'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 30 October 2010

Review: Halloween in Christmas Hills

This is a multi-layered book. Multi-layered with goodness. Or not-so-goodness (as in spooksdom).

Set in the Christmas Hills, in Ash Crescent, we meet the Johnson family – Mr and Mrs J and their five kids, including Miles Cameron Johnson, who is kid no. 5.

The Johnson family love celebrations – from Australia Day through to Christmas, they love dressing up and celebrating the traditions of the season, and everyone in Ash Crescent thinks the family are lots of fun – except Mr Jack who lives in no. 6.

Stingy Jack doesn’t like anyone. He is the type of neighbour to keep creepily to himself and never return a football kicked over the fence.

When Halloween comes around, the Johnson family get into the festivities by dressing up and visiting the neighbours for a bit of trick or treat fun – and Jack is allowed to treat for the very first time, albeit resplendent in a naff leprechaun outfit left over from March.

Along the way, the family visits their neighbours – a collection of people from all over the world – some who get into the spirit, others who do not, and still others who pretend they’re not home (classic!). But everyone gives Stingy Jack’s house a wide berth… all except Miles.

Along the way, author Tayleur injects some wonderful cultural snippets into the storyline – like the fact that Halloween is actually not American, that the Chinese celebrate a similar Hungry Ghost Festival, that the Germans need to put all their kitchen knives away… and that Australians still haven’t quite got into the swing of Halloween – with some neighbours offering – gasp – fruit! or fluffy mints from their pockets.

McKenzie’s illustrations, as usual, are absolutely priceless. The grainy snapshot of Stingy Jack in the distance near his grimy house… the line-up of the kids in costume ready to start treating… the family hiding behind their front door with their fingers to their lips to keep quiet so the treaters will think they’re not home… Miles at the gate of Stingy Jack’s gate… all a hilarious and visual spookfest for the eyes.

Kids will love this clever storybook that will appeal to both younger and older kids. It has enough ‘bite’ to be alluring, enough humour to warrant many a repeat reading, and enough beauty to become a classic festive bookshelf staple.

Title: Halloween in Christmas Hills
Author: Karen Tayleur
Illustrator: Heath Mackenzie
Publisher: Black Dog Books, A$16.99RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2009
Format: Softcover
ISBN: 9781742030302
For ages: 5-10
Type: Picture Book
This book is available online