Smile Politely

Give a scary book this Halloween

Halloween is here, and for most people, that means two things: costumes and candy. For the braver souls, it might also mean scary movie marathons and haunted houses. But there’s a new tradition being started, and it is one that is just as scary: giving people scary books for Halloween. Most people do not expect presents at this time of year ― Christmas/Hanukah/Yule are the gift-giving holidays in most people’s minds. Yet more and more people are joining in the discussion and the gift giving, all thanks to one thing: All Hallow’s Read.

Started by author Neil Gaiman in his blog post from 2010, the tradition has grown this year. There’s a whole website, and a hashtag on Twitter devoted to the topic. Any and all information about All Hallow’s Read can be found online: discussions of the best scary books to give, for any taste, personality, and age of the recipient; the answers to frequently asked questions; and perhaps in the forums or tracked tag, a person could connect with someone else who shares a love for Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft. Even popular children’s horror author R.L. Stine is getting behind this idea via Twitter.

Join in the fun by purchasing a book from a local bookstore, such as Jane Addams Book Shop, or from nationwide chains like Barnes & Noble. Need ideas for what kinds of scary books to give? Don’t be afraid ― the librarians at the Champaign Public Library were willing to give a few suggestions for people of all ages.

Choosing something scary, yet appropriate for kids, especially younger children, can be difficult. The good Children’s Librarians are here to help with plenty of ideas for books, and even a few costume ideas! For books, Molly MacRae’s suggestions are:

Cover of The TailypoThe Tailypo: A Ghost Story, by Joanna Galdone. This classic children’s story, “scared my boys when they were little, but they loved it,” said Ms. MacRae.

Cold Feet, by Cynthia DeFelice is “about a poor, wandering bagpiper who steals a dead man’s boots.”

The View from the Cherry Tree, by Willo Davis Roberts is for slightly older kids, and is “one of the few kids’ mysteries that has a murder in it, and the child protagonist sees it happen,” cautions Ms. MacRae, who said that it’s “not scary, just good suspense.”

Amanda Raklovits has many good suggestions for the younger set as well:

Cover of VelcomeVelcome, by Kevin O’Malley is “guaranteed to make you laugh and groan at the puns, jokes, and spoofs,” said Ms. Raklovits.

No Such Thing as Ghosts, by Ursula Vernon – “Danny Dragonbreath and his best pal, an iguana named Wendell, have to enter a haunted house on a dare, and they take along their skeptical classmate Christiana, who doesn’t believe in ghosts,” said Ms. Raklovits on this more humorously scary book.

Looking for ideas for a more upper elementary/middle school set? Ms. Raklovits recommends the following chilling tales:

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman – “Coraline finds a mysterious door in her new house that leads her to a creepy ‘other’ world that is much like her own, but with some eerie and dangerous differences. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by the author,” said Ms. Raklovits. There is also a movie that is guaranteed to creep you out as much as the book!

Malice, by Chris Wooding – “There’s an urban legend that if you call Tall Jake, he’ll take you to Malice, a dangerous world inside a comic book. Seth and Kady don’t believe it, until their friend disappears,” said Ms. Raklovits of this text-meets-graphic novel creation.

The Prince of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – “Staying at a seaside town in 1943 to escape the war in Europe, teenage siblings believe their house is haunted and that it has something to do with the shipwreck off the coast.”

Cover of Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkScary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz – “The classic collections of ghost stories, urban legends, and jump tales. Great for reading aloud!” (See also, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3.)

The Seer of Shadows, by Avi – “Fourteen-year-old Horace is a photographer’s apprentice in 1872, and his picture-taking summons a vengeful ghost who is bent on murder.”

Well Witched, by Frances Hardinge – “Three friends steal coins out of a wishing well and find themselves in debt to the well witch. Now they must fulfill the wishes of the people whose coins they stole, and are given creepy powers to do so.”

For teens, Ms. Raklovits has much more scary and gory books to recommend:

Thirteen Days to Midnight, by Patrick Carman is “a gripping supernatural thriller,” said Ms. Raklovits. “After a car accident kills his foster father, teenage Jacob discovers he is indestructible. But Jacob finds that indestructibility isn’t a way to become a superhero; it’s actually a curse.”

