Wow! We had so much fun writing last year's spooky round-up but this year the bookshop shelves seems to have exploded with even more fabulous releases in time for Halloween. From poetry books to picture books and right through to middle grade, no reader is being left out this year. There really is something for everyone.
Yet again, we've had tremendous fun in our house trawling our local independent bookshops (what a treat to get out to an actual bookshop!) for new purchases and I think it's pretty obvious from my very depleted bank balance that spooky books are a big favourite of ours. This year, however, feels extra special as my very own debut picture book has been released into the world by small indie publisher, Final Chapter. Not specifically a Halloween tale but in-keeping with the seasonal vibe, Pumpkin's Fairytale features Pumpkin as the main character and is a twist on a fairytale classic. It is available to buy from Final Chapter, Waterstones and Foyles, if you fancy enjoying it with your little ones and any support will be greatly appreciated.
At £20, this is comes with a sizeable price tag for a picture book. Never before would I have considered paying that sort of money for any children's fiction but:
1) this is Oliver Jeffers we're talking about.
2) when I saw a signed copy on a bookshelf in St. Ives, I didn't think twice about picking it up.
Why? Because this book is an absolute treat. Exquisitely put together with a peephole cover and transluscent overlays for each page, it's clever and engaging and my son was so thrilled with it, he insisted on reading it with everyone in the house.
A young girl thinks her house is haunted but has never actually seen a ghost. As she takes you on a tour, can you help her find some?
As it states in the blurb, this is essentially an interactive and spooky game of hide and seek and a classic example of how words and pictures can be offset against each other to create truly special storytelling. The girl insists she's never seen a ghost but that may not be the experience of the reader so keep your eyes peeled. Nothing more is needed than the very simple text because the artwork is really something. The illustrations are mixed media and the black and white photographic backgrounds are used to extraordinary effect.
I was really intrigued by the footnotes about the house. It made me wonder whether this was a real-life setting. It certainly added a bit of extra intrigue and sophistication to the book and I loved how the childhood delight that is hide and seek has been given a mature feel, making this the perfect story to share between generations.
Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia.Z DragoLink to publisher
Published by: Walker Books. October 2020
This isn't exactly a new release but I had to include it because I don't quite know how we missed Gustavo last year. With an adorable character set within the pages of a beautifully illustrated book, this is the perfect story for young readers who want to don't want to be scared this season.
Gustavo is a very shy ghost - too shy to make a friend. But when Gustavo decides to be brave and reach out, will he get what he so desperately wants?
This debut picture book by Flavia Z. Drago won the 2021 Klaus Flugge prize for the most exciting newcomer to picture book illustration and its easy to see why. Born and raised in Mexico City, Drago has used the Day of the Dead as the event in her story and the artwork reflects this beautifully. The front cover is probably one of my favourite picture book covers ever; stunning, vivid and with a fabulous portrayal of Gustavo himself who is a super-cute, relatable and memorable character.
There's a lovely gentle message in this book about being true to yourself and, like Oliver Jeffer's book above, it includes a fun hide-and-seek element on some of the pages. Young readers will be able to relate to Gustavo's fear of making friends and I loved how actions rather than words are championed in the story. This is a tale that glows with warmth, just like the Gustavo himself.
Which Nose for Witch by David Crosby and Carolina Coroa
Link to publisher
Published by: Maverick Publishing, Sep 2021
Following the success of David Crosby's debut picture book, Pirates vs Monsters, this author has bewitched us with another corker. Which Nose for Witch is a funny, non-scary tale that is perfect for Halloween and beyond. Again, with the powerful message of staying true to yourself but told in a completely original way, this story will have readers giggling long after the lights go out.
It's time for Grizelda to choose her grown-up nose but when her mum takes her shopping, she doesn't find anything suitable. With the pressure mounting and her mum in a tizzy, will Grizelda carry on searching or does she have a bold announcement to make?
This is definitely a 'why has no one thought of this before' idea- clever, imaginative and brilliantly executed. The rhyme adds a spring and a bounce to the text and the illustrations by Carolina Coroa are witchy perfection. This is definitely an author we're excited about in our house- someone who can bring simple stories to life with a dramatic twist and a wicked sense of humour. We love it!
How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca GreenLink to publisher
Published by: Anderson Press, 2018
Published in 2018, this is not a new release but new to our radar, so we thought we'd include it. Written in 'guide book' form, this book with it's spooky tonal palette is delightful, warm and funny.
