Here are some stories for the Halloween season
I am keen on the artist Bagram Ibatoulline whose genius I first discovered in his pictures for two books by Kate DiCamillo (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane and Great Joy). The haunting scarecrow and tasseled corn fields, the autumnal oranges and shadowy twilight are so extraordinary that this book is almost worth buying for the pictures alone. The verse story is by Jane Yolen, the children’s writer who best understands today what folklore is and does it herself. Here, Yolen tells the familiar story of what-the-dolls-do-at-night (but with a scarecrow now in that role) and finishes with an unexpected religious message about prayer and souls.
Among the most famous Halloween stories is Washington Irving’s tale about Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman. Dr. Seuss must have realized that we usually imagine our boogies from the top down — think of the familiar ghostly sheet. He must have wondered: What if we imagined them, instead, from the bottom up? What if we imagined, say, a ghostly pair of pants with no one inside them? In this way or another, Dr. Seuss created this story where one of his zany creature is pursued by an owner-less pair of pants. But one night our hero gets caught in a Snide Bush and overhears the trousers weeping; when he consoles the garment, they become friends. Hence the title.
“Babes in the Woods,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Baba Yaga,” “Peter and the Wolf”–countless stories talk about fears when a child passes through a forest at night. Such is the case with Felix who must hide when he sees a succession of animals. Like Mole in Wind in the Willows after a terrifying night in the Wild Wood. Felix fortunately finds a door and stairs that lead to a kitchen and an accommodating host. Felix and a rabbit join forces to overcome their fears: Putting a long cape, with the rabbit standing on Felix’s shoulders and then donning a Halloween-like mask, the two scare away a wolf, tiger, and crocodile. Dark Night is a tight fairy tale presented in a comic-book style that upstages Tintin.
Goldman (a native of Mexico City) provides the all too familiar story of a child and a dying relative, and Moreno (a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design) provides colored-pencil sketches in the expected folkloric style. Still, this is an interesting little book that combines a concern for Monarch butterflies (who winter in Mexico) with a presentation of customs surrounding El Día de Los Muertos. Here children might learn about the altars built at home (where the dead are celebrated with photos and food) and how the night is sometimes passed in cemeteries with meals, memories, laughter, and candy figurines of skeletons.
Originally appeared in Parents’ Choice (October 2010). And here is a related essay:
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