Not quite a Halloween book, but full of ghouls, jack-o-lanterns and skeletons is I Will Read To You, by Gideon Sterer, illustrated by Charles Santoso. It tells the late-night tale of a young boy getting ready for bed who decides to go out and tuck in the monsters outside for bed as well. Him and his mother travel over rolling hills to find the creepy creatures because no one ever reads to them! Each page is dedicated to another kind of monster; giants, witches, etc. until all have gathered to hear a bedtime story. After the little boy reads them a book (with his mother looking nervously on), everyone has fallen asleep, so the boy can return to his own bed to sleep contentedly, knowing he has tucked everyone else in for the night.
My kids are getting better and better at telling me what they like and don’t like about books (little book reviewers in training!), and they unanimously decided they loved this one. Their favourite part was a little, fuzzy, orange puff ball who arrives within the first few pages and then follows the little boy until the last page, so readers must ‘find’ him on every spread. And the illustrations are a lovely mixture of creepy (the vampires are definitely eerie) and cute, so monsters are everywhere, but not in a threatening way. The story itself focuses on the rituals of bedtime, so it’s the perfect story to read at night, and I appreciated the very realistic picture of the boy’s Mom yelling at him to stop playing and get into bed – it’s something most parents can relate to. Also, I reviewed a book a few years ago by Gideon Sterer that my kids liked, so that’s always a sure sign of a successful picture book author.
My favourite new release of Halloween is definitely The Skull by Jon Klassen. It’s a longer picture book at 112 pages, but some pages don’t have any words at all, so my 5-year-old enjoyed this one just as much as my 8-year-old, and it only takes about 10 minutes to read. It’s based on a folktale, which the author explains in the author’s note at the back. It follows a young girl who gets lost in some snowy woods, seeking shelter in an abandoned castle. After knocking on the door, a skull answers, inviting her in but on one condition: she carry him around in her arms. She agrees, and they become fast friends, which brings a lightness to the story, even a laugh-out-loud moment when the skull drinks tea and it goes right through him.
I love this book because its weird. Like many of Klassen’s books, there are no clear messages to take away, but it plays to a child’s imagination. The ‘weirdness’ of this book holds kids in higher esteem; it all takes place in a gray area of right and wrong, which lends itself to some colorful conversations. There’s some scary(ish) parts to it when a skeleton comes calling for his skull, but the little girl’s actions are brave and somewhat questionable, which is why I’m so impressed with this story. It makes everyone think; adults and kids alike.
Lastly is the spookiest book of all: The Great Zombie Pumpkin Parade! by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor. This one received mixed reviews from my kids. It’s about a parade of figures with carved pumpkins on their heads, marching through town on Halloween night while everyone is asleep. It appears as though each figure is a zombie, and they all have ridiculous names like Slime-Faced Sumpkin and Bubble-Eared Bumpkin. At the end of the story they retire back to their graveyard to remain asleep until next Halloween when they march again.
The narrative is told in rhyming couples, and although it the rhyming is fun to read and explains the weird pumpkin names, the story itself didn’t make a whole lot of sense – not enough attention was paid to the basics of the plot, and rhyming adjectives seemed to be thrown in at random. Instead, the illustrations are the star of this book; the images are delightfully creepy, and I fully expected my 5-year-old to be too scared of this book to read it again. He was brave about it, but my 8-year-old pointed out that because so many different jack-o-lanterns are featured, it’s giving us great ideas for how we could carve our pumpkin this year, and I’d have to agree with her. The faces are all different, and very unique, so the the pumpkin heads take center stage on each page.