Zombie in Love

Aww... isn't he cute?

I’m just going to put this out there – Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio and Scott Campbell might be one of the coolest picture books I’ve ever bought for my daughter. And it’s that great kind of cool where my daughter is really enamored with it – after our first reading, she loudly declared “Put that on my bookshelf NOW” – and I’m really into it too. Yes, it helps that one of my favorite artists of all time illustrated it, but, as a nerdy pop culture guy in his ‘30s, Zombie in Love speaks to a lot of my interests.

Now my daughter has her own definite areas of interest – princesses, astronomy, the music of Debbie Harry and David Bowie, words that rhyme with “poop” – and perhaps my favorite of her latest reoccupations is her growing interest in monsters.

That interest isn’t manifesting itself in a bad “terror-under-the-bed” way or in a cutesy “Sesame Street-making-monsters-safe” way. She’s just become very, very interested in traditional old-school monsters, and we have frequent conversations now about vampires, werewolves, mummies, and zombies, to name a few. And those are fun conversations to have. (They’re a lot more fun than debating if Jasmine or Belle is the prettiest.)

My daughter is a kid who’s prone to nightmares, so my wife and I spend a lot of time vetting what books, TV shows, or other various media forms may or may not be fodder for her potential night terrors. (I’ve come to accept that we’ll never see eye-to-eye on Scooby Doo. I’m pro, my wife is con.) This is a child who sleeps with nightlights, hates loud sounds, and refused to see 3D movies until two weeks ago. (Don’t even mention 4D movies to her. Oh, that was an ugly day at the zoo.)

But she isn’t afraid of traditional monsters. It’s like she was born with a respect for classic movie monsters, in particular, and has the voracious appetite for learning about Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, and, believe it or not, Godzilla. (She’s over-the-moon for Godzilla, so if anyone knows of any good picture books about kaiju or the giant monster genre, please send on your recommendations.)

So, like we vet potential nightmare material, my wife and I started vetting monster-related materials that might speak to her interest without totally freaking her out. Scooby Doo, in my opinion, can great media franchise for the monster-curious. (If your kid is up to it – some of the monsters can be a little freaky. And some SD series are MUCH better than others. My daughter and I are particularly big fans of Cartoon Network’s new Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated show.)

Nightmare Before Christmas costume

Monster-loving three-year-old girls are super, super cool.

There’s the Monster High dolls, which are really popular right now and… sigh, I guess they marry together the “princess” and “monster” interests for young girls and my daughter is besotted with them right now, but… why do their outfits have to come from the Czech prostitute fashion outlet? Their clothes are HORRIBLE. We let my daughter have one for her birthday – after months of pleading – but we insisted on picking out an “appropriate” one (i.e. had most of her clothes on) and that’s the only one she’s ever getting.

The monster property that clicked the most with my daughter is Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. At first, I was afraid the movie would be too dark for her, so I started out showing her some YouTube clips and gauging her interest and comfort level. She got really comfortable really fast and instantly fell in love with both the movie and Burton’s very cool picture book version of his original poem. (When she was three, she went as Jack Skellington for Halloween and, let me tell you, they don’t make Jack costumes for three-year-old girls.) [read the rest of the post…]


Before I get into my discussion of Jack Prelutsky’s The Wizard, I want to tell you about a fantastic Halloween reading tradition that’s sprung up over the past few years called All Hallow’s Read, which apparently originated with a blog post by Neil Gaiman in 2010. It’s all about… well, I’ll let Gaiman explain it himself:

That’s it. On the week of Halloween (or on the day itself), give someone you know – adult, kid, or in between – a scary book to read.

Simple yet elegant. I love the concept for many reasons. First of all, if you can actually find a book that really, truly scares you, it’s an amazing sensation. Finding out that reading words on a printed page can actually chill you to the core of your being is a staggering, unrivaled experience, and it often gets dismissed by people who look down their nose at “genre” fiction. Personally, if a book can actually scare me, I find the experience way more affecting than a book that can make me cry. I cry all the time (ask my wife – it’s a sickness), but scaring me while I’m sitting on the couch reading in the middle of the day? That’s a hard act to pull off.

