The Widow’s Broom

This picture book for grades 2-5 would make a wonderful Halloween read-aloud.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: grades 2 through 5; Reading level: 5.3
4 out of 5 stars

Witches’ brooms don’t last forever. They grow old, and even the best of them, one day, lose the power of flight.

This opening sentence sets up a story that is both suspenseful and unpredictable.

As readers can predict, the witch in the story is riding her broom when it loses power and she falls to ground. She lands in a vegetable garden where she is found the next day, bruised and battered, by the widow who lives there, Minna Shaw. Minna Shaw is a kind woman and takes the witch into her home to recover.

The witch recovers, but she leaves behind the powerless broom. Minna Shaw “began using it around the house and found that it was no better or worse than brooms she’d used before.” Until one morning, when Minna Shaw heard a noise and discovers the broom sweeping the floor all by itself.Untitled
Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations are, as usual, absolutely stunning in their detail. The sepia-tone colors and style fit the eerie tone of the story perfectly. I have to admit that as the broom was sweeping and doing chores, I couldn’t help but think about the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Disney.

The end of the story contains an interesting twist that will surprise most readers.

The Widow’s Broom
by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin, 1992
ISBN 0-395-64051-2

Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree

A very original plot that focuses on the importance of family and…allergies!

Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree
by Lori Nichols
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016
ISBN 978-0-399-16756-0
Picture book, holiday, fiction
Description: 1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.6
4 out of 5 stars

Cute Christmas story featuring Maple and Willow. They have a very sweet relationship, and this book offers a nice twist on traditional holiday stories. After getting their first live Christmas tree, it turns out Maple is allergic and the tree has to go. How will Willow react?

Parents will love reading this story to siblings who may not be getting along. It shows that you can be disappointed when things don’t go your way, but family is more important.

I gave the book four stars because it has an original plot featuring allergies and how those can affect children celebrating a holiday. Maple and Willow teach some good lessons.

Dia de los Muertos

This nonfiction picture book is a festive introduction to the Mexican and Latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos
by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; pictures by Carles Ballesteros
Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, 2015
ISBN 978-0-8075-1566-2
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Picture book, nonfiction, diversity
Dewey: 394.266
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.7
4 out of 5 stars

It is important to respect the cultures and traditions of people in other parts of the world, and reading books that present accurate information in a fun and entertaining way is an excellent way to educate children. Many people who are not part of the Latin American or Mexican culture mistakenly believe that Dia de los Muertos is associated with the American holiday of Halloween. Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Thong and Carles Ballesteros make this distinct holiday come to life so readers understand what makes it special.

Thong has used rhyming text, with interspersed Spanish words, to narrate the story of how one town celebrates Dia de los Muertos. The Spanish words are left to stand on their own; they are not defined in the narrative text. This works well in the story because in most cases the words are either recognizable because of their resemblance to the corresponding English word, such as “celebraciones,” or the illustrations provide visual clues to the word’s meaning.

The illustrations are colorful and festive, matching the tone of the text and the holiday itself. In the additional information in the back of the book, Thong notes that “the emphasis of this day is on the joy of life rather than the sadness of death.” The feeling of the holiday is conveyed well by the rhyming text and festive illustrations. Skulls are part of the holiday, and the illustrations are accurate, but in no way scary, in order to be appropriate to young readers.

Two pages of more detailed information about Dia de los Muertos is included in the back of the book, as well as a glossary to define the Spanish words. There are no pronunciation guides, which is unfortunate, although Google Translate or other online resources can fill that need.

The flow of the rhyming text, paired with engaging illustrations, would make this book an excellent read-aloud for Nov. 1 or 2, the dates that the holiday is celebrated. Teachers or librarians could compare this Mexican/Latin American holiday to Halloween to help children recognize the differences.

Additional resources
Latinxs in Kid Lit has a list of other books that explore the holiday’s beliefs and traditions:

The Program of Latino History and Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has created a guide to the holiday that is appropriate for teachers or librarians. The history and beliefs are covered, and lesson ideas and activities are included.

National Geographic has general information about Dia de los Muertos, including stunning illustrations, suggested questions to pose to students, and quick facts.
For older students:
For younger students: