15 Spooky Halloween Titles for Young Readers

Lots of treats in this roundup of Halloween titles just right for a variety of revelers, from toddlers to veteran trick-or-treaters.

Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight/
Esqueletitos un libro contar
en El Día de los Muertos (Jaramillo)
©2017 by Susie Jaramillo

Clanton, Ben. Boo Who? illus. by Ben Clanton. 32p. Candlewick. Aug. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763688240.

PreS-Gr 1 –The gang from Rex Wrecks It are back for a new tale about playing together. “Being new can be scary, even when everyone is friendly.” And so it is when Boo, looking much like a Pac-Man ghost, arrives at the playground. The other creatures (robot, dinosaur, unicorn bunny, and adorable monster) invite him to play, but finding a game for them all is tricky. Bounce-ball, pick-up twigs, and tag are all a fail, as Boo is intangible. Boo is ready to just disappear (boo-hoo) when a game of hide-and-seek begins, an activity for which Boo was practically made. “This is Boo. He’s new, but he fits right in.” Clanton’s visuals and simple text are the perfect combination for this read-aloud. The first two pages humorously set up the premise with an arrow and text declaring “This is Boo.” Ah, but Boo is in fact on the facing page, as the additional text and illustration show. With a tan background and single color foreground, Clanton makes it easy for readers/listeners to focus on the action. Using ink, pencil, watercolor, and digital magic, Clanton’s illustrations deftly depict the action and facial expressions of his cartoon characters. Who knew the awkwardness of a failed game could be shown so simply and yet so well? VERDICT Clanton addresses one of life’s difficult experiences for all ages in this humorous book. There’s a built-in fan base from previous titles, but this is also a great title to entice newcomers to the series.–Catherine Callegari, Reston Regional Library, VA

Cuyler, Margery. Bonaparte Falls Apart. illus. by Will Terry. 40p. Crown. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101937686.

PreS-Gr 2 –Whenever he engages in even the mildest of activities, Bonaparte, a skeleton boy sporting a red baseball cap, loses an appendage. Adding to his distress about living with missing parts, the boy worries that classmates will make fun of him when he starts school. His monster friends try to help. Franky Stein glues and screws him together, but then Bonaparte can’t move. Blacky Widow spins a web around him, but that just traps him in tangles. When Mummicula wraps him up, Bonaparte can’t see. Nothing works until his pals see a dog run by with a bone in his mouth, and hit on the idea of training him to retrieve Bonaparte’s bones. The dog, named Mandible by his new owner, turns out to be a fetching champ. Now whether it’s on the ball field or in science class, Bonaparte is a huge hit at school. Wordplay such as the monster and dog names and Bonaparte’s declaration that his companions are “bone-a-fide-friends” enliven the text. Terry’s illustrations, executed in a muted palette and filled with cross-hatching, appear on white ground. His monsters are kid-friendly renderings with large, googly eyes. Several pictures contain humorous touches as well: furniture covered in a web pattern, bushes that appear as grinning fishlike creatures, a pumpkin house, and teeth flying across the cafeteria. VERDICT A read-aloud choice that will resonate with youngsters experiencing their own fears of starting school. This tale would make a welcome addition to a fun Halloween storytime as well.–Marianne Saccardi, Children’s Literature Consultant, Cambridge, MA

Gallion, Sue. Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat. illus. by Joyce Wan. 40p. S. & S./Beach Lane. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449779.

PreS-Gr 1 –October 31 is here, and Pug and Pig are decked out in matching skeleton costumes. Pig couldn’t be happier, but Pug can’t stand the tight outfit, and he’s afraid no one will recognize him in his mask. He rips apart the costume, deciding that this holiday isn’t for him, but Pig is crestfallen at the prospect of celebrating Halloween without her pal. So Pug discovers a way to enjoy the festivities on his own terms. Coating himself with mud and calling himself Pig’s shadow, Pug feels much more comfortable and readily joins in the fun. Softly rounded illustrations complement the concise, matter-of-fact text. Roly-poly Pig and Pug are utterly expressive. Despite the appropriately dark palette, there are no frightening ghouls or goblins here, and cozy details abound, such as the decorative scarecrow (a sweetly smiling sunflower dressed in overalls) and a wreath festooned with a cheery little ghost. Children, especially those a bit apprehensive about the holiday, will applaud Pug’s solution and appreciate his willingness to seek a compromise. VERDICT A lovely addition to most libraries, especially for Halloween storytimes or where there are fans of the duo’s first outing, Pug Meets Pig.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Grabill, Rebecca. Halloween Good Night. illus. by Ella Okstad. 32p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481450614.

