Children's Literature for Halloween!

Trick or treat, smell their feet, give them something good to read! The children you love will wear grins as wide as jack-o-lanterns after you share these kid-approved picks for October 31st! These great booooooks are available at boooookstores and libraries nationwide. Click on images or underlined text for further reviews and information.

by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

This is the scariest children's book I have ever read, and it took a mighty long time to read, I might add, because I had to keep taking intermissions in order to tell myself that it's just a book, it's just a book. I literally had to shove it under my sofa for two hours to try to get it out of my spinal cord, but then I had to take it out because it was too creepy to have under the couch. Then I read a little more and had to do some cheerful karaoke while the sweat that had accumulated on my palms dried out. What's so scary? I couldn't tell you, nothing really happens and everyone speaks in civil tones, but somehow it is so exactly like reading a bad dream, with disturbing little symbols and details that shine like a smile made up of a few too many sharp teeth. Parents that work too much, parents that love too much, too many hours in a bored girl's day all scrape away like too long fingernails against a bare back. There is a black cat that out-freakies Lewis Carroll's Cheshire and a deadpan little girl heroine bent on exploring an alternate universe where innocents are held captive and are called upon to handle more than the reader can stand to read. But you will read, "because," as Coraline says, "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave." Inarguably well-written if uncomfortably psychological, give it to children who have been sneaking your Stephen King anyway, and don't blame me if they get nightmares. (11 and up)

Everything I Know About Monsters
by Tom Lichtenheld

After a very reassuring note from the author explaining that monsters exist only in our imaginations, this comic field guide of creepy creatures puts that imagination to hard and rewarding work. Brought to literary life are under-the-bed monsters, closet and basement monsters, school monsters (I think we've all met a few of those), outside monsters, man-made and movie monsters, and special attention to almost-monsters like shadows and aliens. The writing is so natural and conversational, it really feels as if the author is in the room with an arm around the reader's shoulder, glancing side to side to spot and describe the objects of his expertise. Illustrations seems to be inspired by Silly Putty, with all sorts of gloopy elastic ghouls sporting an abundance of eyeballs, slathering tongues and gnashing teeth. The electric colors and tongue-in-cheek captions keep anything from being too scary, rather, it keeps in the perfect Purple-People-Easter spirit of Halloween fun. The extra-silly "Official Mad Scientist Monster Maker" will help children create a monster name by choosing words from columns. Like Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, this book is sure to be grabbed at and argued over by otherwise reluctant readers, but if the children start any monsterous fights over who gets to read it next, at least you'll know how to classify them. (7 and up)

by Kathryn Lasky,
illustrated by David Jarvis

After losing his two brothers to the Big Bad Wolf, Dr. Smart Pig is understandably lonely. Dr. Pig finally creates a humongus hog to fill this void, but is again discouraged when he realizes he can't keep ahead of his new friend's equally humongous appetite. This porcine propensity comes in mighty handy, though, when the wolf comes trick-or-treating at Dr. Pig's door. The pictures are smooth and stylish, with cinemanic tilts and close-ups that play on the parody very nicely. Dr. Pig's initial failings in the lab creates a series of freakish friends that children will find funny. A great title for hamming it up at a Halloween storytime! (6 and up)

Francis the Scaredy Cat
by Ed Boxall

When devoted pet Francis imagines his owner is in the clutches of a monster, he faces his fear of the dark. Is the object of his frenzy really felonious, or a feline just like him? The naive illustrations, full of zig-zaggy lines and an orange cat against a black background, are as appetizing as candy corn and perfectly suits this moonlit little treat. Lovely thrills and chills for the youngest listener. (4 and up)

by Miriam Glassman,
illustrated by Victoria Roberts

A foundling is raised by a witch in appropriate black-magic fashion, but Mama Hepzibah gets her broom in a knot when little Halloweena expresses a desire to make some human friends. Just when the cauldron seems to be about to bubble over, Halloweena offers a creative solution in a cornfield. The cartoonish art by New Yorker artist Victoria Roberts is droll, but thin lines and small figures make it more tricky than treat-y to share with a group; rather, give this to some little girl who is about to start a classic like Eleanor's Estes's The Witch Family. (6 and up)

