Scary Stories!

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Q-tip Skeleton by Sophia

I love Halloween. The only thing that frightens me about the holiday is that I know the instant it’s over, it will be Christmas. And not just in the stores, because Christmas has already begun its red and green invasion across our local Rite Aid. No, I mean, that as soon as October ends, that whole eight weeks between November 1 and December 25 will vanish like a pepperoni pizza in a room full of teenagers.

But for now, I get to enjoy the huge variety of great picture books about monsters, witches, pumpkins, and ghosts. The only challenge is gauging the scariness level for the wide range of ages I read to. This week, I did Halloween-themed storytimes for two groups of toddlers, two groups of preschoolers, two second grade classes, and my family storytime group (mostly Kindergartners). This post is mostly about my family storytime, but I’ll list some of my favorites for the other age groups below:


When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor and Nick Sharatt

“When a monster is born, there are two possibilities: either it’s a Faraway in the Forests Monster or it’s an Under Your Bed Monster.” This book explores all the different things that might happen with each decision a monster might make, each with hilarious twists: it might eat the principal, it might meet a kitchen girl and fall in love. The kids love joining in on the repeated line, “There are two possibilities.” This one was quickly snatched up by one of my family storytime kids. The parents enjoyed it too, especially the line, “Hey, I’m a monster. You’re a monster. Let’s get married!”


The Monster Who Ate My Peas by Danny Schnitzlein and Matt Faulkner

I love this book. It’s rare to find a long story in rhymed verse that reads so well all the way through, and is easy for the kids to follow. When a boy doesn’t want to eat his peas, a horrifying monster appears to offer a trade: he’ll eat the peas in exchange for the boy’s new soccer ball. The boy accepts, but the next time he has to eat peas, the monster returns asking for his bike. I had read this to two classes of second graders the morning before my family storytime, and I thought it was really interesting that, when I asked them if the boy should give up his ball or his bike, most of the older kids said, “Yes.” (The Kindergarten kids at family storytime said, “No” every time.). But when the monster demands the boy’s puppy, all the kids were emphatically against the deal, and also worried about what was going to happen to the dog. Luckily, the boy decides to eat the peas himself, and the monster disappears in a deliciously satisfying ending. A couple of the Kindergartners thought this one was scary, which surprised me because I remembered reading it to them a year or so before. But then I know from my own kids that they find different things frightening at different ages. The second graders loved it.


Crankenstein by Samantha Berger; illustrated by Dan Santat

This one was recommended by my friend Kerri, on her blog What is ML Reading? It’s a fun read-aloud because the kids get to make that Frankenstein “Mehrrr!” noise all the way through. It describes all the things that can turn a normal kid into Crankenstein: waiting in long lines, running out of maple syrup, getting ready for school, and bedtime. It would pair well with another of my favorite books: What are You so Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld. This one got snatched up too.


Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds; illustrated by Peter Brown

Always a hit! As I told the kids: this one’s only scary if you’re a rabbit. But it has all the hallmarks of a horror movie: dark shadows, creepy breathing, things that aren’t there when you turn around. In this case, the monsters are three creepy carrots, who stalk poor Jasper Rabbit until he decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s a fun read, with a funny twist at the end, and it works for a wide range of ages.


Jack-o-Lantern (For the tune, click here)

Jack-o-lantern, Jack-o-lantern,
You are such a spooky sight!
As you sit there in the window
Looking out at the night.

You were once a yellow pumpkin
Growing on a pretty vine.
Now you are a jack-o-lantern,
Let your candlelight shine!

1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little Witches

1 little, 2 little, 3 little Witches (hold up three fingers)
Fly over haystacks, fly over ditches (fly your hand around)
Fly over moonbeams without any hitches
Hey ho! Halloween night! (Clap!)

1 little, 2 little, 3 little witches
Flew over barbed wire, tore their britches
Had to go home and get some stitches (mime sewing)
Hey ho! Halloween night! (Clap!)

On Halloween (to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus)

The ghosts in the house go, “Boo! Boo! Boo!”
“Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!”
The ghosts in the house go, “Boo! Boo! Boo!”
On Halloween!

The witches in the house go “Hee hee hee!”…

The bats in the house go “Eee eee eee!”…

The kids at the door say “Trick or treat!”

