Oof, does it feel good to be back here after a crazy October of holiday after holiday! Busy as I’ve been, though, I’ve been determined to get back here before the most notable literary holiday in October, by which, of course, I mean Hallowe’en.
I remember two things clearly from Hallowe’ens of my youth: Choosing what to be for Hallowe’en (as I describe in this post), and stories. (That’s not entirely true: I also remember that our pre-trick-or-treating meal was always baked beans with hot dogs in it. It was delicious, but I don’t remember having it any other time than Hallowe’en.) My mother had a wonderful selection of Hallowe’en stories, and we also read a lot of Walter de la Mare poems. (Does anyone else love Walter de la Mare as I do? Please tell me I’m not alone.)
I’ve been trying, therefore, to build up my own library of good Hallowe’en stories for the Changeling (who is going to be Little Red Riding Hood again this year). I want her to have as many good memories of ever so slightly spooky stories as I have. My problem is that, search as I might, I haven’t found a huge number of recent Hallowe’en stories. I have no idea why not (I might be looking in the wrong places, of course), but the good news is that I have found some really good stories while I’ve been searching. Let’s go in chronological order, oldest to most recent:
The earliest of the books I discovered is actually older than I am, so I have no idea how I didn’t know it growing up: Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. It’s the story of a group of glowing green eyes watching as all of the dangerous creatures in the neighbourhood creep about on Hallowe’en night. The mysterious watchers are nervous of the monstrous creatures slinking by, one by one, until, in the end, it’s revealed that the glowing green eyes are a group of sweet little kitties, and the spooky creatures roaming the night are trick-or-treaters.
I’m sorry I was slow to discover this book for many, many reasons. First, the story itself is the perfect balance of spooky and sweet: there’s a little suspense, but never actual fear, and the charming conclusion will make any reader smile. Second, related to the first, Jan Brett’s beautiful illustrations help both the spooky and the sweet: their realism and depth of texture and colour give the mysterious green eyes and eerie creatures a certain heft in the narrative, but the same realism makes the sweet little kitties at the end a snuggly surprise. If you have any cat-lovers in your family, this book is an absolute must, but even if you don’t love cats as much as I do, this book offers a lot to enjoy in its slightly spooky story and gorgeous art.
Our next book is Ten Timid Ghosts, by Jennifer O’Connell. This is a funny little counting book with a twist at the end. A witch has decided to move into a haunted house, and so she decides to evict the previous residents of the house– ten timid ghosts. One by one she scares them away, one with a skeleton, another with a bat, then a vampire, and so on. The timid little ghosties just can’t take it, and they flee to the woods. The last ghost, however, figures out what’s up, and decides that it’s rather unfair to be shooed out of his own house. He gathers up his fellow ghosts and returns to give the witch a taste of her own medicine– they scare her out of the house and take back what’s rightfully theirs.
I didn’t find this book so spooky as Scary, Scary Halloween, and neither did the Changeling, but there’s a lot to love about it. For one thing, it really is a simple concept, executed extremely well. It’s a counting book, but with excellent bounce and rhythm and a great story behind it. As a parent, I was left wondering: “Is the witch going to get away with it? Is there going to be some saccharine ending where everyone learns to get along? What will they do?” I was thrilled when righteous vengeance was meted out instead. This is a great book to read with your toddler or early reader before going out to scare the world with a spooky costume.
Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara was one of the Changeling’s earliest Hallowe’en books (we found it last year), and it’s remained a favourite with both of us. A little girl moves into a house, which turns out to be haunted. Fortunately, the little girl turns out to be a witch accompanied by her cat, so she’s got the situation under control. She flies about capturing the ghosts, gives them all a good wash, and then puts them to great use as curtains, tablecloths, and blankets. After a busy day, she and her cat go to sleep, nicely tucked in under ghosts, and that’s that.
It’s a story which really hasn’t grown old for us, and I put it down to the freshness of the concept. There’s an eeriness to the story: it’s humorous, not at all frightening, but it is a bit unnerving. Ghosts are supposed to be haunting creatures, and witches are uncanny. Here, neither point is denied: the ghosts haunt the house, and the witch easily domesticates the ghosts. It’s all a bit uncanny. But on another level it’s just a funny little sweet story about a girl decorating her house… she just happens to be doing it with ghosts. It’s absolutely simple and original, and the Changeling loves it wholeheartedly. If you have very young children (toddlers and early readers, I suggest), this makes a great book to read when trick-or-treating is over and everyone needs to wind down before bedtime.
I hope this gives everyone some good ideas for Hallowe’en, and if you have any great suggestions yourself, I’d love to hear them! Happy Hallowe’en to all of you.