Book: Enzo's Very Scary Halloween
Author: Garth Stein
Illustrator: R.W. Alley
Age Range: 5-8
My daughter and I love Enzo, who debuted in Enzo: Racing in the Rain and has also been seen in Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt! The Enzo books are written by Garth Stein and illustrated by R.W. Alley. Enzo is an irresistible little dog who lives with race car driver Denny and his daughter Zoe. The stories are told from Enzo's first person (dog) perspective, and reflect his limited understanding of the things that people do. They also incorporate Enzo's affinity for running, an appropriate trait in a dog belonging to a race car driver.
In Enzo's Very Scary Halloween, as Zoe and Denny prepare for a ghoul-filled Halloween, Enzo braces himself to protect them. He has no idea why Zoe thinks that an "impending invasion" of ghosts and goblins will be fun, and he worries as the neighborhood is gradually transformed into a scary place. When Halloween night comes, Zoe dresses Enzo up as a dragon. When people's reactions convince Enzo that he really has turned into a dragon, he runs away, determined not to hurt anyone AND afraid that creatures are chasing him. There's surreal fright for a few pages, but of course things turn out ok for Enzo in the end.
One minor nit that I noticed when reading this book is that for a year-old puppy who doesn't understand when people are pretending to be scared, Enzo has a remarkably advanced vocabulary, using words like "sneering", "revelation" and "transformed". I doubt that this concern will bother child listeners, but it does mean that Enzo's Very Scary Halloween is a book better read to kids than read by new readers. It's also quite text-heavy for a picture book. Like this (one page spread):
"Over the next week, Denny's prophecy begins to come true. Each day, more houses on our street become haunted: giant spiders weave webs on porches, gravestones appear on lawns, and pumpkins try to sneak into people's houses. They are evil pumpkins, with sneering, demonic faces, but they're very slow moving, so we should be able to escape their evil spells. (I have never trusted a pumpkin."
R.W. Alley's gentle illustrations ("pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, gouache, acrylics, and coffee spills on paper") keep Enzo's Very Scary Halloween from being too scary for young listeners. Enzo's worried eyes and questioningly cocked ears convey his feelings throughout. Even on the page spread in which Enzo starts to believe that he might actually be a dragon, his wide eyes remain recognizable. I especially like Alley's use of fall colors in the dragon scenes.
Fans of Enzo will certainly not want to miss Enzo's Very Scary Halloween. I think that the advanced vocabulary and relatively dense text make this a better choice for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It's also a relatively advanced concept for readers to put themselves in Enzo's shoes, and understand why he would find Halloween so frightening. I don't think it's necessary to have read the previous Enzo books to appreciate this one, however, and it could happily join other Halloween stories in a library or bookstore display. It's a lovely portrayal of the full spectrum of Halloween traditions and decorations. Personally, I love Enzo, and was happy to see him back in a new adventure. I look forward to sharing this one with my daughter.
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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