All Hallow’s Read

What a charming idea, yes? Neil Gaiman proposes that we give away scary books for Halloween.

I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. I don’t like wearing costumes myself; I don’t like doing crafty things like making costumes; I don’t like spending money to buy them; I don’t like having all that candy in the house; and orange and black is just about the ugliest color scheme I can think of. But, wow! The idea of giving away books… that changes everything!

Soooooo, here are my picks:

For Littler Kids

The Tailypo, by Joanna & Paul Galdone. I used to read this book to my son Jake when he was still at the read-aloud age (he’s going on 16 now). He still remembers this story vividly — it terrified him but he couldn’t resist it and we checked it out from the library again and again. It’s a classic bit of Americana: old geezer in the woods is cold and hungry and goes out hunting with his dogs. He shoots the tail off a creepy little beast, cooks and eats it, and the beast comes back in the night, scratching at the door… peering over the foot of his bed… repeating over and over again, give me back my tailypo! Which, incidentally, makes it very fun to read aloud!

As an aside, I think Paul Galdone is one of the best children’s book illustrators ever. We read so many of his books when my kids were young: The Little Red Hen, Puss in Boots, The Gingerbread Man. So delightful, all of them. And needless to say, his scribbly style suits this scary story perfectly.

For Bigger Kids

I believe I was in sixth grade when I stumbled across Lois Duncan’s Down A Dark Hall in the school library. It was the first gothic horror story I ever read and it set me on a binge that lasted for about two years (until I discovered sci-fi, topic for a different post).

Down A Dark Hall is a spooky boarding school story. The boarding school is so spooky, in fact, that only four students are talented enough to gain admission. But what, you may well ask, is the nature of these girls’ very special talent? Well you’ll just have to read the book to find out, bwa ha ha ha ha ha! And if you are an impressionable twelve-year-old, don’t start it on a school night. I promise you, you will be reading under the covers into the wee hours because you will not be able to put it down until it’s done…

For Grownups

The scariest thing I’ve ever read is “The Colour Out of Space,” a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. I wish I could give you a detailed plot synopsis but the fact is, I haven’t read it in 30 years and I’m too scared to go back and reread it. I don’t even want to google it! But the gist of it is, an indescribable color appears on a farm in New England. And the color is, I guess, sentient. It spreads all over the farm and beyond, blighting everything it touches. And that’s it. I don’t know why I find that so freaky, the idea of a color outside the spectrum as we know it, and the idea that a color could be a sentient evil being from outer space. Maybe because I am a very visual person to begin with, and colors have always been extremely salient for me. Or maybe it was the writing style, which as I recall was quite dry and matter of fact. The descriptions of the crops withering and turning that color, livestock dying from eating the grass, the village becoming a ghost town, oy! Truly, the stuff of nightmares.

Happy Halloween, and Happy Reading!

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