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It’s fall conference season. Spending time at the annual Illinois Reading Council conference in Peoria always introduces me to wonderful new books written by Illinois authors. Here are two great ones.

Just in time for Halloween is “Pick a Pumpkin” (2019, Candlewick, written by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis, ages 2-6). The big, warm, retro illustrations show a family heading off with a wagon to the pumpkin patch. Rhymed verse pulls us into the action as they pick a pumpkin and continue the fun.

Homeward bound, the action builds as they clean the pumpkin, find a carving space and gather supplies. “A tool to trace a spooky face, and plastic saws for cutting shapes … then …”

They invite friends — and form a pumpkin carving crew.

Cleaning the pumpkin comes next with, “Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings. Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.”

The illustrations sing with everything Halloween, from black cats to spider webs, orange pumpkins, circle eyes, triangle noses and every type of mouth.

Before the carving crew heads out for trick-or-treating, they carefully lift their pumpkin, find a place for it outside and ask someone to light a match. “LOOK! It’s not a pumpkin anymore. It’s a … JACK-O’-LANTERN!” to guard the house while they go have fun. The glowing close-up of the jack-o’-lantern is sure to please. Then turn the page to the last spread, which reads, “Happy Halloween, everyone!”

If you like this book, check out the 2017 Christmas book by the same duo, called “Pick a Pine Tree.”

Following the spirit of fun and play is this new picture book biography, “Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines” (2019, Beach Lane Books, written by Sarah Aronson, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, ages 4-9). Before the story starts, playful cartoon-like letters spelling out “Rube Goldberg” on the cover will invite you in and the initial pages showing Rube’s cartoon drawings of his inventions will intrigue you.

The text begins, “Question: How do you become a successful, award-winning artist and famous inventor without ever inventing anything at all? (This is not a trick question.)”

Next, we read that this is what Rube Goldberg did, and “In a funny way, his life was just like one of his famous inventions: an improbable and inefficient chain reaction that ends up making perfect sense.”

The story follows Rube from a boy who loved to draw, to his job in engineering, which he pursued to please his father. A clever illustration shows the words of text zig-zagging through a maze of pipes underground, as engineer Rube looks, concerned, at complex maps of sewer pipes.

When Rube quits his job and pursues a career in illustration, the story builds. Moving from San Francisco to New York, the “front row,” of the cartoon capital of the country, he becomes a successful cartoonist. And readers love his alter ego — Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, who invents intricate machines that “purposely solved problems in the most surreal and ridiculous ways.”

The spreads that follow show lively illustrations of machines that put holes in doughnuts (with cannons and ghosts), turn off lights (with fans and bowling balls) and cut your hair (with a shoe and a goat).

We end by learning that Rube Goldberg’s machines, while they accomplished nothing in a practical sense, made people look closer … “And question logic. And tickle the imagination … They challenged people to use the most amazing machine in the universe: the brain!”

Alice B. McGinty ( is the award-winning author of almost 50 books for children and runs a summer writing camp for teens, Words on Fire. She recently celebrated the release of two books, “The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney” (Schwartz and Wade Books) and “Pancakes to Parathas: Breakfast Around the World” (Little Bee Books).