We basically celebrate Halloween all year in our family. I know we’re not the only ones. Monsters, witches, and other spooky stuff are just fascinating to some kids. (Okay, I confess, to some grownups as well!) So we’ve read a ton of spooky, monster, and creature books, but for this post I’ve narrowed it down to the best – the ones I’d recommend that even adults read for entertainment, and that Boy Detective came back to again and again.
The Kind-Hearted Monster by Max Velthuijs
A third of the way into the first story, I started to smile, and I never stopped. This is a lovely, quietly fun fire-breathing monster book with just enough whimsy and happy endings. The art doesn’t look sophisticated on first glance, but the people are little and cute and totally funny. Mervyn the monster is a gorgeous, happy fellow who wouldn’t hurt a fly. If you know a kiddo who would appreciate a friendly monster, this one’s for them!
The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot by Scott Magoon.
An unseen narrator introduces us to Ben, a “tenacious little fellow” who is entirely unsuccessful in convincing his town that he’s seen Bigfoot. Which of course he hasn’t. (That might be the problem.) His efforts leave him alone at the edge of the woods as the sun’s going down… with a new admirer. Magoon has reinvented the classic warning against lying in a totally satisfying way. The narrator’s amused voice is just perfect. I also loved watching the changes in coloring of the woodland scene as they day got later and later. Very pretty.
Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson, with illustrations by Michael Robertson.
I was so excited to see a monster book whose protagonist was someone other than a white kid, and I really wanted it to be good. Lucky me, it’s so much fun! Winifred Schnitzel is a smart, brave, resourceful young girl who wouldn’t mind the monster infestation in her room if they would just let her GET SOME SLEEP. After all, nodding off in your ballet class (or into your breakfast) is not great. But when research and trap construction fail, Winifred must find another strategy for chasing away the sleep-depriving creatures. And she does, with an ending that will amuse kids to no end. Fredrickson makes this rhyming text work perfectly, and Robertson is equally adept at drawing little girls and monsters. Win!
Peanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale by Joe McGee with pictures by Charles Santoso
If you’re turned off by zombie gore, this is the zombie book for you. The undead in Quirkville have a few scrapes, and their skin’s a little grey (or blue), but they’re pretty tidy. One of them even wears a beret. However they do still have that pesky brain-eating behavior, so Quirkville residents stay well out of their way. (Santoso’s zombies are so cute, I’m surprised there isn’t an order form in the back for zombie dolls. They could probably just take my money.)
Reginald’s a little different. He prefers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But since zombies don’t have money (only pockets full of bugs), he’s forced into a life of crime. Little Abigail Zink, the smartest girl in town, shouldn’t have dropped her lunch bag. Or is this an opportunity to help integrate the zombies into Quirkville’s law-abiding community?
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke. We were thrilled when we found out Hatke was doing a picture book, since we adore his Zita the Spacegirl series (see our Good Superhero Comics for Kids post for more about Zita.) We were not disappointed! Julia lives in a house on the back of a tortoise. It’s full of wonderful things, including her workshop, but very lonely. But when she opens her home to all sorts of lost creatures, she gets a little more chaos than she bargained for! This book has two of the features which made Zita so enjoyable for me: Hatke’s intriguing character designs, and his attention to sound words. Fans of robots will get a special treat at the end, too.
Socksquatch by Frank W. Dormer. Poor Socksquatch! All he wants is a sock! His foot is cold! Can’t anyone help him? This simple but funny tribute to vintage monster movie characters is satisfying to read to kids, especially if you’re willing to do voices, and also fun for kids to read to you. (Their monster voices will be better than yours. Just warning you.) There’s not much to it, but my nine year old still laughed when we re-read this in early 2017 – especially when we got to the damsel. If only the Creature from the Black Lagoon had been included, it would be perfect IMHO, though I accept that’s from a slightly different film era/genre. Perhaps a sequel…
Ghosts for Breakfast by Stanley Todd Terasaki and illustraded by Shelly Shinjo. When the “troublesome triplet” neighbors show up to report seeing ghosts in the fields, a boy accompanies his father to find out what’s really going on. Very spooky! But ends with a good laugh. Set in the 1920s in a Japanese-American farming community, which I liked because it added diversity to our reading experience.
Little Vampires by Rebecca Hicks. I had the pleasure of meeting Hicks at a conference and buying the book from her in person, so our copy is signed and has a little sketch in the front. Boy Detective had memorized this entire book as a pre-reader, even though a couple of the jokes were over his head since they rely on the extensive vampire mythos (and on knowing what a “blood orange” is.) Simple and funny, and the perfect size for a stocking stuffer if you’re a Halloween 365 kind of family like we are. Your library probably won’t have this, but with shipping it’s just $13 and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer.
What, you don’t have Halloween stockings?
Excuse Me, Are You a Witch? by Emily Horn, with art by Pawel Pawlak. Boy Detective likes cats and libraries as much as Halloween, so this book about a lonely bookworm cat looking for a home was perfect for him. The art cleverly supports the poor cat’s mistaken identifications of various townsfolk as witches. And of course, when it seems like all hope may be lost, there’s a happy ending.
