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11 Brilliant Books to Enjoy Reading in Early Years this Halloween

Let little ones face fears safely with this collection of tales featuring all things scary and spooky this October...

  • 11 Brilliant Books to Enjoy Reading in Early Years this Halloween

1 | Monster in the Hood

Everyone knows about the Monster In The Hood – but despite the gossip and rumours, Sammy Squirrel, Henri Hedgehog and Marvin Mouse aren’t daunted by its fearsome reputation.

They want to see the creature’s large, orange eye, huge shaggy hands and big, scary mouth for themselves, so they organise an expedition through the streets where it’s said to lurk.

As the three small chums stride bravely onwards, they are passed by a pack of rats, a cloud of bats and a clutter of cats, all fleeing in terror from the notorious monster and warning our heroes to do the same; yet when Sammy, Henri and Marvin are finally faced with the beast itself, they realise that there’s no need to be afraid, because all the Monster in the Hood really wants is someone to play with.

Beautifully told, with illustrations that build the suspense brilliantly, this is a story about friendship, courage – and most of all, the importance of using your own judgement, rather than listening uncritically to what everyone else is saying, especially when it comes to people who may be a little different from those you are used to meeting.

2 | Mummy

A little Egyptian girl can’t find her mummy – and needs your help! Could that be her behind the basket? Or is she hiding behind the Sphinx? After discovering a whole host of Egyptian animals, from cats to crocodiles, she discovers that there is more than one kind of mummy! There’s also a QR code at the end that parents can scan to find out more about the ancient artefacts mentioned within the book.

3 | Leo: A Ghost Story

Most people cannot see ghosts – which is why, when lonely Leo produces a tray of delicious snacks to welcome the family that’s just moved into the house he’s been peacefully haunting for years, the response he gets is not the one for which he is hoping.

It looks as though Leo will be on his own forever, invisible to everyone he passes – until he happens to meet a little girl with an imagination that’s both powerful and big-hearted enough to include him in her world. This tender, wistful tale of friendship, innocence and belief is an absolute joy – simply and movingly told, with quirky illustrations that tug at the heartstrings even as they raise a smile.

4 | The Deep Dark Wood

Everyone knows that the deep, dark wood is no place for the faint-hearted, as there are plenty of scary, half-familiar creatures lurking in the shadows, including witches, trolls and giants.

In this clever and funny, jumbled fairy-tale, a sweet little girl skips her way safely along the path that leads to her best friend’s house, despite having attracted the attention and appetite of the most cunning and fearsome beast of all – the infamous big, bad wolf himself – right at the start of her journey. How? By outsmarting him of course!

Algy Craig Hall’s understated but evocative prose is a pleasure to read aloud, and Ali Pye’s illustrations are the perfect blend of eerie and adorable, especially when it comes to the final, fabulous twist that leaves our heroine’s would-be predator hungry and will have your audience giggling with delight.

5 | My Bedtime Monster

There’s something almost hypnotic about this dreamy and mysterious tale of a little girl who wishes for a pet with the power to shrink and grow at will; to be soft, cuddly, quick and strong; and to take her flying through the air as well as swimming under the sea.

Although her mother informs her firmly that there is no such thing, Rikki goes to sleep convinced there must be – and sure enough, she is woken from her sleep to be taken on a wild and thrilling night-time adventure with a benevolent monster that meets all her requirements, and more.

Květa Pacovská‘s distinctive artwork is bold and wonderfully strange, featuring striking geometric shapes and occasional flashes of silver foil glinting from a muted pallette of earthy shades; while Annelies Schwarz’s lyrical narrative teasingly invites children not only to let their imagination out to play, but also, perhaps, to scare themselves a little – and relish the feeling, too.

6 | Ready, Steady, Ghost

The world is often a scary place when you’re small – and many children might be relieved to discover that this is even true if you happen to be a ghost. Little Bertie wants to be good at haunting, but finds dark forests and tall castles just too overwhelmingly large and full of Frightening Things for a ghoul of his limited dimensions and nervous disposition.

It’s a question of perspective, of course, so when Bertie is invited by the resident royals to haunt a toy castle, everyone is satisfied. Elizabeth Baguley’s bouncy prose and Marion Linsday’s just-spooky-enough illustrations combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable story to share time and time again.