PreS-Gr 1 –This playful, slightly eerie take on the “Over in the Meadow” rhyme/song opens on Halloween night. “Lurking in the swampland,/lanterns glowing like the sun,/sits a massive mama globster/and her bitty globby one.” Among the other monsters joining in the atmospheric holiday countdown are a wee father wood imp and his tiny implings, a wrapped mommy mummy and her bandaged babies, an old granny zombie and her peeling zomblings, and a pale papa vampire and his blood-drinking nine. The creatures large and small are all actively engaged in lurching, racing, soaring, and gliding through town before finding a little girl who gathers all of the ghouls and puts them to bed. “ ‘Sleep now, morning’s coming.’/you tell your monsters sweet,/so they snuggle into bed/and murmur, ‘Trick or treat!’ ” The digital cartoon art plays with light and shadows as it unfolds across the spreads and adds to the gently spooky ambience. VERDICT A fun storytime read-aloud that’s just right for the youngest Halloween revelers.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Halloween ABC. illus. by Jannie Ho. 26p. Nosy Crow. Jul. 2017. Board $6.99. ISBN 9780763695279.

PreS-K–Each letter of the alphabet is featured on its own page in this fun holiday title. Both uppercase and lowercase letters are presented with a bold graphic-style artwork that corresponds to the Halloween theme. Cc is for cauldron, Ee is for eyeballs, Qq is for quiver, Zz is for zombie. The digital illustrations are appealing and cleanly designed with high-contrast hues presented on a different-colored background. The characters are friendly rather than scary, and the direct correspondence between the word on the page and the image makes this a useful book for emerging readers. While there is no plot and nothing groundbreaking about the content, this is a useful addition to larger public and school library collections that support board book collections. VERDICT A treat for prereaders and emerging readers.–Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

Hills, Tad. Duck & Goose: Honk! Quack! Boo! illus. by Tad Hills. 40p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524701758.

PreS-Gr 1–The dynamic feathered duo return with an introduction to Halloween for young readers. Duck and Goose are discussing the upcoming holiday when Thistle, another feathered friend, happens upon them. Thistle proclaims she loves Halloween and to “beware the swamp monster!” A worried Duck and Goose try not to think about monsters and instead concentrate on bags full of trick-or-treat candy. The next day, the pair get dressed for Halloween as a ghost and a superhero. They join their forest friends for trick-or-treating. An owl, costumed as a daisy, informs Duck and Goose that a swamp monster is looking for them. When they see a slimy green creature running toward them, the frightened duo jump into some bushes. Feeling doomed, Goose summons the courage to confront the swamp monster with his friend. They jump out of the bushes, yelling, “Boo!” Poor Thistle, costumed as a swamp monster, gets a good scare. Hills skillfully uses oil, acrylic, and colored pencil to render his colorful backgrounds and the ever-lovable animal characters. Younger children may sympathize with Goose’s confusion over the often contradictory emotions of fright and fun associated with Halloween. Older children will simply enjoy a return of these beloved characters and their antics. VERDICT Duck and Goose will give young listeners a chuckle at this new addition to the collection. Sure to be a storytime favorite.–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

redstarJaramillo, Susie. Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight/Esqueletitos un libro contar en El Día de los Muertos. illus. by Susie Jaramillo. 40p. (Canticos). Encantos. Aug. 2017. Board $14.99. ISBN 9781945635069.

PreS-Gr 1–Children can practice their numbers while singing and dancing with a delightful group of skeletons. In her now trademark bilingual concertina format, Jaramillo introduces children to a Mexican counting song. A clock with movable hands at the start of the book will help them keep track of the graveyard fun. As the clock moves from one to two to three and eventually to 12, the graveyard inhabitants participate in different activities rhyming with the corresponding number: “When the old clock strikes the hour of five/five skeletitos jump up and jive.” The recurring refrain in Spanish (“Tumba-laca tumba-laca tumba tumba,/tumba-laca tumba-laca tumba-la”) is a clever play on the Spanish word for tomb, tumba, and the Mexican word for skeleton, calaca. The English translation is just as effective, playing with the word tomb. Readers familiar with other books in the series will recognize some of the characters, only this time in friendly skeleton shapes, the illustrations all in black-and-white as befits the theme of the song. Observant readers will discover a surprise bonus: the cover glows in the dark! ­VERDICT Use this for a Day of the Dead storytime program, but do not limit it to that—it’s too much fun!–­Lucia Acosta, Children’s ­Literature ­Specialist, NJ

Long, Ethan. Valensteins. illus. by Ethan Long. 32p. Bloomsbury. Dec. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619634336.

