Zombies and Skeletons and Vampires, Oh My! | 10 Picks for Elementary Readers

These 10 autumnal titles, while featuring ghosts and goblins, are also full of funny and tender moments that celebrate harvests, families, and child-friendly fun. All are perfect for Halloween sharing.

'Tis the season for carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating, and sharing stories that send a shiver down one's spine. These 10 autumnal titles, while featuring ghosts and goblins, are also full of funny and tender moments that celebrate harvests, families, and child-friendly fun. All are perfect for Halloween sharing. 


BATEMAN, Teresa. Ghastly Ghosts. illus. by Ken Lamug. 32p. Albert Whitman. Sept. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807528648.
Gr 1-3–Dave, a gentle man with a white beard, moves into his deceased uncle’s cabin and finds it a lonely place. He soon hears moans, groans, and wails, noises that he attributes to mice or drafty windows. However, voices shrieking “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” are harder to explain away. Lamug’s artwork does a marvelous job of showing scenes that are off-kilter on one page and then normal the next. For instance, the tilted windows and open door of the dilapidated old coal shed give it a menacing visage the closer Dave gets to revealing its secrets, but the shed looks normal once the ghosts inside are revealed to be just as lonely as the man himself. The text seems to be a hair smaller than in many picture books for this age group, and it is tucked away in the beams of the cabin, the sloped ceiling of the attic, and in the pale yellow glow of the moon. The small size and location of the text practically dares readers to lean in closer to the artwork, making it all the more jarring when a large, bold, stylized typeface is suddenly used to convey the ghosts’ shrieks. Text placing is spot-on throughout, up until the last page where the text subtly leads readers’ eyes to the coal shed, no longer looking carnivorous. The final scene is heartwarming with Dave and the ghosts enjoying a fun time by the fire, lonely souls who have found one another. VERDICT Bateman plays with the frightening horror tropes of isolation and creepy old cabins but gives them a child-friendly spin in the end. Recommended for anyone who wants an eerie tale with a cheery ending.–Chance Lee Joyner, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, NH

BATTIGELLI, Rosanna. Pumpkin Orange, Pumpkin Round. illus. by Tara Anderson. 24p. Pajama Pr. Sept. 2019. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781772780925.
PreS–After visiting a pumpkin patch, a pair of cats and their kittens pick pumpkins and take them home with them. Once home, they make jack-o’-lanterns, with the parent cats helping their children carve their pumpkins. The kittens then get ready for Halloween, putting on costumes, and the whole crew goes trick-or-treating together before returning home, hearing a bedtime story, and going to sleep. While not groundbreaking, this is a pleasant and suitable Halloween-themed picture book. The rhymes are short and rhythmic, although there are a couple of clunkers, such as the unfortunate attempt to rhyme “chum” with “mom.” Despite a few uneven rhymes, the repetition and simplicity of the text make this an appealing choice for group-sharing during storytime. The art, created with colored pencil and acrylic glaze on watercolor paper, is warm and fuzzy, providing a safe, not-so-scary depiction of Halloween that is appropriate for young listeners. The book concludes with instructions on how children can carve their own jack-o’-lanterns, emphasizing the need for an adult helper. VERDICT A safe bet for libraries looking for autumnal and Halloween-themed picture books for the youngest patrons.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

GOODNER, David. Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet. illus. by Louis Thomas. 40p. HMH. Jul. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544764163.
PreS-Gr 3–Goblins don’t want dogs, cats, or even bearded dragons for pets. They prefera fearsome kraken, an acid-spitting alien, or a basilisk that turns people into stone. But little Ginny Goblin will settle for a plain old goat if she can’t have anything else. After an unseen narrator tells her that she can’t have goats in the house because it’s too much work to take care of them, Ginny is told to find a more appropriate pet—one that is not a monster. On her quest, Ginny dives into the deepest ocean, plumbs caves, and blasts herself into outer space and encounters a wide variety of monsters there. Thomas’s colorful illustrations are packed with personality. Ginny stands out on every page, even when she’s at the bottom on the sea in a submarine dwarfed by an enormous squid. All the while, she never loses her impish grin. Each spread features fun details to look at, from the little goblin’s colorful unicorn chair to her baiting a basilisk with a cupcake. Goodner’s text is conversational and bemused with Ginny’s antics, despite her persistent disobedience. The unseen narrator eventually acquiesces and allows Ginny to keep a goat, after all of her alternative choices prove too monstrous. VERDICT Although not necessarily modelling ideal parenting, this title is sure to please children whether or not they want a pet of their own. Readers will find Ginny’s adventures and the tone of the text a hoot.–Chance Lee Joyner, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, NH

