Category Archives: Holidays: Halloween

Substitute Creacher

Have you seen Chris Gall’s books?  They are so striking.  The first time I saw Dear Fish (2006) at the library it practically reached out and yanked me over to it.  It’s a wacky book that has been compared to Tuesday by David Wiesner (you know, the floating frogs on a random Tuesday night).  Looking on his website I see he gets lots of commissions for posters, magazine covers etc.  Another title I admire is There’s Nothing To Do on Mars (2008).

           Substitute Creacher (2011) tells the story behind a green cyclops with lots of snake-like feet.  The story starts off a bit like the classic Miss Nelson is Missing.  It’s almost Halloween and the regular teacher has had it with an out-of-control class.  She leaves a note that she has a “rather special” sub coming in.  Turns out the substitute “creacher” was once a boy himself who stole candy from other kids.  He sets the class straight with his cautionary tales.  The book has all sorts of split pages like a comic.  You’re probably wondering about Gall’s art medium and so I investigated on the title page.  “The artwork was created using bat wings, toad juice, and the bundled whiskers of a black cat.”

Substitute Creacher even squeezes a happy ending out at the last page.


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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Preschool, Holidays: Halloween, Picture Books, Reviews

Halloween books are waiting for you!

Ack!   Shivers down my back—is that a black widow going on a stroll on my tingling neck?!  Oh no, it’s just happy shivers because it’s the month of Halloween.  It’s a time that brings out some wonderful picture books, some creepy and some just wacky fun.

From the Patterson Picks archives, don’t forget about The Halloween Kid and Dying to Meet You in the 43     series.The Hallo-Wiener is a family favorite by Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. Oscar, a dachshund, is dressed up by his mom as a giant hot dog in a bun.  His mom is so excited about the costume he doesn’t have the heart to say no to this awful getup.  So his friends tease him on Halloween night.  Worse yet, he can’t keep up with them in his cumbersome costume.  But then a hideous black monster with a pumpkin head chases all his dog friends into a lake.  Naturally Oscar saves the day.  I can’t tell you the ending.  But suffice it to say a couple sneaky cats are brought to justice.

Ready to move around?  It’s time to Shake Dem Halloween Bones!  This is a 1997 Scholastic paperback written oh-so-infectiously by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated in big, bright oils by Mike Reed.  It seemed like a nice book in my 2nd grade classroom, but it got a life of its own being read aloud at home.   The refrain goes

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones now.

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones now.

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones

At the hip-hop Halloween ball.

A whole cast of characters parade through like “Li’l Red” (Little Red Riding Hood), Tom Thumb and Goldilocks.

The rhythm and drive of it is irresistible.  Excuse me, I have some shaking to do!

Have you ever been to a doctor’s or dentist’s office?  If so, you’ve probably seen the little hardcover Popcorn with tear-out cards inside to buy books in the series.  In fact our copy says on the cover



It’s a 1979 book and I’m happy to say we acquired our copy by honest means.  Popcorn is subtitled A Frank Asch Bear Story.  Sam the Bear on the cover is dressed in his Indian Halloween costume, a headband with a feather.  Behind him is a huge kettle overflowing with popcorn.  His parents have left him alone on Halloween night (remember it’s 1979) and he has a costume party of his own.  Turns out everyone brings popcorn. I’ve read this countless times and I pledge to you it’s still fun when the popcorn fills up every cubic centimeter in the house.  What can you do but chow down?

The illustrations are super simple.  All the better to survey the popcorn spilling off the pages.  The gag at the end is obvious but perfect.

What kind of Halloween season would it be without a mutant pumpkin as big as a truck hurtling downhill and mowing down anything in its path?  Fortunately we have The Runaway Pumpkin (2003) written with fiendishly catchy rhythm by Kevin Lewis and illustrated in exhilarating cartoon style by S. D. Schindler.

Somehow at the top of a hill two kids manage to budge it.  And then it just builds up speed.  Listen:

“Round and ‘round across the ground

Makin’ a thumpin’ bumpin’ sound

Came that thumpety bumpety thumpin’ bumpin’

Round and roll-y RUNAWAY PUMPKIN!

As it knocks down fences and pigsties, the adults stand frozen watching, thinking of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.  Some visual highlights are pigs and squirrels hanging from tree branches and a chicken flattened and sticking to the pumpkin.  Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.  And so will you if you pick up The Runaway Pumpkin.

