Friday, 30 October 2015

Ten children's Halloween books that you absolutely should have on your shelves (or better still, in your lap being read!)

Ghouls, ghosts, monsters and witches! Tomorrow night the neighbourhood will be heaving with tinies dressed in scary clothes, bashing down your door and demanding trick or treat sweeties (they hate us - we only give them healthy snacks, har har har!!!)

When they're finally tuckered out and tucked up in bed, what better time to shuffle through your book collection for a halloween treat.

Without further ado, what would we recommend for a top ten terrifyingly scary list?

1) "Not Now, Bernard" by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books). 

It's actually a little unfair to keep this one for Halloween. It's good for all year round, but there's no monster better than the grumpy child-eating monster betwixt the pages of this book. We recently re-read this and even though both Charlotte and I love it so much we know it off by heart, we still love that shocker of a moment when Bernard ends up monster-tum-fodder. EEKS! David McKee's book is actually more about parents not listening to or paying attention to their kids and this was even before the advent of smartphones. Make of this what you will!

2) "Darkness Slipped In" by Ella Burfoot (Kingfisher Books)

Children's fear of the dark probably wasn't really helped by this book which introduces the dark as a rather playful, mischievous but downright terrifying entity that slips into a young girl's bedroom late one night. As Daisy clutches her toy cuddly closer, the darkness tries to allay her fears by showing her that there's nothing really to be scared of - and nothing in her room that isn't there during the day. Well, except this DOWNRIGHT TERRIFYING SPIKY HAIRED SHADOW THING GADDING ABOUT ALL OVER THE ROOM!

We jest, we love this - it did used to scare the bejabers out of Charlotte but she finds it quite amusing now. Interesting to note how many times the darkness crops up in children's books manifested in a very similar way (see also Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen's awesome "The Dark" for further spooky reading!)

3) "Night Post" by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder (Improper Books)

Not scary but so beautifully presented, told and observed - this wordless picture book is a real corker and if you haven't got a copy yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR! A postman's night-time delivery route takes on unexpected twists and turns as he delivers letters and parcels to the dark-dwelling denizens of the night. Name just about any fictional monster or creature, ghoul or spectre in children's fiction and they sneak a cameo in this book in such a delightful way that you'll be coming back to this gorgeous tome again and again just to spot them all.

We do love the scene with the witches as they circle around in the darkened sky (see how many you recognise!)

We've longed, begged, pleaded for Ben and Laura to do another book together. As it stands, this is utterly sublime and we can't stop going on about it once you get us started. Just do the decent thing and go geddit!

4) "No Such Thing" by Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books)

There is such a thing as the perfect halloween book and this adorable tale comes very close. A little girl suspects there's more going on around her house at halloween than meets the eye.

Weird things keep happening and they can't all be blamed on her adorable moggy. Could someone else be to blame? Someone ethereal, let's say?

Children will absolutely love spotting the spooky little characters who are REALLY behind all the nocturnal goings-on in this pitch-perfect tale. We always expect great things from anything Flying Eye publish and we were definitely not disappointed by "No Such Thing" which is an utter halloween delight!

5) "Dear Vampa" by Ross Collins (Hodder Children's Books)

It's always interesting to see how children's books deal with some pretty nefarious and spooky characters when it comes to a ghoulish tale. Vampires are a pretty scary lot, and in "Dear Vampa" Ross Collins shows us that sometimes Vampires are NOT the scariest thing on the block.

Flipping a vampire tale firmly on its head in the form of a family's letter to their dear (dead) old Grandad Vampa is pure genius.

As with all Ross's books, his deliciously detailed illustrations are a treat, picked out here in delightfully vampish hues of black, white and red as the Pire family (geddit?) cower in terror from their new sun-kissed happy neighbours.

It's enough to make an old vamp run away screaming!

6) "The Ghost Library" by David Melling (Hodder Children's Books)

This truly is a treat, as there aren't nearly enough children's ghost stories around in our opinion. It's lovely to see David Melling's brilliant classic "The Ghost Library" being reprinted with an all-new glow in the dark spooky cover. The story of a little girl named Bo who is accidentally whisked off to another realm by a trio of book-snatching ghosts. They are trying to restock the ghost library with books and have had to resort to thievery in order to do it.

