In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the question of whether or not I’ll allow my children to trick-or-treat this Halloween. I typically answer this question with a joke (one of my go-to coping mechanisms) when I ask: who gets to decide whether Halloween is cancelled, is this the municipal government’s job? Is Mayor Nenshi going to make an announcement the week beforehand so we can all buy our snack-sized treats with confidence? Obviously I’ve bought those miniature chocolate bars already regardless of what’s going to happen on October 31st, but my kids will most likely be trick-or-treating. I’ll just force them to wear their masks the entire time and quarantine their candy for a few days before they can dig in. But in our house, so much of the fun not the night itself, but the anticipation! It begins with decorating the house at the beginning of the month, and reading our new Halloween books as they arrive at our door. This year, I’ve gotten three books that don’t deal with the spooky side of the holiday, instead the monsters, ghouls and goblins are merely the vehicle for communicating the important message of being proud of yourself in whatever form you may appear.
Both the text and artwork of this book are charming: The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt by Riel Nason and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler is all about a little ghost who looks and moves differently, due to his heavy, patchwork quilt of a body. His sheeted peers float effortlessly in the wind, while he tires easily trying to fly short distances. Then, one Halloween night he is picked up by a human child to keep herself warm, and he realizes how special it is to have that ability. Buoyed by this experience and his friends’ awe at his bravery (“they were amazed by his courage”), he sees his differences in a new and positive light.
It’s a lovely message that every parent can get behind, but the muted illustrations are what make this book pop. As you can tell by the picture the colour scheme is very bleak, save for a few pops of blue in the ghost’s fabric, and some orange in the pumpkins. In a few pages there are some pink elements that come through in a little girl’s costume, but instead of giving the story a depressing feel, the browns and grays create a spooky atmosphere while still using child-friendly images. My older child can enjoy the Halloween feeling that the pictures convey while my youngest isn’t frightened by what he sees either, so this book can thoughtfully span a few years and reading stages with ease.
On the other end of the colour spectrum but sticking with the ghost theme we have Gustavo The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago. Gustavo, like his quilt counterpart from above also feels like an outsider. But instead of a looking different from others, he is intensely shy and doesn’t know how to make friends. Playing the violin is the only thing that makes him feel good, so he decides to invite some fellow scary creatures to a concert in the graveyard in hopes of making friends through his music. At first they are all late and he’s devastated that no one shows up, but they quickly come once he starts playing, delighted to have discovered a new friend with such an impressive talent. From there, he makes fast friends with everyone once they realize how reliable he is.
The cover of the book is a good indicator of things to come; the gorgeous Day of the Dead theme is continued throughout with many of the creatures resembling the macabre that us westerners seem to using more and more of these days. There’s deep purples and reds used alongside the muted grays and blues that still evokes this sense of gloom, but it’s a playful take on the gothic palette that kids can still enjoy. The text is bold, black and simple on each page, so I’d recommend this one for younger rather than older-both my kids enjoy it, and my youngest is able to stay interested the entire length of the story which is no small feat these days.
Lastly we have Poesy The Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Matt Rockefeller. With a concept and pictures that I personally find terrifying, I wasn’t sure how this would go over with my kids, but they think it’s funny (!) so if they love it than I do too.
Poesy is getting ready for bed, but she requires a strange number of toys and midnight snacks to make this happen. Once her parents leave her alone we realize Poesy is setting up for a long night of fighting creatures: werewolves, vampires, and even Frankenstein’s monster, and she cleverly uses the tools at her disposal to get it done. First up she uses her fairy wand to stab the werewolf, and when her Dad comes in, angry at the loud disruption, she assures him she’s going right to bed, but of course the next monster comes as soon as her parents leave the room again. Each time her parents return to send her to bed, they get progressively frustrated and tired (I can relate!) when finally they come to her room as zombies. Instead of engaging them in battle Poesy admits this type of monster is too difficult for her to fight after such a long night and finally falls asleep.
For sensitive readers, this type of violence may be too much too soon. There’s no blood and gore, but the book is essentially about a little girl fighting things that go bump in the night, so some parents may want to take as pass on this one. However, Poesy is a fun character to introduce to kids, especially young girls. She’s tough, never shows an ounce of fear, and takes all these new challenges in stride, eager to show off her clever strategies. There’s some humour in the book too, text that will make both the adult and child chuckle at different times: “He was so tired that he stepped on a Harry the Hare block and said some swears. Poor Daddy!” Although not a Halloween book specifically, this one is recommended for those who are used to a good scare and looking for some unique new stories about monsters.
No matter what your trick-or-treating strategy this year, make sure it includes some reading time with your kids. It won’t keep the cavities away but it will certainly keep boredom at bay.