Posts tagged ‘Halloween’

October 24, 2013

When Monster Have Minds of Their Own

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

With Halloween soon at hand, I’d like to take a moment to talk about monsters.

At one point or another all of us have two-stepped it from the light switch to the bed, yanked the covers over our heads, and hoped like heck the monster didn’t see us. Whether it’s the boogeyman or a subterranean troll, childhood fears are universal. In fact, one study found that as many as 74% of 4-6 year olds self-report being afraid of monsters and ghosts.

You might wonder how a four year old even knows what a ghost is—it’s not like his parents handed him a bowl of popcorn and said, “Come on, son, it’s family night—let’s watch Poltergeist.” Still, monsters are as integral to American culture as baseball. Test this theory: Lay out pictures of Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, and The Hulk next to snapshots of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays. All classics. Now see which ones your six year old can name. At my house the score was 3-0. (But don’t worry, Hannah’ll bat 1000 as soon as we introduce her to the Avengers next week.)

Monsters get a bad rap, but the truth is we need them. (We need baseball players, too—but that’s a different blog.) For years, psychologists have been looking at the role of monsters in children’s development. Monsters in movies and books place abstract fears like abandonment and powerlessness in physical form. Watching heroes triumph over monsters teaches us that we too can triumph over our fears.

But monsters are changing, my friends. It’s no longer easy to tell the difference between monsters and teddy bears—just look at Sully from Monsters Inc. He’s fluffy, for Pete’s sake. And what’s worse, monsters aren’t following the classic do-something-scary-and-then-be-defeated scenario. They’ve started thinking for themselves. Just take The Monster Who Ate My Peas. It has eyestalks and tentacles. It lurks in the kitchen just waiting for its chance to…eat our yucky vegetables? In the words of my eldest daughter, “Wait—what?” Katie’s 14, but she sat right down and read that book to see why the monster would want to help the boy. Turns out it wanted something else entirely. And Gabe—the monster that lives under Nathan’s bed in I Need My Monster—goes on vacation. I’d like to know where in his contract it says he gets vacation. Speaking of contracts…Zack should have read his before he paid the owner of The Monstore good money for a monster to scare his little sister.

No, these creatures are not the usual suspects. They have redefined what it means to be a monster and because of that, even adults won’t be able to put these books down.

monster who ate peas coverTitleThe Monster Who Ate My Peas
Author: Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up


Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

i need my monsterTitle: I Need My Monster
Author: Amanda Noll
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Okay this might be cheating, but in thinking about monsters and bedtime fears, I have to include a fantastic resource for parents. Child psychologist Margaret Jessop has written a great story about a little boy who overcomes his fear of the dark. It’s available FREE on her website along with suggestions for what parents can do to help banish bedtime fears.

Title: Nighty-night Knight
Author: Margaret Ann Jessop
Genre: Read-aloud story
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

October 10, 2013

Monster Costume (but not how you think)

If there’s one thing we do in this family, it’s Halloween, so obviously we have to have lots of Halloween books. This is a new one that the folks at Scarletta were nice enough to send me.

I love a good monster story. And I also love a good monster story. (Get it?) This is both.

monster needs a costumeTitle: Monster Needs a Costume
Author: Paul Czajak
Illustrator: Wendy Grieb
Genre: Picture Book, Halloween
Ages: 0 – 6

Monster wants to be a cowboy for Halloween and wears his costume everywhere…until he sees the ballet. But cowboy? Dancer? Ninja? What WILL monster be? This is a great story that will make kids laugh and get excited to try on their own costumes. (Of course, ANYTHING could et my kids excited to try on a costume.) But still. I loved the illustrations in this book, too. They are super colorful, super lively, and super funny. Stealth ninja monster is definitely my favorite.

Another great thing about this book is that the monster dresses in outfits that are traditionally assigned to both genders. Cowboy. Dancer. Ninja. I love that those are interchangeable ideas because too often they aren’t. You can challenge your kid on that…see if he or she notices. Or ask your boy if he would consider being a dancer or your girl if she would be a cowboy. If they look shocked and upset, ask them why. If their answer is gender-based (I can’t do that because I’m a —-), challenge them. There’s a difference between not choosing a ballet costume because it’s the last thing you would want to wear and not choosing a ballet costume because you think you shouldn’t. Kids should know that difference.

(And no, I wasn’t purposely trying to prove that I can take the fun out of anything. It just comes naturally.) 😉 Kidding! Keep in touch for more Halloween stories, but this is a great one to start with! And remember, talk to your kids!!!

October 17, 2012

I like my robots with a little zombie, a little Frankenstein, and definitely some pie

I love this book! I love it so much that I think I screamed the first time I read it. Here, don’t listen to me. Listen to the awesome prose:



“Robot?” (one of the robots leaves)

“Robot ZOMBIE!” (He comes back dressed as a zombie. The other one leaves.)

“Robot zombie FRANKENSTEIN!” (He comes back dressed as a zombie Frankenstein.)

This continues until they are both dressed as Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chefs. And then there is cherry pie. That is shared. In just a few words (the new picture book is the minimalist picture book), Robot Zombie Frankenstein is truly “a tale of competition, friendship, and pie.”

Title: Robot Zombie Frankenstein
Author: Annette Simon
Genre: Picture book, Halloween, Awesomeness
Age: Any, really

Two great follow-ups to this book. One is art. Cut out a bunch of shapes in different colors and let your little ones assemble robots. Watching how the shapes fit together will not only give them spatial awareness and teach some beginning geometry concepts, but they will be doing art, flexing their creative muscles, and having fun to book!

