Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

Halloween Books for Children

Well, it's that time of year again. Only three days until Halloween. As it's been a while since I've done a top five list, I thought I'd share some recommendations for children's books suitable for Halloween time. None of these books are specifically about Halloween or reference Halloween in any way. They just fit the atmosphere. And, while families may differ, there are none of these books that I wouldn't let either my six or eight-year-old read. (In fact, when we finish reading The Graveyard Book out loud this week, I think they will have read all of these except for the Poe book.)

1. The Midnight Folk by John Masefield
This is a classic childrens' book from the poet John Masefield. The story follows Kay Harker who learns from his talking cat, Nibbins, that his house in the country is being used as a meeting place by a coven of witches led by the evil wizard Abner Brown. There is a long-lost family treasure that once belonged to Kay's ancestors that the witches are after. Together with his animal friends, Kay goes on some magical journeys in order to find the treasure before Abner and his witches can get it!

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman's twist on Kipling's The Jungle Book is wonderful. Imagine The Jungle Book, but instead of his parents being killed by a tiger, a young boy's parents are offed by a supernatural serial killer. As the story takes place in England and not India, the toddler wanders into a graveyard rather than the jungle, and is taken in, not by a wolf pack but by the ghosts that inhabit the cemetery. His guardians are a vampire and a werewolf rather than a panther and a bear. Neil really does some fantastic things with this book and there are many great lessons for kids to learn from the story.

3. The Haunted Mountain by Mollie Hunter
This book was my childhood introduction to Celtic fairy tales. In MacAllister's village, everyone leaves a portion of their fields unplowed for "the good people". (You always must call them "the good people" rather than by their true name, the sidhe, unless you want to face their wrath.) MacAllister openly defies them by plowing his "Goodman's Croft" for, as he says, "There is no need for any Christian man to fear the old magic." However, later in his life he lets his guard down and is captured by the sidhe who are bent on revenge, and MacAllister's son, Fergus, must go and rescue his father from the wicked fairy people on the haunted mountain.

4. Uncle Terrible by Nancy Willard
Uncle Terrible is a friend of the family. He teaches high school Latin, collects comic books and movie memorabilia, and is called Uncle Terrible because he’s so terribly nice. Anatole goes to visit Uncle Terrible in his New York apartment, little suspecting that he will soon be shrinking to the size of a cockroach, meeting Mother Nature, traveling with a skeletal mule, and playing a life-and-death game of checkers with an evil wizard to save his friends.

5. The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe is one of my favorite authors, and always appropriate for Halloween. This short book, published by Scholastic, contains some of his most famous poems, and is a great introduction to Poe for younger readers.