Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bookish Halloween Treats

It's a dark and stormy night, just right for writing about Halloween! We're running a bit behind ourselves -- usually by this time we've had a trip to the pumpkin patch and have Sprout's costume sorted out, but not this year. Looks like we've got a busy weekend ahead of us, so it's good that our shelf is stocked with spooky reads to keep us in the mood.

It's no mean feat to find multicultural titles themed around holidays. Seriously, authors and publishers? We would love to see more fun, engaging holiday books with diverse characters, and I know we aren't alone! Luckily the library came to our rescue yet again, for some Halloweeny goodness picture-book style. Most of these are older books -- if you have trouble finding them, I'd suggest a trip to the library or used bookstore near you.

First up is Celie and the Harvest Fiddler by Vanessa and Valerie Flournoy. Celie plans to make a grand entrance with her very spooky costume, but things don't quite turn out like she wants. Then an encounter with the mysterious Fiddler nets Celie a magical mask that grants her Halloween wish -- with some very unintended consequences. Can Celie get the Fiddler to help reverse the mask's magic? This is a longer story great for older preschoolers and elementary ages, and its historical setting comes to life with paintings by the amazing James E. Ransome. Just the right blend of mystery and magic!

For kiddos who aren't so excited about spooky sights on Halloween night, Catherine Stock's Halloween Monster is a perfect reassurance. Tommy likes some things about Halloween, but he's really pretty scared to see witches, ghosts and monsters. . . scared enough that he doesn't even want to go trick-or-treating with his friends. But once Mom explains that all those ghosts and witches are just children all dressed up, well, then Tommy thinks he might want to give it a try himself. And soon he's transformed into a Halloween monster - just in time to go trick-or-treating with his friends! I love the simple story here, and it's been great to calm Sprout's apprehensions about spooky things. Now he can't wait for us to get his ghost costume ready!

And speaking of spooky things, Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes is just right for those braver little ones who like a bit of thrill. Weaving Spanish words into her text about skeletons dancing under the harvest moon and witches flying through the night sky, Montes paints a pretty scary picture of one fantastic Halloween ball. But even the monsters and mummies are scared of something -- you guessed it, trick-or-treaters! (Maybe the monsters ran out of candy?) Yuyi Morales' pictures add the perfect setting to this rhythmic tale. And while the translations of Spanish words might impede the flow of the text a bit, it's still nice to see some cultural nuance to the Halloween canon.

For another cultural take, try Yangsook Choi's Behind the Mask. This is a moving intergenerational story that just happens to be set around Halloween. Kimin misses his grandfather, but he's afraid to look for costume makings in his grandfather's old trunks, as his mom suggests -- mostly because the last time he saw Grandfather at the trunks, he looked really scary! But then Kimin begins to investigate, and he discovers that his grandfather was a mask dancer, and he wore tal, special masks for use in the dance. Soon Kimin figures out why Grandfather looked so scary, and he has an idea for a Halloween costume like no other. I love the way the multi-talented Choi blends traditions from Kimin's home in America with elements from his Korean heritage. Children whose lives merge multiple cultures will appreciate this sensitive tale, and it's also a terrific look at the customs of Korean folk dancing.

And for the littlest ones, there's Sweets and Treats by Toni Trent Parker. I love this one because there's nothing babies love more than looking at photos of other children - Sprout was mesmerized by books like this. It's hard to find books like this, though, that aren't heavily populated by white faces. Parker's all-brown-skinned cast of characters includes a princess, a pumpkin and a very hearty pirate, every one of whom shines in their festive Halloween garb. Parker's other titles include books about Easter, Christmas and Valentine's Day - worth hunting these down for those who want a bit more color on their holiday bookshelves.

This Halloween, curl up with your little ghost or goblin, a big mug of hot cocoa and one of these delicious bookish treats. It doesn't get much sweeter than that!

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