The Halloween Roundup for 2022!

Yes, you will note from the title: I’ve caved, with bitterness of spirit. Basically, I’m tired of fighting autocorrect. Halloween, not Hallowe’en. It really goes against the grain for me; e’en is the appropriate abbreviation for “even” and that’s what’s going on in the name. Yes, yes, we’ve moved past that, accepted usage, I’m not correcting you, red underlines and autocorrects of the world, but you all are sure judging me hard on this one. Which is all to say… NB (nota bene, “note well,” just in case autocorrect and grammar checks are wondering): if you’re searching for book recs (recommendations, that is, or id est, ie for short) for Halloween (or Hallowe’en), please be certain to search for both “Halloween” and “Hallowe’en” since otherwise you’ll miss some. That said, I will first link to most of the earlier posts here so you can find every book either described below or through links. I’m also going to do a little collage of book covers of books you’ll find so you people (you know who you are) who only click or look if you see a book cover will actually take a look at ye older bookes, which may be all of three whole years old.

In these posts you will find all of the below books– plus one, just for a treasure hunt for you: One, Two, Three, Four (I think that’s not available as a board book any longer, though), Five, Six (still one of my favourite Nicola Killen books), Seven, Eight (this one is the best roundup of earlier posts), Nine (some of my very fondest reading experiences from last year in this)… I wonder if you’ll find the one I did NOT put in a Halloween post among the pictures below? Hmmm… if you do, comment below and I’ll send you a Halloween card!

But what about books I haven’t written about? You already know of all these books, how unutterably boring, you need new material, don’t you?

First up, I want to recommend another Charis Cotter story, Footsteps in Bay de Verde, link to my beloved Running the Goat Press because American sources are failing me again! The fine folks at Running the Goat are beyond marvellous and will help you.

This is a story to read aloud. I read it to a group at synagogue one morning. Services were going longer than a given 3-year-old child’s patience, so I asked if he got spooked easily. “No,” he said firmly. “Yes, you do,” said his matter-of-fact older sister. “No, I don’t.” So I told them to sit and started reading. Services ended right before the story ended and their grandmother interrupted the story for the social milling around of kiddush. I rolled my eyes; grandparents can be like that, you know? No respect for stories, honestly. But ten minutes later, there was a tug on my skirt as I passed a table. “Dr. Deb!” (One of the older sisters was a student of mine at the time.) “What happens next? How does it end?” Grandmothers may have no respect for stories, but kids know what’s what. “Pretend,” I told them, “that the room is quiet except for a crackling log in the fireplace…” and I finished reading. The point is: Charis Cotter never fails, and is entirely worth the price of shipping from Canada if you’re in the USA, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Canada, get your friends across the border a copy, ok?

OK, you know when you pull up a link and it says “Out of Stock in Store” and you’re surprised because you were in the store earlier and saw a copy there, so you bought it, and then it clunks into place: it’s out of stock because you bought the last copy. Ah. That’s why. But I’m pretty sure you know how to grab the info from this link and buy Scary Stories by Tony Johnston with wonderful art by oh-how-I-miss-him Tomie dePaola and get it at your own local shop. An imp, a goblin, and a scalawag share scary stories– but who is going to tell the fourth of this set of stories? First published in 1978, I was so grateful to see this on shelves that apparently I bought the last copy. Whoops.

It’s lovely to find a cute Halloween book for slightly older kids to cuddle and read to themselves while in costume! I fondly remember reading all kinds of slightly spooky or mysterious stories from my mother’s shelves while eating Halloween candy or getting into the spooky season spirit. Crimson Twill by Kallie George with art by Birgitta Sif is that kind of book: a story that will feel just off-the-beaten-track enough, with a very cheerful little witch who rescues a puppy and finds new friends, all at the same time! This is particularly good for, say, my Changeling three years ago (age 6), the point at which she loved Halloween above all things but simultaneously couldn’t deal with anything scarier than a ladybird. Crimson Twill would have been just right.

I can never, ever resist a book illustrated by Vera Brosgol. A Spoonful of Frogs with art by Casey Lyall is particularly good to have illustrated by Vera Brosgol: an excellent cook in her own right, she knows how to demonstrate a soup being prepared properly… Or, well. Being prepared. How would you spoon up a live frog, though? I mean to say, if even this celebrity witch finds it challenging, do you think you could do better? Give it a try and send me the footage.

Lovers of Gustavo the Shy Ghost will be thrilled to see another bright, sweet, and every so slightly creepy story from Flavia Z. Drago, Leila the Perfect Witch! This is just right for a storytime with a few kids of different ages: do you have a couple of kids spaced a few years apart? Does the older child like to read to the younger? Or do you want a Halloween read-aloud for a family of children? (There are helpful older siblings in this one, making it cozy as well as creepy.) And those lurid yet delightful colours are back! Everything that made Gustavo shine is here, but with a whole new story.

