Halloween Treats

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 15, 2009

Halloween is almost upon us, and we thought we’d share with you several new titles and a few perennial favorites to get kids of all ages in the mood for the spooky holiday that comes with candy.

To start things off, here’s a great book to help families set the scene for creative Halloween festivities: Extreme Halloween: The Ultimate Guide to Making Halloween Scary Again, by Tom Nardone (Perigee, $14.95 ISBN 039953525X). Nardone, who brought us Extreme Pumpkins II last year, loves Halloween like Roseanne and Dan Connor of TV fame—the more gleefully grisly, the better. Lots of great projects for in and outside the house, from party tips and treats to full-blown haunted houses. Why not have an alligator in the leaf pile? Want to bury your friends alive? How about a toilet bowl filled with candy? And can anyone resist a cake that bleeds? Ewww! FUN.

On the opposite end of the scare spectrum is the board book for little kids by veteran toddler pleaser Anne Rockwell. Pumpkin Day, Pumpkin Night, illustrated by Megan Halsey (Walker, $6.99 ISBN 080279405X) follows a child through the gentle joy of finding the perfect pumpkin at a farmer’s market, preparing it, and enjoying the immense satisfaction of setting it out, carved and lit, on a fall night. Sweet and not scary.

Another cute book that offers Halloween flavor without the fright is Andrea Beaty and Pascal Lemaitre’s new title, Hush, Baby Ghostling (S&S/McElderry, $14.99 ISBN 1416925457) I’m a sucker for books that turn familiar ideas upside down*, and this one is charming. The little ghost, wiped out after a long night of haunting, is afraid to go to sleep, so Mama settles him in by promising to keep the dark on and soothing him with happy thoughts—of monsters, bats, and other nighttime creatures. A sweet bedtime story with a little twist. (*Another goodie is the 1997 title No Such Thing by Jackie French Koller and Betsy Lewin (Boyds Mills Press, $15.95 ISBN 1563974908), in which a boy is afraid of monsters, and a monster is afraid of boys. And then—they meet.)

Can You Make a Scary Face? Well, can you? Because kids will want you to, right along with them, when you read this at story hour. They will also wiggle, wriggle, puff, and dance. Author/artist Jan Thompson introduces a bossy ladybug who starts things off by telling readers to STAND UP ("No. I changed my mind. SIT DOWN. No, STAND UP!") She exhorts them to try getting rid of a bug by blowing it away. Each command leads to the need for another command, since the bug is not so easily gotten rid of. The story is hilarious to small children — another good choice for youngsters who want a cheery introduction to the world of "scary." (S&S/Beach Lane, $12.99 ISBN 1416985816)

Can clever mice outwit a cat (named Scary Cat) who invites himself to a mouse Halloween feast? Lois Ehlert’s Boo to You! poses this question in rich, detailed collages made from vegetables and paper and twine, among other materials. (S&S/Beach Lane, $17.99 ISBN 1416986251) I think you can guess the answer: they do indeed find a way to drive away the cat, and I have to admit, I felt a little sorry for the lonely feline carnivore. But the art is the real star of this book, and teachers will like the informative end pages with photos of fall fruits and vegetables, a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds (simple and tasty), and info about jack o’lanterns.

Margie Palatini is always fun to read aloud, and this punny tale about a fizzled fairy godmother who finds herself out of work is no exception. Gone with the Wand: A Fairy’s Tale (illustrated by Brian Ajhar, Orchard, $16.99 ISBN 0439727685) is a witchy story that’s really about taking care of kids who need tucking in. For a titch more Halloween sensibility, Palatini’s Piggie Pie! is a perennial Flying Pig favorite. This one is about a witch in search of plump piggies for her next pie, but the alert swine are on to her in time, and dress up as cows, ducks, chickens, and even the farmer, in order to fool her. When a hungry wolf heads to the farm seeking the same meal, he and the foiled witch meet up, with a surprise ending. My cousin’s kids must have made me read it to them 150 times over the course of about three nights one summer—always the sign of a crowd pleaser. (Illustrated by Howard Fine, Clarion, $6.95 ISBN 0395866189)

