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October 27, 2010

Security Blanket: Dashiell's Halloween Picks


My almost-six-year-old has, from a remarkably early age, been fascinated by all things scary and spooky, and by Halloween in particular. I don’t know if it’s an association with his birthday (which falls just five days later), or pure temperament, but it sometimes borders on obsession—he spends much of the year counting the months not till Christmas, but till the end of October, and he has for some years now had his costumes selected for every upcoming Halloween until about 2025.

Accordingly, he has a large and ever-growing section of Halloween- and otherwise spooky-themed books and videos. Seeing as the holiday approaches, I thought I’d post a list of his favorites of the moment (as of 8 p.m. on October 26, at any rate—favorites lists move fast at this age!).

BOOKS
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Adam McCauley. A collection of whimsical monster-themed poems, kind of Shel Silverstein–style, framed as a series of recollections by a professional studier of monster. It’s packaged marvelously with foldouts and evocative illustrations that assist in the illusion.

That Terrible Halloween Night, by James Stevenson. A recent library discovery (as it will have to be for others; it appears to be out of print)—a fun little picture book from 1980 on which a grandfather explains why, ever since a certain Halloween long ago, nothing really scares him anymore. Stevenson, a former New Yorker writer and cartoonist who’s written literally hundreds of children’s books (What’s Under My Bed? being perhaps the most famous), displays his usual gentle humor throughout.

The Dangerous Alphabet, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Gris Grimley. The darkest, creepiest, most macabre ABC book since Edward Gorey’s Gashleycrumb Tinies. No actual demises here, but a lot of creepy, disturbing (but very clever) imagery alongside the smart writing—Gaiman and Grimley manage to pack a remarkable amount of storytelling into the usually limiting alphabet framework. It might be a bit too disturbing for many kids of the age to be reading even very sophisticated ABC picture books. Dash, of course, took to it immediately and loves it still.

Vunce upon a Time, by J. Otto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian, illustrated by J. Otto Seibold. Author-illustrator Seibold’s trademark vivid, trippy aesthetic makes this story of a shy vegetarian vampire named Dagmar, who learns to face his fear of humans, memorable indeed.

Tell Me Another Scary Story...but Not Too Scary!, by Carl Reiner, illustrated by James Bennett. I mentioned this book in this space not long ago, and it’s still in heavy rotation, largely thanks to the included CD with the author’s own evocative reading of his tale.

VIDEOS
The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s not like it was a surprise that would be one of Dash’s favorites. But we were a bit taken aback at how early in his life it happened—he saw a preview for it on another DVD when he was just three, and would not stop pestering us until we agreed to let him see it. Thinking he might be too young, we had remote in hand should anything prove too scary. But, as always seems to happen in such cases, he loved it passionately start to finish, and wasn’t frightened a bit. In what’s probably news to exactly no one, this is a fantastic movie to enjoy with the entire family this time of year; for a 17-year-old animated film, it holds up amazingly well.

The Teacher from the Black Lagoon…and More Slightly Scary Stories. An entry in the vast and excellent Scholastic Storybook Treasures collection of classic kids’s books turned into lightly animated videos, it became a go-to almost immediately. This one is an adaptation of a classic fear-of-school book, in which a kid’s worries about his new teacher turn out to be somewhat...overblown. The DVD also includes versions of Mike Thaler and Jared Lee’s several sequels (in which the same boy’s similar angst about the librarian, gym teacher, etc., is dispelled), and Dash loves them all.

Monsters vs. Aliens. This big-budget animated blockbuster from last year isn’t all that Halloween-y (though I suppose the old B horror flicks that inspired it were), but Dash insisted that I include it. It’s funny, it’s well-acted by the usual dazzling roster of Hollywood stars performing in today’s animated fare (here it’s Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Seth Rogan, and Paul Rudd, among others), and it features monsters. what’s not to like?

REALLY SILLY, UNNECESSARY, BUT HILARIOUS OTHER PRODUCT
Thriller Mummy Doll. What can I say? We saw it in the store (I think it was Michaels), and it got us. We are suckers. I think it’s the head twitch that does it. Still makes me laugh every time:



[Photo: Whitney Webster]

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