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Wolfgang in the Meadow

Lenny Wen. Clarion, $19.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-06-328894-2

An ambitious ghost learns a necessary lesson about balance in Wen’s fully imagined story. Wolfgang, who enjoys traditional ghostly exploits as well as time spent in nature, aspires to take over haunting the Dark Castle from his hero. When an opportunity to compete for the role of successor arises, the protagonist stops his meadow meandering and puts “all his spirit into his goal. He didn’t have time for non-spooky things.” His hard work pays off, and his walls are soon covered with flattering newspaper clippings and awards. But over time, Wolfgang feels something is “missing” and begins to lose his powers, until a chance encounter reconnects him with prior passions that are allowed to bloom once more. Working in graphite, gouache, and colored pencil strokes, Wen gives the spreads a smudgy but delicate quality that helps paint a gentle portrait of Wolfgang’s all-too-human need to achieve work/afterlife balance. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Little Ghost Makes a Friend

Maggie Edkins Willis. S&S/Wiseman, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-66592-785-7

Halloween becomes a time for making new friends in Edkins Willis’s picture book debut, an encouraging story about a shy ghost whose new pal helps him embrace “his spooky, sparkly self.” Little Ghost has had many neighbors across hundreds of years of haunting the same house, but he has never mustered the courage to say “hello”—until the arrival of a child with shared interests. Little Ghost makes the first move by inviting the neighbor over for a Halloween party, and tender scenes of the specter preparing impart his anxious excitement. When the human invitee, portrayed with brown skin, arrives clad in a ghost costume, the pair seem to be kindred spirits, and reassurances from Little Ghost’s new companion confirm as much (“Little Ghost, I want to be friends with you just as you are”). Dusky greens, purples, and oranges lend an autumnal vibe to amiable vignettes, which readily convey the story’s affirming emotional arc. Background characters are portrayed with various skin tones. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Feeling Boo

Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, illus. by Olivia Chin Mueller. Abrams, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-7244-3

Boniello and Lavalle offer an emotionally attuned portrait of how to support a melancholic friend in this pun-filled picture book. When ghost Ollie starts “feeling a bit boo,” fellow spirit and longtime bestie Ellie does everything she can to cheer him: a “specter-tacular night” of activities includes a moonlight serenade with some friends in the graveyard, playing music on an old Victrola, and attempting to frighten passersby. Even after Ellie is left “half dead from the night’s activities,” Ollie’s sadness persists. The well-intentioned friend continues to offer suggestions until at last Ollie gets her attention long enough to entreat, “I don’t think we can outrun these boos.... What if we tried just... sitting here for a bit?” The quietly gladdening result points to the many forms care and support can take. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Ghost Who Was Afraid of Everything

Nadia Ahmed. Beaming, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5064-9511-8

An anxiety-ridden spirit develops a plan to overcome his phobias in this tale of Halloween courage. Ghost Finn “twists in knots” when encountering tree branches, the color orange, butterflies, and, most of all, flying. He avoids all that’s scary by holing up in the attic, where b&w line drawings show him perched against a maze of wood paneling. But when his reticence causes him to miss out on his favorite Halloween candy, Finn determines to take action. He spends the next year immersing himself in exposure therapy, beginning by touching a tree branch a little longer at a time. While initial forays into flying don’t go completely smoothly, Finn’s resolve to face his fears wins the day—and a trick-or-treat-filled night. Ahmed’s artwork, which shifts from two-tone to color as Finn’s courage strengthens, enhances the compassionate storytelling on display. Ages 4–7. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Boo the Library Ghost

Becky Paige. Silver Dolphin, $10.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-66720-688-2

Paige pens a ghoulish tribute to reading in this rhyming ghost story set in a ramshackle library. Spectral protagonist Boo enjoys nothing more than terrorizing patrons: “He likes to ROAR loudly/ and pop out from the shelf./ When the children run home,/ Boo is proud of himself.” After the ghost’s antics fail to frighten a pale-skinned girl immersed in a book, though, Boo goes into haunting overdrive, and the child discovers that Boo doesn’t yet know how to read. The result of the ensuing instruction makes for a predictable conclusion: “When he gazed around the room,/ he loved every bookcase./ This wonderful library/ was now his favorite place!” A palette of oranges, pinks, and teals keeps the story feeling unscary even during Boo’s opening mischief, and delightful puns grace Boo’s choice of books. Patrons are depicted with varied skin tones. Ages 3–5. (July)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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¡Vamos! Let’s Celebrate Halloween and Día de los Muertos: A Halloween and Day of the Dead Celebration (World of ¡Vamos!)

