of characters with upturned noses, and this accessible, graphics-filled presentation invites readers to browse topics of interest from familiars to vodou dolls. While not comprehensive (and bafflingly, an apparently Indigenous person portrayed early on is never referenced in-text) this guide will satisfy younger readers looking for a mix of history and magic. Ages 9–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Witch’s Book of Spells

Ariel Kusby, illus. by Olga Baumert. Chronicle, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4521-8361-9

In a welcoming and meditative spell book for budding witches, Kusby asserts that readers need not “possess the power to make objects fly or to read minds” to engage with witchcraft. Instead, the ways of witches concern expressions of individuality, personal self-reflection, and the practice of kindness, detailed here in chapters devoted to spells for success, happiness, and friendship, among other ideals. Though a small number of the included spells ask for specialty items, such as a quartz crystal, most require simple, readily available objects—a pink ribbon and a tablespoon of honey for a “Conflict-Sweetening Spell,” two pipe cleaners to make a bubble wand for a “Butterfly Bubble-Blowing Spell.” Paired with Baumert’s bright, fluid images of children, animals, and witches’ accoutrements, Kusby’s creative activities and incantations warmly encourage mindfulness, community building, and forming connections with the natural world. A nurturing, hands-on primer. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Kitten

Nicola Killen. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5344-6696-8

Ollie, who previously starred in The Little Reindeer and The Little Rabbit, returns in a cat costume for an autumn adventure. Ollie and her cherished cat, Pumpkin, head outdoors on a fine fall day and find a shivering kitten beneath a pile of leaves. The three frolic in the woods, “catching falling leaves” and “being explorers” until Ollie, leaving Pumpkin behind, notices “lost kitten” posters. The whistling wind—and maybe a hint of magic—guide Ollie as she returns the kitten to its family. Just when things look dark and spooky for Ollie, meowing Pumpkin arrives to help. Lighthearted action blended with gentle suspense will keep readers on Ollie’s trail. And Killen’s graphite images—a signature of this series—are accented throughout with pops of vivid orange: leaves, pumpkins, doors, and window shutters sustain a crisp, seasonal tone. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Runaway Pumpkins

Teresa Bateman, illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Charlesbridge, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-681-8

A class field trip to the local pumpkin patch has an unexpected—and tasty—ending in this seasonal romp. Once their bus unloads at a farm, “Students run and point and call./ It’s turned into a free-for-all!” Their carefully selected squashes loaded into the bus’s lower storage bins, the excited children scamper on board for the bouncy ride back to school, visions of jack-o’-lanterns in their heads. But unbeknownst to the passengers, “latches holding hatches tight/ were almost fastened,/ but not quite,” leaving the prized pumpkins crash-landed in a quiet cul-de-sac. Bewildered but undaunted, kids and teachers jointly decorate the lone large remaining pumpkin and take it to the harvest fair, where the mystery of their disappearing pumpkins is solved in delicious fashion. Coleman employs a spectrum of evocative autumn colors in cheerful illustrations, and Bateman’s jaunty rhymes help convey the crisp air of a festive fall day. Ages 3–7. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Pumpkin Magic

Ed Masessa, illus. by Nate Wragg. Cartwheel, $6.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-338-56332-0

After “moonbeam magic lights a spark,” a front porch jack-o’-lantern leaps to life and dashes to a field filled with pumpkins that, likewise suddenly animated, begin to cavort gleefully. Spunky rhymed couplets by Masessa and luminescent cartoons by Wragg spotlight their boisterous antics, including spitting pumpkin seeds at bull’s-eyes (“Seeds are flying, targets hit./ How far can a pumpkin spit?”) and tossing messy concoctions (“Goopy mud pies taking flight./ Naughty pumpkins shout ‘Food fight!’ ”). Readers meet some outlandish jack-o’-lanterns: one wears underpants, one has five eyes, and another sports a cascading beard. At daybreak, the pumpkins parade back to the tale’s opening setting, each perching on a porch to wait patiently for the next evening, when “the moonbeams shine just right...// And pumpkins romp all through the night.” This slim but energetic caper will tickle fans of Snowmen at Night. Ages 3–5. (July)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Unicorn Named Sparkle and the Pumpkin Monster