Bo shows them that there may be a better way to repopulate the empty shelves. How about coming up with the spookiest and scariest stories of their own?

Delightful and whimsical, with tons of glorious characters (we love the ghosts who sort of materialise half-way through the book shelves as they creep in to listen to Bo's storytime). Absolutely perfect halloween storytelling by a master of mischief!

7) "Cordelia Codd - It's ALIVE!" by Claire O'Brien with cover by David Roberts (Orchard Books)

One for older readers now and if we referred to masters of mischief in our last recommendation, how about a rather mischievous girl. Cordelia Codd is the pint-sized hero of Claire O'Brien's fab book series and in "It's ALIVE!" Cordelia is facing up to the prospect of yet another boring Halloween, stuck in a tiny house in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Cordelia has aspirations, she wants to be a mega-famous celebrity, design gorgeous clothes and...well get a life really but this halloween will be different as she soon finds out that even a young girl stuck in the dead-end of nowhere must expect the unexpected.

Claire O'Brien's rib-tickling series is perfect fare for reading by torchlight under the covers on a spooky halloween night. Look out too for Claire's other brill books "Cordelia Codd - Not Just the Blues" and "Cordelia Codd - Frankly Ruby, I don't give a Damn!" also from Orchard Books and also look out for a very special review of "It's Alive" SOOOON!

8) "Lockwood and Co - The Screaming Staircase" by Jonathan Stroud (Doubleday)

Sticking with books for older children now, and dispel from your mind all thoughts of whimsical, amusing and playful spectres - the ghosts in Jonathan Stroud's books are anything but!

"Lockwood and Co" kicked off in grand style with this first book "The Screaming Staircase" and it restored our faith in ghost stories for (older) children, which I thought had become too diluted and safe. It's the story of Lockwood, Lucy and George - a trio of ghost hunters roving the streets of an alternate-reality version of London in search of spirits who plague the world of the living. These ghosts can kill and maim, they're not the intangible wailers of other tales and this is what makes the book series really quite scary and disturbing as all three are frequently teetering on the edge of danger. Two further books in the series "The Whispering Skull" and "The Hollow Boy" will have you quaking in your slippers come Halloween Night so if you (like me) are a fan of cult telly like Sapphire and Steel, or old Hammer Horror stuff then this should be your first port of call.

9) "My Teacher is a MONSTER!" by Peter Brown (Macmillan Children's Books)

Most kids will try to convince you that there's something not quite right about their teachers. But in "My Teacher is a Monster" a young boy realises that despite her green skin, shouty voice and slightly questionable fashion sense, maybe his monstrous teacher isn't quite so bad after all.

A chance meeting in the park with the teacher in question is quite terrifying but soon leads the two to band together to solve a rather sticky problem involving a lost hat.

Peter's books are deliciously illustrated and beautifully observed and this monstrously entertaining tale is no exception. So next time your teacher gives you a black mark for your spelling, or howls at you from across the classroom for passing notes and giggling, take heed, they're maybe not quite as horrible as they seem.

10) "I'm Coming to get YOU!" by Tony Ross (Picture Puffin)

Cor, this is a golden oldie and we think it's high time it got a re-issue. Tony Ross's brilliant "I'm Coming to Get You!" features a nasty, stinky, smelly and quite downright horrible monster who sets out one night to chase down his chosen victim.

We love the way the story builds up excitement, tension and scares to the point where the twist in the tale is revealed - and it's a doozy.

We have seen rather too many books ripping this story off (we'll let you discover what the twist is and whether you think we're right or not) but none done better than here in "I'm coming to get YOU!" - with such a delicious pay off at the end that it's an utterly essential monstery halloween read.

We hope you've enjoyed this year's list. Do drop a comment in the box below if you've got a particular halloween fave you'd love to share with us and our readers, we are always on the hunt for new spooky books!