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Close the curtains, lock the doors and settle down with one of our spooky reads!
Halloween has become a big event in our calendar but with the latest 'rule of six' and social distancing due to covid, trick or treating might be a bit tricky this year. And Halloween parties will have to be smaller. Fortunately we have a great selection of spooky reads to get you into the Halloween spirit, that will hopefully fright and delight in equal measure.
Our Halloween traditions are drawn from ancient religious and pagan festivals celebrated over the end of autumn. The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe'en, is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening before "All Hallows' Day" (also known as "All Saints' Day"). Halloween was also sometimes called All Saints' Eve. Allhallowtide was a time for Christians to remember the dead as the nights grew longer and winter arrived.
Halloween may also have roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, a day of celebration to mark the end of harvest, when bonfires were lit, pranks were played and people dressed up in costumes.
The long, dark nights of October bring ghostly connotations as it was believed to be a time when the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest, and when humans could communicate with those beyond the grave.
Our modern Halloween has appropriated the customs from all of these festivals and is now a chance for fancy dress and pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, trick or treating and enjoying a scary movie or of course, a scary book!
Scroll on for a frighteningly good selection of books for children of all ages as well as grown-ups who have never quite grown up!
Rob Ramsden is an exciting new arrival on the picture book scene and We Planted a Pumpkin is a really lovely book, just the thing to get young children excited about nature, eager to plant seeds and see them grow. It stars two very young gardeners and follows them through the process of planting a pumpkin seed, from watching and impatiently waiting for it to grow as the seasons change. The children bring liveliness and action to every scene, but there’s always lots going on – new shoots appearing, mini-beasts flying in and out. Though it feels beautifully simple, it’s actually chockful of information and opportunities for learning. A gorgeous book to share with the young and likely to be the start of many adventures in the garden.
There are thrills galore in this stylish lift-the-flap book. Each page features a different creature – fish, bat, spider snake – and each looks pretty innocuous until you pull open the elongated flap then, good heavens, what horrors are revealed! The fish is no guppy, but a piranha with a gaping mouthful of sharp teeth (and a smaller fish about to be eaten)! Pull up the flap for the octopus and discover what’s inside – it’s not a pretty sight! Each flap reveals something more gruesome and revolting than before until the final image of a pumpkin, which turns out to be concealing some very creepy surprises. Young children will revel in these opportunities to be shocked and disgusted, and will shriek with glee at each new ghastliness revealed. The illustrations and bold colours are very striking and add just the right amount of humour to the horror. Nasty but nice!
Winner of the UKLA Book Awards 2019 | One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | This must be one of the brightest and best picture books of the year. With minimalist illustrations – simple shapes against blocks of Day-Glo colour – and short lines of text, Morag Hood tells a story that will dazzle and entertain all readers. Cherries, Bat tells us, ‘are my favourite things’, following this up with a fiercely delivered threat: ‘Do not take my cherries.’ In later pages though we see the cherries being stolen. Bat is inconsolable until one of the thieves leaves a pear in their place. Bat’s emotions – joy, anger, confusion, despair, surprise and joy again – are rendered brilliantly in the tilt of an eyebrow and the angle of the head while the intensity of those emotions will be hilarious yet recognisable to child and parent alike. Superb!
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | Everyone is welcome at Spooky School! Everyone who likes to be scared a bit! Open the pages of this fun board book and join the pupils as they learn how to fly like a witch on a broomstick and to howl like a werewolf. Or join in a dance for skeletons. And, don’t forget, spookiness can be caring too. There’s loads of fun on the Halloween theme. But just watch out for spiders….
The Little Monster thinks he's brave but we're not so sure! Little Monster really wants to be in a scary story but he won't listen to the narrator who thinks a funny story might be better... But the dark and scary forest is just too dark and scary. And the creepy witch is just too creepy. And the ghost? Oh jeepers creepers! Jean Julliene's illustrations jump off the page; the Little Monster pulls the most wonderfully expressive faces. A cute, funny and just a little bit scary, picture book perfect for Halloween fun.