I asked for suggestions from the kids for other spooky Halloween things, or things they plan to be for Halloween.

Five Little Pumpkins

Five Little Pumpkins sitting on a gate (hold up five fingers)
The first one said, “Oh my! It’s getting late!”
The second one said, “There are witches in the air!”
The third one said, “But we don’t care!”
The fourth one said, “Let’s run and run and run!”
The fifth one said, “It’s Halloween fun!”
Then “OOOOOOH” went the wind,
And out went the light! (Clap)
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight. (roll hands)

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Q-Tip Skeleton by Olivia

CRAFT: Q-Tip Skeletons

I am grateful to the Crafts Ideas website for including a printable template for the skull. I cut those out ahead of time and broke up the Q-Tips into different sizes. One thing I learned the hard way: it’s much easier to break Q-tips with your hands than to cut them with scissors. With the scissors, I was wearing out my hands, and Q-tip bits were flying across the reference desk like tiny cotton missiles!

The kids used glue sticks to glue their skeletons to black paper. If you do a search for Q-Tip Skeletons online, you’ll see an astounding variety of styles. Some of them get pretty elaborate, and include fingers and toes.

OTHER HALLOWEEN BOOKS (with recommended ages):

Babies and Toddlers:

Halloween Countdown by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Wonderful counting rhyme in a board book format. The ghosts are adorable, and there’s a “Boo!” at the end. This one really works well for any age.

Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino

A classic board book of the fingerplay, Five Little Pumpkins (see above). Most of the kids knew this one already.

Tucker’s Spooky Halloween by Leslie McGuirk

Tucker is an adorable white dog who would like to be something spooky for Halloween, but his owner has other plans. Simple, cute story in a board book format.


Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman; illustrated by S. D. Schindler

A witch grows a pumpkin for pumpkin pie, but is unable to pull it off the vine. One by one, different Halloween creatures try their hand until a bat suggests the solution. Fun, repetitive story with great illustrations.

Pumpkin Trouble by Jan Thomas

When Duck gets his head stuck in a pumpkin, his friends Mouse and Pig think he is a monster. Short, funny read-aloud with a lot of visual humor. This is one of my daughter’s favorites.

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Leonardo is a terrible monster. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t scare anyone, until he meets Sam. This is a sweet story, and perfect for storytime because of the large pages with lots of white space. You have to take a big breath when you get to the page where Sam explains why he’s crying. I love everything Mo Willems writes.

Elementary Grades:

The Skeleton in the Closet by Alice Schertle; illustrated by Curtis Jobling

Another wonderful rhyming story. I have actually read this one to younger kids, but I point out the cuteness of the skeleton and tone down the spookiness in my voice. A skeleton climbs up the stairs of a little boy’s house, saying it’s “Coming to get some skeleton clothes!” In the end, it raids the little boy’s closet and comes out fully clothed.

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Scott Campbell

I’ve read this one for Valentine’s Day too. Poor Mortimer tries everything to meet the girl of his dreams: giving out chocolates (full of worms), hearts (the organ kind), and even diamond rings (with the finger still attached). But nothing works until he places a personal ad in the paper, and meets Millicent, who loses her shoe (and her foot) at the ball. This one got lots of appreciative “Ews!” and “Yucks” from the second grade, both for the gruesome bits and the romantic ones.

The Book that Eats People by John Perry; illustrated by Mark Fearing

The second graders and I had fun acting scared of this book, because IT EATS PEOPLE! Deliciously gruesome, but not for younger kids unless they have a high tolerance for horror.

Next week I will be doing Halloween books again, probably sticking with the lighter, funnier ones. I would love suggestions, so please send me your favorites and I’ll list them below.

Autumn Leaves: Stories about Fall

Torn Paper Tree by Olivia

Torn Paper Tree by Olivia

Last night we read books that were loosely related to Fall.

I have the same issue with seasonal books that I do with holiday ones.  The ones that are purely about the seasons are often pretty dry.  Also, I always feel a little funny reading seasonal books in the Bay Area, especially here on the coast.  We have spring, summer, autumn and winter several times a week.  This morning it was clearly autumn and I had to wear a jacket when I dropped off my son at school, but by 10 it was spring, so I took it off.  This afternoon it was definitely summer.  For all I know, tomorrow there will be a winter rainstorm.  I’ve given up trying to figure it all out.  I just try to keep a flexible wardrobe.