Another older title, and one of my all-time favorite Halloween picture books, is Hogula: Dread Pig of Night, by Jean Gralley (ages 4-8). For some reason, I can’t get enough of Hogula, the vampire pig who "snorts" people into a snooze, and Elvis Ann, a girl who can’t be snorted, and who wields her own wicked talent, unleashing her evil "kissyface" upon the innocent. Can Elvis Ann and Hogula become friends? Only if they agree not to snort or kissyface each other. Another top-notch read-aloud for groups of kids. Or for one special kid at bedtime. (Ages 4-8) (Holt/Owlet, $6.95 ISBN 0805071644)

Lovely, lovely art and poetic text combine to make Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yooone, one of this year’s standout Halloween stories. (Feiwel & Friends, $16.99 ISBN 0312375034) On Halloween night, a little girl comes home after trick-or-treating, but instead of settling into bed, she sneaks outside, yearning to fly up to the great big moon. As her little brother and some appropriately Halloween-y animals (bat, cat, owl) watch, she tries and fails, picks herself up and tries again. Then, in a breathtaking moment, she rises into the air. This is a quiet book about pursuing one’s dreams. "Hold tight to your broom / and float past the stars, / and turn to the heavens and soar." For an added treat, McGhee, always a lyrical writer, has sneaked the text into a sestina. Note about the art: the book cover is dramatic, but even it doesn’t do justice to the quiet gorgeousness of the linoleum-block art inside. (Ages 4-8)

Taking a turn from the lyrical to the loud, Horrid Henry and the Scary Sitter has a very funny Halloween story among its four sections. Halloween should be Henry’s best day of the year: you get to play tricks on people ALL DAY LONG, scot-free, dress up as something really repellent, plus, there’s free candy. But when Henry’s parents expect him to drag along his little brother in a humilatingly cute costume, Henry has other plans. Author Francesca Simon and illustrator Tony Ross clearly take enormous pleasure in their horrid hero and his terrible behavior—and so do kids ages 5-8. (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $4.99 ISBN 1402

Two more middle-grade favorites that have been around for a while: The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes and Edward Ardizzone (what a team!) (Houghton Mifflin, $6.99, ISBN 015202610X) This is a wonderful, imaginative younger novel, suited especially for girls who love to draw and make up stories. Amy and Clarissa, best friends, have created a whole world on drawing paper, in which a terrible old witch is banished (or "banquished," as one of the girls likes to say) to live on the top of a glass hill and allowed out only once a year to haunt people on Halloween night. The old witch gets lonely, so she sends Malachi, a spelling bumblebee, down the hill to ask Amy and Clarissa to send her some company. The girls create a little witch family for her, consisting of a witch their own age as well as a "teeny witchie" baby. Issues of friendship, bullying, and teasing are addressed, in addition to questions of creating a fair and just world when you’re the ones holding the creative power (in this case, drawing pencils). There’s just something magical about this book, and it’s very Halloween-y. (Ages 7-10)

For fourth- and fifth-graders, it’s hard to do better for a read-aloud than to start with the first chapter of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. This book won the Newbery Honor in the same year her From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the gold medal. Elizabeth is new to town and meets a mysterious girl in her class who says she is a witch. She does read Macbeth and knows how to write spells in old-fashioned script (the kind where s’s look like f’s), and Elizabeth is intrigued enough to agree to become Jennifer’s apprentice. They start with small spells, which Jennifer insists have worked. When they acquire a toad, ostensibly for a bigger spell, Elizabeth finds herself torn between loyalty to her friend and a burgeoning sense that what they’re playing at might get a little out of control. The first chapter is light and intriguing, and includes a school Halloween parade; a very good one to read to classes the week before the holiday. (Aladdin, $5.99 ISBN 1416933964)

Two quickies-but-goodies here. We’re always looking for scary short stories to read aloud at Halloween. Having gone through Alvin Schwartz’s worthy Scary Stories canon many times, it’s nice to have a new addition to the mix in More Bones: Scary Stories from Around the World (by Arielle North Olson and Howard Schwartz — hmm, any relation to Alvin? — illustrated by E.M. Gist; Puffin, $6.99 ISBN 0142414255) Great for ages 8-12. And who can resist Half-Minute Horrors, featuring more than 70 short-short stories by authors and artists including Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, Holly Black, Margaret Atwood, Gregory Maguire, Jon Scieszka, Libba Bray, Jerry Spinelli, Francine Prose, Arthur Slade, Lauren Myracle, M.T. Anderson, Bret Helquist, Brian Selznick, Chris Raschka and many, many others. (HarperCollins, $12.99. ISBN: 0061833797) Just look at its cover over there on the right. Eek!


