Stirring the Pot for Halloween Treats

Do bookstores have to be so predictable in their Halloween displays, as yet again they promote ho-hum Clifford and Curious George and Scooby-Doo products? Families can save their money and their sanity by heading to the library instead, where an array of craft books, poetry, folktales, and novels await anyone with a library card.

One way to combat the oppressive commercialism that has crept into the holiday is to make it yoEd Emberley's Drawing Book of Halloweenurself — whether it’s costumes, decorations, puppets, or cupcakes. Look for craft books by Kathy Ross, such as All New Crafts for Halloween. And remember feeling proud of those monsters you drew with the help of the wonderful old Ed Emberley’s Halloween Drawing Book? Don’t let your children grow up without Emberley’s engrossing little books. An alternative for slightly older children is Ralph Masiello’s Halloween Drawing Book.

Ghosts, ghouls and humor show up in plenty of kid-pleasing poetry. Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and his follow-up, Frankenstein Takes the Cake will have children (and parents?) howling with laughter. The illustrations are as much fun as the punchy poems featuring various monsters.

Other titles to look for are compilations such as Jack Prelutsky’s It’s HalloweenLee Bennett Hopkins’ Halloween Howls: Holiday Poetry or Marc Brown’s Scared Silly: A Halloween Book for the Brave: Poems, Riddles, Jokes, Stories and More.

For some of the best seasonal stories, head over to 398.2 for folk literature from around the world. One of Short and Shivery Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Soucithe most dog-eared, beloved collections in my school library was Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Souci. Ranging from diverse cultures, the stories are not uniformly scary, but they are all well-written and accessible to children ages 8 to 12. The volume includes such memorable tales as the Appalachian “Tailypo,” the Grimm Brothers’ “Robber Bridegroom,” and “Skeleton’s Dance,” from Japan. Audio- and e-book editions are also available. Another winner is any of the perpetually popular Alvin Schwartz collections, such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated ghoulishly by Stephen Gammell.Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

As for novels, many older children (ages 10+) will be drawn to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal, which unspools the bizarre adventures of a boy called Bod as he grows up being raised by ghosts in a cemetery. Gaiman reads his gripping novel aloud on his well-crafted web site.

For slightly younger ones (ages 8 to 12), it’s hard to top James Howe’s Bunnicula series, featuring an evil-looking bunny (found at a Dracula movie) that comes to live with the Monroes, Harold the dog and Chester the cat. When various vegetables show up with teeth marks and drained of all juice and color, the clever cat ascertains the toothy truth. Who knew a vampire story could be so much fun? Another witty one (for ages 6 to 8) is Kate DiCamillo’s Princess in Disguise, in which the pig Mercy Watson is persuaded to dress up in a pink gown and tiara. 

And for younger ones:

See my prior post on Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom, as well as any of the tales featured in the 2011 Scholastic DVD Teeny-Tiny Witch Woman and More Spooky Halloween Stories.


A Haunting Tale of a Tail

Tailypo A Ghost Story by Joanna C. GaldoneEven if Halloween didn’t occur in October, there’s something about the longer nights, the bright moons, the musty smell and crackle of decayed leaves that makes a scary story ever so appealing — at least to some children. Some of the choicest hail from the world of well-honed folktales.

One of the most memorable ghost stories from folklore might well be the odd little story Tailypo, as retold by Joanna Galdone. We hear of an old man living in a hut deep in the woods. The hungry man goes hunting with his three dogs but captures just one scrawny rabbit. Still hungry, he’s thrilled when he spies some animal scurrying around his shack. Surely, the reader thinks, he’ll be able to catch it. Yet, we discover, somewhat uncomfortably, he comes up with only its tail. Without further ado, the woodsman cleans it, cooks it and gobbles it up.

Then things get really strange. In bed, the old hunter hears an eerie voice: “Tailypo, Tailypo, where is my Tailypo?”

Twice, we hear that haunting refrain, and twice the hounds chase off the ghostly creature, but the third time, the creature bursts in before the dogs return from their futile chase. Galdone’s simple yet energetic paintings show the stubborn spirit in a whirlwind of vengeance. Warning: This story sounds simple, but if read with the drama it deserves, it has the power to scare many a child, so don’t share this with younger, impressionable ones. For those, consider Creepy Carrots or Room on the Broom or The Gruffalo.

For more scary folktales:

Dark-Thirty Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissackEchoes of the Elders by Chief LelooskaScary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Not-so-spooky but fun

The skeletons, ghouls and ghosts can get old for some of us this time of year. Somewhere in the piles of Halloween books available, a few enchanting books are actually worth reading aloud, however. The children at my former school library adored Julia Donaldson’s snappy Room on the Broom, which opens with these fun lines: “The witch had a cat / and a hat that was black, / And long ginger hair / in a braid down her back. / How the cat purred / and how the witch grinned, / As they sat on their broomstick / and flew through the wind.”
Then off with her hat, and misadventures ensue as three friendly animals — a spotted dog, a green parrot, and a frog — hitch a ride. At last, the broom breaks, and the witch encounters a frightful dragon that wants “witch and chips for my tea.” That’s when the animals come to the rescue and scare off the dragon. And that’s not all; they even work together to build a new and improved broom that will accommodate them all! More amusing than scary, this book is a treat.

More Not-Too-Scary Halloween Titles for the Young


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