“You see, to find the brightest wisdom one must pass through the darkest zones. And through the darkest zones there can be no guide. No guide, that is, but courage.”
-Adam Gidwitz, A Tale Dark and Grimm
Five Books to Read or Read Aloud Near Halloween:
We love spooky stories. There’s a thrill in having a chill on your spine complement the chill in the air. And finishing well written, (slightly) terrifying tales can be exhilarating.
Here is a list of five of our favorites this year (affiliate links included):
1.The Pumpkin Smasher, by Anita Benarde: This is our all-time favorite read aloud picture book for Halloween. The hardcover is currently out of print, so every year I would request it from the library… until a few years ago, when Amazon started offering it in paperback. The boys love The Pumpkin Smasher so much that every year they ask to read it to first graders so they can share the story. And the illustrations of trick-or-treaters at the end helped them to decide on a costume on more than one Halloween. A touch of magic, a little urban legend, and intrepid twins with a solution… whenever we see a street full of smashed pumpkins in October, we wonder… was it teenagers, or have we been visited by the Pumpkin Smasher?
2. The Witches, by Roald Dahl– We were late to discover Roald Dahl, but as I explained in this post his work was instrumental in getting the younger boy to become a reader. Once said boy finished The Twits, it was October and he was ready for a Halloween related book, so The Witches (which I hadn’t read) seemed like a natural next choice. He loved it. It creeped him out and scared him, but he Couldn’t. Stop. Reading. He wrapped himself in a blanket on the couch and pushed through, looking up wide-eyed every once in a while and saying it was really scary, but he kept going. Once he finished, he insisted everyone in the family read it so we could all watch the movie together. I will say, the movie ending is different from the book- but otherwise very accurate. And, small spoiler: if you have any phobia about mice, this might not be the tale for you!
Goodreads summary: This is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them. Ronald Dahl has done it again! Winner of the 1983 Whitbread Award, the judges’ decision was unanimous: “funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master”.
3. A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz– Upper middle grade novel. A new twist on the story of Hansel and Gretel… Gidwitz revisits several classic Grimm tales, with the twist of Hansel and Gretel entering them and threading them together for one overall story. There is an interfering narrator with tones of Lemony Snicket, but with a clearer voice- creating the sense that we are being read to by someone who is looking out for us and wants to make the story fun. He interrupts the stories with warnings for young readers to stop because it’s going to get gory, just enough to compel tweens to whip through to see what happens. It gets creepy, really scary, and then (according to my 5th grader) it gets really good.
Goodreads Summary: In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.
4. Coraline, by Neil Gaman– An upper middle grade novel with tension that builds slowly to a creepy crescendo. We’re reading it out loud this week, and I’m looking forward to getting past the first twenty pages or so to get the boys hooked. Coraline is more of a Hitchcockian thriller- no blood or guts, but a haunting alternate reality which Coraline must escape. Be forewarned- the beginning feels boring, but it’s setting the scene and all of the details will come into play. The boys know it’s an “older book” because the hook isn’t on the first page. I think they trust me that their patience will pay off. Generally, when I force them to read boring books, they wind up thanking me in the end.
Goodreads summary: Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
5. Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty– This is a well paced, compelling tween mystery. There’s magical realism, dark magic, an abandoned cemetery, and an evil woods. I finished reading it a few days ago, and will pass it on to the 5th grader… but the 4th grader can wait. I will hand him A Tale Dark and Grimm, though. I think he’ll love it.
Goodreads summary: When children at Biltmore start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks the estate’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.
Happy reading! I hope you get a chill, maybe have a bad dream or two, and find redemption in the end. And, if you have a favorite you want to share, tell us in the comments!
As the inscription at the beginning of Coraline says:
Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.