MANHATTAN -- Not all Halloween treats have to be sweet. Children's literature experts at Kansas State University say the holiday is a great time to treat kids to scary or horror-related literary works written especially for them.
While having kids read scary stories may sound like a recipe for nightmares, Phil Nel, director of K-State's graduate program in children's literature, said many of these books can help kids confront their fears.
"A book is a safe place to explore fear -- much, much safer than the real world," Nel said. "And if a book is too scary for a child, she or he can close the cover and stop reading it."
When it comes to books where Halloween is a major part of the plot, Anne Phillips, associate professor of English, says young children will enjoy the picture book "John Pig's Halloween" by David McPhail. This book depicts what happens when John Pig is too timid to go out and trick-or-treat. With the help of a friendly witch, John discovers that Halloween can be a wonderful holiday, Phillips said.
Another book for young readers she recommends is "Six Creepy Sheep" by Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler, with illustrations by John O'Brien. "This picture and counting book follows six friends who decide to trick-or-treat one spooky Halloween night and they meet all kinds of interesting creatures, including a passel of pirates, who turn out to be pigs; a herd of hobos, which are horses; and a gaggle of goblins, which are geese; and many other interesting creatures. The whole adventure culminates in the best Halloween party ever," Phillips said.
Nel recommends the following books for children ages 4 and up:
Dr. Seuss' "The Sneetches and Other Stories," for "What Was I Scared Of?" -- which is one of the "Other Stories" in this volume; "Shadow" by Suzy Lee; "Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears" by Emily Gravett; "Ghosts in the House!" by Kazuno Kohara; "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg; "Mommy?" a pop-up book by Maurice Sendak, Arthur Yorinks and Matthew Reinhardt; "The Charles Addams Mother Goose" by Charles Addams; "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" by Edward Gorey; "There's a Nightmare in My Closet" by Mercer Mayer; and "As the City Sleeps" by Stephen T. Johnson. He also recommends "The Wolves in the Walls" by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, which he calls the scariest of the bunch and probably better for first-graders and up.
"With the exception of the titles by Gorey, Addams and Van Allsburg, these books all help you deal with your fears," Nel said." In 'Mommy?', a little boy frightens lots of monsters. In 'Shadow,' a little girl's imagination takes on a life of its own, which is initially scary, but ultimately empowering. In Seuss' 'What Was I Scared Of?', the narrator learns that the pants with nobody inside them are just as afraid of him as he is of them and the two make friends. 'Ghosts in the House!' is the most light-hearted of the group: a little girl witch moves into a haunted house and, unafraid of the ghosts, gets them to work for her."
Picture books to add this group, according to Joe Sutliff Sanders, assistant professor of English, include Denise Fleming's "Pumpkin Eye"; Laura Leuck and Mark Buehner's "My Monster Mama Loves Me So"; Robert D. San Souci and Daniel San Souci's "Feathertop"; and Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Outside Over There."
Older readers, ages 10 and up, may enjoy some of these chapter books and novels, recommended by Naomi Wood, associate professor of English: "The Witches" by Roald Dahl; "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman; "The Moaning Bones: African-American Ghost Stories" by James Haskins; "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving; "The Dark Forty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural" by Patricia McKissack; and "The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight," poems by Jack Prelutsky.
Wood also recommends the following titles for this age group, but cautions that they have often been on lists of banned books: the "Scary Stories" series by Alvin Schwartz; Lemony Snickett -- a.k.a. Daniel Handler, "A Series of Unfortunate Events" series starting with "The Bad Beginning"; and the "Goosebumps" series by R.L. Stine.
"Dahl and Snicket present children as resourceful and competent to deal with scary things, even when the things are very scary indeed," Wood said. "Of the poetry and folklore collections, the form of the poem helps contain the fear through rhyme -- which is predictable and pleasurable, and can be dramatized for great effect -- or through sudden/surprising endings, as in the children's folklore, which often involve jumping, screeching or other eruptions. Prelutsky is known for his humor rather than his out-and-out scariness, so his poems are more interesting to kids for the for the gross-out factor."
Several comic book series for kids center on Halloween-related themes, Sanders said. Some of his favorites include Joann Sfar's "Little Vampire" books -- Sanders said he especially likes "Little Vampire Goes to School"; and Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III's "The Stuff of Legend," about a young boy's toys going into the dark of the closet to rescue him from a world of nightmares.
Another recommendation is Doug TenNapel's comics. "These are great scary stories for young readers," Sanders said. "My favorite is a very recent book called 'Ghostopolis.' My 7-year-old loves it, but I think most people would consider it a book for junior high students."