The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low, with illustrations by Karen Gundersheimer. This is the 1978 edition, NOT the “I Can Read” version that came out later with different art and “adapted” text. Wendy is the youngest witch sister in her family, subject to disdain from her older sisters since she can’t yet do any witch stuff. One Halloween night, though, she makes a friend and finally finds the right broom for her. Fun ensues, as does a little tiny bit of payback on her sisters, and when it’s all done Wendy has earned her self-confidence as a witch. Well worth tracking down the original version of this book if you can find it.
The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell. I’m not normally a fan of “feel good” books, but Boy Detective fell head over heels for this and I had to get over myself and admit that it’s good. Three little monsters can never stop quarreling about who’s the meanest monster, so they decide to build the meanest monster of all! It doesn’t quite turn out the way they planned. Fans of baked goods will nod their heads in understanding at the calm, pleasant resolution.
Always Listen to Your Mother by Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce, with art by Kyle M. Stone. Ernest is a very good little boy who always listens to his mother. Vlapid is a very good little boy who always listens to his mother. When Vlapid moves into the house next to Ernest, things get way more interesting for Ernest! My six year old was slightly freaked out about the boys’ antics, expecting they would get in trouble, but at the end he got the joke and laughed for quite a while.
Monster Chefs by Brian and Liam Anderson. (Brian is the dad and Liam is the kid, so that’s fun to discuss with the kid in your life too!) What do you do when the most horriblest horrible monster of all, the king of all monsters, wants you to cook him something new? Venture out into the world for culinary inspiration. Hope that works out for you, or you’ll be eaten! On re-reading in early 2017, I still think this is a solid pick, but it wasn’t quite as sparkly as I remembered. I do still like it because of what’s on the conveyer belt at the end (tasty!), and that the only human character is a woman of color. My nine year old was still very interested.
Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder, with art by John Martz. Boy Detective wasn’t sure what to make of this book at first. He loved the art and all the little details of the big crowd scenes. Army of skeletons versus kids in costume, what’s not to love? But what was Mom saying as she read it out loud? For example: “Windows were shuttered, tight-pulled all drape folds. Brain-frizzed tall-big ones latch-click-locked doorholds.” It’s like some wild Halloween variant of English. I found it absolutely delightful. Boy Detective caught on and treated it kind of like a code to decipher after I read it to him the first time. This book might not be for everyone, but if you and your kid enjoy creative language, check it out!
The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. This is such a cool book! Written in verse, it retells reports from a Massachusetts village in 1817 that a sea serpent had appeared in the waves off their coast. The paintings are spot-on for the time period, and the text just rolls out beautifully when you read it aloud. There is a possibly upsetting sequence where men come from outside the village to hunt and kill the serpent, but the serpent is too clever for that, and all ends well. Nice change of pace for monster-interested kids compared to the usual more cartoony books.
I Will Fight Monsters for You by Santi Balmes, with pictures by Lyona. Martina is scared of the dark. She’s convinced there’s a parallel monster world under the floor, and the monsters are just waiting for one small slip-up before she’ll be taken away. Her father reassures her that he’ll fight monsters for her, but asks for her help being as brave as possible, since monsters shrink when exposed to bravery. That is reassuring! Then in her dreams, Martina discovers that monsters are possibly not so scary after all. This is a quiet, sweet bedtime book that grapples with children’s fears without minimizing them. The book’s ultimate conclusion, that unfamiliarity can be the root of fear, is delivered in a concrete, satisfying way. There’s a good lesson here, but it doesn’t overwhelm the magical storytelling. Boy Detective never struggled with bedtime fears, but he was rooting for Martina and really enjoyed watching her find peace and friendship.
Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen with art by Matt Phelan. One of the sweetest monster books EVER. Michelle Knudsen is becoming one of my favorite children’s book authors. In this soft book, schoolgirl Marilyn gets tired of waiting for her monster to find her. Everyone in her class has theirs already. So she goes to find it herself, even though that’s not how things are “supposed” to work. I love Marilyn’s quiet determination. I love her kindness to her monster once she finds it. And I super-love how expressive all the faces are in this book. Phelan knows his stuff! Plus, how fun would it be if everybody had their own monster? p.s. to the #weneeddiversebooks crowd, of which I am a proud member, I’m 90% sure that Marilyn is biracial, with a white dad and an Asian mom. At the very least, you can easily see it that way, even if it wasn’t intentional.
The Fun Book of Scary Stuff by Emily Jenkins, with pictures by Hyewon Yum.
A child make a list of the things that scare him, at his father’s behest. Dad probably didn’t predict that he’d discuss the list extensively with his two dogs, one of whom has PLENTY of commentary on what’s suitable to be scared of. The result is so funny! Great as a read about fears, also great as a read about talking canines.
And that’s the list of the best monster books for kids! Thanks for reading!