I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis


I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Publisher: Abrams Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a young monster sets out to create a gourmet dinner for someone special, he squelches through marsh and muck to find just the right ingredients, from beetle knees to plump slugs to chicken teeth! But who is the dinner for? A surprise awaits his special loved one and readers alike!

Monsters aren’t always scary. In fact, some of them are downright sweet!

The narrator compared the love he had for his mother to all kinds of disgusting things, from boogers to sweaty feet. Reading about all of the strange items he were collecting as he talked about his feelings for his mom made me really curious to know what he was planning to do with all of it. The longer the list grew, the more impatient I became to see how it would all turn out.

I would have liked to see the main character be given a name at some point. While I definitely liked the fact that this character was relatable to both boys and girls, it felt odd to me to read about a friendly little monster without knowing something as basic as what his mom called him. They had such a special relationship that I would have loved to know that detail about him.

One of my favorite parts of this story was how much effort the writer put into rhyming words that I never would have thought to stick together. They were pretty clever, and they made it impossible for me to stop reading. While some of those words will probably be unfamiliar for this age group, there were plenty of clues in the illustrations and other parts of the rhyme to help them figure out it.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham made me giggle. It should be read by anyone who is in the mood to get a little grossed out while talking about love.

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah


The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A Thanksgiving story featuring a large turkey with a big problem…

…he’s been invited to EVERYONE’S home for dinner!

With five homes to visit — Horse’s, Pig’s, Sheep and Goat’s, Cow’s, and Mouse’s –Turkey knows there’ll be a ton of food to eat. But there’ll also be friends and their families who can’t wait to celebrate the holiday with Turkey! Can this very plump bird make it through every meal without bursting?

A silly, read-aloud story featuring food, friends, and one hilarious turkey!

Turkey’s eyes are much bigger than his stomach. How will he ever be able to eat five Thanksgiving dinners in one day?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was that the menu at every friend’s house depended on what kind of animal they were. For example, the horses served foods like oat cakes and carrots because those are things that real horses eat. It was a lot of fun to see what each animal’s version of Thanksgiving dinner would be. Some of the dishes they served were pretty creative, and it made me grin to think of them baking such special meals for themselves and for Turkey.

I would have liked to see the main character feel able to say no to more food when he was completely full. He ate to the point where it was physically uncomfortable for him. While I’m all for enjoying good food over the holidays, I also think kids should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and wait before they eat more if their stomachs begin to hurt. There will always be leftovers on holidays like this one!

The friendships between all of the animals were so sweet and supportive. I especially liked seeing the kinds of games they played after one meal ended but before the next one began. Everyone played very nicely together and were great role models for the audience. This is something I really like finding in stories for preschoolers and young children.

I’d recommend The Very Stuffed Turkey to anyone who is looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin


Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Pedro’s and JoJo’s families are on their way to Katie’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. But they get stuck in a snowstorm, and the Woos’ oven suddenly breaks. Katie wonders what kind of Thanksgiving it will be without sweet potatoes, pie, and most of all, friends.

Sometimes everything that can go wrong does go wrong all at once.

The chances of an oven breaking at the same time that a friend’s car gets stuck in the snow are low, but this sort of thing can happen. Seeing how Katie reacted when everything that made Thanksgiving special to her was taken away made me smile. She was such a good role model even though she was terribly disappointed by the change of plans. This can be a hard thing for people of all ages to handle, but she did a great job of expressing her sad feelings without allowing them to ruin her day.

There was a plot hole in this story that was never resolved. It involved what happened after Pedro and Jojo’s vehicle became stuck in the snowstorm. I was expecting the characters to spend more time on this problem than they did, so it was surprising to see how little attention that part of the plot received.

One of my favorite sections of this book happened while Katie and her family were trying to decide what to do on Thanksgiving now that their friends were no longer on the way and they couldn’t cook the foods they normally liked to eat then. Not only was the choice they made a kind one, it fit perfectly into the spirit of Thanksgiving and what it means to truly celebrate this holiday.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving was a short, cute read that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had something go wrong during the holidays.

Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy


Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Grandpa brings a box of wooden letters for Minki to practice her ABCs. He spells out words and Minki picks out the letters from the set. She enjoys doing this except that she isn’t able to tell p and q apart. So when Grandpa spells out p-i-g, she picks q, i, and g. For q-u-e-e-n she picks p,u,e,e,n and for q-u-i-l-t, she takes out the letters p,u,i,l,t.

Because Minki has so much trouble with p and q, she throws them out of the window. Angry and hurt, p and q stomp away to Word Fairy and announce they are never going back.

With p and q missing, many words become meaningless. Now nobody can say ‘please’ because it has turned into ‘lease.’ The police station and the post office can’t function and the queen must go into hiding!

Which is p and Which is q? is a fun story about an important issue.

Children between the ages 3 to 7 make occasional letter reversals while reading or writing. This is more likely to happen with letters that are mirror images of each other – like p and q, b and d, n and u. It doesn’t mean the child is dyslexic or has a learning ability. With practice and some clues, as the letter shapes become more familiar, children get over the confusion.

