Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stories to Fright and Delight

Halloween always brings me back to the glory days of childhood. I can remember the bitter Halloween nights when my mother forced a jacket around my costume, bending my fairy wings and covering up my glittertastic outfit. There were rainy Halloween nights, when I had no choice but to wear a big yellow raincoat and sit in the backseat while my mother drove from house to house, “And remember to say trick or treat!” Then there were perfect Halloween nights when in the crisp autumn night we scurried from house to house and passed witches, superheroes and mermaids. Sigh, how I miss those days.

Halloween also meant spooky stories and books about pumpkins. Today there are even more books on the market for Halloween and sometimes it’s hard to decipher which ones are great and which ones are just messes of black, orange and  random witches. So here are some of my favorite throwbacks as well as some recent releases:

One title often overlooked is Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow's Broom. I remember the wonder and excitement I felt when as a child I read the very first lines, “Witches' brooms don’t last forever.” They don’t!? No. “They grow old, and even the best of them, one day, lose the power of flight.” The story then shows what happens one autumn night when a witch and her broom fall from the sky and are discovered by the widow, Minna Shaw. The witch disappears and the widow is left with a broom that has very special powers, powers that perhaps Minna’s neighbors don’t really respect or appreciate. A thought-provoking and moody read, you simply must put this on your Halloween reading list.

Another Chris Van Allsburg favorite of mine has nothing to do with Halloween but is instead more about autumn and the changing seasons. The Stranger begins when Farmer Bailey hits a man with his truck. This “stranger” can’t remember much of anything, including who he is and so he stays with the Bailey family and helps with the harvest. While the trees all around the farm turn golden and red with the fall, the Bailey farm seems trapped in perpetual summer. Finally the stranger figures out who he is and what he has done. Don’t worry; I won’t tell you what happens, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

If you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, you must. It’s creepy and yet funny, harsh and yet touching. It begins with a grisly scene as “the man Jack” murders a family while they sleep sparing only a toddler who escapes and heads to the local cemetery. This toddler is Nobody Owens (Bod) and spends his childhood growing up in the cemetery with ghosts who keep him safe. The story chronicles Bod’s adventures and the constant threat of “the man Jack” finding him. The opening scene may be a bit scary but the rest is certainly kid friendly and Halloween perfection.

If you’re looking for something funnier and less scary than look no further than The School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari. If you loved The Mysterious Benedict Society (and who didn’t?!) then you’ll enjoy this book about an elite school for curing children of their worst fears. The four children sent there, all 12 years of age, are afraid of bugs, water, death and confined spaces and they soon learn that the school is not what it appears but how will they escape? Funny, quirky, and gloomy, it’s a sure hit with the middle school set.

Other books I like:

Scary Stories to tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz still gives me a major case of the heebie-jeebies. Only read it if you want a fright otherwise skip it. Yikes!

Only a Witch can Fly by Alison McGhee is a perfect picture book for reading together. Lyrical and engaging the illustrations are gorgeous and not a bit scary.

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara is visually stunning and a fun tale about a witch who moves into a house filled with ghosts. After a few attempts to get rid of them, the little witch knows just what to do with the ghosts.

I could go and on but that seems like enough for now. What are you favorite Halloween stories?!

1 comment:

  1. Great recommendations, Danielle. I also like Zen Ghosts this year! Not as much as his previous books but I still like it.