Boo! Hallowe’en is coming

Every year I do a Hallowe’en post. This year I’m horrifically late, but I have some great new additions and also I’m reiterating all the old ones because, c’mon, we all know my ultimate goal in this is to produce The World’s Most Authoritative Hallowe’en Book List.

This is my life’s work, my gift to humanity.

I’m going to put down the new books first, then highlight older books and link to my former posts. So browse deep– you will surely find a good book for a Hallowe’en-y kid in your life in there!

One of the new books this year I’m most excited about is Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins, whom we all remember fondly from Stumpkin. OK, yes, I’m a complete fangirl for Lucy Ruth Cummins, but this book is also the perfect, hit-the-nail-on-the-head balance of adorable and drily humorous. The Dracula family takes a trip to the zoo… where the littlest Dracula surreptitiously swaps places with a baby penguin. Funny penguin antics while the Dracula family, completely oblivious, pushes the baby penguin around the zoo? In the end, everyone ends up in the right place, with grown-ups never the wiser. We grown-ups never do get the full story, do we?

This year, Candlewick sent me an excellent Hallowe’en story for younger readers. Let’s just say that every preschool and kindergarten teacher will need this, but if you have kids in the three- or four-year-old range, and especially if you have an older sibling who likes reading to kids in that range? You will certainly want to get Poultrygeist by Eric Geron with pictures by Pete Oswald. Why does the chicken cross the road? Well, it might be to get to the other side, but given that the chicken didn’t look both ways… Alas, that chicken is now On the Other Side. Where the sad fowl is now expected to behave in the foul manner of the poultrygeist… Depending on your sense of humour, you will either groan or gleefully chortle along.

There’s a tendency I consider barely short of tragic to stop giving kids Hallowe’en picture books once they’re “ready for spooky or witchy novels.” Now, I love witchy novels! And graphic novels! Last year I gave my daughter The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, which she really enjoyed (linking to it because she liked it, but I can’t tell you more because I haven’t read it yet, mea culpa). The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes (I reviewed it here) is adorably spooky fun! And so on.

But if you want spooky for older children, never discount the powers of a deliciously creepy picture book, because those pictures can really pack a spooky punch. Candlewick sent me P.J. Lynch’s The Haunted Lake months ago and I never got a chance to review it properly, but have always wanted to. This won’t be a “full” review, being part of the roundup, but I want you to appreciate that it’s not Hallowe’en-specific, but is perfect for that older reader who wants something decidedly creepy, something that doesn’t end with all ends perfectly knotted and tidy, and who will appreciate the glory of the art, which is rich and deep as the waters of the haunted lake. It’s an extraordinary ghost story, full of wistfulness, yearning, and unfinished feelings. The art is, well, it’s P.J. Lynch. It’s eerie and beautiful. The lake scenes are all awash in bluey-greens, truly feeling submerged in the lake, but the scenes above somehow carry that haunted feel as well. I can’t quite put my finger on how, but that’s just what makes this such a perfect Hallowe’en ghost story…

That said, sometimes you want that perfect Hallowe’en novel, the one that’s gleefully spooky, that has a decidedly creepy villain in the murky background, that has ghosts all over the place, generally pretty good ghosts, maybe even the ghost of an adorable, friendly fox? This is another one Candlewick sent me, Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt with really fun illustrations popping up by Taryn Knight. This is not, and most certainly should not be, the world’s deepest, most complex and nuanced novel. It is, and should be, an absolutely delightful read when you’re getting into that Hallowe’en mood or, maybe, it’s November 1 and you’ve got a bag of candy and don’t want to let the season get away from you without enjoying every last mini chocolate bar with a good story. The story takes off as Jake Green is wished, so he thinks, “Good morning” by a mysterious stranger one afternoon… And instead of going on a geology trip with his class, he ends up running for his life and reprieve from being consigned to the Eternal Void. (It’s on that terribly illegal road trip that he meets the ghost fox.)

But wait, you all cry, you have a baby now! Are you leaving the Spriggan out of the fun? Does the baby get a Hallowe’en book? What do you all take me for? I, ah, got a bunch of new Hallowe’en board books (because my previous collection wasn’t good enough? I’ll remind you of the older ones below.) This sweet, fun board book by Jabari Asim with art by Tara NicoleWhitaker, My Baby Loves Halloween, takes a baby just about the Spriggan’s age through the whole process of enjoying October’s fun, from pumpkins to costumes (yes of course there’s a good chunk spent on trying on every single costume, obviously), and then trick or treating! A super fun, lowkey introduction to the fun of Hallowe’en.

I’m going to highlight an older book, because I just rediscovered it and it’s absolutely wonderful, a beautifully told, beautifully illustrated, doesn’t-need-to-tell-you-everything picture book: The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg is everything a Hallowe’en book should be. What happens to a witch’s broom when it will no longer fly?

Now, then, I’d love to spend a further 3000 words going over all the older books I love, but instead I’m going to give you links:

Last year’s post has lots of links and mini-reviews, so it’s a good place to get a recap of great books for a variety of kids.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green remains one of my most frequently bought and doled out Hallowe’en books, and this year is no exception.

Some excellent books for younger kids are in this old post! (Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara is, I think, mostly available in paperback now, but it’s probably my favourite of the trio.)

And for family read-alouds? You can’t beat Screech! by Charis Cotter.

Parents? Do you want a Hallowe’en read? Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente, out on October 26th! Pre-order!

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