Seasonably scary for young readers


Here is a host of Halloween treats, ranging from how-to books with last-minute costume ideas to spooky read-alouds for goblins of all ages.

* "The Halloween Grab Bag: A Book of Tricks and Treats" by Ferida Wolff and Dolores Kozielski, illustrations by David Neuhaus (HarperTrophy, $5.95, 96 pages, ages 7-10). This is a good book to have on hand for children ready for do-it-yourself projects. There are 10 costumes that require cutting, pasting, painting and some simple stiching, as well as four "hurry-up" outfits that won't take more than a half-hour to throw together.

How-to projects include decorations and games for parties, and recipes for everything from toasted pumpkin seeds to a combination of cold spaghetti (worms), peeled grapes (eyeballs) and gelatin (slug slime) for blind-folded guests to dip their hands into. Interspersed throughout the book are word games, riddles and blurbs about superstitions and Halloween traditions.

* "Halloween Fun: Great Things to Make and Do" by Abigail Willis and Annabel Spenceley (Kingfisher, $4.95, 32 pages, ages 6-10). This quick reference paperback offers six fairly simple costume designs, directions for three Halloween party games, six face-painting designs to copy, six recipes for ghoulish gourmets and several crafts projects with Halloween themes.

* For children who are hooked on mazes, here are two books to attack with sharpened pencils: "Slippery, Slimy, Silly Mazes" and "Greasy, Grimy Goofy Mazes," both by Sal Guastella and Judith Strong (Watermill Press, $2.95 each, 48 pages, ages 7-12). Most are intricate and time-consuming, and each page of maze is accompanied by a "Did you know?" fact.

While wiggling your pencil through wads of worms, you learn that the world's longest earthworm, found in South Africa, measured 22 feet.

* Another book that can keep a middle-schooler occupied for hours is the "Monsters: Press-out Models" (Watermill Press, $6.95, ages 9 and up). The pages of poster-board-weight paper are filled with pieces of monsters that you press out and then piece and glue together to make 10-inch-tall versions of Frankenstein's monster, Count Dracula, a mummy and a werewolf. Warning to parents: Unless you're incredibly patient and handy, consider your kids' level of dexterity before purchasing this book.

* Another pair of books that might be a hit for ages 9-12: "The Very Scary Almanac" by Eric Elfman, illustrated by Will Suckow (Random House, $4.99, 80 pages) and "Creepy Cuisine" by Lucy Monroe, illustrated by Dianne O'Quinn Burke (Random House, $4.99, 79 pages).

The almanac is a browser's delight, packed with background about the history of witchcraft, investigations of UFOs, a who's who of creepy creatures (from the Abominable Snowman to the Giant Octopus of Scandinavia) and a chronology of horror movies and books. The cookbook -- well, I wouldn't recommend it for folks with weak stomachs. Directions are clear and I'm sure this stuff is edible, but who could choke down a vegetable stew called Chuckie's Upchuck?

* "Mimi's Scary Theater" by Elzbieta (Hyperion, $14.95, 19 pages, ages 4-8) lets readers become actors in a play starring Mimi (an innocent, clever young girl), the horrible witch, the lean and hungry wolf, the skeleton in the cupboard, a mouse, Prince Peter and an egg.

The cover opens to reveal the stage, and each page is a scene. You pull tabs to move the characters as you read the dialogue. The paper engineering is well done and the plot is fun, although it's a shame that Mimi, who rescues the prince, rushes to marry him at the end.

* More silly than scary is "The School in Murky Wood" by Malcolm Bird (Chronicle Books, $10.95, 40 pages, ages 3-8). Ever wonder what goes on in school buildings late at night? Mr. Bird fills the deserted classrooms with a cast of cute monsters who get high marks for making messes, not paying attention and practicing horrible manners at lunch (Snarlene gets a gold star for chewing with her mouth open). When the sun starts to rise, Miss Moist the teacher makes sure the monsters leave the classroom just as they found it the night before -- leaving readers to wonder if the same kind of motley crew could be sharing their classrooms, too.

* Young whodunit fans should enjoy "The ABC Mystery" by Doug Cushman (HarperCollins, $14, 28 pages, ages 3-7). Mr. Cushman's use of the ABC format is clever and most of the rhymes are not contrived -- a drawback in the majority of alphabet and counting books being churned out these days. Even though we know all along that the butler did it, Mr. Cushman's amusing watercolors keep readers turning the pages.

* Another page-turner is "Did You Say GHOSTS?" by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Leonard Baskin (Macmillan, $14.95, 30 pages, ages 4-8). It's a cumulative tale, wonderfully done, as each ghoul introduced is then frightened away by the goblin on the next page:


Relax. There's not a thing to fear.

You'll never find a broomstick here.

If I were you I'd bet my britches

that vampires can scare those witches.


And so it goes, through dragons and gargoyles, Gorgons and skeletons. Mr. Baskin, whose "Hosie's Alphabet" was a Caldecott Honor book, creates creatures with an eerie spirit that will take your breath away.

* "The Witches and the Singing Mice," by Jenny Nimmo, pictures by Angela Barrett (Dial, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 7-11) lets older readers revel in captivating, full-page illustrations while enjoying a sophisticated retelling of a traditional Celtic tale. Two brave tomcats are the protagonists who must find a way to stop the three witches from putting all of the village children to sleep forever. Children who think they're too old to have books read aloud to them might have a change of heart if an adult shares this one with them.

* Another fine read-aloud is "A Newbery Halloween" selected by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh (Delacorte, $16.95, 189 pages, all ages). Here are 12 stories by Newbery Award winners, including Phyllis Reynolds Naylor of Bethesda, Madeleine L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Virginia Hamilton, Paul Fleischman, E. L. Konigsburg and Beverly Cleary.

Some are chilling, some are funny. Several are excerpts from books -- an excellent way to entice kids to check out the author's longer work.

* One collection that came out last year deserves mention again: "The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural" by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Knopf, $15, 128 pages, ages 8-12). Ms. McKissack's suspenseful stories are inspired by African-American history, and Mr. Pinkney's signature black-and-white scratchboard illustrations are the perfect complement.


Jan. 31, 1994, is the deadline to submit books by authors residing in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for the Joan C. Sugarman Children's Book Award. The award, which includes a $1,000 prize, goes to a book for ages 15 and under that is published with a 1992 or 1993 copyright. The winner will be selected "on the basis of originality and universal appeal."

FTC One copy of each eligible book, and a biography of the author, should be sent to: Sugarman Book Award, Washington Independent Writers Legal and Educational Fund Inc., 220 Woodward Building, 733 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. Books submitted will be donated to the Gelman Library of the George Washington University.

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