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Hallowe'een Picks for Young Readers

By JaneMV


“Best picks” for Hallowe’en reading from the Ottawa Public Library


By Rebekah McCallum, Children’s Librarian, Cumberland Branch


With Hallowe’en just around the corner, it’s time for librarians at the Ottawa Public Library to choose some spooky stories for our storytimes. This year, I’m planning to mix some of my favourite dark tales from past years with ghoulish offerings newly arrived in the library children’s collection.


I’m delighted to be able to share my “best picks” for Hallowe’en reading with you through this forum. You can order all of these books online or stop into your local branch to pick them up, or to discover your own spine-tingling favourites.


My first shivery suggestion is Dan Yaccarino’s ever-popular version of “Five Little Pumpkins. In this simply-illustrated and brightly-coloured board book, we meet the five little pumpkins of the popular Hallowe’en fingerplay. Each pumpkin face has its own character, and each speaks to the reader in turn. Babies and toddlers will enjoy the book’s rhyming text and the expressive, but friendly, faces of Yaccarino’s illustrations. Young readers can also trace a ghost from page to page, count witches on broomsticks, and meet a black cat as they turn from page to page. A great Hallowe’en choice for those of us who prefer minimal spookiness!


For preschoolers who can take just a little more of a scare, author Rebecca Dickinson brings us a new Hallowe’en counting book. Over in the Hollow is based on the classic counting rhyme “Over in the Meadow”. But instead of an “old mother toadie” and a “green mother frog”, here we meet “an old, moldy mummy and his little mummies too”, “a hairy uncle werewolf” and “a spooky mama owl.” The new words fit the rhyme perfectly, and little readers will enjoy Stephan Britt’s textured, cartoonish illustrations with their many engaging and comic details.


Another recent publication, Ross Collins’Dear Vampa details the sufferings of the Pire (read vamPire) family when new neighbours, the Wolfsons, move in next door. These strange creatures, with their cocktail parties, cell phones, manicured lawn, and peculiar habit of sleeping at night, drive the Pires nearly senseless with aggravation. Finally, young Bram Pire writes to his “Vampa” in Transylvania, asking him to prepare the “guest crypt” for their immediate return. Not until the Pires have moved out in a huff do we realize that the Wolfsons are concealing a fiendish secret of their own. This picture book is perfect for kindergarten and school-age children, but parents will also enjoy the author’s ironic, fantastical take on modern suburban life.


I couldn’t offer a list of Hallowe’en book recommendations without including Ruth Brown’s masterfully spookyA Dark, Dark Tale”. In this beautiful adaptation of the classic ghost story, tension builds as we move through sombre moor, forest and castle, progressing ever closer (so we think) to a creepy climax. Imagine the surprise and delight of small, shivering readers when – up the stairs…down the passage… in the room…in the cupboard… in the box – we discover, not a ghost, but a…MOUSE! A wonderful Hallowe’en choice, especially for reading aloud.


Preschoolers who are up for a slightly longer read will enjoy “The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin by “Goodnight Moon” author Margaret Wise Brown. This splendid story was published posthumously in 2003, and beautifully illustrated by Richard Egielski. Brown tells the tale of a tiny yellow pumpkin growing in a sunlit field, who begins to imagine himself “a very fierce vegetable.” The pumpkin longs to make a ferocious face like the scarecrow’s, to scare away the field mice. The days grow darker, frosts come, and the little yellow pumpkin grows big and turns fiery orange. But he cannot make a fierce face until three children take him home and transform him into a Jack-o’-lantern. Wise Brown’s wonderful turns of phrase and Egielski’s glowing, autumn-coloured illustrations work seamlessly together, making for an excellent read.


Finally, if your child favours fact over fiction, he or she may enjoy learning all there is to know about Hallowe’en through Denis Brennan-Nelson and Donald Wu’s “J is for Jack-o’-lantern”. This multipurpose book has something for almost every age. Preschoolers will enjoy the full-page, brightly-coloured illustrations depicting witches, skeletons and funky costumes, as well as the short rhymes on each page following every letter of the alphabet. Older children (and their parents) will learn all kinds of interesting trivia about the history and science of everything Hallowe’en. And every age group can experiment with the book’s great recipe and activity suggestions. Essentially, an entertaining and splendidly presented encyclopaedia of the festival.



So there you have them… my frightening favourites for your little one this fall. Happy reading!