Thursday, October 30, 2008

More Halloween Picture Books

It's the night before Halloween, and the Light and Seal will shortly be having fun carving jack-o-lanterns with Mom and Dad. To get in the mood, I thought I'd take a minute to tell you about a few more great seasonal picture books to share.

One of our absolute favorite Halloween picture books is Eve Bunting's The Bones of Fred McFee. Illustrated with Kurt Cyrus's wonderfully detailed scratchboard and watercolor drawings, Bunting's rhyming verse tells the eerie tale of a plastic skeleton that may be something more than simply a Halloween decoration. A brother and sister get a plastic skeleton at a local fair and hang it high in their sycamore tree in preparation for Halloween. They give him the name "Fred McFee," which seems like wonderful fun, but there's something odd about this grinning ghoul. The dog and rooster are wary of it, and one night, the sketleton disappears. The only trace of his existence is what seems to the children to be a small grave beneath the tree. Bunting's rhymes weave a delightfully spooky atmosphere that will provide just the right amount of gentle fright to chill your little pumpkins. My kids love this book and reading it has become a Halloween tradition.

While I've got Eve Bunting on the brain, let me mention another of her books which strictly speaking is not a Halloween story, but would be a great choice to share on a cold October night. Night of the Gargoyles is illustrated by the wonderful David Wiesner, famous for his own books, Tuesday, Flotsam, and June 29, 1999 among others. His amazing black and white drawings appropriately bring to life Bunting's tale of gargoyles coming to life to fly through the skies and make mischief when night falls. Who hasn't had thoughts about statues coming to life? My kids particularly love the image of the gargoyles making faces at a watchman who has witnessed their nighttime antics but is not believed by those he tries to tell.

Wiesner's perfectly eerie black-and-white atmosphere reminds me a bit of the artwork created by author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg for his book, The Widow's Broom. Again, this is not necessarily a Halloween story, but it does involve witches and would be a great choice for seasonal storytime. This is the tale of a witch's broom that ran out of magic, causing a witch to fall from the sky. A widow named Minna Shaw finds her and takes her home to care for her. The witch manages to heal herself amazingly quickly and leaves before dawn, abandoning what she believes to be a useless broom. Pragmatically, Minna begins to use the broom around the house, and soon discovers that although the broom may not be good for flying on anymore, it is anything but ordinary. In fact, the broom is sentient and seems to enjoy helping Minna with her chores, as well as playing the piano to relax. Minna overcomes her initial shock and learns to appreciate this strange companion. Her neighbors, however, are not so openminded, and react as people often do when confronted with something they fear and do not understand. I love the scheme that Minna and the broom come up with to protect the broom from their neighbors' fear. This tale will launch some interesting discussions about tolerance, and why intolerance might just be more frightening than an enchanted broom.

Judy Sierra's The House That Drac Built is a cute Halloween version of the nursery rhyme The House That Jack Built. While this house is occupied by some seriously creepy creatures, including a werewolf, "fearsome manticore," "mummy from days of yore," and a "zombie famous in lore," it isn't really a scary story. In fact, the story ends when a group of plucky trick-or-treaters show up and put things right in the house, calming all of the monsters and sharing some candy with them too. Will Hillenbrand's oil paintings are suitably ghoulish and cute simultaneously. I know that seems like an odd description, but genuinely his monsters manage to be both creepy and endearing by the time the tale is done.

Finally, Phillip Yates's Ten Little Mummies: An Egyptian Counting Book is a great counting book that might be included in your Halloween storytime, even though it also is not specifically about Halloween. What would Halloween be without a few mummies? Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, this interesting twist on the "10 Little Indians" rhyme helps kids learn to count down from ten while watching the antics of a group of cute, simplistically drawn mummies that are separated from the group one by one. But there is a happy ending when one lonely little mummy returns to her tomb to find her comrades back together and waiting for her. Be sure to read the endpapers carefully, as the pyramid stones pictured there contain Egyptian trivia to spark the interest of your little readers.

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