7 | Book-o-Masks

Some books for small people are written to be read aloud softly; others to be chanted or sung together. There are books with buttons to press, flaps to lift, textures to stroke and mirrors to reflect the reader’s face. And now (begging only the question – why not sooner?) there are books designed to be worn.

Taking inspiration from the painted boards found at zoos and funfairs where visitors can poke a head through the hole and pose for a picture as a pirate, mermaid or orang-utan, Book-O-Masks is made up of cleverly die-cut pages featuring bold illustrations that can be held up to the face, instantly transforming the ‘wearer’ into a procession of interesting characters from a superhero to a scuba diver and many more besides.

Each transformational image is accompanied by a perky rhyming couplet with a suitable catchphrase children will love to shout out as they try on the various disguises – it’s all great fun and a brilliant way to inspire imaginative games, especially with a small group. Can your audience help you guess what mask you are wearing by giving you clues or performing a mime?

8 | The Sad Skeleton

Helping children deal with ‘big feelings’ can have a profoundly positive impact on their development, both academic and personal – and sharing specially chosen stories is a way of doing so that’s as gentle as it is powerful. The Sad Skeleton is the first in a thoughtful new series of titles called Finding Your Way, explicitly aimed at encouraging youngsters to identify, understand and manage a range of emotions that can easily prove overwhelming at any age.

Its creator, Kay Brophy, is an experienced and respected counsellor and psychologist who has worked in schools for the past 14 years and is running a pilot training programme for teachers and parents alongside the book; through fun characters and simple, relatable stories – charmingly illustrated by Katy Boys – she hopes to offer little ones a safe way to explore difficult feelings and discuss them with a trusted adult.

For example, in this tale (as the title suggests) readers meet a kind but misunderstood skeleton who is struggling to be happy – until his friend Dave the bat helps him to work out why this is the case, and, crucially, what he might be able to do to make things better.

9 | A Monster’s Moved In

Sometimes, there’s just nothing a grown up can suggest that sounds like it might actually be a fun thing to do – especially when unseasonable weather is preventing expected outside play in the summer.

Luckily, as all wise parents (and practitioners) know, small people have practically limitless resources of their own given the right encouragement to make use of them; and that’s exactly what’s demonstrated in this funny story about a boy, a den he creates from cushions and bits of sofa, and a friendly monster who pops in for a visit just when things are starting to get a bit boring.

Loretta Schauer’s illustrations are bright, dynamic and full of details to discuss; while Timothy Knapman peppers the narrative with plenty of noisy and exciting exclamations that invite enthusiastic audience participation.

10 | Spider Sandwiches

Claire Freedman has already proved several times over that she knows exactly what kids want from an early reading title, given that she is the sharp wit behind the massively popular Aliens Love Underpants series.

In this similarly gleeful tale of Max the monster and his hearty but utterly disgusting appetite she has almost certainly hit the mark again, with page after page of increasingly horrid menu suggestions that are bound to appeal to young readers with a penchant for all things loathsome – from beetle biscuits and lice rice to pickled worms and snail trail sauce.

Sue Hendra’s vivid illustrations celebrate every ghastly dish on the list with relish (as it were), and the pay-off line is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Your little ones will need little encouragement to start coming up with gruesome ideas of their own – although you may wish to save such an activity until after lunch.

11 | The Great Aaa-Ooo!

Ah, story time; an idyllic interval of peace and stillness amidst the daily hubbub and high-octane activity that very much comes as standard with the EYFS territory… unless, that is, you deliberately choose a book that is as joyfully noisy as the children with whom you are sharing it!

Whilst quiet listening can be lovely, a chance for the audience to yell and shout as the plot unfolds is sometimes exactly what’s needed, and Jonny Lambert’s fun tale of a mysterious, scary sound that leads to all kinds of confusion amongst the creatures who live in the ‘dark, rackety wood’ certainly fits the bill.

Lambert’s choice of language is as deliciously rich and textured as his vibrant illustrations, and there’s an opportunity to play with a whole orchestra of animal noises, including the spooky ‘aaa-ooo’, as every page is turned, getting louder and louder until the action climaxes with a fabulous cacophony of cracking tree branches and tumbling beasts.

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