Amy Young. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-30850-6

In Young’s fourth tale starring comically squat pet unicorn Sparkle, he and child Lucy visit a pumpkin farm on a day when “the air was crisp and Sparkle felt frisky.” He immediately acts on those feelings, trying to eat his way out of the corn maze and consuming multiple treats before realizing that he isn’t such a fan of the frightening. Sparkle’s hijinks kick into high gear after he and Lucy arrive home with selected pumpkins—he carves a “cheerful and happy” face on his, but she creates a scary grimace. Terrified, the unicorn runs away, his fear escalating at nightfall when he hears a wailing sound that he mistakenly assumes is a “pumpkin monster.” A rollicking escapade follows, and eventually a cozy reunion with Lucy that underlines Sparkle’s strengths. Young’s exuberant illustrations chronicle the unicorn’s misadventures with abundant humor and heart—illuminating the two pals’ endearing mutual affection. Ages 2–6. (July)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt

Mary Hogan Wilcox, illus. by Lynn Munsinger. Charlesbridge, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62354-118-7

Fans of the familiar participatory rhyme “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” will want to jump right into the fun of this comforting Halloween version. A passel of animal pals, several sporting simple trick-or-treating costumes, set off on a pumpkin hunt: “Going to find a pumpkin,/ orange and round.” The sensory trek involves a squeaky gate and some ticklish grass, and then one of the pigs notes, “I see a pumpkin—/and it sees me!” The spooky sight of a pumpkin-headed scarecrow sends the crew scurrying back to the safety of home, where they put a yummy plan B into play. Munsinger crafts pen, ink, and watercolor compositions with a backdrop of soft blues and purples on a moonlit night, and her animal characters’ expressive faces fully capture the excitement of Wilcox’s spirited Halloween expedition. Ages 2–5. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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That Monster on the Block

Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illus. by Luke Flowers. Two Lions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0533-3

A closed-minded monster begins to broaden his perspective as a group of familiar Halloween characters address otherness and tolerance. Monster is eager to meet the creature moving into Vampire’s old house next door, until the new neighbor turns out to be not a fellow monster but a “cartwheeling clown,” complete with red nose and floppy shoes. Expressing his displeasure, Monster quickly tries to rally his neighbors against this affront: “There goes the neighborhood!” The cold shoulder doesn’t faze cheerful Clown, who ingratiates himself to Yeti, Mummy, and Zombie by bringing them treats and inviting them over to “clown around.” With the good times rolling all around him, Monster’s resolve softens, and he starts opening up to making a friend. The proceedings are energetic and fun—with onomatopoeic words and boldly hued digital artwork that toggles between spot illustrations, smaller panels, and spreads—but the book’s tone and Monster’s outlook feel uncomfortable amid real-life problems with redlining and segregation. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Monsters Are Afraid of Babies

Nicholas Tana, illus. by Elise Leutwyler and Jessica Abbott. New Classics, $24.99 (26p) ISBN 978-1-950033-00-3

This slight tale subverts expectations by revealing monsters’ true fear: babies. As an older brunette child reads a bedtime story to their younger, balder sibling, they hear noises coming from within the dark closet—though the duo seems oblivious to the monstrous existence of glowing-eyed entities tucked around the room and beneath the bed. Flipping on the lights, the older kid soon discovers that the baby terrifies the multicolored, big-eyed creatures hidden in the closet. Spreads of the infant crying, needing to be changed, teething, and otherwise demonstrating baby behavior teaches the narrator: “It’s no wonder why.../ Babies make monsters want to cry!” A loose rhyme scheme accompanies unoutlined but expressive digital illustrations. While the brief narrative feels slightly underdeveloped, the conceit is likely to entertain new older siblings with a fondness for the monstrous. Ages 4–6. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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