K-Gr 2–This delightful follow-up to Long’s Fright Club gives readers a glimpse into the heart of Fran (Frankenstein). When his friends catch him making a valentine, at first they can’t figure out what he is doing. Vlad and the others’ interpretations of what the pink heart represents are quite funny. Vlad thinks that the heart is a pair of fangs, the witch thinks it’s a bat, the mummy thinks it’s a nose, and the ghost thinks it’s a paper butt. Bunny is the only one who recognizes the heart for what it is, and when she announces it to the others, shock and horror ensue. A hilarious discussion of what exactly love is and how it is expressed occurs. Bunny explains that a kiss on the lips is the ultimate expression of love. Vlad and the others, except Fran, decry the yuckiness of it all. Fran leaves once he can no longer take the ridiculous behavior of his friends and meets up with the source of all the fuss. Then he remembers what love really is. With perfect insight into a child’s view of romance, this humorous book will undoubtedly resonate with young and old. VERDICT A brilliant combination of scary Halloween creatures and Valentine’s Day sweetness. A first purchase that does double holiday storytime duty.–Heidi Grange, Summit Elementary School, Smithfield, UT

Murguia, Bethanie. The Too-Scary ­Story. illus. by Bethanie Murguia. 40p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545732420.

PreS-Gr 1–Papa offers to tell the kids a bedtime story. Grace, the brave older child, wants it to be creepy and scary. Younger Walter doesn’t feel the same way. His sister assures him that all will be fine. She will have her wand with them for protection. Papa starts the story with the two children going for a walk in the forest on a dark night. This is a bit too scary for Walter, so Papa adds harmless fireflies. Unfortunately, they’re not creepy enough for Grace, so her father introduces all kinds of other creatures. When footsteps and shadows enter the tale, Walter hopes Grace’s wand will keep them away, but she is unsure about its ability to help. As the narrative progresses, the children’s fear brings them closer together and their courage grows. It’s difficult to find a bedtime story that is good for all ages, especially when one child wants it to be scary. This book does a good job of balancing gentle and slightly scary details. The background during the bedtime story is dark and muted. The illustrations of the children are bright enough to stand out against the murkiness. The contrasting text differentiates the characters’ voices from the bedtime story their father is telling. The children’s expressions are well portrayed, from happy to frustrated to somewhat frightened. Even the family dog gets in on the act. VERDICT This is a fun bedtime, or anytime, selection for young ones.–Barbara Spiri, Southborough Library, MA

redstarRylant, Cynthia. Herbert’s First Halloween. illus. by Steven Henry. 32p. Chronicle. Aug. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781452125336.

Toddler-PreS–Herbert, like many other young children, is just a little bit anxious about his first Halloween. The text is simple yet conversational. The clear but somewhat muted illustrations allow for a slow, thoughtful exploration about this upcoming challenge. Father is very patient, letting Herbert make his own decisions about what he will be and carefully measuring the little one step-by-step for a tiger costume. Herbert’s confidence increases as he practices his roar in the closet. As his courage grows, so will that of the children enjoying his story. The pumpkins are carved with happy faces and named Jack, which will help dispel fear of the holiday. The spread depicting the overview of neighborhood children out trick-or-treating is somewhat lit; readers will be able to identify all the costumes. Rylant and Henry know children well and it shows; this book is sure to become a dog-eared favorite. VERDICT This winning introduction to Halloween meets young children where they are, and will be a welcome addition to all libraries. Day care centers and new parents will appreciate it greatly.–Elizabeth Swartz, Warrior Run School District, PA

Schwartz, Alvin. In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. illus. by Victor Rivas. 64p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062643384; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780062643377.

K-Gr 2–Newly illustrated by Rivas, this standard easy reader title will be a charming addition to holiday shelves. Young readers craving something creepy will find much to appreciate in these seven (not too) scary selections. “The Teeth” features characters with ever-larger teeth, while the book’s eponymous story uses repetition to reveal a wild-haired green ghost, effectively laid out on a spread. The entries are sufficiently scary for beginning readers who will likely delight in reading and retelling them. Detailed illustrations à la Edward Gorey, paired with a somber palette, depict characters with wide eyes and frightful expressions. A description of the tales’ origins rounds out the book. ­VERDICT This reillustrated edition of the 1984 collection of scary stories will deliver shivers to a new generation.–Ramarie Beaver, Plano Public Library System, TX

Shea, Bob. The Scariest Book Ever. illus. by Bob Shea. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484730461.

