In the midst of all the chaos that seems to be churning constantly around us (and for some, it has hit right at the center of home), the upcoming Halloween holiday is still showing up at the very same time this year. For me, it kicks off the whole fall/winter holiday season, and I give myself an extra little treat by packing all my favorite seasonal books with the décor: when we are done with the decorating, we mix up a little hot chocolate and amp up the vibe with some cuddly story time.
(Author’s side note: If you are sifting through, cleaning up, or otherwise just trying to get through one of the many disasters that have devastated so many communities, my sincerest thoughts and prayers are with you. If you or your family is in need of help, please reach out. Sometimes getting back to the simplest routines, while difficult, can be the most healing.)
There are so many great fall and Halloween books for kids and families. Here are a few of my favorites.
“Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson: A (not-scary!) witch and her cat find room on her broom (of course!) for a myriad of animals wishing to ride along. The story is told in spirited rhyme, which is fun to read, and has captured the attention of various audiences (like my own children and several of my former preschool classrooms!) for years.
“Big Pumpkin” by Erica Silverman: On its own, this story was not that impressive to me. Told in a sorta-kinda-not-really rhyme, the local witch decides it is time to harvest the pumpkin she planted, and uses it to make a pie. When the pumpkin won’t come free from the vine, the witch’s friends stop by to lend a hand. The preschool where I used to teach had this book along with the audiocassette from Scholastic books, which was narrated (or more accurately, sung) by Steven Blane. Mr. Blane’s version makes all the difference, I promise you – it was requested year after year around Halloween by every preschool class I taught! I am not sure it is available for sale anymore, but it would be worth searching for online or in your local library.
“Otis and the Scarecrow” by Loren Long: If you or your kids have a favorite character, they probably have a Halloween or autumn-themed book. I am partial to Otis, and my hardcover copy of this story is nice and big, with beautiful illustrations to easily share.
“Castle Hangnail” by Ursula Vernon: This is a great book for kids (or families!) who are looking for a light-hearted tale about a “wicked” witch. Molly is 12, and answers an advertisement from a castle looking for a replacement wicked witch. She is certain that she fits the bill, and goes about winning the confidence (and hearts) of the castle’s residents – before some of her magic starts to unravel and reveal secrets she thought would stay hidden.
The “Goosebumps” series by R. L. Stine: By now, the “Goosebumps” books have become something of a cult classic, known to be “scary” stories for elementary readers. The first book was published in 1992, and while some of the stories are now out of print, several have been reissued, and many more are still in circulation. These stories do tend to be a bit on the “spookier” side, but most of them are fairly quick reads and geared toward kids between 8 and 12 years old.
“Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier: This one is a graphic novel, by the same author who wrote “Smile” and “Sisters”. In an effort to help her little sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, Catrina and her family move to a town in northern California, where the climate will be better for her advanced condition. A new neighbor mentions that ghosts gather nearby, and Maya is eager to explore, dragging a reluctant Catrina along. This isn’t a scary book, but some reviewers have expressed concerns that the details (the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration; the happy, Spanish-speaking ghosts on the grounds of a former mission, where native people were often brutalized) are incorrect – or glossed over, at least.
“Took: A Ghost Story” by Mary Downing Hahn: If you are looking for scary stories for this age group, look for Mary Downing Hahn. “Took” is one her of more recent books; I posted this review on Goodreads in April of 2016… This was a quick, weird read. The cover is kind of scary-looking, but the general premise is kind of old-hat: don't talk to strangers. Or else. Still, I feel like the title is misleading -- I don't really think there were any "ghosts" in the book. Could you tell a shortened version around a campfire? Yes, but doesn't make it a ghost story. Beyond all those details, it was still a decent book. The main characters were likeable, the story moved at a decent pace (even though the reader generally knows what is coming), and many of the book's themes (family struggles with money, being the odd-kid-out, dealing with siblings) are very relatable. A good selection for a young reader who wants to be (not totally out of their mind) scared.
There are a wide variety of “scary” books for high school readers and beyond – think vampires, classic horror stories, or even murder mysteries. Consider “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, or even Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” If those titles seem daunting, look for “Famous Last Words” by Katie Alender – it’s a bit more fluffy, but no less spooky.
Visit your local library or favorite bookstore to find these great fall titles and more! Or, if you prefer to shop online, please click through this website to Amazon.com: their affiliate program does not affect your final cost, but it does help to pay the cost of hosting this website.