Conjuring Magic on Halloween

I remember the year my mom told me I was too big to go trick or treating. I was twelve. And I was devastated. I did NOT want to grow up and miss out on dressing up and going door-to-door. I was so sad, not only because I wanted the pillowcase full of candy, but also because I felt this was an undoing of the magic, the vanishing of my childhood.

Mom always helped us make our costumes. I have vivid memories of the scratchy newspaper that filled my pumpkin costume when I was three. After that, it gets a little fuzzy. I probably did a stint as a witch? Maybe Goldilocks . . . or Dorothy? But I totally remember when I became a pop star like Debbie Gibson. Gosh, I loved the side ponytail and the blue eyeshadow! Then, when I was ten, Mom went all out and painted a sheet with the 7UP logo and hot glued it to a couple of hoola-hoops. I rocked the coolest soda pop can EVER. As a kid, you get to mix imagination, whimsy, and hair spray—especially when it comes to Halloween. As an adult, I thought, not so much.

So, I spent a few years glumly putting up with Halloween, and then I moved out and went to college far away from home. My aunt and uncle lived nearby, and when October 31st came around, I started a spooky-movie-watching tradition with them. We’d munch pumpkin brownies (recipe to follow, and trust me, you need them) and popcorn, and watch some super creepy films which freaked us all out. It was fantastic! And the magic of Halloween sneaked right back in when I wasn’t even looking.

I’ve realized that traditions can transform and evolve, and that’s okay—more than okay.

I went from a kid, to a teen, to a college girl, to a young mother. And oh boy! That was SUCH a fun stage! Family costumes! Decorating pumpkins! Hayrides! Trick or treating! Amazing! And well, now I’ve got a grumpy teenager, and we’re back to being down in the dumps about Halloween. Full circle moment, folks.

So, I’ve come up with a new tradition—a mission, if you will. This year, it’s alllll about the books. Books for littles, books for grown-ups. Books for everyone in between. I have my favorites. Some I’ve just discovered, some I’m revisiting, and some I want to try. Mainly, I just want to keep the creep factor high while the temperatures drop.

Drumroll please . . . here are a few of the gems I’ve found so far, right under my nose in my own library:

Books for Older Kids

Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe, is fantastically illustrated by Allen Daniel. I read this as a teenager, and circling back to it has just been pure joy. The tale is told by the family dog, who is sort of what I would call the Gus Witherspoon of the bunch. (Ok fine. I know this is an obscure reference to an old TV show from the 80’s, but . . . too bad.) Anyway, this poor dog and his fellow feline friend endure quite an ordeal when the family gets a new bunny, who is probably a vampire. Your preteen kids will love this, and you can read the whole thing in a couple afternoons or a few bedtime-story evenings. And this is actually the first in a series, so start early in October and let the story unfold. It’s delightfully fun!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz (also the first in a series) is basically a compilation of myths, legends, and folklore that are best told by candlelight or around a low-burning campfire. There are more than a few jump-scares to be had when you tell these stories after the teenagers are hopped up on s’mores and Snickers minis. I wouldn’t recommend these for younger kids, unless you know they have a rock-solid constitution and won’t be waking you up at 2 am with nightmares. With teens, you’ll have to really sell the stories though; I’d practice reading them a few times beforehand. Honestly, the drawings by Stephen Gammell are 100 times more terrifying than most of the stories. Mostly. Dun-dun-dunnnnnn

So, I’ve come up with a new tradition—a mission, if you will. This year, it’s alllll about the books. Books for littles, books for grown-ups. Books for everyone in between. I have my favorites. Some I’ve just discovered, some I’m revisiting, and some I want to try. Mainly, I just want to keep the creep factor high while the temperatures drop.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, is considered to be one of the first science fiction novels. I received my copy—illustrated with original engravings on wood by Lynd Ward—as a graduation gift from my high school English teacher, Sharon Cayce. It’s been over 28 years since I read it, and I’ll admit that as of this writing, I haven’t finished reading it again. Still, I’ve recently studied various sources about Mary Shelley’s life and how the novel came to be, which in and of itself is a fascinating history!

