If ever a holiday was completely transformed for me by the simple fact of having kids, Halloween is that holiday! Before kids I was rather indifferent and perhaps a bit annoyed by most October 31 festivities. Then, BOOM! I had a baby and nothing is quite as primal as dressing your offspring in an outfit that will be worn not for trick-or-treating, but simply to document how ADORABLE said child is. Halloween is a mix of fun overstimulation, whether you spend months making a diy costume or throw something together last minute, fumble through a haunted house or get lost in a corn maze.
Get into the festive season with these 13 not-too-spooky seasonal reads. While we love many Halloween-themed board books, we limited this list to picture books; and for any of you with older kids (10+), there’s a special scary bonus book at the bottom of the list. So get to it—these books are dying to make your October a bit more magical.
By: Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
Originally published in 1963, A Tiger Called Tomás is about a shy boy who sits on his stoop watching, but never interacting, with his neighbors and the world. When his mother buys him a tiger/tigre costume for Halloween he is persuaded to wear it out for the evening.
As Tomás travels from door to door he is surprised when his neighbors exude warmth and friendliness towards him, inviting him inside, offering a homemade treat, and calling him by name. Stunned that they know who he is behind his mask Tomás continues his trick-or-treat rounds slightly perplexed. What he eventually realizes is that he is seen and that he does matter. More than a simple seasonal picture book, this is a message for the ages, retold as a fourth iteration but as relevant today as it was five decades ago. A heartwarming tale that resonates with readers both young and old.
By: Tom Brenner and illustrated by Holly Meade
What are holidays if not a series of traditions mixed with anticipation? Both are beautifully depicted in this Halloween favorite! You'll relish seeing familiar autumn traditions, told in a rhythmic pattern with vivid language and playful collage illustrations.
By: Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea
Mysterious clues told in haiku introduce kids to all the scary favorites (ghost, witch, spider, skeleton), while simultaneously providing a short lesson in Japanese poetry and syllables. Try pairing this book with an associated Halloween craft for a winning rainy-day project.
By: Kazuno Kohara
What's a girl to do with a house full of haunted ghosts? Capture them. Wash them. Hang them out to dry. And repurpose them for more functional household items. Available in both a picture book and board book format, this story about an enterprising young protagonist is Halloween perfection.
By: Barbara Cantini
“Ghoulia was no ordinary child. She didn’t feel particularly different, but compared to other children, the color of her skin was a little odd.” Which makes sense considering Ghoulia is a zombie who lives in Crumbling Manor with her Auntie Departed and albino greyhound named Tragedy. Ghoulia’s wish to make friends with the village children suddenly seems plausible when she learns of a night called Halloween where dressing up is not only permissible but the entire point. This poses the perfect way to disguise her deceased exterior. What follows in this early chapter book (replete with colorful illustrations), is an utterly charming and slightly devious tale. Bonus: spooky games and recipes at the back of the book.
By: Harriet Muncaster
A young girl dressed in a black cat costume lists all the reasons she knows her mom is a witch—from buying eyeballs (pickled onions) and green fingers (pickles) at the grocery store, to an assortment of potions and bottles stored in the bathroom. A witch’s cat helps add ingredients to the cauldron and gets spun around on the vacuum broom once a week. Readers will relish how every detail is carefully accounted for in images made from miniature world sets.
By: Ella Bailey
Georgia is a realist, confident in her knowledge that there is no such thing as ghosts. So when in late October, things start disappearing and turning up in odd places, Georgia has an explanation for it all. Curious readers will love spotting the hidden ghosts on each page, while adults will appreciate the esthetics of each mid-century, color-saturated modern spread. A perennial favorite in our house.
By: Kate Stone and Accord Publishing
With a sparkly cover, vellum pages within that create an eerie overlay, and detailed cutouts, this seasonal read is about a little adventurer who is out past bedtime. Told in rhyme, this is a book preschoolers will request over and over again.
By: Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis
Pull on your warm clothes and get ready for an autumn outing to the pumpkin patch. A place where you’ll roll a wagon only to turn and twist, studying each angle, ensuring that the perfect pumpkin comes home with you. At home you’ll wash and scoop then carve your squash into a glowing guard for the front porch. You may want to read this book with a box of donuts and hot apple cider, because it perfectly encapsulates the cozy traditions of the season. A wonderful companion book to Pick a Pine Tree.
By: Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler
A ginger-haired witch takes off on her broom, with her cat in tow. Soon, however, she loses her bow. When a dog helps find the bow on the ground, he asks for a ride on the broom in exchange. Then another item gets lost and another creature helps find it. Told in rhyme, the message of inclusion and kindness feels forever fresh. Be sure not to miss the 30 minute Netflix version of this beloved book.
By: Rubin Pingk
In true little sibling fashion Kashi asks her brother a lot of ninja-related questions. Wherever Yukio goes Kashi follows. Whatever Yukio does, Kashi does too. On Halloween night Yukio's friends arrive only to discover that Kashi has copied her older brother's bird costume. Fuming, Yukio explodes at his little sister and leaves her behind. Into the night the older Ninjas trek, filling their buckets along the way. However, when the apparition of Samurai Scarecrow appears (a creepy lullaby come to life), Yukio gets more than he bargained for. Will the siblings come to a truce or will tricks spoil their fun? A slightly-spooky tale with a satisfying twist.
By: Lucy Ruth Cummins
Orange as a traffic cone and big as a basketball, poor little stemless pumpkin, Stumpkin, is keenly aware of his missing top. As all the other pumpkins gradually depart the market shelves, becoming jack-o-lanterns in new homes, Stumpkin can’t help hoping he won’t be left behind. Using the picture book to create suspense, Stumpkin is a newfound classic that is guaranteed to put a toothy grin on your face.
By: Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
A 700-year-old woman and an 800-year-old man realize it is the last day of October and go to the garden to claim the pumpkin they planted months ago. When they realize someone has snitched their squash, they are off on a quest, questioning anyone they come in contact with about the missing pumpkin. A series of ill-fated tricks ensue, followed by a dose of unexpected humor. A favorite for generations—we can’t recommend this one enough!
When two boys at Camp Champlain learn of the groundskeeper, Old Man Blackwood, rumored to tell the best ghost stories, they traipse off one evening, under a moonlit sky, sneaking out of their bunks to trudge through marshland, determined to find the old storyteller; and find him they do. Together the three sit for an evening of harrowing tales, each made more riveting by the accompanying illustrations (although, readers should be cautioned of spoilers by looking ahead). For lovers of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, this one will undoubtedly make your hairs stand on end.
Miranda Rosbach Bio
Miranda Rosbach is a librarian turned children’s book reviewer and freelance writer. In her spare time she likes scouting new restaurants and colorful murals. She also loves reading middle grade novels and memoirs. She lives in St.Louis with her husband and two daughters. You can find her book reviews on her blog or on Instagram as @bookbloom.