If you're lucky enough to ever find a ghost, it might need a friend. This helpful guide will tell you how to befriend it so you can develop a friendship that will last a lifetime and beyond...
With subtitles and diagrams and recipes, the non-fiction layout of this book is genius. We loved the dry humour wrapped up in the rather formal tone and, with so much to look at and read, it's definitely a book little ones will enjoy over and over again. There's a lovely tender touch at the end and the power of friendship is truly championed. This is also perfect for young readers who enjoy interacting and role-playing with imaginary friends.
Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch
Link to publisher
Published by: Nosy Crow, Sep 2021
Magnificent Mabel is hilarious and this new release is no exception. Fun, mischievous and totally character led, each of the three stories are brilliantly written and utterly child-centred.
Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch: Mabel is furious when her mum cancels their trick or treating trip and they have to go and visit Great-Aunt Bridget in a care home instead. But it may be Mabel that' s in for a treat when she realises that her aunt is not as uninteresting as she thought...
Magnificent Mabel and the Worry Box: When Mabel puts a worry in the school worry box, Mrs. Roscoe offers her help. But when Mabel spots someone else using the box, may it's time to see if she can help instead...
Magnificent Mabel and the Monster Scarer: There's a monster under Mabel's bed and she is sure a high-up bunk bed will solve the problem. But when she finds her very own monster scarer, her problem is suddenly solved...
These stories are perfect for the 5-7 age-group. The font is large and accessible, allowing young readers to develop their confidence and independance when reading. The language is relatively simple, but also allows room to stretch a child's reading ability, and the stories are short to enable a sense of success and achievability. They are also perfect to be read by an adult to a child.
Mabel is a strong, relatable and feisty character and the author, Ruth Quayle, has nailed Mabel's child-centred view of the world around her. From problems at home to issues at school, Mabel is direct, curious, mischievous, independant and really funny. The stories scenarios are all highly relevant to children and are engaging, pacey and fun. Each character feels unique and we especially liked 'that mother' of Mabel's and Sophie Simpson. If you're looking for more of a non-fantasy, true-to-life series, this could be the one.
Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief by Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick
Link to Publisher
Published by: Little Tiger, September 2021
We loved reviewing the first Midnight Magic book last year and this tale is double the fun. Told in rhyme, this book is perfect for the 5-7 age bracket and also for emerging independent readers.
With Trixie at school, Midnight finds the perfect new playmate by bringing her mirror reflection to life. But when the glass gets smashed and her magical mirror cat escapes, the feline fun quickly turns into mischief. Can Trixie and Midnight find a way to turn Midnight's devilish double back into a reflection?
This is a story of magical mayhem which works wonderfully in rhyme. There's a perfect mix of characters and the two-tone illustrations convey the humour of the story to a tee- just look at the expression on the mirror cat's face! The storyline is simple but hilarious with our favourite scene probably being Nan on the back of the broomstick. With chaos, adventure and oodles of mischievous magic, this is the perfect tale for a Halloween night.
Diary of an Accidental Witch by Honor and Perdita Cargill and Katie SaundersLink to publisher
Published by: Little Tiger, September 2021
Also published by Little Tiger, Diary of an Accidental Witch is the first in a new series for 7-9 year olds. Written in diary form, the story documents the misadventures of Bea Black after her dad accidentally enrols her at witch school.
When Bea Black and her dad move to Little Spellshire, Bea is aghast to learn that he has enrolled her in the wrong school. Going to witch school when you have no magical powers whatsoever is going to prove tricky, especially when you're lumped with looking after the class frog and PE takes place on a broomstick.
Can poor Bea find a way to fit in as well as keeping Little Spellshire's magical secret? And how will she cope at the annual Halloween Ball?
This series is a magical potion for success and we absolutely LOVED it! It's perfect for fans of Scribble Witch and The Worst Witch or anyone who fancies diving into an hilarious witchy tale. The world-building and attention to detail is brilliant and the accessible diary format allows us to instantly connect with Bea. We loved her 'Things I Will Achieve Lists' and the genius crossings out in the diary entries themselves. There's a strong narrative arc, a gaggle of fabulous characters and a setting that you just wish you could visit.
With spells to learn, friends to make and tricky GO manouvres to learn, Bea really has her work to cut out trying to fit in. As expected, there's the traditional school meanie and a whole host of other challenges. We particularly loved the 'bat bunting' and seeing Bea grow and develop as the story progressed. The ending is funny and satisfying and we know this series could just run and run. If you're looking for a trick-or-treat this season, this is both in one FABULOUS package.
Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin by Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas
Link to publisher
Published by: Walker Books, Oct 2021
If you're looking for something decidedly more stomach-churning and blood-curdling, then the second in the Fairy Tales Gone Bad series has just been released. Written in non-rhyming verse, this follows on from the success of Zombierella and is easily as gruesome, gory and garish.
When Bryony, an famous taxidermist, is taken by the King of all Mythica and given an impossible task, she has no choice but to accept the help of a strange creature with extraordinary powers. But she soon learns that there's a high price to pay for accepting his magic and if she doesn't guess his name, the outcome could cost her everything.
The first thing to say about this book is that the front cover and the black and white illustrations by Freya Hartas are incredible. They bring the dark humour of the story to life and enhance the gothic and gruesome vibe. I particularly loved the portrayal of the animals and of Frankenstiltskin himself.
Joseph Coelho's adaptation of this famous story is highly imaginative- dark and twisty with lots of devilish detail. The angle is fresh (or maybe not considering the amount of rotting corpses in it), original and vivid and the ending has a clever twist. If you think 'Tim Burton' of the book world, that should give you an idea of what to expect.
The verse format (and the extra white space you get as a result of this) gives a light feel to a dark tale and allows readers to rip through the pages at an extrordinary pace. It's perfect for readers who want a dose of Halloween horror without committing to a long, more time-consuming novel. Deliciously wicked but with a strong moral message, this has fast become one of my favourite series and I can't wait for the next one.
The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes and Keith RobinsonLink to publisher
Published by: Usborne, September 2021
The Haunting of Aveline Jones blew me away last year. Not for the faint-hearted, it offered a BIG, nail-biting fright in a small, sleek package. I was super excited, therefore, to discover that this was to be the first in a series and as a result had The Bewitching of Aveline Jones on pre-order for months.
When Aveline and her mum head out of the city on a summer break, Aveline is thrilled to learn their holiday cottage sits next to an ancient stone circle that's steeped in mystery. Her excitement soon increases when she meets Hazel, an unusual girl who is keen to befriend her. But what is it about Hazel that feels off? Will Aveline work it out before it's too late?
Slightly thicker than its prequel but still relatively short for a novel, this is, once again, an example of terrific, supernatural storytelling. Phil Hickes unravels the story effortlessly, plunging the reader straight into a fog of mystery and intrigue. The atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by Keith Robinson's illustrations which ooze a sinister eeriness across the page, particularly in the pages between chapters.
After getting to know Aveline in the first novel, it was lovely to instantly slip back into her world. I was also really excited to meet Harold again and it was great to see that his and Aveline's friendship had progressed between novels. The banter between them was funny and sharp and the dynamic well-balanced with the arrival of Hazel.
The characters in these stories are sparse but all functional. Whereas Aunt Lilian, Mr. Lieberman and Aveline's mum were more upfront in the first novel, this time they take far more of a back seat leaving the path open for the arrival of Hazel and Alice. The plot has an historical element to it, which dips into real-life history, and this gives the entire tale an authenticity and believeability which is truly gripping.
I loved this tale from start to finish. My personal opinion is that it's not as scary as Aveline's first supernatural adventure but it's equally as good. Creepy and witchy, with subtle messages surrounding persecution and loneliness, this is a book you'll want to read in front of a roaring fire or curled up in a snuggly duvet. You also might want to keep the light switch to hand...
Fire, Burn, Cauldron Bubble: Magical Poems. Chosen by Paul Cookson and illustrated by Eilidh MuldoonLink to publisher
Published by: Bloomsbury, Sep 2020
Crackling with creativity and a sparky energy, this collection of magical poems is definitely a treat and not a trick. The cover is so stunningly beautiful, I would have bought it just for this reason. However, there's no way I'm letting it sit idle on my bookshelf.
From DRAGONS and UNICORNS
to WIZARDS and WANDS,
let this ENCHANTING collection
of MAGICAL POEMS
put you under its SPELL.
Enchanting is definitely the word. From The Mad Magician to The Magic Kitchen Carpet to Dragon's Breath and Potion Problems, this book will fire up the imaginations of future poets and storytellers by conjuring up the most fabulous images. There's shorter poems and longer poems interlaced with wonderful illustrations and it's a wonderful celebration of rhyme and rhythm, language and verse.
This is an investment for any classroom or home and likely to encourage the most reluctant of readers and writers to get involved and have a play with words. In two words, it's inspiring and inventive to the point where you can't help but feel the magic.