But we never get snow (a shame, because so many great picture books take place in snow).  And only a few embarrassed trees drop their leaves here.  The eucalyptus and cypress defiantly keep theirs all year.  So the picture book versions of the seasons don’t really apply.

What does the autumn mean here?  Mostly school, and pumpkins.  Huge pumpkins!  Also apples, pomegranates and persimmons.  And, just because I love this book, squirrels:


Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

I’ve only discovered David Ezra Stein in the past year or so, but I love his books, especially Interrupting Chicken (such a fun read-aloud!)  This one’s about a tough old Mama Squirrel who will scold anyone and anything who threatens her babies, even a great big bully of a bear.  The kids enjoyed chiming in on the “Chook! Chook! Chook!” of the Mama Squirrel, and this book was quickly snatched up at the end.


A New House for Mouse by Petr Horacek

Cute story about a mouse searching for a new home that will hold both him and his apple.  As he goes along throughout the day, snacking, and asking different animals if he can share their homes, the apple gets smaller and smaller until he winds up right back at his own hole, which is now a perfect fit.  This one has cut-out holes in the pages, which always seem to fascinate kids.  They all seemed to enjoy this one, and it got snatched up too.


Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

I’ll confess that I had only skimmed this one before story time, and wasn’t planning to read it, but one of the kids grabbed it from the pile and asked if I could read it next.  It’s the story of a duck, a cat, and a squirrel who each have a particular job to do to make the pumpkin soup they eat every night.  They live together peacefully, until one day the duck decides he would like to try stirring the soup.  They all have a tremendous fight, and duck leaves.  The kids were all mesmerized, waiting to see if Duck would come back.  (I was too, since I wasn’t 100% sure of how it was going to end).  But of course, they all learn to be more flexible, and everything is happy again, until the Duck decides he wants to try playing Cat’s bagpipes…  This one got checked out at the end too.


Leaves by David Ezra Stein

This was the one book that was clearly related to Fall.  It’s a simple story, but sweet, about a young bear who is alarmed to see the leaves falling, and tries to put them back on the trees.  The kids were intrigued by the way the bear curls into a leaf-filled hole that is buried by snow in the winter, and how he is hidden there until spring.  This one would work well for younger kids too.


I only did a couple of songs because after I read A New House for Mouse there was a raging debate between one girl who wanted me to sing “Hickory Dickory Dock” and a boy who just wanted me to read more stories (he asked very politely.  It was sweet).  So I did do “Hickory Dickory Dock,” but I cut out some of the other songs.  Here is the version that I do:

Hickory Dickory Dock (clap hands in rhythm)
The mouse ran up the clock (run fingers up arm)
The clock struck 1 (jump up quickly, then sit down)
The mouse ran down (run fingers down arm)
Hickory Dickory Dock (clap hands)

…the clock struck two (jump up and sit down twice)
The mouse went “boo!” (cover eyes with hands, then peekaboo)

…the clock struck three
The mouse went “whee!” (slide fingers down body)

INSTRUMENT PLAY WITH A CD:  I’ve had several requests for Bananaphone by Rhonda Vincent from Sing Along with Putumayo, so that’s the one we did.  But a more appropriate one would have been What Falls in the Fall? by Laurie Berkner from her Whaddaya Think of That album.

CRAFT: Torn Paper Trees

I cut out the trunks freehand from brown paper, then tore bits of colored paper for the leaves.  It was fun to see the different ways the kids approached gluing on the leaves.  Some scattered them in handfuls, while others applied each leaf individually.

If I did this craft again, I might print out the template at the bottom of this post from The Crayon Box Chronicles (she also has a neat way of making tree trunks out of brown paper bags).  I just found this site, and I’m already in love with it.  LOTS of different kids art ideas and they all look like great fun!  Check it out!

Torn Paper Tree by Sarah

Torn Paper Tree by Sarah


One book I meant to do, which is one of my favorites for fall, is Leaf  Man by Lois Ehlert.   In this one Ehlert uses autumn leaves to create a wonderful assortment of animals and scenery.  I’ve actually used it several times as a craft idea too, and brought in leaves for the kids to glue together to make their own creations.

What are your favorite picture books about Autumn?