For your teen and adult customers:
Gris Grimly, master of dark art, is the ultimate Halloween illustrator, and Edgar Allan Poe, with his eery, haunting stories, is the ultimate Halloween author. Happily, they’ve been paired again to bring you Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia (Atheneum, $18.99. ISBN: 1416950257) This follow-up to Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness offers a new set of classics, newly illustrated by Grimly. The collection includes the inimitable, famous "The Tell-Tale Heart," as well as the less familiar "The Oblong Box," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," and "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether." Sophisticated Halloween fare for teens and adults. And no Halloween list would be complete without Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a mesmerizing book about justice and tolerance and integrity, which just happens to have one of the most memorable Halloween night scenes in all of literature. Boo Radley, anyone? (Harper Perennial, $12.95. ISBN: 0060935464)


Though this post is long, the list of books just scratches the surface. What are your favorite literary Halloween treats?

14 thoughts on “Halloween Treats

  1. Craig P.

    Elizabeth, Zombies must have eaten your brains since you left Goulish Goodies by Sharon Bowers out of your selection. Seriously, this has to be one of the best looking, most creepy, frightfully delicious books out for Halloween. But maybe you’re the kind of bookseller that gives out apples, toothbrushes, or rice cakes to trick or treaters. Don’t believe me on how good this book is? Heck, I’ll send you a copy. Heck, I’ll send every children’s bookseller(actually the first 10 to respond)a copy just to prove that this book is worthy of front-and-center treatment in Halloween displays. Just email me at craig@workman.com. I would also say that the Mackenzie Phillips memoir is pretty scary.

  2. VICKI

    The Blue-Nosed Witch by Margaret Embry is one of my *favorite* children’s books! A charming little book about a young witch who gets to fly in her first Halloween celebration with the “big witches.” Great vintage illustrations too.

  3. natacha

    one of my all time favorites is Tasha Tudors Pumpkin Moonshine. Sylvie Ann’s runaway pumpkin frightened the goats- terrified the hens and enraged the geese! a sweet and homey read. but then I agree- Hogula is a blast to read out loud!

  4. DaNae

    The two books I look most forward to reading the week before Halloween are: Gaiman’s Wolves in the Walls and Patricia McKissak’s Precious and the Boo Hag. Not traditionally Halloweeny I know but lovely on the tongue.

  5. shelftalker elizabeth

    You know what I miss? The Georgie books by Robert Bright. (Hi, FSG!) My list wasn’t intended to be definitive or exhaustive, just a mix of fun things. That’s why I’m hoping booksellers and librarians and parents will chime in with their faves!

  6. carolQR

    Hallo Weiner by Dav Pilkey Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Williams and last year’s… Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara Favorite but OP: The Halloween House by Erica Silverman

  7. Julie

    What Was I Scared Of? By Dr. Seuss…from “The Sneetches” and now available on its own in a cool (but somewhat pointless…unless you can read in the dark) glow-in-the-dark format!

  8. JulieC

    Personal favorites…not necessarily Halloween but creepy or fun… Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac Cold Feet by Cynthia DeFelice The Dancing Skeleton also by DeFelice Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex

  9. Kellie Olsen

    I love Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi! “Bella Legrossi is the messiest monster in all of Booville. Boris Kleanitoff is a persnickety ghoul so tidy he vacuums his vampire bats. What could ever bring these two together? Why a creature-filled, monster-mad Halloween party, of course!”

  10. Json

    My Halloween favorites are (picture book)’The Big Pumpkin’ by Erica Silverman, about a witch who wants to make pumpkin pie but can’t move the huge pumpkin out of her garden,and how many halloween characters attempt to assist her efforts; (chapter book) ‘Will Allen and the Great Monster Detective’ by Jason Edwards, about a boy whose fears have come to life and how, with some very special help, he learns to conquer them; and (novel) of course, ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’. Who can forget that Halloween feast being interrupted by a giant troll?


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