Ah…Halloween again. As mentioned in a previous post, October is one of my favourite months. Autumn colours and bags of fun-sized chocolate bars make me happy in a very, very deep place. As a picturebook aficionado, I love the months that bring out the seasonal collections. Christmas, Easter…even within this narrow field, it’s fascinating to see how many picturebook variations there are on Jesus (well, not that many), a Christmas tree, or a gourd. Some are better than others, and in that spirit, I will be making recommendations for Halloween based on previous posts in this blog. But first…a little Halloween treat from my youth. While this blog is devoted to picture books, occasionally a novel bubbles to the surface, or in the particular case of this novel, boils and bubbles to the surface, demanding inclusion in spite of the dearth of illustrations. Such is The Little Leftover Witch, by Florence Laughlin.
One of the most memorable books of my childhood, The Little Leftover Witch is a short novel about a seven year old witch named Felina who breaks her broom on Halloween night and is unable to fly. In spite of her protests, the stubborn and disheveled girl is taken in by a family, where she is gradually made to feel at home in a non-magical world. What I remember most is the way she is cared for by the mother. Her long hair is brushed and brushed until it is shiny and all the knots are gone, her dirty black dress is washed and ironed, she has a bubble bath for the first time in her life, and instead of bat soup and jibbers’ gizzards, she is fed chicken and dumplings, peach cobbler, ice cream, and big glasses of ice-cold milk. Felina resists the kindness of the family, but eventually succumbs. The Little Leftover Witch resonated with me as a child. As the fifth girl in a family of limited means, the nurturing was a little thin, but I did have my school library, where I found this book, and many others. Coincidentally, I found it again the first day I started working in the children’s section of a bookstore. Different cover, same book. The simple, pen & ink illustrations are just as evocative as they were decades ago, as is the story of a lost little girl. The jaded adult in me wonders why Felina wasn’t allowed to retain her true witchy self and is instead persuaded to follow the conservative values of her adopted family. Luckily, a good story and pretty pictures never fail to knock me off my portable soapbox. The Little Leftover Witch is a book about love and transformation, and on that level, it succeeds beautifully. And what could be more ‘Halloween’ than a story of transformation…from summer to autumn, light to dark, jibbers’ gizzards to chicken dumplings. Although I believe the book is currently out of print, I was more than a little surprised to read that Chris Colfer from Glee is making a movie out of The Little Leftover Witch for the Disney Channel. Looks like the book is about to undergo…a transformation.
And now…a few more Halloween treats (excluding those horrible molasses things) from the archives~
Halloween by Harry Behn, with bootiful illustrations by Greg Couch. In the ridiculously talented hands of Greg Couch, Halloween has never looked so stunning. Every page is a sparkling gem. This is one of those books I bought based entirely on the cover with it’s grinning and slightly demented pumpkin. I’m a little surprised it didn’t hit with a bigger splash, or be nominated for a Caldecott. It’s tough out there for genre books. Please Caldecott committee, give gourds a chance.
The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg. Other than The Polar Express, this is my favourite Van Allsburg. I cannot fathom how he does it. I have an inkling of the method he employs, and the materials he uses, but that doesn’t begin to explain the genius. The illustrations are works of art, and so very evocative of autumn. An enchanted autumn, in black and white, with magical brooms and stuff, but still autumn in all it’s leaf-strewn moodiness.
Spooky ABC by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Lane Smith. As any regular reader of this blog will know…if indeed there are regular readers, I am in love with Lane Smith. Not romantically (although he seems like an exceptional fellow), but illustratively, if such a thing exists. He is brilliant. And hilarious. And stupidly inventive. Spooky ABC is a reprint (with additional pictures) of Halloween ABC. It’s phenomenally good, and a must-have for any serious Halloweener. Or Halloweenie, whatever your persuasion.
What Was I Scared Of? by Dr Seuss. Awe…I love this book! But then, I am a sucker for Dr Seuss, and stories about haunted pants. Haunted green pants. You’ll never look at your trousers in the same way again.
Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Carson Ellis. My most recent review. What could be more Halloween than a suitcase full of ghouls, a lizard named Skorped, and a young psychopath in a sweater vest? Still, they deserved it.
Last, but not least, one of my favourite books of all time~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. If you haven’t read the original, I strongly urge you to do so. It’s surprisingly witty, and a window into late 18th century New York. In describing the itinerant school teacher’s appetite, Irving states that Ichabod Crane, “…was a huge feeder, and though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda.” This is one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read, in any century. Also, there is a headless horseman, and gorgeous illustrations by Gary Kelley. It is a real corker.
Honorable…or dishonourable mention goes to the Hob Stories by William Mayne, with illustrations by Norman Messenger and Patrick Benson. There was no actual review of this book in 32 Pages for a number of reasons, but the fact remains that these are fun stories to read, and the art is fantastic.
That’s it…so far. If any other Halloween lovelies materialize in the next two weeks…or two years…I will amend this list. I remain hopeful.
The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin, illustrations by Sheila Greenwald. Published by Collier MacMillan 1971