The Pumpkin Man is an unassuming little beginning reader from 1998 written in a pleasant rhyming style by Judith Moffatt.  Moffatt illustrates the text with bright cut paper scenes  with a nice sense of shadow and depth.  It’s a nice little narrative that tells how to make a pumpkin man with a pumpkin head and old clothes and boots you stuff with leaves.  Through absolutely no initiative on my part it has inspired pumpkin men on our front porch several different Halloweens.

Thank you Ms. Moffatt and  original Pumpkin Man.

Aren’t we just about due for a little vacation getaway?  Why not make it a trip to Monster Town?  Welcome to Monster Town by Ryan Heshka is a 2010 paperback issued by Scholastic, but it might as well have been put out by the Monster Town Chamber of Commerce.  It’s got it all.  The cover is a postcard-style design highlighting friendly skulls, bats and mummies.  At the bottom of the cover, a friendly green boy about age six or seven waves to us.

Things get started when the sun goes down, zombies stumbling to work and green kids hopping on the Ghoul Bus with their lunchboxes.  Each spread is an ingenious scene.  My favorite is “Giant Squid serves the best midnight brunch in town.”  He’s behind a round lunch counter doing it all with seven of his legs, like pouring coffee, flipping a green egg, stirring green slime.

Even if you don’t book a tour to Monster Town read the book for the cheeriest spooky scenes you’ve ever seen.

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Filed under Age: All, Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Preschool, Age: Young Adult, Holidays: Halloween

Runaway Pumpkin

Tough job:  sub in a first grade on the exhausted day after Halloween.  They were giving me a run for my money.  So I’m in the wooden teacher chair and they’re sitting on the rug.  At least some of them are.  I’m trying to get them to all be quiet at the same time so I can do a little teaching.  We have bickering, a kid under the desks, a guy on the far periphery grabbing the wood blocks and girl complaining about her neighbor touching her.  It feels just about impossible to try to get them to listen to anything at all.

Until I pull out a book.  It’s a Patterson Halloween favorite, The Runaway PumpkinAlmost instantly I have a captive audience.  The boy way on the side says, “Hey, I can’t see.”  And my arm motion brings him right over.  The girls stop bickering and I can see the boy still under a desk looking right at the book.

         What extra talking there is is about the book.  Class is like a responsive instrument now,  a busted guitar that’s turned into a Stradivarius.  We’re all excitedly watching this crazy large pumpkin rampaging down a hill.  S.D. Schindler’s illustrations are uproarious.  Grandpa is on the ground waving his fist with a displaced chicken on his head.  A banana peel and an indignant but unharmed chicken are stuck to the rolling pumpkin.

And we’re chanting Kevin Lewis’s delicious words:

Across the ground

makin’ a


bumpin’ sound

came that





round and roll-y


They liked it so much I read it to them twice.  Good read alouds can save a sub!

They also enjoyed Big Dog,  Little Dog by P.D. Eastman, in which Fred and Ted have the wrong-sized beds.  I was impressed how they already knew (and still enjoyed) The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater and Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett.

Next year the morning after Halloween I’ll march off to my job assignment with a good book and no fear!


Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Holidays: Halloween, Picture Books, Reviews

The Halloween Kid

     How about some retro brilliance for Halloween?  The Halloween Kid is a little 2010 miracle by Rhode Montijo.  The hero in the title is a small boy in a red-striped shirt and a big old cowboy hat who rides a little horse on a stick.  The story is told with cowboy slang.  “You see, the Halloween Kid loved him some Halloween and he would wrangle those who tried to ruin it.”  So watch out, toilet paper mummies or pumpkin-suckin’ vampires!

It’s a fun story, but the magic of the book is wonderful pictures that look like they’re from the back of a 1950s cereal box.  In fact, the pages even show signs of wear as if they’re old and worn.  Hard to describe, maybe you just have to see it.  I love the cartoon style, and there’s all these great silhouettes, like a house outline and the shadows of a mom and her boy and girl inside it.  I had fun trying to cut these silhouette shapes out of black paper, especially the long, skinny lady with her hair in a bun talking on an old telephone.

Check this one out and you’ll be yipping “Yee-Ha-lloween!” right out your front door.


Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Holidays: Halloween, Picture Books, Reviews