The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey – “[It is] not for the faint of heart or stomach!” said Ms. Raklovits. “Will Henry is the assistant of a monstrumologist (someone who studies, and occasionally hunts, monsters). This is his journal, which chronicles the ‘Anthropophagi incident,’ when he and Dr. Warthrop hunt for creatures that are ravaging the town with an insatiable taste for human flesh.”

On a lighter note, poetry is a medium that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and in Poetry: Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, by Adam Rex (and the follow-up Frankenstein Takes the Cake), poetry and humor are used to tell the tale of traditional scary favorites. “Outstandingly illustrated, these hilarious poems about Frankenstein, Dracula, Big Foot, the Phantom of the Opera, and more aren’t to be missed. Perfect even for those who claim they ‘don’t like poetry,’ ” said Ms. Raklovits.

Cover of Graveyard BookBetsy Su, Teen Librarian and self-confessed “total wimp,” also suggests a scary novel that’s geared toward a younger audience: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. “After his family is murdered, Nobody Owens is raised by the inhabitants of the graveyard. This one has a lot of heart,” said Ms. Su. (It’s one of this writer’s favorite creepy good books as well, and is a good read for almost any age.) This book was also recommended by Amanda Raklovits.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King – “This one was written for adults, but really works for teens as well. It’s about a nine-year-old girl named Trisha who goes for a walk in the Appalachian Trail with her family. But she takes a slight detour off the path and gets lost, not just for a few minutes but for days. As if being lost isn’t bad enough, there’s something lurking in the wilderness and Trisha’s got to figure out how to survive,” said Ms. Su.

Another Stephen King novel recommended by Ms. Su is Cell: “A signal is sent to everybody’s cell phone, so that those using their phone at that moment ― those who heard the signal ― are turned into a zombie. (I think that’s kind of true with people using their cell phones today, anyway!)”

Librarian Melissa Records also has book recommendations for older, more mature audiences:

Cover of The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson – “One of the creepiest books/[movies] I’ve ever read or seen,” said Ms. Records, “And no blood whatsoever. Pure psychological terror. You should have heard the people scream when I was at a screening of the movie at the Foelinger Auditorium!”

Yet another Stephen King thriller is the well-known book The Shining, recommended by Ms. Records as a book that scared her. The movie, starring Jack Nicholson, is incredibly creepy as well.

Cover of The Dunwich HorrorFor lovers of the weird, Ms. Records also recommends Dunwich Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft. Ms. Records confesses that, “ had a hard time deciding on the scariest story by this author because I find them all pretty creepy. Lovecraft’s mastery is suggestion. You don’t entirely get what’s going on, but that just leaves ample room for your imagination to populate the stories with the nastiest possibilities.”

If you would rather test-drive these books at the library before purchasing them, feel free to stop in and take advantage of its many reading nooks, chairs, and couches, as well as the café area.

“I think a lot of library customers take advantage of cold, rainy, or snowy days to settle into a favorite chair with a blanket and a book,” said Ms. Su.

“In the fall, I love seeing all the new folks come in to the library who’ve just moved into town and are eager to get a library card,” agrees Ms. Records. “At Halloween, it’s a lot of fun seeing patrons come in dressed up, but I’d have to say that my favorite part is the Library’s preschooler costume parade ― it’s a sure-fire way to put a smile on your face,” she adds.

“The best part of being a librarian at Halloween is seeing kids dressed up!” said Ms. Raklovits.

All Hallow’s Read began as another excuse to give books as gifts, and it’s quickly becoming a popular way for book and horror lovers everywhere to get into the Halloween spirit this year. If you need somewhere to get your scare on this fall, go to the Champaign Public Library for its numerous services and events. Enjoy the ambiance, hang out and read, and check out some of the books on this list. If you’re brave enough, you can join in the new tradition of All Hallow’s Read, and give someone a scary book this Halloween. Be careful ― they might get some ideas!

Neil Gaiman on All Hallow’s Read:

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