Learning the letters of the alphabet isn’t always easy.

My favorite scenes happened after the letters p and q ran away to go live with Word Fairy. They were so determined to stay with her forever that I couldn’t wait to see how the fairy would respond to them once she realized that they never wanted to go back to Earth. This was a very creative spin on the topic, and it made me smile.

Minka mentioned some letters other than p and q that are easy to mix up. I would have liked to see her either spend more time talking about how to tell the difference between those other letter or save them for a sequel. Talking about them without going into detail seemed like it could be confusing for young readers. With that being said, exploring those letters would be a very good place to begin with a sequel if the author is hoping turn this into a series.

The memory trick that Minka’s grandfather shared at the end of this story to help her remember the difference between these two letters was a smart one. He made it easy to remember by turning that trick into something a kid can easily imagine happening. It’s not something I’d ever heard of before, but it made a lot of sense.

Which Is p and Which Is q? is an adorable picture book that I’d recommend to anyone who has a young child in their life who needs help remembering the differences between similar letters like these.

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson


Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

All anyone wants to talk about with Mama is the new “ding-dang baby” that’s on the way, and Gia is getting sick of it! If her new sibling is already such a big deal, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once the baby is born?

Adding a baby to the family changes everything, and who’s to say it will be for the better?

The main character was such a sweet and adorable kid. I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to the excitement of her family as they all prepared for the new arrival. One of my favorite scenes involved a cousin asking this character if she wanted to hold that relative’s baby. Mia definitely had strong opinions on this topic, and she wasn’t at all afraid to share them with anyone who was listening.

I was a little surprised by how long it took Mia’s mom to realize that her daughter was feeling jealous and uncertain of the baby that was on the way. She was such a loving and attentive parent in general that I wondered why she didn’t notice the first time Mia was uneasy around this topic. With that being said, she was still a doting mom and this is a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise thought was really well written.

Jealousy is a tough emotion to deal with no matter how old someone is. It can be even more difficult for young children who haven’t much experience managing it yet. This topic was handled with humor and sensitivity in this tale. What made the storyline even better was that it gave such a positive example of how to handle this feeling without feeling overwhelmed by it.

I’d recommend Pecan Pie Baby to any family who is expecting a new addition soon.

Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, suspense
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Xeranthemum

Susannah Maya Logan is not having a good day. She doesn’t want to go to her best friend, Lola’s sleepover. Susannah thinks the house is big and spooky, not to mention the ghost that is said to live there. Lola’s big brother, Kai, loves to tease Susannah with scary stories. Throughout her day, she sees people deal with things that scare them. Her sight-impaired friend, Macy, is terrified of unicorns, of all things. She sees a boy at a party who’s frightened of clowns. Her teacher is afraid of getting a cold. Susannah realizes everybody is scared of something. She wishes she was more like Lola, who is not afraid of anything, or so it seems. Susannah discovers people have different ideas of what is scary and what is not, and only they can determine the difference. Join Susannah as she learns to confront her fears and not let her imagination prevent her from having fun.

Adults that remember Alfred Hitchcock’s belief ‘The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement” can also relate it to young children, especially those that are on the verge of awakening to the bigger world and all its linguistic complexities. We take things for granted; our allusions, metaphors and colloquialisms and idioms. Those are big words to explain that what you hear isn’t always what is meant. Susannah, the heroine of Things That Go Bump learns firsthand how scary life can be as her imagination fills in the gaps for things she doesn’t understand, is worried about or is unknown. This little novella reminded me that our tendency to fear those kinds of things don’t necessarily go away just because we ‘grow up’.

I get the impression that Susannah is a lot braver than she gives herself credit for. She questions even when she’s nervous or confused at times, and her best friend’s brother can sometimes be a huge pain in the neck. I think Kai has figured out how much fun it is to tease Susannah because of her reactions. He’s a typical boy who means no harm; he’s just mischievous with a heightened sense of fun that gets carried away now and again. There is a grin worthy payback at some point in the story and I enjoyed that scene.

I really liked Things That Go Bump and I think it’s great for kids to read, or adults to read with their children because it shows and explains how what we take for granted, what we think is ordinary, isn’t so for kids just learning about how the world works, making even simple things big and scary. I enjoyed the ending when Susannah finally faces her fears about sleeping over at Lola’s house and eventually comes to the realization, after a bit of excitement, that everything is going to be alright. The wrap up made me feel good and assured me that Susannah is going to be just fine.

I wish this book had been available when my own kids were younger; I would have absolutely shared it with them. That’s the best recommendation I can give.

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies


Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Genre: Children’s, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Another inky evening’s here— The air is cool and calm and clear.
Can it be true? Oh, can it be?
Yes!—Bat Night at the library!

Join the free-for-all fun at the public library with these book-loving bats! Shape shadows on walls, frolic in the water fountain, and roam the book-filled halls until it’s time for everyone, young and old, to settle down into the enchantment of story time. Brian Lies’ joyful critters and their nocturnal celebration cast library visits in a new light. Even the youngest of readers will want to join the batty book-fest!

