Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Skulls!

First-time picture book author Blair Thornburgh (Who's That Girl) teams up with Scott Campbell (Zombie in Love duology) for a cheery tribute to that undersung hero, the skull.

"You probably don't think much about skulls," the narrator says to a little girl with perpetually astonished eyes and brunette pigtails. The speaker extolls the virtues of the "car seat for your brain" as the girl walks through a crowd featuring a lumberjack, a pirate, a baker and many others. A page turn reveals an X-ray-image view of every head around her, including the skulls of a pet dog, parrot and turtle. Although the child jumps in surprise, the narrator confidently refers to skulls as "a good thing." As her adventure continues through a gathering of skeletons--some playing croquet in period costume--the girl learns that skulls don't intend to scare people, and that they have useful holes "for hearing, for seeing, for smelling and breathing, and for eating grilled cheese sandwiches."

Campbell's sweetly absurd illustrations will help little ones learn not to fear the Reaper, whom he shows contentedly sipping a juice box. The quirky watercolor scenes support Thornburgh's offbeat narrative perfectly, the human characters achieving a balance between cartoon goofiness and osseous reality. Considering the popularity of Halloween and el Día de los Muertos, some families will find Skulls! a useful tool for comforting and educating young children who may find the holidays' skeleton-heavy imagery unsettling. Parents and teachers will also likely appreciate the list of skull facts in the end matter, ideal for engaging a skull's contents. This authoritatively positive demystification of cranial bones--with its recurring theme of grilled cheese appreciation--is sure to have preschool through early elementary-aged readers shouting, "I love my skull!" --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library