More Treats Than Tricks: New Halloween Picture Books
October 5, 2022 § Leave a comment
“H—A—double L—O—W—double E—N spells Halloween!” Anyone else remember learning that song in Kindergarten? Anyone else still need to sing it to remember how to spell the holiday? Just me?
Most years, I do you a solid and highlight just one stellar new Halloween picture book. This year, I couldn’t choose so you’re getting seven (sorry, not sorry). Actually, one of them—Oliver Jeffers’ There’s a Ghost in This House—you’ve seen before. It came out last year but, due to supply chain issues, juuuussst missed a Halloween release. That meant it made my Gift Guide instead—I mean, a haunted house is a haunted house any time of year—and lots of you have told me how beloved it has become in your house. But if you were NOT one of those folks, you get a do-over this year. Phew.
So, yes, Halloween picture books are especially strong this year! But before we get started, I always like to use these posts as an excuse to dip back into the archives. Last year, there was our dear Vampenguin. Who remembers The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt the year before that? Gah, I love that one! There was also I am a Witch’s Cat, Vampirina Ballerina, The Monsters’ Monster, and that doesn’t include a few other favorites I’ve highlighted on Instagram over the years.
Now let’s see what this year has brought us.
A Spoonful of Frogs
by Casey Lyall, illus. Vera Brosgol
And the winner for the funniest read aloud on this list goes to—drumroll, please—A Spoonful of Frogs! A story about a cooking show gone wrong, this one’s guaranteed to make a comedian out of you. We play the part of a perky witch, who is being filmed in a studio kitchen making Frog Soup, “a witch’s favorite treat.”
The witch drops each ingredient into her cauldron—from garlic to carrots, potatoes to fly extract—with perfect poise. Until she comes to the final and most important ingredient: a spoonful of frogs (for “kick of flavor” and “pop of color”). Well, the frogs aren’t having it, and they proceed to dodge her wooden spoon, her hat, and even an upside down pot until they’ve wreaked havoc on the set and escaped out the window. How our witch (who is really us, remember) attempts to maintain her cool throughout—everything’s fine, everything’s fine— will have young audiences in stitches. Oh, and Vera Brosgol’s clean, vibrant art is fabulous.
Leila the Perfect Witch
by Flavia Z. Drago
While we’re on the subject of culinary arts, let me introduce you to Leila, who learns a thing or two about process versus outcome when she attempts to enter The Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off to prove her prowess in the Dark Arts of Patisserie. Leila, you see, is used to excelling in everything she does, from conjuring to shape shifting, and she has the trophies to prove it. (The book isn’t titled Leila the Perfect Witch for nothing.) Why should baking be any different? (If the art style looks familiar, it’s because Flavia Z. Drago is the one who brought us Gustavo the Shy Ghost.)
Oh, but baking is not the piece of cake Leila expects! It tries at her patience and her determination, her experimentation and her creativity—to no avail. Only when Leila opens herself up to help from her sisters does she begin to realize that sometimes learning new skills and enjoying yourself in the process is more important than achieving perfection.
Blood! Not Just a Vampire Drink
by Stacy McAnulty; illus. Shawna J. C. Tenney
You know what makes a tasty snack if you’re a vampire? Blood! Thankfully for us humans, the young vampire in this book promises 100% blood-free drinks in his “I Don’t Vant to Suck Your Blood Smoothie Shop.” “Blood doesn’t belong in my blenders,” he explains to a disgruntled Count who’s craving a glass of O-positive. “It belongs in the cardiovascular systems.”
Stacy McAnulty consistently turns out some of the most engaging STEM-themed picture books. Last year brought Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack and now, with Blood! Not Just a Vampire Drink, we get the perfect blend of fact and funny to introduce young listeners to what blood is, how it moves around, its many jobs, and why we should donate it. With comic interruptions from the Count, who is not having a celery-banana smoothie thank you very much, we learn about the heart, the difference between red and white blood cells, and the colors other than red that animal blood can sometimes take. Bonus points for getting to speak in your best vampire accent.
