This Halloween brings to bookstores tales of candy corn

Saturday, October 18, 2003

There is something innately scary about most of the ghosts, goblins, witches and monsters that star in children's Halloween books, but pumpkins usually escape the spook treatment. Until now.

A not-quite-ripe pumpkin relishes his role as protector of the field once the local scarecrow becomes too busy fending off a flock of nasty black birds in "The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin" (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 3-6).

And once three children give him a makeover with a nose shaped like a witch's hat and jagged teeth, he breaks out into a "happy" song: "Ho, ho, ho! He, he he! Mice will run when they see me!"

The story was written in the 1930s by Margaret Wise Brown, the author of "Goodnight Moon," who died 50 years ago, but this is its first publication. Illustrator Richard Egielski created the menacing-yet-somehow-sweet face of the pumpkin.

The only way to describe the main character of "The Runaway Pumpkin" (Scholastic, $15.95, ages 4-7) by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by S.D. Schindler is larger than life. So, when members of the Baxter family try to stop this gigantic orange ball as it rolls down a hill, headed toward their home, they are faced with more than a few challenges.

The advantage, though, of such a big fruit is that there is enough to make soup, bread and pie -- and a jack-o'-lantern with a twinkle in his eye.

Marceline, a curious little witch, asks the Halloween questions that many children and probably as many adults have in "Hallo-What?" (McElderry, $14.95, ages 4-8) by Christel Desmoinaux.

She learns that people used to light bonfires to protect themselves from evil spirits and that, according to an Irish legend, the first jack-o'-lantern was made of a turnip, not a pumpkin.

Of course, Halloween has since become a happy holiday and little witches and children go from house to house collecting sweets, Grandma explains to Marceline.

Paddington Bear portrait artist R.W. Alley brings to life a fun-loving, green-faced lady in "There Once Was a Witch" (HarperCollins, $6.99, ages 1-3), set to the words of the traditional song of the same name.

The witch breezes into town on her broomstick, with her trusty cat in tow, and riles up the local trick-or-treaters.

Four goblins, three scarecrows and two cats help "One Witch" (Walker & Co., $15.95 ages 3-8) fill her empty pot.

Once she gets cooking, the witch invites all her pals to a spooky bash in this book by Laura Leuck and illustrated by Schindler. This crew, which also includes five vampires, six mummies, seven owls, eight ghosts, nine skeletons and 10 werewolves, even saves a bowl of brew for you!

The main character in Jane Yolen's "The Flying Witch" (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 3-6), illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, is a composite of the hags in old Russian folktales.

Baby Yaga persuades a young girl to climb onto a very nontraditional broomstick and the witch fully intends to eat her guest for supper. But then the girl convinces the witch that turnips are far tastier than she is and they end up breaking bread -- er, slurping stew -- together.

Another unusual friendship is forged in "Dracula and Frankenstein Are Friends" (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 3-8) by Katherine Tegen and illustrated by Doug Cushman.

The neighbors, who live in a place where no one thinks it's odd to have your house's shades pulled down all day or to have an electrical conductor on your roof, battle boredom by playing tricks on the townspeople. But a prank that Dracula pulls on Frankenstein almost backfires, until his conscience gets the best of him.

"The Essential Worldwide Monster Guide" (Simon & Schuster, $16.95, ages 4-8) is a map locating 13 of the planet's legendary scary creatures including Loch Ness in Scotland, Sasquatch in North America and Hotot in Armenia. Linda Ashman describes the monsters in a rhyming text and illustrator David Small offers his vision of what these monsters look like.

Humor takes some of the bite out of Carl Reiner's "Tell Me a Scary Story ... But Not Too Scary!" (Little, Brown, $18.95, ages 4 and up), which is illustrated by James Bennett and comes with a CD of the story as told by Reiner.

Youngsters are asked on each page if they want to continue their descent into a creepy basement filled with marbles that look like eyeballs. If they do stick it out until the end, readers are rewarded with a tour of workshop used to develop costumes for horror films.

For those children who prefer goofy to gory, there's "The Not-So-Scary Monster Handbook" (HarperFestival, $5.99, ages 4-6) by Dave Ross. The guidebook explains how to pick Frankenstein out of a crowd or spot a werewolf while jogging.

Ross also urges young readers to think of a mummy as a gift-wrapped package.

"Moonlight the Halloween Cat" (HarperCollins, $14.99, ages 2-5) looks forward to her favorite holiday all year long. Every Oct. 31, she, in stealth black cat fashion, follows children hunting treats and she smiles back at toothy jack-o'-lanterns. Late at night, once the kids are in bed, Moonlight watches the rest of the Halloween critters, raccoons on porches and owls in the trees, from her perch under a wide yellow moon.

The book is by Cynthia Ryland and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Can't decide what costume to wear to a party? Neither can Hello Kitty.

"Hello Kitty: Hello Halloween!" (Abrams, $12.95, ages 4-8) offers ideas, ranging from a fortune-teller to a firefighter. It turns out that Kitty and all her friends choose outfits that fit their personalities perfectly.

Julius, the white mouse featured in several of Kevin Henkes' books, is all dressed up -- as a clown -- and ready to party in "Julius's Candy Corn" (Greenwillow, $6.99, ages 2 and up). As Julius waits for his friends to come over, his mother reminds him not to eat the cupcakes she baked.

But she never said anything about not eating the decorations!

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: