It all started with Neil Gaiman. That seems like it should be the best beginning for a story in some kind of neo-Lovecraftian anthology. He wrote a blog post in 2010 suggesting that during the week of Halloween people should give each other scary books or comics. All Hallow’s Read has since gained momentum and is spreading beyond just Neil Gaiman’s fans.
People are drawing up lists of recommendations and posting ideas for getting books so they can be redistributed. Gaiman himself doesn’t advocate completely replacing trick or treating or the customary candy binges solely with books, instead, he’s suggesting that books become a part of the celebration. I stumbled my way into being the reader that I am today not only because my parents read to me, but because people recommended books to me based on the things that I liked. I never would have discovered the joy that was James and the Giant Peach if the book hadn’t been recommended to me by friends of my dad. The Wizard of Earthsea was a recommendation, too, from one of my aunts, after I had finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia. My experience may have been unique, but it’s always seemed as if books that were gifted to me were a special kind of blessing. I always understood it to be someone sharing a little bit of their favorite world with me, and, in a way, it helped me get to know them better.
Not every kid loves scary books, but that doesn’t mean that you have to leave them out of All Hallow’s Read. I didn’t really start reading horror novels until I was almost in college. Before that, I shied away from a genre I typically considered a collection of sleazy tricks and disgusting shock tactics, mostly due to a few unpleasant encounters with some splatterpunk short stories that I would later learn weren’t actually very well written and didn’t give even the first indication of the possibilities and variety that horror actually has to offer. I had a vivid enough imagination, thank you very much, and I didn’t need to have nightmares about the book that I’d been reading for entertainment.
Still, looking back on books that I loved as a kid, there were plenty of them that easily fit into the spirit of Halloween and would also fit the bill for books that other kids would probably like.
One of the books that tops my list is Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. This was a book that I inherited in a box of books that had lived in our basement for a few years until I uncovered them. Little Witch is the story of Minx, a nine year-old little girl who’s mother is the fearsome Madam Snickasnee. Madam Snickasnee is an ugly, old witch who lives in an ugly, old house and has shelves full of jars that contain powders of various colors. By mixing the powders, Minx can conjure up creatures of all kinds and talk to them. Minx longs for a normal life, with friends, in a nice, tidy little house away from the tyranny of Madam Snickasnee. She’s defying the witch by experimenting with the powders. Two neighborhood children become her friends and start helping her, all the while trying to avoid being detected by Madam Snickasnee.
To me, the witch was terrifying, but the idea of all of those magical powders being reconstituted into creatures from mythology was something I had never read before. Each of those characters had a little story about how they ended up being imprisoned by Madam Snickasnee. Minx and her friends were true heroes in the story because they were trying to help every single one of those animals or people. The first time I read that book, I had it devoured in a very short time. Eventually, it was passed on to a younger, smaller relative and from there lost in the chain of custody. I managed to pick up another copy of it for less than a dollar at a library book sale years later. When I reread it, I still liked it. Now, Little Witch isn’t quite as hard to find. This year, a 60th Anniversary edition was published and is available for sale.
Disappointingly, another favorite book from my childhood is much more difficult to get, although used copies of it can be tracked down. Spook by Jane Little is about a little black dog. Spook is the familiar of a witch, who resents him, because she’s supposed to have a black cat, just like all the other witches. The problem is that she’s allergic to cats, so she ends up stuck with Spook instead. Spook falls off her broomstick on Halloween night and lands on a little boy named Jamie. Of course, Jamie wants to keep Spook. However, when the witch finds her little dog, she’s not about to let Jamie keep him. They have to enter into a contest to see who will get to keep Spook.
The book is out of print now, but there are used copies available, some for around $5, when shipping is factored in. Spook is a good starter book for kids that can tolerate the Wicked Witch of the West with a minimum of fear. The witch in this book is no worse than the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” or, for that matter, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. It takes place on Halloween, and, again, Jamie is the hero of the story. He’s a smart kid who gets told he’s “too little” to trick-or-treat, so he’s supposed to stay at home and stay safe. He, of course, gets to have the best Halloween adventure of all.
