I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact moment that Halloween became such a massive thing but it certainly has become a bigger part of my life now I live with a six year old.
I almost think it’s on a par with Christmas in the excitement stakes these days, although I’m utterly delighted that my son has decided to avoid the shambolic scream-fest aka the Halloween School disco. That means one less costume to worry about, plus I no longer have to fear for the wellbeing of my eardrums.
Part of the appeal of Halloween is that it gives children complete permission to let their imaginations run wild and engage with the darker, scary side of life. Plus it’s fun to dress up if you’re under 12. Less fun if you’re over 35 and have been roped into helping out at the aforementioned Halloween disco.
Our generation’s slightly sanitised approach to parenting sometimes removes all the risk and danger out of life but I think children really enjoy the thrill of being scared – and that’s certainly been my experience any time I’ve shared a scary story with my son. In allowing them to explore their fear it reassures them that they can handle their emotions.
So in a somewhat predictable, utterly inevitable fashion, I’ve compiled a list of Halloween book suggestions to help you get in the spirit with your kids in between doorstepping helpless neighbours. Some are scary, others less so (books I mean – not the neighbours), but the list certainly proves that witches, ghosts and goblins hold enduring appeal for writers for all ages.
- Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski
There’s nothing scary about Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski’s classic picture book series. These charming books were around when I was small, and I revisited them with Toby when he was about 3. The simple rhyming language is a perfect way to encourage children to start to familiarise themselves with simple words. Meg, the witch, Mog, the cat, and the owl form an affectionate family unit so these are a lovely, gentle way to involve a toddler in Halloween.
Costume inspiration: Owl would be adorable if you like a challenge but you can always play it safe with a witch or a cat costume – just make sure it’s a stripy cat!
- Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
More funny than scary, Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas was a real favourite of ours when Toby was a pre-schooler. The whole series is great, and quite witty, which makes it enjoyable for parents too. Winnie and her cat Wilbur generally get in quite a few scrapes particularly when her spells go wrong.
Costume inspiration: Why Winnie of course but you can’t cop out with any old witch’s costume. She’s quite a colourful witch with some rather fantastic stripy tights and a magnificent hat.
- Horrid Henry’s Cannibal Curse by Francesca Simon
Horrid Henry stories are rarely scary but in Francesca Simon’s last ever book, she introduces a little creepiness into the Cannibal Curse tale. Shrunken Heads are brought into the Henry household but it’s friend Ralph’s turn to stir up the trouble, and its Henry who is left feeling petrified after a prank feels a little too real.
Costume inspiration: Surely Henry is scary enough for most parents.
- The Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is no stranger to exploring dark themes in his fiction and does not shy away from creating disgusting, unlikeable and downright awful characters. The Witches is his stand-out scary book, although there are some terrifying moments in George’s Marvellous Medicine with that vile grandmother. I can still remember feeling scared reading The Witches as a child, and when I re-read it to Toby, he reacted by disappearing under the duvet, curling up in the foetal position. I did worry that I was causing him psychological damage but he insisted that we carry on. For him, and all of us who love a scary movie, being made to feel frightened is entertainment.
Costume inspiration: A reimagining of Angelica Huston’s screen portrayal of the Grand High Witch would be a killer costume (pardon the pun) if you could pull it off.
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I asked Toby what was the scariest book we’d ever read and he replied, without hesitation, Coraline, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s not just the scariest kids’ book I’ve read but the scariest book. Full stop. Gaiman creates a foreboding mood from the very beginning of the book, so you always feel unsettled even though you have no way of predicting what’s around the corner. It’s dark. It’s disturbing. But it’s also highly imaginative and beguiling. The central character is so well drawn that you can’t help but root for her and stick with her story. And although her fate always seems threatened, you trust in her cleverness, and ultimately believe she’ll be ok. I think Toby may have remained permanently under the duvet for this one but he never wanted me to stop reading. Not once.
Costume inspiration: I dare you to attempt to recreate those button eyes.