A familiar tale with a Halloween makeover.

THE LITTLEST WITCH

From the Littlest series

Wilma is a little witch who longs to be able to do bigger things.

Her small hands can’t control the broom to do the stunts for the demonstration at the Halloween bash, and they also can’t keep hold of the big jar of herbs she’s adding to her sister Hazel’s scream potion (it explodes in a “gooey green mess”). Those tiny hands also can’t catch a toad for a spell or tie up twigs for a new broom. Dejected, Wilma roams the Spooky Woods, where she meets Mae, who’s also sad; it seems that her family is sick and can’t do the mummy dance with her at the party. At least the friends can be together. But when the broom-flying demo goes wrong, it’s small Wilma, sitting atop Mae’s shoulders, who saves the day. Though the tale may strike a chord with kids who feel too small as well, this latest in the Littlest series feels like a formulaic retread of the earlier titles, concluding with a familiar moral extolling friendship. Pogue’s cartoon illustrations have an animation aesthetic. The adorable Halloween characters are wildly diverse and nonscary, with skin of all hues, including green and purple. The book includes stickers to use in decorating—there are no indicated places for them in the book.

A familiar tale with a Halloween makeover. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-32910-0

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Cartwheel/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A forgettable effort that fails to capture any of the magical charm of Santa’s story. (Picture book. 3-6)

HOW TO CATCH AN ELF

From the How To Catch… series

Wallace and Elkerton continue their series about catching elusive mythical creatures (How to Catch a Leprechaun, 2016, etc.) with this Christmas story about an elf who must avoid traps constructed by children before Santa’s annual visit.

The unnamed elf narrator is the sole helper traveling with Santa on his delivery rounds on Christmas Eve, with each house featuring a different type of trap for elves. The spunky elf avoids a mechanical “elf snatcher,” hidden in a plate of cookies, as well as simple traps made of tinsel, double-sided tape, and a cardboard box concealing a mean-looking cat. Another trap looks like a bomb hidden in a box of candy, and a complicated trap in a maze has an evil cowboy clown with a branding iron, leading to the elf’s cry, “Hey, you zapped my tushy!” The bomb trap and the branding iron seem to push the envelope of child-made inventions. The final trap is located in a family grocery store that’s booby-trapped with a “Dinner Cannon” shooting out food, including a final pizza that the elf and Santa share. The singsong, rhyming text has a forced cheeriness, full of golly-jolly-holly Christmas spirit and too many exclamation marks, as well as rhyming word pairs that miss the mark. (No, little elf-boy, “smarter” and “harder” do not rhyme.) Bold, busy illustrations in a cartoon style have a cheeky appeal with a focus on the freckle-faced white elf with auburn curls and a costume with a retro vibe. (Santa is also white.)

A forgettable effort that fails to capture any of the magical charm of Santa’s story. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4926-4631-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2016

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A visually striking, compelling recollection.

FROM THE TOPS OF THE TREES

The author recounts a formative childhood experience that continues to inspire her today.

Born to Hmong refugees, Kalia has only ever known the confines of the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Even while playing with her cousins, reminders of the hardships of their life are always present. She overhears the aunties sharing their uncertainty and fear of the future. They are a people with no home country and are still trying to find peace. Kalia asks her father why they live behind a gate and wonders what lies beyond the fences that surround the camp. The next day they climb a tall tree, and he shows her the vast expanse around them, from familiar camp landmarks to distant mountains “where the sky meets earth.” This story of resilience and generational hope is told in an expressive, straightforward narrative style. The simplicity of the text adds a level of poignancy that moves readers to reflection. The layered and heavily textured illustrations complement the text while highlighting the humanity of the refugees and providing a quiet dignity to camp life. The militarylike color palette of olive greens, golden yellows, and rich browns reinforces the guarded atmosphere but also represents the transitional period from winter to spring, a time ripe with anticipation and promise.

A visually striking, compelling recollection. (author's note, glossary, map.) (Picture book/memoir. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5415-8130-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Sadly, the storytelling runs aground.

LITTLE RED SLEIGH

A little red sleigh has big Christmas dreams.

Although the detailed, full-color art doesn’t anthropomorphize the protagonist (which readers will likely identify as a sled and not a sleigh), a close third-person text affords the object thoughts and feelings while assigning feminine pronouns. “She longed to become Santa’s big red sleigh,” reads an early line establishing the sleigh’s motivation to leave her Christmas-shop home for the North Pole. Other toys discourage her, but she perseveres despite creeping self-doubt. A train and truck help the sleigh along, and when she wishes she were big, fast, and powerful like them, they offer encouragement and counsel patience. When a storm descends after the sleigh strikes out on her own, an unnamed girl playing in the snow brings her to a group of children who all take turns riding the sleigh down a hill. When the girl brings her home, the sleigh is crestfallen she didn’t reach the North Pole. A convoluted happily-ever-after ending shows a note from Santa that thanks the sleigh for giving children joy and invites her to the North Pole next year. “At last she understood what she was meant to do. She would build her life up spreading joy, one child at a time.” Will she leave the girl’s house to be gifted to other children? Will she stay and somehow also reach ever more children? Readers will be left wondering. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 31.8% of actual size.)

Sadly, the storytelling runs aground. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72822-355-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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