On a perfect fall night, after the moon has bled the color from the yard, when headlight-lit leaves skittering across a road resemble a herd of strange, small creatures, and when the wind in the branches can still be heard through curtained windows, fluff up the pillows, burrow beneath the blankets with a flashlight, and settle down for a spine-tingling read. This particular time of year gives these books an additional imaginative boost, so take advantage of the atmosphere, especially if you’re reading aloud to your favorite beasties.
For children aged 4-6, Tony Ross’s I’m Coming To Get You! will inspire laughs on the heels of dread. Ross has a wonderful sense of humor and this snarkily illustrated story about a monster on a rampage through the universe provides a useful lesson in perspective for all ages.
Seven to 12 yr-olds should include R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series on their lists primarily because it is a little predictable. The scares, however, are genuine, built from creepiness rather than gore; its juvenile protagonists encounter every possible horror story staple from supernatural and mythic creatures to haunted dogs and dollhouses. John Bellairs (mentioned in a previous post) ups the ante with three wonderful series, each anchored by a young boy, either Lewis Barneveldt, Anthony Monday, or Johnny Dixon. The characters in Bellairs’s books are a little more complex and the supernatural elements, rooted in mythology and magic, are described with imaginative and frequently chilling detail. Trouble has a way of finding each boy and you’ll be with them every step of the way. As a bonus, all of Bellairs’s books were originally illustrated by Edward Gorey, who also penned the horribly humorous Gashlycrumb Tinies in which an alphabet-ful of wee tots meet nasty, untimely ends (“B is for Basil assaulted by bears” anyone?).
In a lighter vein, long before Harry Potter was an inkblot on J.K. Rowling’s coffee-stained notebook, sweet, awkward, junior witch Mildred Hubble was adding pondweed to her Laughing Potion, mistakenly making herself invisible at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches in Jill Murphy’s enduring The Worst Witch series. The magic is almost secondary to Mildred’s identifiable problems with friends and rivals as she juggles classwork (not well) with the responsibilities of her growing talents.
Older children, 8-12 yr-olds, will be transported to a wintry medieval monastery in The Crowfield Curse, Pat Walsh’s debut novel. One of the abbey’s servants, an orphan named William, rescues a hobgoblin from a trap in the surrounding forest and brings the creature back to Crowfield Abbey to heal. There is also a legend of an angel killed in the wood, and the grateful hob reveals his knowledge of the grave’s location. In the meantime, two sinister visitors to the abbey are looking for that very same thing and William finds himself embroiled in a classic good-and-evil struggle for which, as it happens, he is particularly suited. In some ways, William bears a resemblance to another Will, the seventh son of a seventh son in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence, who reluctantly discovers his own supernatural importance when interested parties come calling. Walsh, who was trained as an archeologist, knows how to evoke the time period and abbey life and even includes a glossary of relevant terms.
There are so many books that belong on this list but I will mention Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book again because you can listen to the author reading it here, which is a wonderful way to discover any book. Mr. Gaiman has also initiated a new tradition of book-giving for Halloween. I hope you’ll all join the spirit of the enterprise!
Is the hot chocolate ready? Two marshies, please.