Halloween Books for the Sensitive Child

October 14, 2017

Last year was Ramona's first year trick-or-treating. She loved it. She had no clue what people were throwing into her loot bag, but she thought it was great. All she had to do was shout her gibberish toddler version of "trick-or-treat" and people would squeal with delight and give her something. Fantastic! And she was wholly unfazed by the scariest houses and costumes - she even danced to the spooky music (with the occasional frightening scream) being blared from the front-porches-turned-haunted-houses.

But this year will be a whole other story, I think. We may need to sit this Halloween out. Because she's older now, more aware, and she knows what it is to be afraid of something. A few months ago she started telling us she was "gared" (scared) - of the dark, of a noise, of a dog. When we went to a vegetarian festival, she burst into tears and rushed into my arms when a vegetable mascot waved at her. Just this weekend I naively activated a moving Halloween decoration at Home Depot, and she clung to Patricio for dear life with declarations "I don't like it! I don't like it!"

I started thinking about fear around this time of year for young children. Halloween can be so much fun with costumes and pumpkin carving and candy - but as children's imaginations begin to develop, they also develop fears, and this time of year can be incredibly stressful and frightening for them (I distinctly remember closing my eyes and covering my ears as I raced by Halloween displays as a kid).

So I made a little list of Halloween-ish books for the more sensitive, fearful child. Some of the books are simply about pumpkins, or are the not-too-scary titles, even when there are witches, ghosts, and mummies involved (in fact, some of these monsters are just downright cute and loveable). Some books aren't your typical Halloween books, but instead meant to help children begin to understand and cope with their fear. And some titles are a little scarier (I mention which ones in the description) but meant to challenge children to see the things they fear from another perspective.

B is for Boo by Greg Paprocki is a Halloween-themed alphabet board book. Even though this is "just" an alphabet book, Ramona, my husband and I have really enjoyed reading it over and over, partly for the retro-inspired illustrations that have a bit of humour in them. There's a nice mixture of adorable-looking monsters - D is for Dracula, M is for Mummy, Z is for Zombie - and common seasonal activities like A for apple, J is for Jack-o'-lantern, S is for Scarecrow.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket is a story about Laszlo, who is afraid of the dark (but the dark is not afraid of him). One night Laszlo has to face his fear, which is quite scary at first, but once he does, the shadows in his life no longer seem to bother him. The story and art may seem simple, but to me there is something so deeply profound about the way it's illustrated (by the talented Jon Klassen), the straightforward storytelling, how it depicts Laszlo seemingly alone, gives dark a voice, and teaches children to face their fears. (I honestly feel like I could write an entire essay about this book).

Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley helps children chase their fears away, in simple story that reveals a "frightening" monster growing more and more on each page, but then the tables are turned, as it's told to "go away" until it disappears entirely. I love the fun, interactive nature of this book - when reading to multiple children, the story turns into a loud chant as everyone excitedly tells the monster to go away. "Go away big red mouth with the sharp white teeth!"


Monster Needs a Costume by Paul Czajak is a story about a loveable monster trying to decide what he should dress up for as Halloween - he keeps changing his mind, and finally mixes all his ideas together to make the perfect costume. This book will be relatable for anyone with young children who have a hard time making choices - about anything, not just what to wear. A fun story with charming illustrations.


Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett introduces Leo, a friendly house ghost, who has lived alone in a dusty house for years. When a new family moves in, he tries his best to be a good host (offering mint tea and honey toast, of course), but decides to leave when it's clear he's unwanted. He wanders the city until he meets a young girl who welcomes him into her imaginary world, thinking he is an imaginary friend. Leo, happy to have found a friend, plays along, but it is eventually revealed he isn't an imaginary friend, but instead a real friend - who happens to be a ghost. The story is really heartwarming - you can't help but feel for this little ghost - and the illustrations by Christian Robinson are perfectly charming as always.