Secondly, I love that there’s this aspect of All Hallow’s Read that’s all about figuring out your audience. It’s not just finding a book that YOU might find scary. You’re trying to find a book that will scare your mother, your daughter, your pal, your co-worker – some real thought has to go into that selection. The book has to have the APPROPRIATE scare level for the person you have in mind. Your nephew might be a little tame and timid, but can’t get enough of campfire ghost stories. Your best friend might despise gore, but might love the existential dread of a Lovecraft novel. Psychological suspense might bore your sister to tears, but she ADORES blood and guts. It’s like choosing the perfect holiday gift for your friends and family, only with marginally more viscera and tentacled gods.

I decided to get in on the All Hallow’s Read fun this year and find a scary book to share with my daughter, which… was a challenge. She’s almost five and is a bit of a scaredy-cat. And it’s hard to predict what will or won’t resonate as scary with her. She can’t get enough of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal – both of which have some decidedly weird and dark moments – but curls up in anxiety whenever she sees a picture of a gun or whenever there’s an especially creepy background shadow in a picture book spread. (I’m 95% certain that she never even realized that she was supposed to be afraid of the dark until I read her The Berenstain Bears in the Dark, so, thanks a lot, Stan and Jan.)

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky

So I had to stay away from murder, death, weapons, unfriendly monsters, situations that couldn’t be explained away as fairy tales, overt threats towards children, and particularly spooky illustrations. In other words, I didn’t have a ton to work with. But I eventually found the perfect All Hallow’s Read book for my daughter in the 2007 picture book adaptation of Jack Prelutsky’s poem The Wizard, illustrated by Brandon Dorman – a book that I think is a PERFECT Halloween read for nervous young readers looking for a slight dose of spookiness before bed.

If you don’t already know, Jack Prelutsky was named the first Children’s Poet Laureate in 2006 and, for decades, he’s been a major force in children’s poetry. When asked to name great poets for young readers, I normally rattle off the names “Silverstein, Seuss, and Prelutsky” on instinct before my brain has time to start thinking of other options. If you have third graders or older – or younger kids with particularly strong constitutions – who would revel in tales of monsters and mutilation, you can’t go wrong with Prelutsky’s perfect-for-Halloween poetry collections, Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep or The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. Both are way fun and are accompanied by a series of Edward Gorey-esque illustrations created by the great Arnold Lobel. [read the rest of the post…]


That was what my almost five-year-old daughter told me as I was getting her ready for bed tonight.

“What?” I said. “Wait, what was this? When was this?”

It had been raining today, so her kindergarten class had stayed inside for recess and watched a movie.

Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman (1975) by Barbara K. Walker

The book in question….

“And it was about this old lady… and there was this scary part with hands at the beginning… it was so freaky… and the old lady, she was a witch… she would take children’s bones and boil them, and, if you want to get someone’s bones, you have to kill them. So this lady KILLED children, Dad. She killed like a hundred children. She had a fence of bones… no, I’m serious, Dad. She killed children. So many children. And ripped out their bones.”

“This was at school today?”

“Yes, I’m really telling the truth, Dad. It was a video from the people that made the Knuffle Bunny and Pete’s a Pizza videos, but it was about KILLING…”

That went on for a while.

It turns out – after some quick Google searches – that the video was an animated version of a book called Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman (1975) by Barbara K. Walker, illustrated by Michael Foreman, which seems to be out of print. The cartoon adaptation was done by Weston Woods, a fantastic production company, owned by Scholastic, that specializes in animated versions of classic children’s books. (My daughter knows their Mo Willems and William Steig videos, which are great.)

I found Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman on YouTube and… yeah, my daughter was right. That is freaky. Really freaky, right? (The hands are WAY scary.)

So, OK, Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman – you’re on the radar of the Library now.

I’m going to try to track down a copy to see if the actual book is any less “freaky.” Oh, and I’m also going to enjoy about a month of questions from my kid about murdered children and the best way to collect the bones of young ones, so, thanks a lot, Teeny-Tiny.