The month of October is great for family activities, whether you’re carving pumpkins, picking apples or telling ghost stories over s’mores. It all leads up to one of the best nights of the year, filled with candy and crazy costumes (and the thrill of being just a little scared!). These four picture books run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious to get kids into the true spirit of Halloween.
THE BONDS (AND BONES) OF FRIENDSHIP
Friendship conquers all in Bone Dog, the tender and spooky Halloween tale by Eric Rohmann. In the spirit of Día de los Muertos, this vivid picture book couples trick-or-treating with the powerful connection between a child and his lost loved one.
Gus and his bushy-tailed dog Ella are best friends, but one night, as they sit before a glowing full moon, Ella announces, “I’m an old dog and won’t be around much longer,” though she promises to always be with him. In heartbreaking comic book-style frames, Gus slowly moves on from the death of his dog.
On Halloween night, Gus finds himself surrounded by a rattling group of graveyard skeletons. They close in, threatening Gus with puns (“Bone appétit!!” and “You’ve got guts, kid . . . but not for long!”). Suddenly, skeleton Ella appears, and she and Gus howl at the moon until a parade of barking dogs run the spooks off the page. The last to be seen of the skeletons is a proud dachshund trotting away with a femur. And just before Ella disappears, she reminds Gus that she will always be with him.
Rohmann, winner of the 2003 Caldecott Medal for My Friend Rabbit, creates a funny, memorable ghost story while simultaneously addressing the loss of a pet. The chunky illustrations with thick black outlines, created with a hand-colored relief print technique, transform soft blue hues into a textured Halloween evening.
Particularly touching for young ones dealing with loss, Bone Dog is a Halloween book with heart.
A GROSS-OUT GUESSING GAME
What’s In the Witch’s Kitchen? invites young readers on a tour through the icky old witch’s toaster, teapot and other kitchen items. Nick Sharratt, prominent British children’s author and illustrator, makes learning fun with this touchable Halloween must-read.
Each turn of the page reveals a new question, such as “What’s in the jar in the witch’s kitchen?” On the adjacent page is the item in question, with a flap that can be lifted in either direction to reveal two different answers. Kids can practice their directions as they guess which way to lift the flap (“Open it left or open it right. Will it be a nice surprise? Will you lose your appetite?”), exposing either “Lollipops!” or “Rabbit plops!” Little learners will squeal with delight as they discover snakes or cupcakes in the tin, and bats with fleas or tasty cheese in the fridge. It is not until the very last page that readers meet the purple-haired witch, who bursts through the back door with a pop-up “Boo!”
The neon-colored digital illustrations and kid-friendly paper engineering make What’s In the Witch’s Kitchen? a fun activity for learning directions and getting in the spirit of Halloween. The witch’s kitchen is decorated with classic Halloween images, perfect for recognizing moons, brooms and newts. This is a book that turns reading time into really big fun.
A TOOTHSOME TREAT
All the members of Gibbus Moony’s vampire family are nectarians—they eat only fruit—but when Gibbus grows his first set of grown-up fangs, he wants to bite “something big. Something that moved. Something that . . . noticed.”
And so the little vampire, in red overalls and a green cape, begins to stalk about, gnawing on toys and the ears of his slumbering grandpa. Gibb then heads outside to seek juicier prey, where he meets his new human neighbors, a boy named Moe and his biting little sister.
Gibb prepares to chomp, but freezes when Moe complains about his sister: “Biting’s for babies . . . Slobbery, stinky, diaper babies.” Suddenly, being a nectarian doesn’t seem so bad! Gibb shares an apple with his new human pal, who declares the fruit “totally toothsome!” The day ends with a promise of baseball and dinner with the whole vamp family—and some pineapple upside-down cake!
Jen Corace’s pen, ink with watercolor and acrylic illustrations are the true charm of this book. Corace’s fine art prints have gained a following online and her first book, Little Pea, captured the lovable rebellion of a little veggie. She brings Moony and his family to life with crisp, whimsical scenes that feel both uncluttered and fun. Along with Leslie Muir’s tooth puns (“Fangtastic!”), they make Gibbus Moony Wants to Bite You! totally toothsome indeed.
BEDTIME FOR LITTLE MONSTERS
Though Halloween tales and lots of candy may keep kids far from their beds, sleep must come eventually. There is no better way to wind down trick-or-treaters than with Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters by children’s book legend Jane Yolen.
The creepy-crawly rhyming lullaby follows monster kids as they rush out of school for an autumn afternoon (“Monsters run, Monsters stumble, / Monsters hip-hop, Monsters tumble . . .”). Some are as big as a whale (with three eyes!), some have horns (one, two or three!) some slither and some have tails—but they do the same things human kids do. After an afternoon of play, the rumpus disperses and two little monsters head home to begin their nighttime routine: a dinner of gruesome worm burgers, a bath and prayers, then to bed. The story winds down with a medley of monster growls, burps and snarls until trickling off into the perfect “zzzz.”
Illustrator Kelly Murphy (Masterpiece) was hand-picked by Yolen for this rambunctious read-aloud, and her soft oil, acrylic and gel medium illustrations transition from hues of gold and green to blue and purple, leading monsters and readers alike toward sleep. It’s the perfect end to a spooky October day.