The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams follows a fearless old lady walking in the woods one autumn night as she comes across a series of animated objects. As each object crosses her path she boldly tells them to get out of her way and that she isn't afraid of them, but seems a little spooked when they follow her home. The next morning she finds the objects assembled together to make a friendly scarecrow in her garden - somewhat symbolic of how things that scare us in the dark usually seem quite harmless, and a bit comical, in the light of day. This story may seem frightening at first for some children, but it has a lovely rhythm, and is fun to act out the objects as the story goes along (stomp stomp, wiggle wiggle, shake, shake, etc).


Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman is a story, loosely based on the classic Russian folk story "The Gigantic Turnip, about a witch who plants a pumpkin intended for pumpkin pie. When it comes time to pick the pumpkin, it's grown so large she has trouble pulling it off the vine. She recruits her other monster friends to help her - a ghost, vampire, mummy, and finally a bat, to work together to pull the giant vegetable. Even though the story involves typically spooky creatures, there's nothing scary about it - it's actually quite adorable.


How to Make Friends With a Ghost by Rebecca Green is a darling book written in manual format on a how to befriend a ghost, with equally darling illustrations. It might be a little off-beat for some people, and even a tad morbid at the end (an opportunity to talk about life and death with children), but I adored how ghosts were portrayed like fluffy marshmallows, a tad shy and sensitive, enjoying snacks and bedtime stories. A sweet book about friendship.


Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds is a spooky Twilight Zone-esque tale about Jasper the carrot-loving rabbit who starts to get the sense that his favourite snack is following him, lurking in the shadows of his bathroom, hiding in the toolshed - is it just his imagination getting the better of him? The story may be a bit frightening for younger children - and relatable for those with overactive imaginations begining to feel paranoid about creatures beneath the bed or in the closet. For older children and adults this story is quite comical accompanied by the clever, dramatic illustrations (love the use of, or rather lack of, colour used) - and a fun, somewhat surprising ending.


Ten Orange Pumpkins by Stephen Savage is a counting book, with simple, clean illustrations that capture the spooky spirit of Halloween, without being scary for little ones. There's a bit of mystery as pumpkins disappear - where are they disappearing to? There often seems to be a familiar and friendly-looking ghost or ghoul involved, accompanied by a simple rhyme.



The Ghost's Dinner by Jacques Duquennoy is a charming little story of a ghost who hosts a dinner party for his friends - and as each course is served and consumed, the ghosts take on the colour of their food! It's perfectly simple and silly, and a favourite of mine - though out of print and very hard to find (I'm still on the hunt for my own personal copy).


Ghosts In The House! by Kazuno Kohara is about a young girl who moves into a house only to find it's haunted! But no problem, she's also a witch and knows just how to handle ghosts - wash them, hang them up to dry, and use them as table cloths and bed sheets, of course! A truly adorable ghost story, with bold, simple illustrations that will catch young children's eye.



Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson is an incredible story about the life cycle of a pumpkin - from seed to pumpkin to seed again! The pictures in the book are entirely photographs taken by Schmuel Thaler, with close-up details like the inside of a pumpkin, the long vines, the budding flowers. It's an incredible non-fiction book, which is both a great science resource, and a charming story with rhyming text for small children.


The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis opens on the Baxter children discovering the "biggest pumpkin they have ever seen," cutting it loose from the vine, resulting in an exhilarating chase after the giant, orange runaway as it crashes through fences, pig pens, and finally coming to an abrupt halt at the bottom. It's then turned into a feast of pumpkin pies, breads, and soups - and the biggest Jack-o-Lantern you've ever seen, on Halloween night. I absolutely love the rhythm of this story - a personal favourite, and also among my preschool students.


The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone is a long-time favourite around here, loved by my husband when he was a little boy. It's now one of Ramona's favourites too. A story about Sesame Street's Grover, as he comically tries (and fails) to stop the reader from turning pages to avoid reaching the monster at the end of the book - only to find out that he, lovable furry Grover, is the monster. An allover silly, fun story, that also may help some children face their fears.


xx

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