The Most Haunted House in America
by Jarrett Dapier; illus. Lee Gatlin
In 2009, Jarrett Dapier—author of the 2021 fave, Mr. Watson’s Chickens—was invited by the First Lady to play the drums at the White House during the Obamas’ first Halloween party. Therein was born the inspiration for The Most Haunted House in America, a rhyming, rollicking tale starring the Skeleton Drummers, who jam alongside trick-or-treating children and presidential ghosts alike. As the Author’s Note tells us, the White House has consistently reported more ghost sightings for over a century than any other house, and Lee Gatlin’s delightfully macabre illustrations—a Red Room “swarming with souls,” a Demon Cat in the portrait hall—ensure we get a peek into what it might look like if all these alleged ghosts came out to party at one time.
Along with insights into alleged hauntings—Abraham Lincoln and Abigail Adams both make ghostly appearances—readers are treated to a host of words and phrases that will improve their musical lexicon. “A CLINK! and a SHAKE! In the dim, haunted gloam/ we skeletons ROCK the president’s home./ Thousand-pound pumpkins aglow in the gloom,/ we howl as we drum—a soundtrack of DOOM!” Sign me up.
by Aaron Reynolds; illus. Peter Brown
He’s baaaa-aaack! If you know Creepy Carrots—one of the first books I ever blogged about here—then you’ve already met Jasper Rabbit. And if you know Creepy Underwear, then you know Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown realized they were onto something good. This year, the dynamic duo closes out their delightfully Hitchcockian trilogy with Creepy Crayon, featuring a sinister purple crayon.
When Jasper first happens upon the purple crayon lying in a storm drain, he can’t believe his good fortune: the crayon takes his spelling tests for him, aces his math quizzes, and frees up his homework time for video games. Who cares if the crayon stares back at him with its strange little eyes? And yet, it soon becomes clear that the crayon’s assistance comes at a pricey cost: said crayon has latched onto Jasper like a stalker in the night. No matter where Jasper tries to hide him, the crayon resurfaces. On top of it, Jasper starts feeling uncomfortable accepting praise for work he didn’t do. But how do you break up with a crayon that has a (dark) mind of its own? Young listeners will be too busy laughing to remember to be scared.
A Friend for Ghost
by Suzanne Kaufman
Are you ready to meet the cutest ghost in picture book history? LOOK AT THAT FACE! The oversized spectacles! The rosy cheeks! The tiny T-rex arms! Do you recognize that this is the same illustrator as All Are Welcome and Big Feelings (two of the most popular teacher titles I know)? I certainly didn’t. I’m so taken with her loose, watery brush strokes and fine, inky lines in A Friend for Ghost. They combine to create such depth of feeling: the yearning for connection, the joy when that connection is found.
Ghost lives in a dark attic above a noisy, oblivious family. Even when Ghost is underfoot, no one ever seems to notice. Until one day a red balloon floats over to where Ghost is seated on a park bench. Could this be the friend Ghost has longed for? Soon the two are seesawing together and sharing ice cream, the balloon sporting a grin to match Ghost’s (technically, Ghost drew it on with a black marker). But maybe, just maybe, the balloon isn’t the One. Maybe, just maybe, the balloon is a means to an end.
There’s a Ghost in This House
by Oliver Jeffers
As I said in the intro, when this 88-page homage to ghosts made last year’s Gift Guide, after missing Halloween by a week because the tracing paper overlays presented a printing challenge, people didn’t miss a beat. They lined up to buy it anyway. Because There’s a Ghost in This House is not only one of the most visually unique books I’ve ever seen, it’s also hilarious.
“Hello. Please come in. […] Perhaps you could help me?” Oliver Jeffers loves breaking with tradition in picture books, and here he breaks the fourth wall, allowing his protagonist to address the reader directly as she tries (and fails) to find the ghost allegedly haunting her 18th-century mansion. But it’s the reader who’s really in the driver’s seat here, manipulating overlays to the austere black-and-white photographs to reveal, not one, but a multitude of adorable ghosts right under the girl’s nose. Cue the giggles.
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Books published by Greenwillow, Candlewick Press, Henry Holt, Abrams, Simon & Schuster, Neal Porter Books, & Philomel, respectively. All opinions are my own. Links support the beautiful Old Town Books, where I am the children’s buyer (and yes, we ship!).