Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spooky Storytime

While today is Halloween, and I do some outreach Halloween programs, sometimes it may be preferable or necessary to avoid books that specifically mention Halloween, and/or certain elements such magic or witches. For example, you may be doing an outreach storytime at a church-sponsored daycare that prohibits such themes because of their religious beliefs, or a corporate chain preschool that prohibits all holidays. You might live in a community of mostly conservative Christians, or a very diverse community with patrons of many different religions and beliefs. Or you may just make the choice to always avoid specific holidays in the interest of inclusion.

But does that mean kids have to miss out on all the scary fun? No! You can still have a Spooky Storytime! There are a number of good read-alouds that can fill this niche without specifically having to do with Halloween, witches, or magic. There are lots of books about monsters (some are downright cute), stories where you can build up suspense, and other stories that have creepy or spooky things going on. Here are a few that come to mind that I have used (and links to more books & activities):

Little Shop of Monsters by R. L. Stine and Marc Brown. This book by a somewhat suprising creative team features many fearsome, and sometime gross, creatures. Not really scary, but it is a bit creepier than many other monster stories I've used. A little on the longer side, so better for the older kids. 

For more monster stories and some great monster activities, see my previous "Monster" storytime. Most of these are on the shorter and cuter side, so a great Halloween alternative for younger kids. Emberley's Go Away Big Green Monster is great for letting kids get a sense of having control over their fears, too.

I Want to Eat Your Books by Karen Lefrank and Tyler Parker is a *great* zombie book for kids, with a zombie that is interested in eating books, not brains. Peanut Butter & Jelly Brains by Joe McGee & Charles Santoso is another book that features a zombie who doesn't want to eat people, and converts all the other zombies so that zombies and humans can live together in peace.

For more zombie books and activities, see my "Zombies!!" storytime.

Most of us love Jan Thomas, and her books are usually great storytime books! The Doghouse is a really great book to introduce suspense to the younger ones. The suspense builds as one by one the animals disappear into the doghouse -- and don't come back out! Mouse is the only one left, and when he hears Dog say that Duck can't come out because he is having Duck for dinner, we all assume the worst. You can be more or less dramatic as needed, and since it is a short book, they don't have to suffer the suspense for long, and of course there's a happy ending.

Wolf's Coming! by Joe Kulka is another really great book that relies on suspense and darker illustrations to create a scary mood. All the animals beginning frantically calling and warning the others that "Wolf's coming!". They scramble to hide as he gets closer....and closer. Then, he comes inside and......they all jump out and say "Happy Birthday"! 

I love to be really dramatic, and the kids get all caught up in the suspense, then crack up when they realize the animals weren't hiding to avoid being eaten, but to surprise Wolf for his birthday.

These next two are from the creative team of Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, and both feature Jasper Rabbit as the protagonist. In Creepy Carrots we are first introduced to Jasper and his love of the carrots that grow wild in Crackenhopper Field. Until one day, Jasper begins to suspect the carrots are following him. Soon he is seeing creepy carrots everywhere! Is it just his imagination? The artwork in both of these really helps set a spooky mood.

In Creepy Pair of Underwear, Jasper needs new underwear and convinces his mother to let him pick out some cool looking underwear, not just plain tidy-whities, since he is NOT a little bunny anymore. He thinks his new underwear is so cool that he wears them to bed that very night.

But, it turns out the underwear glow in the dark, which freaks Jasper out. He takes them off and hides them in the bottom of his hamper, but the next morning when he wakes up, he discovers he is wearing them! No matter what he tries, the creepy underwear keep coming back. The creepy carrots also make a cameo appearance. 

See my review for more details, and a hilarious video of Aaron Reynolds.

And my all-time favorite, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams & Megan Lloyd, which I also included last week in my Halloween storytime round-up. I LOVE this book! It is so much fun, with the audience participation, movement, suspense, and yelling "Boo!" 

While most people think of this as a classic Halloween story, it actually does not ever mention Halloween at all, nor does it have witches, monsters, or an overt mention of magic. Simply the animated components of what become a scarecrow in the end, so I think it works for a non-Halloween spooky storytime as well.

I have used all of the above in storytime, and they work well and the kids love them!


And just for fun, here's a couple of children's books that I find creepy, even though they weren't intended to be and many people love them.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Along with Twilight and the book below, this book stands out as the one of the most unhealthy relationships depicted in popular youth literature, in my opinion. That poor damn tree just gives, and gives, and gives, until it has nothing left. 

Many view this with nostaligia, thinking it represents a parent's love for their child. Well, as a mother I take a bit of offense to the idea that we have to give and give until we cease to exist. Of course I would give my life to protect my children in a true life or death situation, but I don't think children should suck the life out of you as a normal course of living. But perhaps I'm a bit sensitive; I'm currently parenting my second, very difficult, teenager.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch & Sheila McGraw shows a mother-child relationship that seems just as unhealthy in a different way. It starts out fine, but then devolves into a mother stalking her grown son to the point of breaking in his home and holding him in his sleep. It has the makings of a really bad Lifetime movie.

Now, before you lecture me, it wasn't until many years after I first saw this book that I learned the backstory behind it, and by then my impression had long been ingrained. But I just wish the book had been written and illustrated a little differently, so the overbearing, clingy, stalkery mother image was avoided.

*Update 10-27-2020 - I recently heard a new version of this book will be released without the creepier stalker elements.

I'm sure there are several other books that would fit a spooky or scary storytime theme, while avoiding the concepts of Halloween, witches, or magic. Do you know of a great one? Please share in the comments!


  1. CREEPY...UNDERWEAR has been my go-to book this fall! I'm going to try THE LITTLE OLD LADY... this month for a scarecrow-themed storytime, and ask some of the kids to play the various articles of dress + the pumpkin (I don't do flannel boards, but try to work in interactive elements/props/roleplaying when I can).

    1. Ooh, that sounds like a fun idea, I haven't seen it done that way before; I may have to give that a try next year! I love Creepy Pair of Underwear, too. I bought a copy signed by Peter Brown, and I'm going to get Aaron Reynolds to sign it at a conference here in March. Thanks for stoppying by & sharing!

  2. Yep, I hate both of those last ones, too!!