redstarHEMINGWAY, Blaise & Jesse Reffsin. Ghost: Thirteen Haunting Tales To Tell. illus. by Chris Sasaki & Jeff Turley. 160p. Chronicle. Aug. 2019. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781452171289.
Gr 3 Up–In this collection of chills, 13 scary stories with roots in many childhood experiences are brought to life. Classics such as a disturbing doll, what lurks underwater, hungry monsters, mysterious old librarians, delightfully disturbing ghosts, and the unknown are explored. The tales vary as to how scary they can be, but each one draws from childhood fears and urban legends that continue to frighten each new generation. Some stories are in rhyming verse, others are in short prose paragraphs, and some include sound effects. Some of the selections are short, some are longer, and one story acts as an envelope to deliver the delightfully horrible tales straight to readers front step. Wonderful illustrations help to depict the fear within each story and leave readers with a lasting image to haunt them for days. The text is always clear against these illustrations, making it easy to read about what lies in the darkness in certain tales, while highlighting the dangers within. While there are some mentions and illustrations of blood and traumatic injuries, they are not severe and can be easily skipped for those who want horror that is not too real. Overall, this is a delightfully horrific and atmospheric collection to share aloud or read under the blankets with a flashlight. VERDICT A collection of creepy stories perfect for children who want a good scare.–Margaret Kennelly, iSchool at Urbana-Champaign, IL

MARIE, Lynne. Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale. illus. by David Rodriguez Lorenzo. 40p. Sterling. Aug. 2019. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454930617.
K-Gr 3–This spooky retelling of a familiar fairy tale introduces readers to the Scares, a family of three in a house built for four. Papa Scare is a Frankenstein’s monster, Mama Scare is a mummy, and Baby Scare is a wee vampire. When they go out to walk Plasma, their ghost dog, a zombie named Moldilocks sneaks into their house, eats their Alpha-Bat Soup, sits in an electric chair, and eventually falls asleep under Baby Scare’s vampire-bat quilt. Marie’s text hews closely to the structure of the classic tale in a way that will either feel comfortably familiar or unoriginal and redundant, depending on one’s point of view. Lorenzo’s cartoonish characters are more friendly than frightening. Papa wears a giant oven mitt and Mama has tall Marge Simpson-meets-Bride of Frankenstein hair. The colorful scenery is packed with spooky details, like the mummy mom’s “bed” being a sarcophagus. The penciled colors take the edge off any frights and create a gently macabre atmosphere. When the Scares find Moldilocks, there is an initial frightening moment of suspense—what will these monsters do to her? It turns out they adopt the apparently orphaned zombie girl into their mixed-up monster family. VERDICT This change to the traditional ending adds a warm element of familial acceptance. Recommended for a Halloween storytime.–Chance Lee Joyner, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, NH

NORMAN, Kim. Give Me Back My Bones! illus. by Bob Kolar. 40p. Candlewick. Jul. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763688417.
PreS-Gr 2–At the bottom of the ocean, a pirate’s skeleton has become scattered. Piece by piece, it is retrieved from its marine home and reassembled. While doing so, it sings a little shanty describing major bones from the scapula to the mandible. These are not sterile, dictionary descriptions, rather they are quite playful, such as describing a skull as “the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone.” Norman’s jaunty scheme reuses an ending word in the first three lines, before breaking off in the final line with a different one and some alliteration. It is a structure that places stress on the actual term in a memorable way. Even the digital illustrations keep the focus on the topical character through the color choices. The depths are a darker blue, and nothing else has that exact shade of white or gray. VERDICT For preschool and kindergarten students curious about the inner workings of the human body, this is an engaging seasonal introduction to one aspect of it.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

PAWLAK, Pawel. Oscar Seeks a Friend. tr. from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. illus. by Pawel Pawlak. 40p. Lantana. Sept. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781911373797.
PreS-Gr 2–Friends often appear when they are most needed and least expected. Oscar the skeleton wishes for nothing more than a friend, but he knows that with a missing tooth, his appearance is likely to be off-putting to anyone who does not know him. One day, he sees a young girl burying a tooth in the ground, and he approaches her. Both Oscar and the little girl need the tooth she is burying, but for different reasons: Oscar needs it to complete his smile, while the little girl needs it to make a wish. However, what they both truly desire is to find a friend. Together, the two set out in search of one, discovering something unexpected along the way. Three-dimensional paper collage is used to create the eye-catching illustrations in this book. Though the pages are smooth, they appear to be textured because of this unique illustrative technique. The skeleton’s resemblance both to Día de los Muertos characters and those in The Nightmare Before Christmas fit this book squarely into the realm of Halloween, though the story itself is unrelated. Since the book is written in the first person, Oscar tells his story directly to readers. Pages of descriptive narrative are separated by wordless spreads that progress the story in ways that words cannot. VERDICT This is a delightfully unique and heartwarming story about friendship that is excellent for any library serving young children.–Mary Lanni, formerly at Denver Public Library

