Book Reviews: Tales of Tricks and Treats

This Is NOT a Pumpkin declares the cover of a new board book (Simon & Schuster, $6.99; ages 1 to 4) - and yet, looming in the sky, in surreal Magritte-style, is something round and orange and very familiar. Author/artist Bob Staake has fun teasing toddlers with simple words and witty pictures plus a grinning jack-o'-lantern ending.

Two best friends celebrate Halloween in "Very Scary," one of the tiny short stories starring Cowboy and Octopus (Viking, $16.99; ages 4 to 8). Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith are up to their usual antics in seven episodes about a vintage cowboy paperdoll (who remains in the same manly pose throughout) and a comic-book, eight-handed octopus. Quirky, but it works. As they chat and tell jokes, Cowboy rustles up some beans and bacon, and Octopus decides that being a tooth fairy is mighty dang scary.

Anyone who loves mischief will treasure The Encyclopedia of Immaturity(Klutz, $19.95; ages 8 and up) - over 400 pages of nothing but play. Try "Headless Halloween" or "In a Hurry This Halloween?" Or gorge on jokes, ways to annoy people, magic tricks and handy skills like levitating and hanging a spoon from your nose and creative ways to play with food or school supplies. Very little "redeeming" value, except for a few homework helpers, like a template for "The Universal Book Report," or how to "Talk Trash," Shakespeare-style. All good clean fun, with the occasional exception like "Do-It-Yourself Dog Barf." Illustrated with photos (with a surprising number of grown-ups as models) and crystal-clear diagrams for mayhem.

- Kathleen Krull

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