Share spooky yarns with children

Share spooky yarns with children

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Spider-Man and princess outfits might be the most popular costumes this Halloween, but the authors and illustrators of children's books still prefer ghosts, goblins and witches.

Pumpkins are popular, too, and it's a grinning jack-o'-lantern that graces the cover of "The Story of Halloween" (HarperCollins, ages 7-10) by Carol Greene and illustrated by Linda Bronson.

The book traces the holiday's roots, starting more than 2,000 years ago in England, Ireland and France. Greene writes that the Celts who lived there celebrated Samhain, which means "summer's end," on Oct. 31. They'd hold a fire ceremony to thank the sun for the harvest.

Fast forward to A.D. 700, when Christianity became the main religion of Great Britain and the Roman Catholic Church decided that Nov. 1 would be All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows' Day. On All Hallows' Eve, people visited cemeteries and prayed for loved ones buried there.

It was Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the 1840s who brought Halloween to the United States, and Americans have embraced it, adding their own touches, including candy and UNICEF collections.

Tricks also are an undeniable part of Halloween, and siblings Michael and Hazel play a doozie in "Moondog" (Scholastic, ages 4-8) by Alice Hoffman and Wolfe Martin, and illustrated in a psychedelic style by Yumi Heo.

The duo set out to find their beloved puppy which goes missing the same night as a full moon, and they find themselves peering in the window of Miss Mingle's house - a place they'd always been afraid to go before. When they find their dog, they also find out the truth: He is a moondog, a dog that turns into a werewolf when there is a full moon.

Michael and Hazel aren't going to let that get in the way of their love for their dog, and they aren't going to let Miss Mingle be lonely anymore. The siblings spruce up her house for a Halloween celebration and their moondog, along with Miss Mingle, put on their werewolf "costumes."

"The Halloween Kittens" (Chronicle, ages 2-6) are pretty sneaky, too.

Under the flaps of Maggie Kneen's book, young readers will find feisty cats who get tangled in glittery decorations, take a generous sample of frosting and leave evidence of a chocolate binge in their fur as they "help" Mother Cat prepare for a party.

Young readers can keep their eyes on a dog and cat who are watching a caravan of wizards, trolls and spiders make their way to a castle in the "Spooky Hour" (Orchard/ Scholastic, ages 3-5) by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees. Do the dog and cat dare follow?

They do - and there is a Halloween treat inside.

A little witch becomes a pizza-delivery girl so she can feed her 47 cats in "A Job For Wittilda" (Puffin, ages 4 and up) by Caralyn and Mark Buehner. It's really a perfect career for her because she doesn't hit traffic on her broomstick and her cats enjoy Dingaling's special combo pizza as much as the next critter.

Mama Monster loves her little Max's sense of humor, Mattie's manners, Mervin's creativity and Mella's bravery, and she tells each monster child about their special qualities as she goes around her cave tucking the tots in at night in "Most Loved Monster" (Dial, ages 4 and up) by Lynn Downey and illustrated by Jack E. Davis.

They return her love with a special surprise. They tippy-claw into the kitchen one night and whip up a roachberry upside-down cake, wrap hairballs in stinkweed, cover Mama's favorite chair with a gooey tar-pit bone and, when she wakes up, they tell her their best joke:

"Bang-bang."

"Who's there?"

"Fang."

"Fang who?"

"Fang you for loving me."

That's enough to make Mama howl with excitement.

Creepy creatures also know how to have fun, as proved in "Monsters Party All Night Long" (Chronicle, ages 4-8) by Adam J.B. Lane.

Mummies rap and the Creature of the Bleak Lagoon leads the strings and reeds of his All-Fish Band at Count Drac's bash. Hungry? The "horror d'oeuvres" to snack on include finger sandwiches, eyeball puffs and scrambled brain preserves. Bone Appetit!

Meanwhile, at "The Wild Witches Ball" (HarperCollins, ages 4-6), hosted by author Jack Prelutsky and decorated by illustrator Kelly Asbury, girls with black hats and broomsticks count down to their biggest celebration of the year.

Ella La Grimble, a lonely little witch, gets some unexpected company in "Knock! Knock!" (Henry Holt, ages 4-8) by Jan Wahl and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma. A kilt-wearing giant certainly isn't who she'd pick out of a crowd to be her pal, but she'll take him, nonetheless.

After all, you can't judge a giant by his big boots, knobby knees or pumpkin-shaped head.

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