This comic picture book cleverly demonstrates the dangers of being swayed by popular opinion. New boy Peter is quickly branded the baddest boy in school and it does indeed seem that he’s given to doing naughty things. So when the school’s pet rat goes missing from his cage, everyone assumes Peter is responsible. Only one person knows the truth, and that Peter’s bad behaviour is not what it seems either. The book explores the dynamics of any classroom while also showing us that strange or different doesn’t equal bad and that categorising people on assumptions is never a good idea. Peter is a very charming little character, with his cape, fangs and lacy collar, and the story is beautifully told by its mystery narrator. Original, memorable, and lots of fun.
Lucky Isadora – she’s won a holiday in the sun for herself and her family in an art competition. At first everything seems perfect – a bit bright for her vampire dad but he loves the hotel spa – but a surprise meeting with her mermaid friend Marina shows Isadora what her mum suspected: the sea is full of litter. Fortunately, working as a team, fairies, mermaids and vampires can clean up the mess and persuade the humans to change their ways too. This is another lively and engaging story in this excellent series, mixing a fun adventure with an important message, deftly delivered. Half-vampire, half-fairy, Isadora is 100% brilliant especially for those growing in reading confidence.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month February 2020 | March 2020 Book of the Month | With a new baby on the way Amelia’s mother is too busy to do much. So it is up to Amelia and her friends Florence and Grimaldy to look after the sweet little caticorns. What can be hard about taking care of the cute looking Gerrard, Butler and Mo? Amelia is keen to impress all with what a great big sister she will be but looking after the very naughty carticorns turns out to be very hard indeed!
Magic! There’s a new adventure for Elsie Pickles and her friend and sometime employer witch Magenta Sharp. Bored, Magenta has decided to open a magic shop in Elsie’s village, Smallbridge. Attention to detail has never been one of Magenta’s strengths, and she relies on new gadget the Spellatron 3000 to set it up, ignoring the first rules of witchcraft - read the instructions, follow the recipe, know how to stop it if things go wrong. Things do go wrong of course, but not before the shop has provoked protest from some village residents who want to keep Smallbridge ‘witch-free’, to quote one of their unfriendly placards. Thanks to Elsie – and some magic tickle dust - all is resolved happily in the end. Kaye Umansky is one of our best writers for children and here she subtly and seemingly effortlessly mixes social comment into a very funny comic adventure.
Magical Poems Chosen by Paul Cookson | Loads of fun, this is a light-hearted and crackling collection of poems which touches on magic of all kinds. Mostly newly written, but interspersed with well-known verses from Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Tennyson, the poems are bursting with energy and humour which makes them fun to read and also an easy introduction to writing verse to anyone who wants to give it a try. Dragons, wizards, wands and how to look after them, unicorns and enchantments. All this and more come alive in this anthology.
Best-selling Goth Girl is back for an action-packed new adventure in this stunningly produced volume by former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell which has the additional delight of a mini-book, Fable of a Faun, tucked into it. Lord Goth is turning Ghastly-Gorm Hall into the venue for Gothstock, a sensational music festival that will match his home. Naturally, Ada Goth is thrilled at the thought but will it all go to plan? In both words and pictures Chris Riddell creates an amazing cast of characters and the most original escapades in which they are all entangled.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | If you like your adventures good and creepy, you’re going to love The Invasion of the Crooked Oak. Crooked Oak is a peaceful kind of place, but it seems something is up with the town’s grown-ups – they’ve stopped eating, are avoiding the light, and generally behaving really strangely. When teenagers Pete, Krish and Nancy try to work out what’s going on, they find the trail leads to the fracking site on the town’s edge. The tension ratchets up nicely as the three realise they’ve got one chance to save their parents and themselves. The environmental theme feels very topical and author Dan Smith knows just how to keep his readers on the edge of their seats. Published by dyslexia specialists Barrington Stoke, this is accessible to readers of all abilities and completely gripping.
