In general, I love my system of acquiring new books (trawling the San Jose Library web site, requesting a half-dozen or so at once, then picking them up and reading them at my leisure). Every once in a long while, though, it bites me. If I'd actually gone to the library and seen The Halloween Tree on the shelf, I would have realized that it's aimed more at "young adult" readers, and likely wouldn't have checked it out. Since I had it and it's very short (a hair over 140 pages, with very simple language), I went ahead and read it. It isn't bad, just not for me.
First, the bad: the writing was really irritating. He employs an overly cutesy, superlative-driven style, where things are always described as being the most extreme ever. Pipkin is the dearest boy who ever lived, the fastest boy who ever ran, had the sweetest smile and the rosiest cheeks, etc. ad nauseum. And I do mean ad nauseum - he repeats and varies the same impression over and over again until it has lost whatever little originality it had.
Now, the good: the underlying story is kind of interesting, once you scrape away the treacle. I had been hoping for something like "Something Wicked This Way Comes;" it doesn't reach that level, but it does share some of the same heart, a fascination with dark and evil, and the ordinary all-American ways in which is presented to us (carnivals, Halloween). The bulk of the book is given to an exploration of archetypal Halloween costumes, and actually looking into the reasons behind them. This entails, for example, tracing our popular conception of the Grim Reaper back to Samhain and the druidic cult. Nothing here will shock you (Halloween costumes have to do with death, who knew?), but it is fairly gripping.
All of which leaves an uncomfortable question: who do you recommend this book for? Probably not adults. As for kids, it depends on how you feel about your children reading about how Christians burned witches. And possibly learning some incredibly annoying rhymes.