Whether you prefer your Halloween creepy or cute, there are books out there for you and your children to enjoy this time of year. Here are some suggestions for a variety of readers. Not all are Halloween stories but they fit the theme. Any age ranges are guidelines. You know what your children can handle better than authors, publishers, or well-meaning bloggers.
For the Littlest Pumpkins (infant-age 3)
A new favorite I came across at our recent Scholastic Book Fair is a fun little board book entitled Boo! A Book of Spooky Surprises by Jonathan Litton and Fhinoa Galloway. It’s part of the My Little World board book series. The combination of colorful illustrations and rhyming text is perfect for little story lovers.
Mouse’s First Halloween by Lauren Thompson is a sweet little board book that takes Halloween symbols and turns them from frightful to delightful. Adorable illustrations in warm colors and text that rhymes and uses onomatopoeias make for a comforting story.
The Halloween title in Roger Priddy’s Bright Baby Touch & Feel books is the delightfully interactive Spooky. If you aren’t familiar with this series, think of this title as a sort of Pat the Bunny for Halloween. It has big, bright pictures of familiar Halloween symbols, a variety of textures to go along with each, and simple vocabulary.
Treats for Readers Aged 4-8
Gus Vasilovich’s The 13 Nights of Halloween is a favored read-aloud among our youngest library patrons. It’s a clever countdown to Halloween night (think The Twelve Days of Christmas). Even someone who can’t carry a tune with a handle (that’d be me) will sing along to the witty little ditty with a roomful of second-graders. The vibrant illustrations brilliantly combine cute and creepy. This book gets checked out of our library long past Halloween.
You know Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame would have a Halloween winner. Specifically, The Hallo-Wiener. It’s a super-fun read aloud that features a picked-on dachshund named Oscar who becomes a hero when he saves trick-or-treat for his doggy peers (the same ones who were picking on him!). The book’s positive message is delivered subtly and humorously. And it’s fun to do a Julia Child voice while reading as Oscar’s mother.
For the kid who wants facts with their Halloween fun, there’s J is for Jack-O’-Lantern: A Halloween Alphabet by Denise Brennan-Nelson. This is one of many alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press that entertains as it educates. From autumn to zany, young readers learn about Halloween symbols, traditions, and facts. There are even recipes for hot apple cider, witch’s brew, and other treats that would be perfect for your Halloween party.
Tricks for Readers Aged 9-12
Originally published in 1968, The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase has a slightly different writing style and vocabulary than today’s middle-graders are accustomed to reading. Encourage them to read it anyway. It’s neither screamingly scary, nor gross-out gory. It’s subtly creepy, which is good for kids who want an itty bitty fright but don’t like to be terrified by their books. A nasty and mean girl named Maureen (now she’d be characterized as a bully) meets her match in the seven ghostly Messerman sisters who inhabit a dilapidated old mansion. But is it enough of a match to make the supremely stubborn Maureen change her ways? Read it and see.
Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, is a master of the fantasy genre. That expert touch is used perfectly in the light horror of The Ribbajack and Other Curious Yarns. This collection of six short stories will have you leaving all the lights on. Those not frightened by what lurks in the dark can turn them off and use a flashlight to get the full effect. Jacques, an Englishman, deftly employs British vernacular which may take some getting used to for middle-grade readers unfamiliar with that dialect. Parents (or grandparents) who have enjoyed years of Monty Python can shine during read aloud time.
Neil Gaiman can terrify and entertain readers of any age. In Coraline, the eponymous protagonist is a bored little girl who stumbles into a ghastly world. That’s frightening enough. But when that hair-raising realm invades Coraline’s real world, the creepiness factor increases exponentially. Dave McKean’s eerie illustrations lend an even more sinister air to the story. Don’t make the mistake of passing up this book because your kids have seen the movie. The movie does not do this story justice. I know librarians always say that. As usual, it’s the truth.
Teen Screams (ages 12-15)
Eve Bunting’s many children’s books are well-known, but she also has an impressive list of Young Adult titles to her credit. Among them is The Presence: A Ghost Story. Though set during Christmastime, it’s a great YA ghost story. It has a lot of what readers this age are looking for – mystery, tragedy, the supernatural, romance, and suspense. Bunting’s ghost is that of a handsome young man who lures teenage girls to their doom, and he’s chosen a new victim. As an aside, Bunting’s latest YA suspense novel, Forbidden, will be published on December 1.
Cirque du Freak #1: A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan was at the peak of its popularity during the recent vampire lit obsession. We’ve moved past vampires and this series has, unfortunately, gone by the wayside. This is a ghastly introduction to the 12-book Cirque du Freak series. At the height the series’ popularity, I asked an eighth-grader why he liked it. While he enjoyed the scary stuff, he said what he liked best was the good vs. evil theme. It’s a good bridge from Goosebumps to Stephen King for readers who like some gore with their fright.
You can’t be a Marylander recommending scary stories and not include Edgar Allan Poe. For this age group to get a taste of the great and disturbed genius that is Poe, try Stories for Young People: Edgar Allan Poe edited by Andrew Delbanco. It features five of Poe’s most iconic tales – “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Oval Portrait.” The Stories for Young People series makes classic, unabridged literature accessible to students who might otherwise bypass it. With vocabulary and analysis provided for each tale, young readers can read and understand Poe’s genius. And have nightmares after the fact.
Here’s hoping you find something frighteningly fun to read this Halloween. Until next time, keep reading!