Raúl the Third. Versify, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-0632-7713-7

Little Lobo and friends celebrate Halloween and Día de los Muertos in this addition to the World of ¡Vamos! series from Raúl the Third. An opening speech bubble kicks off the dual conceit: “Today’s Halloween! See you tomorrow!” As Little Lobo (dressed up as “La Rata”) leads a group trick-or-treating, the friends share frightening stories. Conscious of having secured enough candy, the friends next “help our older neighbors with their gifts for tomorrow’s guests,” gathering items to display the next day. And on Día de los Muertos, the entire neighborhood convenes to tidy cemetery plots, remember those who have passed, and decorate community altars—and “a happiness fills the air as la comunidad celebrates the lives of those who lived.” Humorous details, bright hues by colorist Elaine Bay, and English and Spanish conversations make for a lively dual celebration. A Spanish-English glossary concludes. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Ofrenda That We Built

Jolene and Shaian Gutiérrez, illus. by Gabby Zapata. Chronicle, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-7972-1562-4

Adhering to the structure of “This Is the House That Jack Built,” mother-daughter authors Gutiérrez compose a warmly rendered rhyming poem, in English and Spanish, about a family preparing for Día de los Muertos. Beginning with “This is the ofrenda that we built,” sing-song lines highlight traditional elements of the holiday, including an embroidered cloth, hand-cut papel picado, candles, sugar skulls, and more, each introduced with gentle context (“This is copal, made out of sap,/ that urges each spirit to wake from their nap”). By the time tamales, sweet bread, and photographs grace the ofrenda, the book makes it clear how the family’s combined efforts—fittingly reminiscent of the book’s cumulative format—honor a beloved ancestor. Bright digital illustrations by Zapata impart joy through the actions of the Latinx-cued family in this inviting work. Creators’ notes, contextualizing information, and how-to instructions conclude. Ages 3–5. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Luminous Beings

David Arnold, illus. by Jose Pimienta. Viking, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-62090-8; $17.99 paper ISBN 978-0-593-62091-5

Almost a year ago, best friends Ty and Burger made a pact to take a gap year and then apply to film school together—but that was before the appearance of zombie squirrels. Now, the budding artists scrap together documentary footage of their dystopian present using their phones, work at Cousteau’s Coffee with their friend Miles, and puzzle over the disappearance of the café’s former owner, Stuart Fink. After the crew, plus Miles’s partner Fib, uncover an unsent email from Fink that implies he’s still alive, they decide to track him down to earn the $20,000 reward his parents are offering. The ensuing all-nighter leads the teens to Club Quarantine, a millionaire’s castle, and the middle of the woods, and leaves them with a deeper appreciation for their friendship—and some excellent footage for their film. Quotes from Longfellow, Yoda, and Jack White alongside abundant early-aughts, 1990s, and 1980s music references imbue this bizarre and fun graphic novel debut by Arnold (I Loved You in Another Life) with plentiful nostalgia. Detailed art by Pimienta (Twin Cities) likewise builds out the teen’s spaces while inky black lingering shadows highlight the novel’s apocalyptic bent. Ages 14–up. Author’s agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Elizabeth Bennett, Transatlantic Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Dear Dad: Growing Up with a Parent in Prison—and How We Stayed Connected

Jay Jay Patton with Kiara Valdez, illus. by Markia Jenai. Graphix, $24.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-5461-2837-3; $14.99 paper ISBN 978-1-3388-9320-5

In this joyful graphic novel memoir with a mission, debut author Patton and Valdez (We Are Groot) give voice to the experience of a child with an incarcerated parent. Without sacrificing her personal portrayal of the difficulties of having an incarcerated parent and how that can negatively affect parent-child relationships (“Do I have a dad?” a five-year-old Patton asks her mother), the author highlights solutions that helped facilitate bonding during her father’s imprisonment. She asserts that “it’s not a privilege for a kid to talk to their parents. It’s a right,” and details the many letters she sent and received over the years leading up to her father’s release when she is 10. Easy-to-follow, realistically wrought comics panels rendered in saturated jewel tones by Jenai (Prudence Under Suspicion) chronicle the tween’s growth, including her aptitude in academics, which she shares with her father, who earned a degree in computer science while he was “locked up.” Following his release, the father-daughter duo develops an app that simplifies communication between kids and incarcerated parents. By showcasing the challenges of daily life for a family learning to live together again while making up for lost time, the creators present an uplifting memoir that works to destigmatize incarceration. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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To the Bone

Alena Bruzas. Rocky Pond, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593616-20-8

Bruzas (Ever Since) interweaves real-life U.S. history with brutal horror elements to craft a grotesque reimagining of the founding of America set in 1609 James Fort. Teenage Ellis thought that becoming an indentured servant to the wealthy Collinses would be her ticket to freedom. Instead, she witnesses the collapse of both her employer’s family and the fledgling society they live in. Conditions within James Fort have worsened as the colonizers wage war on the Indigenous population, Master Collins is physically abusive toward Ellis and his pregnant wife, and the protections promised to Ellis by Collins seem much more tenuous than she had anticipated. When she meets Jane, the daughter of the nearby Eddowes family, she falls hopelessly in love and dreams of a future in which she owns land and can be with Jane freely. But as winter approaches and a haze of desperation and hunger descends upon James Fort, things take a turn for the worse. Meandering descriptions of Ellis’s everyday life are occasionally repetitive. Nevertheless, via first-rate prose, Bruzas seeds pockets of tenderness, warmth, and romance throughout, lending emotional weight to the unfolding horrors. An author’s note concludes. Characters are white. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/14/2024 | Details & Permalink

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