Hidden Lessons

“When the Goblins Came Knocking” by Anna Grossnickle Hines

Few children’s books acknowledge that Halloween holds more terror than fun for many very young tots. This book helps youngsters see that their fears are normal, and that one day Halloween will be fun for them, too.

Each double-paged spread is written in rhyme and shows a different type of Halloween reveler coming to the door of a little boy’s house. As his mother hands out candy, he hides behind her skirts or cowers in the background.

“When the witches came flying, screeching and cackling, swooping and crying, last Halloween … I ran, terrified.” Last Halloween, he tells us, “I was too scared to join in the fun.” In a satisfying conclusion, we see him bounding out of his front door in a dragon costume: “But this Halloween, I’m the scariest one.”

Hines’ drawings are colored pencil on black paper … appropriate for the holiday, and hopefully not too scary for already frightened little ones. It is obvious that the costumed characters are only children. (Greenwillow Books, ages 2-6, 32 pgs., $15.)

“Alphabet City” by Stephen T. Johnson

It’s hard to come up with a fresh approach to an ABC book. This book does it. At first glance, it appears to be made up of photographs of city scenes. Looking closer, one realizes the pictures are beautifully executed realistic paintings.

Johnson has based his paintings on actual city scenes. In each, a letter of the alphabet appears, sometimes so subtly it takes some examination to spot it. Even when the letter is obvious, the presentation is so striking that children are likely to have an “aha” reaction with each new page. The “A” is the end support of a bright yellow sawhorse. The “E” is a traffic light viewed from the side. The “T” is negative space formed by tall buildings and a pedestrian walkway.

More than a study of the alphabet, Johnson’s paintings help us realize beauty and surprise can be found in everyday city scenes. The book may have children searching their environments for hidden symbols. (Viking, all ages, 32 pgs., $14.99.)

“The Loyal Cat” retold by Lensey Namioka

Lovely to see and hear, this is the retelling of a charming Japanese folktale about a simple priest who lived 370 years ago in the mountains of Northern Japan.

Priests at other temples had big, round voices and their temples had many visitors who were always leaving important gifts of gold, silk and valuable art. Tetsuzan was an unassuming man with a quiet voice. He enjoyed plain food and clothing. He didn’t care that his temple had no fine paintings or vivid flowers.

One day he rescued a cat that was being teased by some monkeys. The kitten was named Huku and he lived with Tetsuzan and became his friend. As Huku grew older, he discovered he had the magical power to raise objects into the air and keep them there as long as he wanted.

Soon, because no one brought gifts to the temple, Tetsuzan became poorer and poorer. His monks leave because Tetsuzan can’t afford to feed them. Even the mice desert the temple.

Finally there’s no food for either the priest or his cat. Huku gets a chance to use his magical powers to help change his master’s fortunes. But still the unassuming priest doesn’t need very much beyond food and shelter to feel that he has enough.

A nice message for children within the enchanting story.

Aki Sogabe created the gorgeous illustrations. Each was made from a single sheet of black paper, cut freehand, and placed over rice papers that were colored using airbrush or watercolor. Both she and Namioka are Seattle area residents. (Browndeer Press/ Harcourt Brace, ages 5-8, 32 pgs., $15.)

“Ragsale” by Artie Ann Bates

This warm and beautifully illustrated story is set in 1950s Appalachia where perfectly respectable families did their clothes shopping at ragsales. Being a faithful thrift-store shopper myself, this book had immediate appeal. The ragsale was an earlier version of the Goodwill store.

Narrator Jessann’s mom is a schoolteacher. She, Jessann, Eunice, Mamaw, Aunt Mary Jane and cousin Billie Joe pile into the car for a windy, wintry Saturday full of ragsale shopping.

The first sale is held at the mother’s old high school, where shipments of clothes have just arrived from the north. Blouses and sweaters are 25 cents. Shoes are a dollar.

“Mommy gets all her dresses at the ragsale. I never did see her buy one from a store … She says, ‘why pay a lot for clothes when I can fix these up from the ragsale?”’

The girls try on fancy hats and jewelry and look at old National Geographics. The women leave with bundles of clothing for themselves and family members.

At the next ragsale, “Mommy buys a faded picture that might be by a famous artist because it says Winslow H. in the corner. Billie Jo picks out a book of poems by Emily Dickinson.”

At the end of the day the shoppers return home to be greeted by a grinning Daddy. “Did you have a good sale?” Mommy replies, “Always do.”

The wonderful paintings by Appalachian artist Jeff ChapmanCrane, combine with the descriptive text to bring alive a place, a time and a season. The values expressed here are fine ones, too. The family is clearly, a loving, close-knit clan that makes good use of things that others don’t need anymore. (Houghton Mifflin, ages 5-10, 32 pgs., $14.95.)

“The Pirate’s Handbook: How to Become a Rogue of the High Seas” by Margarette Lincoln

Here is another useful title for Halloween. Or maybe your young swashbuckler has a birthday party coming that’s begging for a theme. In either case, this classy little book will be great fun.

Written by the head of research at the National Maritime Museum in London, the book is filled with tales about real pirates, including Black Bart, Captain Kidd and the women pirates Anne Bonny and Ching Shih (who had a pirate community of 80,000 under her command).

The book includes a glossary of pirate language, ships, flags and instructions for turning oneself into a respectable imitation of a classic pirate. Make shoe buckles, a sword, treasure map and doubloons. Take a multiple choice quiz to find out whether you’re suffering from scurvy. Try a recipe for ship’s biscuits. (These cheat a bit by using butter and milk.)

Illustrated with photographs and historical drawings and paintings, it’s all quite interesting. (Cobblehill Books/Dutton, ages 5 and up, 32 pgs., $12.99.)

MEMO: Tacoma writer Rebecca Young’s book reviews appear monthly on the Families page.

Tacoma writer Rebecca Young’s book reviews appear monthly on the Families page.

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