Ghosts, kids and dog enjoy Halloween


It's official: Carl has gone commercial. No, the Rottweiler who first starred in "Good Dog, Carl" hasn't pressed his paw print on a contract to market sheets, lunch boxes, backpacks and underwear with Disney-like greed. And he hasn't sold out to video, as have Babar and Madeline.

All Carl has done is appear in his second book with a holiday theme: "Carl's Masquerade," by Alexandra Day (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $11.95, all ages). Just in time for Halloween, Carl and the baby sneak off to follow Mom and Dad to a masquerade party. How convenient.

I don't mean to come down hard on Carl. This book, like "Carl's Christmas," is a delight. Ms. Day's paintings are still charming and clever -- in the best scene, Carl and the baby meet a costumed woman dressed like the baby, astride a papier-mache version of Carl.

But the newer books just don't have the zaniness and creativity of "Good Dog, Carl" and "Carl Goes Shopping." The sequels bring smiles. The first time I read "Good Dog, Carl," I laughed out loud. Still do.

* Another new book with a Halloween theme is "The Ghost Family Meets Its Match," by Nichole Rubel (Dial, $14, ages 4-8).

The Ghost family settles into an abandoned Victorian house that once belonged to a famous explorer. Through the years, different house-hunters come by, intent on buying the house and fixing it up for themselves. First it's a family in a horse and buggy. Then it's a couple from the roaring '20s, and then another during the '50s. Each time, Mr. and Mrs. Ghost, their two children and their cat scare off the prospective buyers.

But in the 1980s, a real estate agent drops in with the Merry family. Try as they might, the Ghosts can't spook Mr. and Mrs. Merry and their kids. At the end, we find out why -- and realize there were plenty of clues along the way. Ms. Rubel also wrote and illustrated "It Came From the Swamp" and illustrated the BTC "Rotten Ralph" books. She packs plenty of funny details on every page.

* The down side of dressing up for Halloween is captured in "The Best Halloween of All," by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by Susan Meddaugh (Crown, $10, ages 3-7).

Ben is two years younger than his brother, Michael. Their parents make them costumes every year, and every year Ben has to play the supporting role. When Michael is a magician at 4, Ben is the rabbit who's supposed to jump out of a hat.

When Michael is a mouse, Ben is a wedge of Swiss cheese. Finally, when Ben is 7, he declares his independence. His parents are disappointed at first, but they let him make his own costume. He goes trick-or-treating as an intergalactic-space-starship robotron armed with a laser-pulverizer-beam rod.

* Oliver and Amanda are brother and sister pigs who star in a series of Dial Easy-To-Read books. "Oliver and Amanda's Halloween," by Jean Van Leeuwen, pictures by Ann Schweninger (Dial, $11, ages 4-8) is typical of the series. It has plenty of plot for beginning readers, which is good. It would be even better if Amanda weren't so wimpy.

* If it's gimmicks you want, you can get them in high-tech hologram style. "Ghost Train: A Spooky Hologram Book," by Stephen Wyllie, illustrated by Brian Lee (Dial, $18, ages 5-10) uses the three-dimensional laser photographs to spice up an otherwise run-of-the-mill story. Holograms are fine on credit cards, but they can be more frustrating than entertaining when used to illustrate baseball cards and books like this.

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