If you’re more inclined to give comics, and, maybe want to stay with less scary but still Halloween appropriate fare, there are some pretty good options you can try. One of the easiest and, quite possibly, cheapest comics you can find would be some of the Harvey comics properties. It depends on where you shop, I tend to find a lot of these in thrift stores and at garage sales.
“Casper The Friendly Ghost”, “Hot Stuff The Little Devil”, and “Wendy the Good Little Witch” are all Harvey comic characters that have endured. Their stories are funny and the artwork is typical heavy line work with four-color printing that may not always hold up well if the comics weren’t treated with a little bit of gentleness when they were new. None of these characters was intended to be truly scary and even their nemises tend to be mostly rude and obnoxious rather than terrifying. The deterioration of the actual, physical comic book is probably scarier than anything in the story.
Admittedly, you may have to look long and hard to find Harvey comics that aren’t falling apart. They were still reprinting stories into the 80s and 90s, so they’re still readily available almost everywhere you can find a bin of comics for sale cheap. If you’re lucky, someone’s mother will have gotten fed up and thrown out their entire comic collection in time for it to be priced and waiting for you to snap them up and rescue them from bargain bin purgatory.
For more recent comics, there’s always DC Comics “Scooby Doo Where Are You?” series. If you or the people you’re thinking of giving an All Hallow’s Read comic to has ever watched an episode of any of the many Scooby Doo cartoons out there, then you know exactly what to expect out of a Scooby comic.
If you take a trip to your local comic book store, you’ll also probably find a number of special Halloween issues of comics that have a range of familiar characters. Just make sure if you’re not a regular reader of comic books that you take a little time to read through the books you’re buying. The opportunity has passed this year, but an event similar to Free Comic Book Day has been going on for a couple of years now. There are offerings for fans of just about every age range. For the dates Halloween Comicfest is taking place and to see if any comic stores in your area are taking part, the website is: http://www.halloweencomicfest.com.
You might also consider looking into “Johnny Boo” by James Kolchaka. Johnny Boo is a ghost who can say “Boo!” really loudly (Boo Power). He has a pet ghost named Squiggle. The pair of them go on adventures together. It’s a pretty simple setup for some really charming stories that will appeal to smaller kids. The artwork is pretty simple and the stories are straightforward. That said, that doesn’t mean that “Johnny Boo” is boring. He’s silly and fun and more than a little enjoyable.
Of course, these are all just my own personal picks and some possible suggestions that might be helpful. The key thing is, really, knowing enough about the person you want to give books to for All Hallow’s Read. If you know how much they really want to be scared, then you’ll have a good idea of what you might want to give them. All Hallow’s Read doesn’t just have to be limited to kids, either.
For more about All Hallow’s Read and for some fun, downloadable posters and bookmarks, the website is: http://www.allhallowsread.com/.
If you’re looking for some fun, printable goodies to include with an All Hallow’s Read gift, there are more bookmarks, treat boxes, printable patterned paper, and all kinds of neat paper toys available for free at Marilyn Scott Waters’ website http://www.thetoymaker.com/Holidays/Halloween/1HALLOWEEN.html. All of them have easy to follow instructions and you can make them with any kids who might be so inclined.
Halloween is one of the most fun holidays to celebrate. And, sure, it can be as much about dressing up and handing out or collecting candy as you want it to be. You can also be that person that hands out “healthy” treats and then proceeds to incur the wrath of children in your neighborhood who will never see your point of view. Or, for those people that you really love and care about, you can give them something that they’ll remember much longer than any candy they manage to gobble over the course of an evening. You can still give them some candy, too, but there’s nothing wrong with adding a book to that much anticipated Halloween haul.