Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scary Stories for the Season

Halloween is next Saturday. Aren't Friday Halloweens and Saturday Halloweens the best? No worries about school. Unless you are like me and you grew up in the New Orleans area, where it wasn't unusual to have November 1, All Saints Day, off (even for public school students). Many southeastern Louisiana families visit the burial places of their loved ones on November 1, so many schools have the day off.

But back to Halloween. Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child. Halloween was such a huge deal. My elementary school had a smashing Halloween carnival right before Halloween. We had it every year, and it was truly one of the biggest highlights of our school year. We had a haunted house, a cake walk on our stage (I never won a cake), a bake sale in the cafeteria, and all kinds of Halloween-related games. It was just awesome. Now that I have an idea of how much work it takes to put together a shindig, I am just astounded at how much work and time it took to put it together. I am sitting here thinking about it, and I am in awe. For us kids, it was unbelievably fun, and I can remember holding onto my sister's hand as we walked through the haunted house.

When I was in elementary school, our neighborhood had a huge block party. I'm talking live music, food, and hayrides for the trick-or-treaters. And gobs and gobs of candy. Not just the regular fun-sized candy, but we would get popcorn bags, cookies (back then, everyone in the neighborhood knew each other), and sometimes, a caramel apple. And of course, many decorated houses (you should see it during Christmas).

So, yes, Halloween was definitely my favorite. Even before Christmas, although our Christmases were always fun. If you're in the Halloween spirit, check out these books the next time you visit the library:

Although not technically Halloween books, Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest and Ramona and Her Father contain great chapters centered around Halloween that would be great read alouds (Ramona and Her Father also has a beautiful section involving Ramona's Nativity pageant that, along with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, never fails to move me when I read it every Christmas).

Fans of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will want to check out The Best Halloween Ever, featuring more mayhem from the Herdman kids.

Another thing I remember about Halloween was watching Morgus the Magnificent. New Orleans has always had a strong local programming community, both network and PBS, and Morgus was just one of the great local shows. In between broadcasts of classic horror movies, Morgus and his assistant, Chopsley, would conduct disastrous scientific experiments. Truly bizarre and hilarious. Reading Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich brought back great memories of those deliciously creepy movies. Being familiar with the traditional movie monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera) definitely helps with the jokes, but it's not entirely necessary. The poems are great read alouds for elementary school students too young for tamer Halloween picture books, but not old enough for the scarier stuff. You'll want to read the "sequel," Frankenstein Takes the Cake.

Looking for a creepy read? William Sleator's Among the Dolls is a short chapter book, but long on creepiness. Vicky is sorely disappointed when she receives a dumb old dollhouse instead of a jazzy ten-speed bike, but she quickly discovers the secrets of the dollhouse. Talking dolls creep me out even when the story isn't supposed to be scary, but this is 10 times the weirdness of a regular talking doll story!

Young adult literature, of course, is awash with scary stories (vampires may be waning a bit, so keep a look out for zombies and werewolves...they will be hot next spring). I'll cover several titles in my next post.

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