October 2019 Debut of the Month | Sinister secrets and ghoulish goings-on are afoot in the sleepy town of Suds, and this devilishly dark debut reveals Suds’s murky mysteries with notable wit and invention. Suds is a peculiar place beset by unsettling stories of children turning grey and vanishing. When Poppy and Erasmus determine to discover the truth of their town for themselves, their quest takes them to the distinctly disturbing Riddling Woods, where dark, twisting paths mirror the twists and turns of the plot. The writing is rich and lively, with details memorably conjured within a creepily-contained story universe. With something of the elemental scary absurdity of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, this novel similarly serves as an allegory about finding strength to face fears, and fans of unusual adventures (e.g. Beetle Boy, A Place Called Perfect) will most definitely identify with Poppy as she courageously tackles her most terrifying worries.
If, like actor Reece Shearsmith and author David Nicholls, you were growing up in the late 70s or early 80s, you may well remember this book. All About Ghosts was a huge favourite with young readers then, a thrilling examination of the world of the supernatural, full of terrifying stories of ghosts and ghost hunting. Due to genuine popular demand, publisher Usborne has brought it back, exactly as it appeared in 1977. Will it thrill and engage today’s kids as it did their parents? You betcha! There’s page after illustrated page of spooky myths, legends and true stories as well as theories and debate on the possible existence of ghosts. As spine-tingling today as it ever was, and just as certain to set the imagination racing.
Noah loves his new house, he has his own room and he has even made friends at his new school. Noah wants to stay! But that has never happened yet-the supernatural, centuries old curse still follows the Bradley family and every home they have ever lived in is destroyed. He has a duffel bag with his most precious possessions that is never unpacked – just in case. This is an exciting premise that will immediately grip young readers and Noah is a completely believable, modern character with the same issues about fitting in and finding friends, that readers will all recognise and this makes the danger he faces all the more thrilling. When the inevitable disaster strikes, Noah blames himself for ignoring the warning signs and with his father away and his mother in hospital it is up to him to continue his mother’s quest to find the other Bradley’s and the magical objects which together could break the curse. One of the delights of this fast-paced adventure is the characterisation of Noah, his younger brother Billy and of Neena- the neighbour who is a social outcast at school but a brave, resourceful and true friend. Noah’s growing maturity allows him to see her true value as well as recognise his own failings. This highly readable tale really does have the perfect blend of social realism, thrilling adventure and a supernatural mystery to solve.
We all love strange stories and bizarre, unexplained events: do aliens exist? Are ghosts real? Is the Bermuda Triangle really a thing? Was there actually a curse on Tutankhamun’s tomb? This book examines these four questions, plus another six equally mesmerising, but challenges readers to use logic, intelligence and the facts to determine the truth. Author Kathryn Hulick presents thoroughly researched accounts, packed with information because, as she empahises, evidence is the most important thing. She ensures that the sources are reliable and then encourages readers while keeping an open mind to consider everything really carefully. It makes for a great read, especially when some of those mysteries – the Kraken – turn out to be strange but true. A book that glories in mystery, but also the power of science and human intelligence.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Opening with a heartfelt “Dear sister” address that invites aspiring witches to step into its beautifully-designed pages, this compendium dispels many myths about spell-makers as its modern-day witch authors seek to “retell and reclaim our identity”. One such myth is the distinction between “white” and “black” magic – the authors note that “magic is magic and the only difference lies within our intentions and how we choose to use it.” But what is magic? They point out links between nature and magic, and share information about ancient priestesses and oracles who read signs in nature and understood the power of plants and the planets. Moving through history, readers will discover that distrust of magic emerged in the Middle Ages, which led to the persecution of female practitioners of magic and the murderous witch-hunts of the 15th-17th centuries. After learning about the positive revival of witches in the twentieth-century (such as ecology-oriented Wiccans, and feminist activist witches), the book explores witches in popular culture, magical symbols, and concludes with practical guidance on herb magic, stone magic, crystal magic and making your own talisman. This is a perfect primer for girls interested in magic and witches, and gorgeously-presented too, with a gold-foiled cover, red ribbons and evocative illustrations on every page.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | Some girls like ballet; some like football; Aveline Jones likes ghosts. And anyone who enjoys a creepy, well-plotted, atmospheric ghost story will love this book. The setting is a little West Country fishing port, where Aveline is staying with her aunt while her mother is away. Hallowe’en is approaching and Aveline is unsettled by the village’s custom of leaving life-size manikins of children outside the houses – it’s seriously spooky. A visit to the local second-hand bookshop begins an adventure that will reveal the reason for the dolls, and one that sees Aveline herself caught up in an old tragedy that still haunts the villagers. It’s deliciously creepy reading, just the thing to add a frisson of fear as the nights draw out and highly recommended!