K-Gr 2–Silliness abounds in Shea’s latest work. The narrator, a small ghost, doesn’t want readers to go into the scary woods, because it is full of frightening things. He’d rather stay home and wash his sheet and eat doughnuts. He’s skeptical when he hears about a cute bunny, cupcakes, and Halloween party but agrees to go into the woods to save readers from the super scary monsters. When he goes into the woods he is frightened away by the monsters, but then learns that it is just the animals in costume. He enjoys the joke, the party, and the cupcakes. The book is full of funny artwork with bright colors and comic characters. Children will get a laugh at the ghost’s belly full of doughnuts. The realization that the ghost is essentially naked after taking off his sheet to wash will also amuse young readers. VERDICT A hilarious book that will keep the giggles coming, this will be a hit for Halloween read-alouds.–V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies ­Magnet Elementary School, Raleigh, NC

Sloat, Teri. Zip! Zoom! On a Broom. illus. by Rosalinde Bonnet. 40p. Little, Brown. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316256735.

PreS-Gr 1–In this counting book, rhyming text follows one, two, three, and up to 10 witches as they gather on a single broom for a perilously crowded flight. They zip, glide, and dive as they haunt, chant, incant, rave, and rant. One by one they “hit reverse” and leave the broom, pushing for room, they “squabble…squirm…topple” off, sliding down through lightning and a drenching rain, before slipping down into the night. Detailed ink sketches of each individual witch (a diverse collection of cartoon characters highlighted in watercolor) fill scenes of towering castles, a helpful resident dragon, animated skeletons tending the graveyard, and nighttime frolics around cauldrons. Miniscule bats hang from the ceiling of Dracula’s rooms, and witches dangle upside down from the larger broom, while a lone little witch finally escapes with her faithful kitten across a harvest moon. ­VERDICT A mildly spooky general purchase for all libraries, this may be just the ticket for detail-driven independent readers, who will enjoy finding the lightly hidden numbers on each page or perhaps telling the story behind each scene.–Mary Elam, Learning Media Services, Plano ISD, TX

Stine, R.L. Mary McScary. illus. by Marc Brown. 40p. Scholastic. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338038569.

PreS-Gr 2–In this their second picture book collaboration, Stine and Brown introduce Mary McScary. Mary delights in scaring everyone but can’t find a way to frighten her cousin Harry, so she pulls out all the stops when he comes to visit. Giant spiders, a ferocious gorilla, slimy snakes, a hungry hippo—Mary moans in despair as each dastardly deed backfires. Harry cuddles with the spiders, rides the gorilla, hugs the snakes, and tickles the hippo. Just when it seems like the red-haired fiend will give up, Mary concocts her most devious scheme yet: a kiss! With a long scream, Harry flees, and Mary reminds readers why she is truly scary. Brown’s collage illustrations are the real showstopper in this cute, if slightly predictable, story. Mary’s expressive close-ups, especially her evil mastermind realization that leads to Harry’s downfall, perfectly capture her terrifying charm without plunging the story into depths too spooky. Bright, bold colors stretch across the pages, and Brown’s inclusion of famous artwork on the walls, such as Edvard Munch’s The Scream, is a subtle nod to the macabre. Stine’s use of repetition and patterning makes this an ideal choice for sharing aloud with children, and Harry’s humorous responses to Mary’s scares allows it to be a gentle choice for younger audiences. VERDICT A first purchase holiday selection for school and public libraries.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI

Taylor, Sean. I Want To Be in a Scary Story. illus. by Jean Jullien. 32p. Candlewick. Jul. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763689537.

PreS-Gr 1–A conversation between Little Monster and an unseen narrator plays out through a series of alternating visual spreads. Initially, the purple monster is positioned on a solid white background. As the narrator begins telling a story, the monster enters the scene like a movie backdrop. As details about the tale change, the monster goes in and out of the scene as it shifts. Capturing the exact teetering feeling of a child who wants to be adventurous, Little Monster is simultaneously thrilled and afraid. The narrator asks, “Is that too scary?” “Just a little!” answers Little Monster. Eventually he decides that he wants to do the scaring, taking control of the narrative and turning it around. The digital illustrations look as though they were created with markers, making them well suited to the idea of a child coming up with ideas. The interactive nature of the text invites readers to imagine their own versions and how they would respond given the monster’s choices. VERDICT A fun premise, imaginative book design, and appealing illustrations make this book a terrific choice for spooky-themed storytimes.–­Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA


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