Five Spooky Picture Books for You and Your Little Terror: Part One
As mentioned in my first post for this wonderful, morbid (and beautiful) website, my mom would, during the month of October, read me books with tales to chill your bones. And while many of these books were anthologies, or chapter books she grew up with, there were also a good handful of picture books. There were also books that straddled the line between picture book and chapter books that she would call our “Halloween books” and would lug down from the attic in big boxes every 1st of October — swapping out the other books on the shelves in my play room for these that were much more appropriate for the season.
I have selected of some of my favorites, scanned their covers and added a memory or two for your reading pleasure. I hope to encourage you to seek these books out for your own scary shelves — if not for your own, than for your child’s shelves… that is, if you have the pleasure of one lurking in your house and refusing to eat vegetables. If that is the case, I would recommend that you seek out the Bunnicula series by James Howe (who I met once upon a dreary evening), a story about a vampire rabbit with a taste for carrots.
Note: The following list is in no particular order:
1. The Mystery of Mineral Gorge by Julia Van Nutt and Robert Van Nutt
To start with, this book is one of six in the Cobtown series. A series of books all written by the talented Julia Van Nutt and illustrated by the equally talented Robert Van Nutt, all of which are worth reading (this one especially). All the books read like journal entries written by Lucky Hart, a 10 year old girl who lives in the mid-1800s in the idyllic, and sometimes spooky, community of Cobtown. In The Mystery of Mineral Gorge the residents of Cobtown are scared stiff upon hearing “horrific wailing” coming from Mineral Gorge, which they believe is the ghost of the woman in white who met her end while caught in a blizzard near raven rock. This book genuinely terrified me with its delightful, yet creepy illustrations and fine writing (not to mention the fact that here where I live we have our own woman or lady in white, see my previous article). And I can vividly remember shaking in my bed under the covers with the image of the frozen visage of the woman in white ingrained in my mind. I would recommend this book (and the other books on this list) for children between the edges of 6-12. However, it’s truly a terrifying treasure for all ages and should be read beside a warm fire or night light.
2. The Magic Wood by Henry Treece and Barry Moser
The Magic Wood, as the back of the book states, was originally published in a collection of poems titled The Black Seasons, by Henry Treece, published by Faber and Faber in 1945 and was also present in Collected Poems by Henry Faber, published by Alfred Knopf in 1946. The poem is by Henry Treece and is accompanied with chilling paintings by Barry Moser (who also illustrated the anthology: Scary Stories (not to be confused with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). The poem and illustrations evoke pagan folk horror vibes, as well as the theme of fear of the wood and the little folk, (goblins, fairies, sprites and trolls to name a few, not to mention the devil himself) evoking early agrarian European and early Puritan superstitions. Suffice it to say this book is perfectly petrifying and will leave you and your little one cautious about venturing in the woods for an autumn hike any time soon. Then again, it may prompt you too (know I it did me)!
3. The Ghost-Eye Tree By Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Ted Rand
As you can see, my copy is welllll loved, which should say something right there. This book, written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and illustrated by Ted Rand, is one my mom read to me every Halloween. The Ghost-Eye Tree follows a boy and his sister as they go out at night to fetch a bucket of milk at the end of town, for their mother and have to pass by the Ghost-Eye Tree to get there and back. This brings back memories I’m sure must of us have of a certain place, be it a room in our house, a house itself, a cemetery, a tree, or a road, that in our minds was undoubtedly haunted. Whether this place was reputed to be haunted, or it just gave off that creepy vibe that kids and their imaginations are attuned to, we knew to pass with caution i.e. as fast as we possibly could. Which makes this book all the more relatable (and scary) for kids and adults who remember having their own ghost-eye tree when they were young. With that said, if you think you and your tike are brave enough to pass it by, and won’t lose your hats in the process (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book) then I recommend that you go to the edge of town to get this book. Then get you and your youngster a glass of milk and start reading.
4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Retold by Robert D. San Souci and Daniel San Souci
This classic tale by Washington Irving as retold by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by his brother Daniel San Souci, (the former also being the author of many other spooky and scary horror tomes for tots including: A Terrifying Taste of Short & Shivery: Thirty Creepy Tales; Double-Dare to Be Scared: Another Thirteen Chilling Tales and Dare To Be Scared: Thirteen Stories To Chill And Thrill among many others, including another October favorite: Feathertop.) The book is sumptuous in its illustrations which perfectly compliment Robert D. San Souci’s retelling. I own at least 10 (if not more) copies of this story, some retold, some with the original text, some abridged, all illustrated, and this version still continues to be my favorite. Ever since my mom read me this retelling, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been my number one favorite horror story, right up there next to Dracula (my other number one favorite). It even prompted my mom to buy me a framed painting of the Headless Horseman by a local artist that I now keep hanging over my bed. With that said I love the original tale, but for kids this is the version you want to use to introduce them to the story with the hope that they’ll take the time when they’re older to read the unabridged text. So don’t tarry (that’s a pun, read it and you’ll see what I mean)! Go galloping out and get this book for you and your kid!
5. The Haunted House (Disney’s Wonderful World of Reading) By Walt Disney Productions
I don’t know about you, but I loved Disney as a youngster. Throw in a haunted house and some spooky illustrations and I’m beyond excited. This book was a mainstay in the stable of picture books my mom would read to me during the Halloween season, and never ceased to thrill me even when I knew it cover to cover. It follows Mickey, Donald and Pluto as they venture into a haunted house in search of gas for their car. The book is just the right amount of spooky and funny with a Scooby-Doo like ending. If your kid likes Disney and doesn’t mind a haunted house and three “ghosts” thrown in, this is perfect bedtime reading that won’t leave your little monster with nightmares. So make sure your car has enough gas and go and get this book before bed time!