This is a revision of a post from several years ago, with one new addition.
It’s Halloween, so it’s time for a Halloween reading list. The problem is, I don’t like scary books, I don’t do horror, and I don’t really care for gore. But there are still some wonderful non-scary books well-suited for Halloween reading. Here, then, are some of my favorites for a variety of ages.
My very favorite book for this time of year is Linda White’s charming Too Many Pumpkins. Rebecca Estelle hates pumpkins (the legacy of lean times in her childhood, when pumpkin was all there was to eat.) When a pumpkin falls off a truck and lands splat in her yard, she ignores it… and goes on ignoring the vines that appear the next spring, until… But you’ll just have to read the book to find out what Rebecca Estelle and her cat, Esmeralda, do with Too Many Pumpkins! Although our daughter is now in college, we still reread this book aloud every Halloween.
In The Biggest Pumpkin Ever, Steven Kroll tells the tale of a house mouse and a field mouse who lovingly tend a large pumpkin. Chester wants to win the biggest pumpkin contest, while Dexter wants to make the best jack-o-lantern ever. But what will happen when they discover that they’ve been growing the same pumpkin?
Children’s and young adult books:
I’ve always loved Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series. While any of the series make for good reading, The Grey King is particularly well suited for around Halloween. Will is sent to Wales to recuperate from a serious illness — one which has taken away all memory of his life as an Old One. Cooper blends Arthurian legend, supernatural wolves (the Brenin Llwydd, or Grey King), and a battle between the Light and the Dark in this Newbery Medal-winning tale.
Elizabeth Marie Pope’s Newbery Honor-winning The Perilous Gard is inspired by the legends of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. Banished from Princess Elizabeth’s court by the vengeful Queen Mary, Kate Sutton struggles to adjust to life at the remote castle known as the Perilous Gard. A series of mysterious events lead to Kate’s capture and imprisonment by the Fair Folk, who live in caverns deep under the hill. Pope leaves it to the reader to decide whether these are in fact faerie folk or simply remnants of a pagan people driven into hiding. Either way, they plan to sacrifice Christopher, the younger brother of the castle’s absent lord, unless Kate can free both him and herself by All Hallow’s Eve. Wonderfully written, this book has been one of my all-time favorites since I first discovered it in high school.
No Halloween reading list would be complete without the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowlings’ wizarding world, with its sly and witty humor, its many dangers, and its suspense, is is one many fans love to revisit. A great way to do so is through the audio recordings. I don’t want to get into an argument about which recordings are better, the US version with Jim Dale or the UK version with Stephen Fry; suffice it to say that both readers do a wonderful job, and that listening to the books is a different experience from reading them. Not better or worse, just different, and equally enjoyable.
I would never suggest that adults can’t or shouldn’t enjoy children’s and YA fiction. Some of the best storytelling, most inventive plots, and most powerful tales have been written and published for the children’s and YA market. (And with the YA market currently red-hot, some adult books, like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, have been repackaged as YA books.) But if you’re looking for Halloween reading in a more adult vein, yet you shy away from horror novels, try one of these:
Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches is my new Halloween treat. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and gripping, this witch-and-vampire novel is paranormal mystery/romance for thinking adults. Set in the fall and culminating on Halloween itself, this is the perfect book for this time of year. (You can read my full review here.)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is arguably the best-known of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries featuring the celebrated detective, Sherlock Holmes. Set on gloomy and mysterious Dartmoor, the novel combines the apparently supernatural and the merely criminal in thoroughly satisfying tale.
In “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention,” a short story by Dorothy Sayers in Lord Peter Views the Body, Lord Peter Wimsey is returning late at night to the home of friends when he sees a ghostly carriage. A recent death in the parish and rumors of an unusual will lead Lord Peter to suspect that mischief is afoot.
Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Death is a cozy and romantic mystery — without a murder and with a ghost (although a less spooky ghost is hard to imagine.) The first-person heroine is likable but far from perfect; the hero is, while not exactly ordinary, not a handsome prince either; and the overall effect is charming: the literary equivalent of a nice cup of tea.