This captivating sequel sees contemporary Native American Agnes discover deep connections to her ancestress Mary, whose story enchanted readers in Witch Child. Deftly interweaving narratives of the past and present, and laced with atmosphere, authenticity and insights into Native American culture, this is an exhilarating, emotion-driven feast for fans of historical fiction. Agnes is proud of her Native American heritage, though her fellow anthropology students don’t call her by her tribal name, Karonhisake - Searching Sky. After reading the historic diaries of Mary Newbury and being struck by a vision type experience, Agnes feels compelled to contact the researcher who found Mary’s diaries. She has a hunch that Mary might be the young woman she’s heard stories about on her home reservation. As things turn out, her formidable Aunt M, a medicine woman, is already miles ahead of her in knowing this. Bristling with intrigue and ethical commentary on the acquisition and appropriation of Native American objects (“What right they got to any of that stuff? Bunch of grave robbers!”), this tells the remarkable tales of two remarkable young women connected across time.
Opening the pages of this eerie anthology is akin to creeping through creaky doors to explore a haunted house. To wander corridors and halls, rooms and chambers that have been darkly decorated by a host of hallowed writers. Here readers will encounter the skulking terrors of Joseph Delaney’s timeless, gripping The Castle Ghosts. The clever, contemporary creepiness of Robin Jarvis’s The Beach Hut. Then there’s Philip Reeves’s long-lingering, translucently lyrical The Ghost Wood. There are eleven tales in all, each written by a truly top-class writer, among them Matt Haig, Derek Landy, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, and Jamila Gavin. Some tingle with menace. Others are outright scary. Some are modern, others infused with the terrors of traditional Gothic tales. And all of them are exquisitely executed. Perfect for reading aloud as the nights draw in, the stories here also make excellent introductions to a fine set of writers.
Born under a blood moon, twin sister travellers, Kizzy - a brave, voluptuous bear dancer - and Lil - slight in frame and blessed with a beautiful voice – are captured after their camp is ransacked on the eve of their divining, the coming-of-age rite that would have seen them learn their fates. With many kinsfolk slain, the twins are enslaved by Boyar Valcar and set to work in the castle kitchens, where rumours about the notorious Dragon loom large over all the female slaves. Separated when Kizzy is snatched away, Lil escapes to search for her sister with Mira, a fellow slave. As they race against time to save Kizzy, encountering the terrifying strigoi (undead) along the way, powerful desires are awakened, which adds extra conflict as the story winds to its transfixing climax. Driven by the sisters’ passion and revenge, loyalty and love, and powerful on the persecution of travellers, this is a dazzling female-focused reimagining of vampire legends, with the writing infused with a lyrical earthiness throughout.
