Slightly scary stories for Halloween By Judy BelangerReading and telling Halloween stories was always a fun time for me at school. There were a few favorite stories, but I looked forward to seeing what new ones were published. Amazon.com lists 1,133 Halloween books. Here are a few of my favorite new ones.
WHO SAID BOO? by Anne Miranda, illustrated by Ross Collins, Hyperion Books, $12.99; ages 2-5.
It's Halloween and all sorts of creatures come to say "Boo!" Beneath each oversized flap is a different Halloween character running away or hiding. It's fun to guess who will be hiding under the flaps. The book reminds me of children playing ding-dong ditch.
BROOM MATES by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Howard Fine, Hyperion Books, $15.99; ages 4-8.
Gritch the Witch is very tired. She has been getting ready for her big Howliday party and needs a good night's rest. She is sound asleep when the doorbell wakes her. Who should arrive a day early but her bossy big sister, Mag the Hag. All night they fight over bed space and both get up crabby. Decorating for the party continues to be a disaster as they try to outdo each other with their spells, and they both end up in the brew. Mummy shows up just in time to get those broom mates to promise they'll be on their best beastly behavior. The play on words throughout makes this one so much fun to read.
PUMPKINHEAD by Eric Rohmann, Knopf, $14.95; ages 4-8.
The cover of this latest work by Rohmann, a 2003 Caldecott Medal winner and Chicago area resident, grabs your attention immediately with its square cutout that reveals Pumpkinhead. Otho is different from other boys-his head is a pumpkin. One day, a bat swoops down and grabs his head. As the bat flies away, the pumpkin gets heavy and is dropped into the sea. This begins a series of adventures for Otho before the happy ending in which he is reunited with his mother. The book is filled with the same wonderful relief prints Rohmann used in his Caldecott-winning book, My Friend Rabbit.
JEOFFRY'S HALLOWEEN by Mary Bryant Bailey, pictures by Elizabeth Sayles, Farrar Straus & Giroux, $16; ages 4-8.
Jeoffry the cat joins the hound for a stroll to enjoy an autumn evening. As night falls, scary creatures begin to appear. The hound runs home but the cat follows along behind the creatures-children disguised as a goblin and a witch. When the children realize they are being followed by the farmer's cat, they take off their Halloween masks and hats and proceed home after their adventures. The story is in rhyme, accompanied by fall-pastel-colored pictures that depict the journey. The author peppers the story with several unusual words and includes a glossary at the beginning so readers will be familiar with the words before they start reading.
TELL ME A SCARY STORY...BUT NOT TOO SCARY! by Carl Reiner, illustrated by James Bennett, Little Brown and Co., $18.95; ages 4-8.
Oftentimes children will say, "Tell me a story, a real scary story." That's what Nick asked his grandfather, award-winning comedy writer/director Carl Reiner. The result is Reiner's first children's book. The little boy in the story tells about the time a very strange and scary man moved into the house next door. As he watched the man from behind a tree, a marble fell out of a box and rolled right up to his feet. When he picked up the marble it stared at him. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep until he returned it. That is when he discovers the secrets about Mr. Neewallah. As the story gets scarier, Reiner asks readers, "Shall we turn the page-or is it too scary?" You'll want to keep turning the pages to see more of Bennett's creepy-looking illustrations of Mr. Neewallah. Or turn the lights down low and listen as Reiner reads the story on the enclosed CD, complete with spooky sound effects.
HAUNTED CASTLE ON HALLOWS EVE by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca, Random House, $11.95; ages 4-8.
Intrepid time travelers Jack and Annie are back for their 30th Magic Treehouse adventure. While the siblings are trying to decide what costume to wear for Halloween, a raven flies by. Deciding the bird was an omen, they head to their treehouse. There, they find a leaf signed with an "M"-which must mean Merlin the Magician needs their help. The treehouse begins its predictable spin. When it stops, Jack and Annie find themselves wearing Camelot costumes. They head off to meet Merlin and fulfill their mission: to bring order to the "Castle of Duke" and use their words wisely. The inhabitants of the castle are invisible because the Raven King has stolen the Stone of Destiny. The king is hiding the diamond in his nest on the mountaintop. What magic powers can they use to get to the nest and retrieve the diamond? Osborne is a master of incorporating bits of fairy tales, mythology and legends when she writes her stories. This series is fun to read aloud to younger children and irresistible to newly independent readers.
DAY OF THE DEAD by Linda Lowery, illustrated by Barbara Knutson, Carolrhoda Books, $5.95; ages 6-10.
El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico. The three-day holiday, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, is a time to remember and honor loved ones who have died. The first night the children haunt the neighborhood in search of candy and treats, calling out "Calaveras"-skulls-instead of trick or treat. On Nov. 1, monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico on the migration out of the colder climates. Mexican people believe the butterflies are the spirits of children who have died. The last day is celebrated with parades and picnics in the cemeteries. The day ends with stories of the lost loved ones.
THE WICKED WICKED LADIES IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE by Mary Chase, illustrated by Peter Sis, Knopf, $15.95; ages 9-12.
Maureen Swanson, 9, is always in trouble. She is not a very nice girl and the other children do not like her. She's always staying after school for misbehaving. Not far from where she lives there is a house known as the Old Messerman Place, which people say is haunted. Maureen is not allowed to go there, but one afternoon while running away from her latest prank, Maureen finds a loose board in the fence and slips through to hide. In the run-down garden she meets a man who tells her it would be best for her to leave. Instead Maureen investigates the house and travels back in time to learn about the seven sisters who lived there many years ago. This story was published 20 years ago and is back in print for a new generation to enjoy. Haunted houses are always good for Halloween.
THROUGH THE TEMPESTS DARK AND WILD: A STORY OF MARY SHELLEY, CREATOR OF FRANKENSTEIN by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Angela Barrett, Candlewick Press, $16.99; ages 4-8.
This is the fictionalized account of the life of Mary Shelley, the author who created the famous monster Frankenstein. When Mary was 11 days old, her mother died. She grew up lonely and spent many hours visiting her mother's grave. At the age of 14 she was sent to live with friends in Scotland because her father's new wife didn't like Mary. She liked the new arrangement, especially the companionship of the two children in her new family. They often sat around in the evening telling stories. After two years, Mary went back home to work with her father in the publishing business. The stepmother still didn't like her and things were no better. She met a poet, Percy Shelly, and they eloped. This made her father and stepmother very angry and they refused to see them. Her idea for Frankenstein came from a dream after an evening of telling ghost stories with friends. The book was published anonymously in 1817 and became an immediate success. Despite the success of the book, Mary's sad life continued-her first child and her husband died, all before Mary turned 25.
THE SHAPE GAME by Anthony Browne, Farrar Straus & Giroux, $16; all ages.
In my July column I reviewed a Willy book by Anthony Browne and mentioned how much I have enjoyed his stories throughout the years. In this, his newest book, Browne shares the shape game his mom played with Browne and his brother when they were children. She would draw a shape and the next person would continue the drawing-creating a picture. In this book the children play the game on their way home from a family trip to the art museum. A trip to the art museum is a great basis for a story, but I was disappointed in some of the drawings Browne chose to include, particularly "Death of Major Pierson," a picture by John Singleton Copley that depicts a war scene. On the following page, the Browne family is seen running away from soldiers shooting in the street behind them. I would prefer if children didn't have to imagine wars being fought on their own street. Maybe because of recent events, war is on children's minds, as well as mine, more than I would like it to be.
Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.