I had not remembered that Mary met 22-year-old Percy Shelley in 1814 when he visited her father (an accomplished author himself). She then ran off with the married poet when she was only 17 years old. It must’ve been quite the scandal. They married after Percy’s wife committed suicide two years later. Can you imagine?!

Earlier in 1816, they spent several days indoors with Lord Byron and John William Polidori near Geneva due to inclement weather. In search of entertainment, they were reading ghoulish tales and decided to have a contest to see who could come up with the best ghost story. Polidori drafted The Vampyre, and Mary Shelley won the contest with Frankenstein.

I would read this one aloud to older kids starting early in October and keep in mind that you might need to have a dictionary handy for the wordy, old-world language, but the conversations you’ll have about the book’s themes of ambition, revenge, and prejudice will be well worth it.

Also, for the love, please teach your kiddos that Frankenstein was the mad scientist, not the monster he created—remembering that an entire subculture of stories is based on this bolt-necked character who didn’t even have any bolts. Frankenstein, indeed, has taken on a life of his own.

Okay, I’ve got a few other suggestions for big kids before we move on to the stories for littles.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Holy moly, this one is disturbing, so reserve it for the most macabre-loving teens.

Don’t forget the other classics Dracula, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or any of the Edgar Allen Poe tales.

I was also thoroughly creeped out by The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Take a look at The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for a more modern flair, but I’ve only read the first chapter, so you’ll have to let me know how it goes. So far, definitely spooky. Gaiman also wrote Coraline, so I feel like we’re in good hands.

Books for Younger Kids

Now for the fun part! Picture books! Picture books hold a special place in my heart (having written a few myself), and I’m thrilled that several really darling Halloween stories have popped up in recent years. Here are a few of my favorites:

Beware! Be Scared!, written by Lori Ries and cheerfully illustrated by my friend Ryan Law, is simply adorable! I love the rhymes and the bold colors. Also, bonus, this one takes little time to read aloud when you need a super quick bedtime story. (You know what I’m talking about.)

Sir Simon: Super Scarer was created by Cale Atkinson with “Ghost toots and Photoshop,” according to the fine print. Seriously, you’ll want to read every word of this book, including the publishing pages. It’s delightful, witty, and when he’s not working on his scare tactics, Sir Simon, the ghost, writes on an actual typewriter, so you know I’m hooked. Save this one for when you have plenty of patience, though (i.e., NOT bedtime), because there are sooooo many details in the story and illustrations you don’t want to miss, like the #1 Ghost coffee mug, seen below. Cracks me up!

Last but not least, The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt was written by quilter Riel Nason, with bewitching illustrations by Byron Eggenschwiler. This is a precious story about a ghost who is made out of a quilt, unlike all the other ghosts, who are made out of sheets. I love this book on so many levels.

I’m a quilter too so the patchwork stitches and cozy comfort that end up warming a little girl as she trick-or-treats with her mother gets me right in the feels. The mother carts her girl all around town in a wagon and totally dresses up as a witch for the occasion. The artwork is truly stunning. It’s magical, and I cannot say enough about how much I love it. And I love that the little ghost figures out that being different can be a superpower, in the most sweet, loving way possible. This book is a perfect gem—five stars, all around.

There are quite a few Halloween-themed picture books I haven’t read yet. Here are the titles in my online cart: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green, Crankenstein by Samantha Berger, Where’s My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi, Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler, and The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen. Fill me in; which other tall tales do I need to add to my ever-expanding list? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

All righty, that’s all the spooky I can handle for now. But I’m a woman of my word, so I’m leaving you with the pumpkin brownie recipe! My mom got it from a lady at church many moons ago, and it’s been a family favorite ever since, anytime we get a hankering for scrumptious pumpkin goodness. I hope you love it as much as we do, and from my heart to yours, I wish you a very Happy Halloween!

3 thoughts on “Conjuring Magic on Halloween”

  1. We have “Creepy Carrots” and “How to Make Friends with a Ghost”- both adorable! Thanks for the recommendations for the teen books! I will check them out. And those brownies sound amazing!

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