Another option is more literary and would be fun for home-schoolers or a classroom teacher. While I do LOVE this book AND it’s zen-like prose which is perfect for this particular story, it would be interesting to ask budding writers how it could have been written in story form. Example, rewriting the lines quoted above: Once upon a time there were two robots. They saw each other and smiled. But then one of them left. The other robot wondered where he had gone. He was sad that his new friend had disappeared so quickly. But wait! Here he was again. But something is different…what is it? He’s dressed as a zombie! Etc…

If I’m not conveying it’s awesomeness strongly enough, here’s the trailer.

Happy reading! And artsying! And rewriting! And while you are here, tell me what YOU think about the trend for picture books these days to be so minimalistic in their word usage.

October 3, 2011

CINDERELLA SKELETON, the “Halloween kind” of skeleton book

My son knows me well. One of his favorite parts of the library routine is typing his search word into the catalog. (He’s even been known to leave the sacred puppet shows one or two minutes early because he can’t contain his excitement for the keyboard.) Recently, in response to my usual question about what kind of books we were going to check out today, my son says “I want skeleton books, but the Halloween kind, not the body kind.”

In case this isn’t clear, let me explain: he knows very well his mom used to be a middle school science teacher, even if he can’t explain it in so many words. And he knows very well that asking said mom for skeleton books will likely result in bedtime stories about tibias and fibulas. (We’ve done that before actually. The only bone name he seems to really remember is the patella. But we’ll work on that.) So what he was saying is this: “I want a scary skeleton book. A book where the skeletons are main characters, where they do things. I do not want to learn anything about anatomy when I read these books.”

Done. We typed “skeleton” one letter at a time into the catalog and came home with a whole pile of non-academic Halloween-based scary and not-so-scary skeleton books which we have been enjoying reading for the past few days.  Here are our favorites:

Title: Cinderella Skeleton
Author: Robert D. San Souci
Illustrator: David Catrow
Genre: Picture Book, Scary
Age: 3 – 7

Summary and Review: This book is wonderfully creepy. It’s by far my son’s favorite of all the library books we’ve gotten, seeing as it combines two of his loves: skeletons and fairy tale princesses. He looked at the pictures in the car on the way home from the library and excitedly showed me how, instead of losing a glass slipper, Cinderella loses a foot. 🙂 What is not to love about this gorgeously-illustrated, somewhat creepy fairy tale re-telling with an unusual rhyming scheme?

Title: Skeleton hiccups
Author: Margaret Cuyler
Illustrator: S.D. Schindler
Genre: Picture Book, Halloween
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review: This one is funny. The only downside is that my son doesn’t remember ever having the hiccups, so he doesn’t relate very well. But he loves it and reads it out loud to himself all the time–at least the “hic, hic, hic” part. Skeleton tries to get rid of the hiccups with a lot of traditional ways, but the water he tries to drink upside down goes right through him. He has other similar problems. Ghost is trying to help, and finally Ghost gets an idea that cures Skeleton once and for all. (Hint: it involves a mirror.)

Title:  Skeleton Bones and Goblin Groans
Author: Amy E. Sklansky
Illustrator: Karen Dismukes
Genre: Poems, Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review: This is a collection of cute Halloween poems. Fun to read out loud.


What about you? Any great Halloween stories? Or skeleton stories? Or fairy tales about the undead? What are your kids into right now?

October 28, 2010

Leave the windows open for the bats

This was a Halloween present, and rightfully so, as the characters are bats, who are unfortunately mostly appreciated by the general populice only around the end of October as only as decorative designs. (Although, I think their rep is growing as people hang more bat houses to get rid of mosquitoes.)

But I love a book that uses a usually overlooked animal as its hero.  And Bats at the Library does just that.

Title: Bats at the Library
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies
: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 7

Summary and Review:

It’s nighttime, and the bats have eaten and played.  They find they are, well, slightly bored.  But then a rumor spreads–a window has been left open at the library, so the fun is just about to begin!  There is storytime, shaddow puppets with the overhead projector, water play in the drinking fountain, illicit use of the copy machine, and imaginations running wild when the bats enter the magical world of storybooks.  It’s just about the best time at the library anyone could imagine, and the illustrations that accompany the story are fun and gorgeous–and, because this is a nocturnal story, darker and different from other picture book you may be more used to reading.

Brian Lies has a newer book out, too, Bats at the Ballgame, which you can preview here, and which I cannot wait to buy, as it has always been a goal of mine (and my toddler’s) to own every baseball book possible, and it is a newer goal of mine to own more of Brian Lies’s Bat books!  (There’s another one I haven’t seen about the beach as well.)

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Well, for starters, you might have to explain what an overhead projector is.  Even to the older ones.  Maybe especially to the older ones–younger ones are used to technology they haven’t seen before.


The is a great book for learning how to notice detail in the illustrations.  What are the bats doing in each of the pictures?  Why do they hang upside down?  Why are the pictures so dark?  What kinds of books are the bats reading?  What kinds of games are the playing?  Ask your child to get involved with the pictures–not to merely glance at them, but to truly appreciate them and learn to be observant.  That’s the first thing their first science teacher is going to teach them, and it’s an important skill whether they grow up to be an ecologist, a photojournalist, or just an empathetic human being.  So teach them to really look, to watch, to make observations about the pictures and let you know what they are learning.


Ask them what they might do at the library if they were there all night long with no adults.  Or maybe ask them what they would do at the library if they were five inches tall.  Encourage your kids to think outside the comfort zone of normal ideas and really engage their imaginative muscle.  Like observation skills, the imagination is really good for future schooling, too.  And for being empathetic.  And painting.  And, unfortunately, probably useful in today’s journalism culture as well.