Some kids like to be scared. Others, like me as a child, definitely. do. not. Halloween is such an appealing holiday with the opportunity to dress up like something you love and get candy from neighbors, but when the actual night comes, there seems to be a thin line between delightfully spooky and horrifyingly scary. For the 2-5 year old crowd picture books can help prepare the child for what to expect on Halloween. These books allow them to play with feelings of tension and suspense, without downright terrifying them. Of course, what Jimmy may like, for example, may be too scary for Joey, so parents, you will know best what will be too much for your children. That being said, here are my top ten not-so-scary picture books that are good picks for Halloween.
1. Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming
Denise Fleming’s handmade paper collage illustrations are luminous and exciting, with just the right amount of spookiness. Readers encounter glowing jack-o-lantern and costumed trick-or-treaters as a full moon rises in the dark night. The bouncy rhyme makes this a fun and easy read-aloud.
2. The Vanishing Pumpkin by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
It’s Halloween and seven-hundred-year-old woman and the eight-hundred-year-old man’s pumpkin is missing! They go off to search for it, coming across varmints and rapscallions, and even a wizard, along the way. Humor and lyrical repetition in the text make this another fun read-aloud.
3. Boo, Bunny! by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Jeff Mack
This book explores the suspense and bravery a child can feel trick-or-treating in the dark. Jeff Mack expertly plays with dark, light and dramatic angles in illustrations of this fun tale. Glowing eyes and silhouettes of tree branches add to the spook factor while cute fluffy bunnies in costume keep it very low key.
4. Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
A little witch dreams of flying across the sky on her broomstick, but every time fails. This is a sweet and subtle story of determination and perseverance gorgeously illustrated by Taeeun Yoo’s simple and evocative block prints.
5. The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Richard Egielski
The “fat little, round little, yellow little pumpkin” wants more than anything to be fierce like the scarecrow that guards the field, but no one seems afraid of it. When children pick the pumpkin and start carving a jack-o-lantern, however, the pumpkin’s dreams come true. There’s a lovely repetition and cadence to the text, with a story that will get kids excited to carve the most “terrific and terrible” faces on their own pumpkins.
6. Hallowilloween by Calef Brown
This delightful poetry collection is for children and adults alike. It’s filled with Edward Lear-esque nonsense verse (like oompachupa loompacabra) and wordplay, like Vumpire (a vampire baseball umpire) or Poltergeyser (a ghostly waterspout). The humor is dark at times, and adults will especially appreciate funny literary references like the poem, The Portrait of Gory René, for example.
7. A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown
While there are many illustrated versions of this traditional Halloween poem available, this is one of my favorites. The illustrations are dark and spooky and the book’s verse builds and builds onto itself as you’re taken further along through the woods and into a house. Just when a child can’t bear the suspense any longer, expecting the worst – goblins, ghosts, maybe a witch? – to jump out of the dark, you discover a teeny-tiny mouse and so the built-up fear is replaced with laughter and delight.
8. Here They Come by David Costello
David Costello’s Here They Come is filled with spooky magical creatures like werewolves and hobgoblins meeting together for a party. The smiling creatures are actually more funny than scary in the illustrations, offering the perfect balance of the unfamiliar and the safe. The twist comes when their party is interrupted by creatures even scarier than them – human children dressed in their Halloween costumes! “That was a fun scare,” the creatures say after the kids leave. I couldn’t agree more.
9. Annie was Warned by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett J. Krosoczka touches on the tricks our mind can play on us on a dark and spooky night. Annie was told not to go to the creepy old mansion, but she sneaks out anyway. Along the way shadows and sounds just may be scary spiders, bats or ghosts, but each time have a more practical explanation. I not only love Annie’s boldness as a character, but also that each turn of the page heightens the suspenseful tension. A fold-out final page reveals a fun surprise ending.
10. Vampire Boy’s Good Night by Lisa Brown
Like David Costello’s Here They Come, Lisa Brown’s Vampire Boy’s Good Night is a traditional Halloween story flipped on its head. Instead of children scared of vampires and witches, a little boy vampire and a little girl witch go out on Halloween night to see if “real children” actually exist. They stumble upon a Halloween party of costumed-children dressed liked mummies, ghosts and witches, and so they’re not so sure there’s such thing as children at all. The humor and role reversals balance out the spookiness perfectly.
Want more recommendations? Check out last year’s Halloween picks and my list of not-so-scary Monster books.What are some of your favorite picture books to read at Halloween? Share with us in the comments below.