Something is lurking out there. Scarecrows are stirring, black cats are making mischief, and innocent young girls are taking to their broomsticks. It must be, it must be . . . this season’s bumper crop of fabulous Halloween picture books. By the time everyone’s favorite dress-up day arrives, there will be candy to fill young bellies and literary treats to feed imaginations. You’ll recognize many of the authors and artists—including Jane Yolen, Ed Emberley and Lois Ehlert—and a few newer storytellers have been added to the brew. This particular blend of spooky stuff will draw so much deserved attention, Frankenstein’s monster will be positively green with envy.
When you first glance at the cover of The Runaway Mummy, you may be overcome with a spooky sort of déjà-vu. In case you missed the thread that began with last year’s best-selling Goodnight Goon, Michael Rex’s latest parody is a ghoulishly gleeful take on Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, The Runaway Bunny. And while the cast of characters may not be as warm and fuzzy as in the original story, the mummy love is ever abundant. While her son morphs into a series of crazy creatures, mom is hot on his trail. “If you try to get me,” said the little mummy, “I will turn into a serpent that lurks at the bottom of the sea.” But Mother Mummy has him covered, delivering a squeeze worthy of a giant squid. Little mummy finds that independence is elusive until a surprise ending turns the story on its tail, leaving readers wondering what sort of mischief Michael Rex might make with The Big Red Barn.
Garden of delights
Sure to be another monster hit for author and artist Lois Ehlert, Boo to You! lends her impressive trademark multimedia collage style to an autumn feast for the eyes, set to rhythmic verse. A harvest party is being planned by the garden mice but a pesky cat is determined to spoil the fun. It’s really a dilemma, because “A raccoon or a squirrel might bite a veggie, but a cat loves meat, and that makes us edgy.” The crafty mice devise a plan to scare the kitty, and it unfolds with a satisfying surprise. You know Ehlert from Eating the Alphabet, Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and many others. Her latest effort will bring jack-o-lantern grins to the faces of a whole new generation of admirers.
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme is an exuberant collection of poems about monsters of every stripe—in the engaging form of letters, notes and secret files—that gives readers a rare and comical glimpse at their private lives and predilections. There’s a personal invitation from Count Dracula, a warning about werewolves, an exclusive interview with the Loch Ness Monster and a classified email about zombie research. Appropriately, this is Bobbi Katz’s 13th poetry collection. Her others include We the People: Poems and Once around the Sun. Adam McCauley’s mixed media design is great fun and likely to convince children that they are indeed holding a rare collection of monster memorabilia.
It’s time for a sing-along. “There was an old monster who swallowed a tick. I don’t know why he swallowed the tick ‘cause it made him feel sick.” The creepy critters being ingested by our gluttonous friend in There Was An Old Monster! range from ants and bats to lizards and a lone jackal. It culminates with a lion and, well, it’s not necessarily a happy ending. The Emberley family—Rebecca, Adrian and Ed, a Caldecott Medal winner for Drummer Hoff—has joined together to give us a twisted take on an already twisted tune that will be a memorable addition to Halloween pageants everywhere. Readers who can’t seem to get the catchy refrain out of their heads will be happy to find it available for download on Scholastic’s website.
Vampires next door
The new neighbors are a vexing bunch to young Bram Pire. In Dear Vampa Bram dashes off a letter to his Vampa in Transylvania to blow off a bit of steam. For starters, the Wolfson family stays up all day long and seems overly fond of sunshine (“Mom says it’s disgusting”). They lock their windows at night (“It’s so inconsiderate”), and call the cops when the Pires engage in a bit of rooftop revelry at midnight. When the Wolfsons take up slingshots to shoot the Pires out of the sky during their “evening flutter,” it’s the last straw for Mom and Dad. But are the Wolfsons keeping a dark secret of their own? Ross Collins, the author and illustrator of Medusa Jones and Germs, introduces irony into his story at a level that won’t fly over the heads of young readers and his mod-goth style will appeal to graphic novel devotees in the making. This is Halloween hilarity at its hippest.
As the (scare)crow flies
Scarecrows aren’t normally known for their fancy footwork, but in the hands of Jane Yolen and illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, one comes alive with wild abandon in The Scarecrow’s Dance. When the wind began to blow “He shrugged his shoulders / And a grin / Just like a corn row, / And as thin, / Broke out along / His painted face. / He gave a leap— / And left the place.” The scarecrow dances past the barn and peers in the window of the farmhouse where he glimpses a young boy reciting his prayers. As he leans in to listen to the child’s appeal for a healthy corn crop, the scarecrow knows he must return to his post to do his part. Ibatoulline’s gouache and watercolor illustrations are breathtaking and readers of all ages will appreciate Yolen’s refined verse and the book’s final message about responsibility.
Ellen Trachtenberg is the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Children’s Literature.