Not everyone who goes to the library is human.

This is one of the cutest picture books I’ve read in a long time. As soon as I saw the blurb, I couldn’t wait to see what bats would do when they somehow managed to visit a library. Somehow the idea of them flying around in there was even more delightful once I was able to see for myself what these bats thought of their experience there. The description of their evening was completely accurate, but it also left plenty of details to be discovered later on by the audience.

Wow, what great storytelling! I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the bats’ adventures, but I will say that I was completely charmed by how they decided to spend their time. They were excited like many youngsters would be in this situation, but they were also gentle and sweet little creatures,. Even the youngest bats who had never been on this trip before and didn’t really know what to expect knew just how special this visit was.

The rhymes that described the bats’ activities were creative and lovely as well. They were written in ways that appeal to both adults and young children because of how many different things the bats did to amuse themselves in the library overnight. Some scenes were silly, and others were serious. They were all beautifully written, though, and I enjoyed them even more the second time I read them.

Bats at the Library is a fantastic bedtime story for readers of all ages. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Pumpkinhead by Eric Rohmann


Pumpkinhead by Eric Rohmann
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Otho was born with a pumpkin for a head. And despite what one might think, he was not seen as a curiosity by his family. So begins this brilliantly droll tale of a very unusual boy. Otho loses his pumpkin head–quite literally–when a bat decides it would make a good home. And despite what one might think, this is not the end for Otho, but the beginning of a great adventure. Is Otho’s story a parable? A cautionary tale? A celebration of the individual? A head trip? That is something each reader (and Otho) will have to decide. . . . .

There’s nothing wrong with being born a little different from everyone else. In fact, sometimes it’s the best possible thing that could happen to someone!

The dialogue was adorable. I especially liked seeing how other characters reacted to Otho when they met him. They often made funny, lighthearted comments about him. That wasn’t really something I was expecting to see happen at all when I first began reading, so it was nice to see him being treated so well.

I would have liked to see more details included in this book in general. Everything from how Otho’s parents reacted when they realized their child had been born with a pumpkin for a head to what happened to him when he lost his head was brushed over. The author had a lot of interesting material to work with, and yet he didn’t spend much time at all describing what Otho’s life was like before, during, or after the loss of his head. Had this happened, I would have chosen a much higher rating for it as the storyline itself was fantastic.

With that being said, this was one of the most quirky and creative Halloween tales I’ve read recently. The plot twists were handled beautifully, especially when it came to what happened to Otho while his head and body were separated. No, those scenes were never gross or scary. They were playful instead, and that was a great choice for this age group.

Pumpkinhead was an imaginative adventure that I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a non-frightening Halloween story.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff


The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Children’s, Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The trip to the amusement park should be fun. But when Samantha “Sam” Archer and her friends try out the haunted house ride, things go terribly wrong!

This is a field trip that Samantha isn’t going to forget anytime soon.

The mystery was fun to solve. I liked seeing how quickly the first clue was given to the characters and what they did with it once they realized that something odd was happening on this ride. It was also interesting to watch them try to understand what was happening and figure out if their first guess was correct. Samantha and her friends were smart kids, and it showed in how much time they spent trying to solve the problem of what really happened during the ride.

I would have liked to see more descriptions of what was happening in this story. For example, it would have been nice to know more about what Samantha and her friends saw in the haunted house ride after everything began to go wrong and they realized that they’d have to work together to find a way out of that building. The descriptions of those scenes didn’t contain enough details for me to imagine how they played out.

The dialogue was well done. All of the main characters really sounded like kids, from the silly jokes they made about each other to how they talked about the strange things that were happening when they were trying to figure out what was actually going on in the haunted house. There were a few different times when their conversations made me grin because of how playful they were.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a short, lighthearted mystery.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman


I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Simon Lester Henry Strauss is not in the least afraid of any haunted house, but there is something else that terrifies him.

Not everyone is afraid of the same thing, but just about everyone is frightened by something.

I really liked the balanced way the narrator handled fear. None of the characters were ever treated poorly because of what scared them. Their fears and their emotions in general were treated like the normal part of life that they are, but there were also examples of characters facing things that others found too alarming to deal with. It was interesting to see how all of the characters responded to scary things and what happened when they disagreed on how they should respond to certain experiences.

The imagery was a little scarier than what I’d typically see for this age group. There were references to stuff like blood, guts, and veins. While none of the illustrations for those sentences were gory, this would make me a little cautious about who I handled this tale to. Some kids would love it. Others might find it too frightening, though.

The ending was fantastic. I was expecting there to be a twist in it based on how the main character reacted to the monsters in all of the earlier scenes. It was interesting to see if my theories about what that twist would be turned out to be correct and what would happen to the characters next. This is something I wouldn’t mind reading aloud over and over again. That’s always a nice thing to find in picture books.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House is a good choice for young fans of the horror genre.