This emotive, richly-detailed novel illuminates a dark period of history with grace and lyricism through a perfectly-paced plot. England, 1659 – an era of terror and persecution for women who might be accused of witchcraft. One such woman is Mary’s grandmother, the wise woman who raised her, someone the community once turned to in times of birth, sickness and death. But those times have passed. When her grandmother is hanged for witchcraft after a ludicrous trial, Mary fears for her own life, but she’s swiftly and quietly brought to safety by a woman she doesn’t know, with a passage to America arranged for her. In the New World Mary will adopt a new identity and make a new life among Puritans. Mary’s life in Salem is described in evocative detail - the heat that “does not fade with the setting sun”, the fireflies, the “dour” people whose “faces show a history of work and hardship.” But the Puritans find Salem too soft for them, and so they press further into the wilderness, to the Beulah (‘Bride of God’) settlement. Life is strict, and worsens for Mary when old superstitions re-emerge after she uses her healing wisdom. It’s while searching for herbs in the woods that she befriends Jaybird, a Native American boy, and meets his shaman grandfather. The novel tells of their history and spiritual beliefs with an engaging deftness of touch, but since the Puritans regard Native Americans as “the Devil’s instruments”, as people who live “in sin, and in degradation”, Mary’s association with Jaybird adds to their suspicion of her. Presented as pages from Mary’s journal found centuries later, this is an engaging joy from start to cliff-hanger finish. As Witch Child ends, so Sorceress begins...
February 2020 Debut of the Month | Set in a world that’s become “a walking graveyard”, this edge-of-your-seat thriller teems with cinematic chills and the tender love between two teenage boys. Indeed, author Darren Charlton has hit the nail on the head in describing his debut as The Walking Dead meets Brokeback Mountain. “Clock it. Kill it. Rid the world of it” - this is how encounters with the zombie Restless Ones must be handled, a mantra soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old Peter struggles to follow. Too trusting, and infinitely better with a darning needle than an axe or gun, he’s something of a liability to the community, especially as another winter sets in, for “winter was the one season every Lake Lander feared. Not because Montana was about to get colder than an eagle’s gaze. But because the Dead could make it across the lake’s frozen waters.” When the community comes under serious threat during their annual First Fall party, Peter winds up as zombie bait with his at-one-with-the-wilds boyfriend Connor responsible for wrangling the Restless Ones like a post-apocalyptic cowboy. On the mainland, the young lovers uncover an earth-shattering secret and it’s not long before Connor’s situation is seriously comprised, leading to Peter stepping-up and standing tall. Gripping and graphically gory, this dynamic debut is dystopian horror with a difference, for it pulsates not only with terror and visceral violence, but also with love, affection and emotional atmosphere.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
August 2020 Debut of the Month | In this rip-roaringly feminist re-imagining of Cinderella, our justice-seeking heroine, Sophia, seeks a princess rather than a prince, and bodice-ripping is done in the name of shedding the shackles of patriarchy. Giddily entertaining, and spiced with dagger-sharp dialogue and romantic attraction, one message beams bright through Sophia’s story - “do not be silent. Raise your voice. Be a light in the dark.” Though 200 years have passed since Cinderella’s time, a twisted version of her legacy lives on in Lille, where the present-day Prince Charming, King Manford, has decreed that girls must recite the fairy tale daily and, at the age of sixteen, they will be sent to the palace to be chosen by a man at a grand ball. Attending the ball is law, and, in the words of Erin, Sophia’s best friend and lover, “It is our only hope for making some kind of life”, for those not chosen are doomed to an even worse existence than being married off. As Sophia’s father admits, “I’d rather see you unhappy than imprisoned or killed.” Such is the impossible situation. So, Sophia goes to the ball, still hoping to escape with Erin, still burning with anger that the “founding tenet of our laws is that women, no matter their standing, are at the mercy of the fickle whims of men.” At the grandiose selection event, girls are put on show for the male suitors, some of them old enough to be Sophia’s grandfather, “but that doesn’t stop them from shamelessly ogling the young girls.” As shocking events unfold here, she flees and finds a sisterly comrade in flame-haired Constance, who also sets her heart alight. As the feminist fugitives go on the run, Constance reveals truths about Cinderella’s real story - a story that was suppressed and twisted into patriarchal propaganda by men in power. And so they embark on a quest to find the White Wood, the last known location of the original fairy godmother, who might just hold the key to further truths that will help Sophia rouse revolution. What an inventive, entertaining and flamboyantly feminist treat this is.
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