Friday, October 2, 2009

Plastic Pumpkin Fillers: Children's Books about Halloween

Last year, I was incredibly excited to buy my son his first plastic pumpkin for Halloween.  At less than a year old, he had no idea what was going on, and certainly wasn't ready for many sweet treats, but there's something so wonderful about being able to share the activities that brought you joy in your own childhood with your children.  You won't be surprised to read that I think books make perfect Halloween gifts.  Today I'm sharing a review of a wonderful picture book for slightly older children, in which Halloween serves as the backdrop for a touching lesson about immigration and love of family.  I'll also include reviews of the two board books we bought last year.

Shy Mama's Halloween (Paperback), by Anne Broyles. This book tells the beautiful story of a Russian family that recently settled in the United States and experiences its first Halloween. The mother, a naturally shy woman, speaks little English and is understandably hesitant about the idea of mingling with goblins and ghosts. She helps to make her children's costumes, but leaves the task of trick-or-treating to her husband and the children. When her husband is too ill to take the children, Mama leaves her fears behind and takes the children out. Author Anne Broyles describes the magic of Halloween, as seen through the eyes of the excited children: "We didn't need more fruit or cookies or candy. We already had more treats in our bags than we had had in a lifetime. We wanted to savor the magic of Halloween: its orange and blackness, the sounds of happy children, the smiles on adult faces as they surveyed the variety of trick-or-treating creatures, the chirps of 'Thank you! Happy Halloween!' as kings and monsters raced away from the generous hands outstretched with candy." Against the backdrop of Halloween, the book also serves as a lesson about immigration, and specifically, what it feels like to be in a new place, that is now your home, but where the traditions are foreign to you. Leane Morin's illustrations are lovely and fit the tale perfectly. From the black and white image early in the book of the family huddled together with their suitcases to the brightly colored illustration of little Dimitrii dressed as a clown, clinging sleepily to his older sister, who is bedecked in devil's horns and pitchfork, after a long night of trick-or-treating. Wonderfully captured. The back of the book contains two pages with suggested conversation points for parents and teachers wanting to share Shy Mama's Halloween with children. For example, "Papa seemed to feel at home more quickly than Mama did in the new country. Can you think of some reasons why?" and "Are there children at your school who originally came from other countries as immigrants? Look up where they came from on a world map or globe. Can you give these classmates a chance to tell you about the places where they came from?" I love the questions (there are many more), and the fact that they are included here. They turn the book into an excellent teaching tool.


"Halloween was not just a matter of treats. We had no tricks in mind. Here, in the darkness, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of other children, we, too, were American. No one cared that our 'Thank you' was said with an accent. No one cared that our Mama, in her babushka, could speak only a few words of English. Halloween was our holiday, as much as anyone else's."

Bookworm's interest at 22 months: He's not old enough for this yet, but we looked through the illustrations together.

Parent's Peeve: Near the back of the book, there is an illustration of the halloween candy the children collected. There are all kinds of loose nuts, including peanuts and walnuts in their shells. (Actually everything is loose - chocolate chip cookies, apples, chocolate squares). I'm biased due to my son's multiple food allergies, but I can't imagine anybody gives out loose nuts to kids for Halloween these days (I hope not). The detail in the illustrations does make clear that the story is set in an earlier time period (whenever ketchup cost 10 cents), so that probably accurately represents what trick-or-treating was like then. A small peeve in an otherwise wonderful book. And it will give me an opportunity to reinforce my "no nuts" lesson with my son!

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Bright Baby Touch & Feel Spooky (Board book), by Roger Priddy. This made a fun Halloween gift for a baby that couldn't yet eat candy. There isn't much "touch and feel" to it (one furry cat, a bit of sparkle, a slightly raised web...), but our little guy was never all that much into the touch and feel stuff anyway. Single word descriptions pair with (non-frightening) Halloween images.

Bookworm's interest at under 12 months: He enjoyed the whole thing.

Source: Purchased copy.

Trick or Treat Vampire (Flip Flap Books) (Board book), by AnnMarie Harris. This (tall and skinny) book fit wonderfully into a plastic Halloween pumpkin, which was its major selling point. The book, which is velcroed lightly shut, opens up to reveal a thick board book featuring a (not so) scary vampire who is auditioning Halloween costumes. A fun way to introduce the concept of costumes.


"It's Halloween and Little Vampire is going to a party! What costume should he wear?"

Bookworm's interest at under 12 months: He still pulls it out to read (and enjoy) months later.

Source: Purchased copy.

Will you be putting books in your kids' pumpkins this year? If so, what books? We'll be looking for some age-appropriate editions to his basket again this year, and plan to review a few more Halloween books over the coming weeks.


Susana said...

These books are new to me. Thank you for sharing them!

Christy said...

Books are always my go to gifts. I'm sure that is no surprise. We buy a few books and let the kids trade Halloween candy for a book. Believe it or not, my little book lovers think this is great, as long as they get to eat some candy!

Jennifer said...

A couple new halloween books I'm very excited about - Tad Hills' Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin (boardbook) if you haven't read any Duck and Goose yet, try them out! There's also a new Minerva Louise, Minerva Louise at Halloween by Janet Stoeke. Very cute and perfect for younger kids to point things out.

Infant Bibliophile said...

Christy - love the trading for books idea! Maybe in future years, when my son want to trick or treat but is allergic to a lot of his spoils, I'll set up a little trade-in store game. That would be awesome!

Jennifer - I just read a review of that Duck & Goose book today (AFTER I got back from the library), and thought we should definitely get a copy. Love Tad Hills.

maryanne said...

That first book sounds really interesting, and the other two sound like fun. We've never read any of them, thanks for the reviews!

A Halloween book my kids enjoy is "Where is Baby's Pumpkin" by Karen Katz. We got it as a freebie when I bought my daughter's Halloween costume a couple years ago, and it's become a favorite read all year round for them.

Margo Dill said...

Great idea for a post. Thanks for telling us about these Halloween books. :)

Margo Dill
Read These Books and Use Them

Raising a Happy Child said...

The first book sounds interesting even though the passage about mother in babushka made no sense to my Russian ear. Babushka is not an item of clothing. I am still very motivated to pick it up - adding to my ever growing pile of books to read.
My favorite Halloween book so far was It's Pumpkin Time by Zoe Hall. Technically, it's not about Halloween, but Anna really warmed up to the whole idea after reading it.