SHASKAN, Trisha Speed. The Itty-Bitty Witch. illus. by Xindi Yan. 32p. Amazon/Two Lions. Jul. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781542041232.
PreS-Gr 2–Betty is excited for her first day as a first-grade witch, until Abby and Sam started teasing her for still using a kinder-broom. When Sam and the other kids (except Taylor) began to call her Itty Bitty, it makes her feel small inside. But when Ms. Fit announces the Halloween Dash broom race, Betty knows that winning will banish that nickname for good. After a month of practice during which Betty tries all sorts of things (running start, nose dives, arm flapping) to help her kinder-broom keep up and puts up with more teasing, it is time for the race. After falling behind, Betty has the Big Idea to use her small size to go through a cave that her bigger classmates cannot manage (“Wicked! Taylor cheered”). Her cleverness puts her in the lead and she wins to the shock, then delight, of her classmates, who chant “Itty Betty! Itty Betty!” This is a nickname Betty likes that makes her feel big inside. Shaskan’s serviceable text is paired with Yan’s crisp, digital illustrations featuring large-eyed children, good action scenes, and plenty of Halloween ephemera—bats, jack-o’-lanterns, pointy witch hats. VERDICT A Halloween-themed mixed-bag about being different and using that difference to win the big race. Purchase as needed.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH

TOHT, Patricia. Pick a Pumpkin. illus. by Jarvis. 40p. illus. Candlewick. Jul. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781536207644.
PreS-Gr 1–This rhythmically rhyming holiday homage begins at the pumpkin patch with an unnamed family picking pumpkins, “tall and lean/or short and fat./Vivid orange,/ghostly white,/or speckled green/might be just right,” then heading home. Before carving can begin, pumpkins must be cleaned, tools gathered, friends invited, and innards removed—“Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings./Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.” Now the carving can begin with all its creative choices—“A kiss. A frown./A toothy grin./ A zigzag gap/cut long and thin./A smirk. A snarl./An eerie O./Or pointy fangs,/all in a row.” Next comes decorations, then costumes and finally with a light inside, “LOOK! /It’s not a pumpkin anymore—It’s a…JACK-O’-LANTERN!” Toht’s fun-to-read text is generally spot-on, and really captures the spirit of Halloween traditions in a family friendly way. Using pencil, chalk, paint and digital coloring, Jarvis’s illustrations have the look and fell of collage. This and their muted fall color palette truly capture the feeling of autumn and the slightly spookiness of Halloween. Excellent depictions of a variety of jack-o’-lanterns, action scenes, and the inclusion of various thematic critters, such as crows, black cat, mice, and spiders. VERDICT While this books focuses on making a jack-o’-lantern from beginning to end, it also covers the Halloween traditions of scary decorations and trick-or-treating. Perfect for storytime and a good addition to your Halloween books.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH

WATKINS, Caroline. Giracula. illus. by Mark Tuchman. 32p. Persnickety. Sept. 2019. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781943978458.
PreS-Gr 2–Giracula is a portmanteau that is so fun to say aloud, it’s almost worth purchasing the book for the title alone. When a giraffe is bitten by a vampire bat, he wakes up with fangs, a cloak, and a curious craving for the red stuff—cherry pie. Watkins tells Giracula’s story in rhyming text, a ballad giving the origin story of this mythical giraffe/vampire hybrid. Some of the rhymes are a stretch, like “disheartened” with “ice cream carton.” The rhythm is relatively consistent, but there are a few clunkers that trip up the tongue. The banana-yellow character of Giracula has an appealing look. Bold lines, pointy ears, and googily eyes make for a lovable cartoon creature who craves sweets instead of blood. Tuchman’s people are less inspired, although he does depict a diverse range of human characters. Background compositions are scattershot, lacking the cohesive vision of the title character. Some are detailed while others are composed of only a solid color. Odd little details, like a lion operating a remote-controlled drone, add whimsical charm, but objects and environments often look different from one page to the next, leaving the fanged hero without a solid sense of place. It’s also unclear how he can go out in the sun, and why he craves sugar instead of blood. VERDICT Rough around the edges, but possibly appealing to fans of giraffes, vampires, or protagonists with a sweet tooth.–Chance Lee Joyner, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, NH

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