The last new picture book I want to mention is another that’s not all that new, but one that didn’t hit the shelves quite in time last year– and this, this is the year to get it, then! There’s a Ghost in This House by Oliver Jeffers may be my favourite ghost book since Rebecca Green’s How to Make Friends with a Ghost. This is another wonderful read-aloud, but not a loud read-aloud, you must understand. The house is quiet, the girl is quiet, and the ghosts are very, very quiet: so read quietly lest you disturb them. I love the design, the text, the art– this is Oliver Jeffers at his very, very best. The translucent page turns, the quiet behind the text and art, everything that is not said, is what makes this among the finest of his work.

As for not-exactly-Halloween-books which are good for Halloween? I will recommend two excellent books previously reviewed which are just ideal.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is skully and bony and dangerous and otherworldly; it’s got a troll and talking goats; it’s got a VERY BIG GOAT and a whole waterfall that leads to the troll never coming back. It qualifies. I say so.

And, lastly, speaking of otherworldly…

I think a very good novel for getting in the Halloween mood is the novel my children are dressing up from. The Changeling has been planning to dress up as Never from Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods by Catherynne M. Valente ever since she read it, and she’s begged to have the Spriggan dress up as the Button to be a themed costume with her. Since he’s cute as a button, it seemed ideal! The book deals with a journey to the Underworld, death and darkness, transformation and dressing up and identity… well, I dunno about you, but to me it feels like a good book for Spooky Season!

And now I want to go read a spooky story. Boo!

A Walk Through the Rain Forest

I was going to start Halloween posts but then I made an awful discovery, creepier than any Halloween story: I think Candlewick is anticipating family conversations and sending books in advance. Look, I’m just saying… Ok so this is one I requested, yes, but it’s not like I gave them a schedule! I just figured it could be an interesting option for homeschooling and if it were good, I could review it in that light.

Then comes the day that my daughter and I are out at the cafe and she was reading about deforestation. She looked up and wondered about instituting a policy where “for each tree cut down, one had to be planted.” We discussed it, talked about current policies, and talked about new forests (sustainable or not) planted as she suggested vs old growth. And then we got home and my eyes fell on the book that had arrived the very day before… A Walk Through the Rain Forest by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Vicky White. (It will be out October 18.)

The book is, in terms of production and style, an absolutely appealing nonfiction hardback suitable for a number of ages, though I think my daughter is technically probably at the older range for it: I think the sweet spot is Grades 2 and 3. You could easily build a classroom unit around it, and if I can fantasize, a whole elementary school project centered in the school library would be fantastically fun and enriching. But I’m thinking as a homeschool mother now and this was startlingly perfect for the moment and, further, proof of something I’ve been wanting to rant about for a while: how adamantly I believe that the idea of books being “too young” or “outgrown” can be damaging.

See, I think if I were a Grade 4 or 5 classroom teacher, I might hesitate to use this book. Not because I think the kids wouldn’t benefit from it: they would. But because the schoolroom pressure (sometimes based in curricula, other times coming from parents or other forces) can push away from picture books. This is a mistake I find it hard to overstate. I recall once being in a book shop and I saw a kid enthusiastically picking up a brightly illustrated book and saying “oh look!” The parent barely glanced and didn’t so much as flip it open before saying “that’s too young for you.” I wanted to cry and throw a tantrum as the kid put it down.

Fortunately, I think the sophisticated cover on A Walk Through the Rain Forest will give it more of a chance to reach older kids, and every child will enjoy the engaging storytelling and almost detective-like investigation in this book as we walk in, listen and look, wonder at the absence of young trees and why they can’t see animals… and try to figure out how a rain forest grows… And, finally, thrillingly, discover the answer through the guidance of author and illustrator! Watching how the trees and animals work together is explosively interesting to children who love nature, and the illustrations are the kind that make kids say, “cooool” and “oh wow!” Ask me how I know.

The gentle humour with which the book unfolds is exactly like that in a good storybook, and I’m going to boldly surmise (though I haven’t given it a practical test drive– I’m arrogant enough to know I’m pretty decent at gauging such things by now) it would be a great read aloud.

But the versatility of this book comes entirely down to the gorgeous storytelling paired with remarkably perfect art. It’s so beautifully executed in what it limits itself to doing (telling the story of how a rain forest works) that it evokes far, far more: for my purposes, it propelled our conversation about planted forests vs old forests to a whole new level. It also played into the independent project my daughter is doing on the trees in our area. It led her to ask about maybe making a trip to a forest in our area.

Her reading level is, perhaps, “higher.” I don’t know what that means in practical terms. She’s beside me on the sofa laughing over Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox + Chick books now (there’s a new one, Up and Down, and it’s somehow as good as the first three– no one since Lobel has kept quality up that long in a buddies series of that kind). That series is aimed at new readers. There is not, to my knowledge, a legally binding ruling that prevents anyone else from enjoying them. And enjoying their sly, smart, somehow tender but unsentimental stories is beneficial to her.

Likewise, this slender, brilliant picture book which takes a precise yet original angle on the growth of a rain forest has given us the answer we were looking for yet didn’t know how to find in the unit I didn’t know I was doing at this level. It was a homeschooling gift.

It’s out October 18, and if you know a kid who loves animals and forests, they will want this. Teachers and librarians? You might as well pre-order it, honestly.