Skeleton Hiccups
by Margery Cuyler,
illustrated by S.D. Schindler

A bad case of hiccups is rattlin' them bones, so a friendly Ghost steps in to suggest a series of cures. Finally, Ghost decides the best prescription is to scare Skeleton…no easy feat, but he manages. The illustrations are sparse but sprinkled with morbidly funny details and scenarios, such as when Skeleton tries to eat a spoonful of sugar only to have it pour right through his ribcage, or the werewolf bedroom slippers waiting outside Skeleton's shower. Children will love to join in Skeleton's painful refrain of "hic, hic, hic," and root for this hero to survive an all-too-human malady. This book will tickle the funny bone for sure! (5 and up)

This Book is Haunted
by Joanne Rocklin,
illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi

Simply written stories and verses that are more funny than fearsome leap from the pages like wonderfully warty frogs. I am still chuckling, thinking about just a few: "Tap, Tap, Tap," in which an older brother tries to scare a younger brother at bedtime, only to give himself goosebumps; "House for Rent," in which an echo ends up being something more so; and my very favorite, "The Story of Bill," in which a boy who scoffs at returning an overdure library book reaps a harrowing vengeance. Angular, stylized artwork with candy-dish colors help will definitely ring your doorbell. Don't you witch you had a copy to give to an emergent reader child right now? (5 and up)

Halloween Hats
by Elizabeth Winthrop,
illustrated by Sue Truesdell

Hats off to this jaunt in which neighborhood kids get decked out for some happy haunting. Truesdale's cartoon figures seem to have bones made out of rubber bands, with an energy that springs from the page, and her vibrant watercolor palette sets a party mood. Children will enjoy deciding which of all the funny costumes they would choose, as well as the grand finale of a wild costume mix-and-match. A family read without any frights, this book celebrates the best parts of the holiday: children's enthusiasm and imagination! (5 and up)

The Charles Addams Mother Goose
by Charles Addams

The goose is cooked in this gruesome collection which is way more suitable for a Generation-X'er or snarky seventh-grader than a baby in bunting. Traditional rhymes are each illustrated with a twisted twist: Mary Quite Contrary is growing poisoned mushrooms in her garden, Daddy catches the fishy, fishy in the brook using a hook-hand and you wouldn't want this ghastly Wee Willie Winkie rapping at your window and crying through your lock! Slightly disturbing, yes, but what do we expect from the same marvelously maniacal mind that brought us The Addams Family? The photograph of Addams in his home leering beneath his crossbow collection is my favorite bonus in the biographical scrapbook included in the back of the book. This compendium will cause shrieks of either offense or laughter, but any way it goes, the monsters seem to be enjoying themselves. (10 and up)

The Dream Stealer
by Gregory Maguire,
illustrated by Diana Bryan

The Blood Prince stalks the forests of Russia, frightening gentlefolk out of traveling to their vacation homes, which means empty supper bowls for the unfortunate villagers of Miersk who sell food to train passengers. Is the bloodthirsty wolf a legend, or does he really exist, preying on both bodies and souls? A young boy and girl take it upon themselves to seek out the answer from the fearsome witch Baba Yaga, and hopefully save their modest town. Many different Russian folktales are woven together to make an enchanting tapestry of both horror and beauty, and one of the most memorable reads of a childhood. The writing is astounding, making The Dream Stealer a read-aloud dream come true. Take, for instance, the description of Baba Yaga, the iron-toothed witch who "doesn't know the difference between taking prisoners and entertaining guests," who lives in a house surrounded by talking skulls: "Her shawls and skirts were filled with burns and burrs, and repaired with awkward stitching--one big tear in her blouse had been woven together with a tail of a rat." Some of the pen-strokes are simply lyrical, as in the description of the train tracks : "rails stretched out like four endless moonbeams nailed down to the earth." Each character is carefully crafted from the inside out, developed with a past and present that will leave every reader hoping desperately for their futures. Fairy tale, mystery, scary story, this book has it all, and we all should have it! (9 and up) For background before beginning this adventure, check out Baba Yaga and Vasilisa The Brave by Marianna Mayer, Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll by Hiawyn Oram and versions of The Firebird retold by either Gennday Spirin, Ruth Sanderson or Jane Yolen .

