This Halloween, treat your young readers to one of these books:
Halloween can be a difficult concept for young children to grasp, as all the focus on ghosts, mummies, vampires and other things can be scary if you're just a baby or toddler. That's why the best Halloween books for little ones often are simple explanations of the holiday, such as author/illustrator Tomie dePaola's classic board book "My First Halloween," for infants to 2-year-olds. It's now out of print, but available from libraries and as a used book.
Taking a humorous look at Halloween also works well for young children, as author/illustrator Kevin Sherry demonstrates in his board book "I'm the Scariest Thing in the Castle" (Dial, $6.99, ages 1-3). The protagonist, a pint-sized purple bat, doesn't look very scary, but he insists that "I'm the scariest thing in the castle!"
When the castle's other residents tire of the bat's bragging and decide to scare him, however, the little bat breaks into tears, prompting his colleagues to label him a "cutie pie." Pleased with his new moniker, the bat swiftly returns to his boastful ways, shouting as the book ends: "I'm the cutest thing in this castle."
Sherry's silly story will please young readers, who also will enjoy the bright colors and simple lines of the illustrations.
While "Bone Dog" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 4-7) takes place during Halloween, it's a book that deserves an audience all year round for its poignant message of loss, loyalty and love.
Written and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann, "Bone Dog" tells the story of a boy named Gus and a dog named Ella who "had been friends for a long, long time." One night, sitting outside in the moonlight, the now-elderly Ella tells Gus that she won't be around much longer, but promises him that "no matter what happens, I'll always be with you."
Gus is heartbroken when Ella dies, but tries to keep himself going, even deciding to pull on his skeleton costume and go out trick-or-treating on Halloween. Passing through the graveyard on his way home, however, Gus is beset by unfriendly skeletons until Ella -- now a skeleton dog -- miraculously comes to his rescue. Together, Gus and Ella begin barking and growling, alerting the neighborhood's live dogs, who chase the skeletons away. Gus then must say goodbye again to Ella, but he now truly understands she will always be with him.
Rohmann's simple and sadness-tinged message is leavened by the story's action and humor. Both of those elements are further highlighted by Rohmann's illustrations, done in the same way -- relief prints -- as his Caldecott Medal-winning book, "My Friend Rabbit." The thick black lines and limited palette beautifully present the book's nighttime setting and underscore the book's emotions. "Bone Dog" offers readers a story they won't soon forget about how love endures throughout the cycles of life.
Author/illustrator Wong Herbert Yee details the latest adventures of two best friends in "Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween" (Houghton Mifflin, $14.99, ages 4-7).
This sixth book in the award-winning series finds the Halloween-loving Mouse making all kinds of holiday plans, while the more timid Mole isn't sure he likes the scarier aspects of Halloween. But even Mole enjoys the pumpkin-carving contest, and Mouse eventually finds a creative way to calm Mole's fears.
The four short chapters in this book are just right for readers who are ready for easy chapter books, and Yee's appealing watercolor illustrations help break up the text and add clues to the story. Particularly noteworthy is the way that Yee dramatically changes his color scheme and uses a rhyming text to create the book-within-the-book that Mouse reads to Mole in the last chapter.
And don't forget to check out these other great new Halloween books:
-- "Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters: A Lullaby" (Candlewick Press, $14.99, ages 3-5). Author Jane Yolen and illustrator Kelly Murphy team up to offer readers a bedtime story that is both funny and soothing.
-- In "Pumpkin Cat" (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $14.99, ages 3-5), author/illustrator Anne Mortimer shows how Cat and Mouse work together to grow their very own pumpkin. Mortimer's engaging illustrations bring her simple story vividly to life.
-- Kids get three scary stories within the context of a larger story in "The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Tales" (Dutton, $16.99, ages 5-8). Written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Paul Meisel, this book tells how Father Ghost attempts to lull his ghost children to sleep with some scary stories.
-- Author/illustrator Liesbet Slegers offers a straightforward, colorful look at the holiday in "Happy Halloween!" (Clavis, $15.95, ages 2-4).
-- In "The 13 Nights of Halloween" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 4-7), author/illustrator Guy Vasilovich has a blast riffing on a traditional song from another holiday, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."