Other excellent books to throw into your bookshelf brew:

Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken (Distress has never been so divine as when these orphans get pilfered out of their inheritance…this is a reissue written long before Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, mind you!…and are cast out to defend themselves on some mighty mean streets. By the same author as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase!) (9 and up)
Halloweenies by David Wisniewski (Parodies of our favorite movie monsters in print form! Prepare for the attack of the space toupées!) (7 and up)
The Company of Crows by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Lomda Saport (A murder of poems about the blackest of the beaked, from varied points of view. Rich pastel illustrations.) (7 and up)
Oliver Finds His Way by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Beautiful autumnal story of a bear lost in the woods.) (4 and up)
In a Dark, Dark Wood by David Carter (Traditional tale with a perfect pop-up surprise on the last page big enough to scare a large group! Boo...I mean, yay!) (6 and up)

All of these books are brand new, but for Halloween backlist (a.k.a. oldies but goodies) check out the autumnal recommendations in Stories for All Seasons!

And for those of you already planning for Turkey Day, here are some picture books your children will be thankful to feast their eyes on…

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving
by Laurie Halse Anderson,
illustrated by Matt Faulkner

So much more than a book about Thanksgiving, this is a book about the power of the pen and one woman who knew how to put it to good use. Sarah Joseph Hale, who also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb," lobbied for Thanksgiving as a national holiday at the onset of the Civil War. Using sheer perseverence and her influence as a magazine editor, she was able to unite the country at a time when we were suffering such terrible divisions. A remarkable story is made even better by Anderson's enthusiastic and chatty writing style. A whole other book's worth of information is at the end, including the origins of football games and parades on Thanksgiving day, a short timeline of historic events during Sarah's day and a synopsis of Sarah's life as a working mother of five children. Faulkner's sketchy illustrations are a cross between David Small's caricatures and David Catrow's hyperbole. (Look at that big Macy's-Parade-like dinosaur balloon floating over the table of plenty!) Anderson's prowess as a young adult novelist left everyone speechless in Speak, and this book puts her on the map as a picture book powerhouse as well. Great for mother-daughter book groups, lessons in history, letter-writing, wonderful women and of course the holiday itself…once you look at this book, you'll never want to talk turkey without it. (7 and up)

Turk and Runt
by Lisa Wheeler,
illustrated by Frank Ansley

Turk's the turkey to beat in the barnyard. He's an athlete! He's a dancer! "He's a goner," mourns little brother Runt. Frail and four-eyed, he's the only one who seems to see the dire situation clearly through his nerdy glasses. His efforts to sabotage turkey sales is misunderstood, but when it's Runt who is about to headline on the menu, will Turk finally get his feathers ruffled? Stuffed with the most hilarious one-liners, a surprise ending and two painfully misguided poultry parents, this is the funniest book about Thanksgiving of this or any season. Fine vegetarian fare, and a good lesson on just how healthy a little skepticism can be. (5 and up)

Milly and the Macy's Parade
by Shana Corey,
illustrated by Brett Helquist

Milly, a Polish immigrant girl, is thrilled that her father works at Macy's department store, where she can play in the revolving doors, ride the escalators , loiter in ladies lingerie and of course, play with toys, toys, toys! But when she notices that the employees are down-in-the-mouth as a result of homesickness, she suggests an event to the CEO that will mix many traditions, bringing everyone together and giving them a reason to want to call America "home." A touching an imaginative blend of fact and fiction, the story is elegantly illustrated by the spot-artist of Lemony Snicket's bestselling series. Here, however, we see the expressive detail in wide-screen. What fun to viacriously visit an old-fashioned department store, and what a cheerful companion Miss Milly is! Red and copper foil lettering on the cover make it a tasteful gift as well as a great classroom read-aloud and salute to the spirit of our country. Besides, it's the best thing to hit Macy's since Miracle on 34th Street. (6 and up)

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