Scary isn't enough for Halloween anymore. Children want gore. If a story is loaded with gross, gruesome -- and mostly gratuitous -- blood and guts, it just might sell.
But there are alternatives. Here are some tame offerings for the 9-and-under crowd.
* "Beneath the Ghost Moon," by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Laurel Molk (Little, Brown and Co., $14.95, 32 pages, ages 3-7) is a gentle poem about a crew of farmhouse mice who throw a masquerade ball under the Halloween moon.
That night, after the mice are asleep, their house is invaded by a band of creepie-crawlies. The mean, green lizard-like creatures tear up the mouse masks, rip the costumes, and leave grimy paw prints everywhere. When the mice awake to the mess, they decide they have to leave the big house because the creepie-crawlies have taken over.
"It's the end," cried a gray mouse.
"We're done," wailed a black.
"Let us move far away
And let's never come back."
But one white mouse gathers her courage and urges her friends and family to stay and fight to take back their home. It works. The mice arm themselves with straight pins as swords and use bottle caps as shields. Then they launch into battle, frightening the lizards into retreat with just the sound of their charge.
The noise was quite wild
And deafening, too.
It certainly scared
That whole crawly-creep crew.
The green creeps flee, except for one little lizard who surrenders to the mice and dances with the white mouse under the ghost moon.
* If that's too saccharine for you, check out "Making Friends with Frankenstein: A Book of Monstrous Poems and Pictures" by Colin McNaughton (Candlewick Press, $19.95, 96 pages, ages 4 and up). Mr. McNaughton's rambunctious illustrations are familiar to fans of "Who's That Banging on the Ceiling?" and "Guess Who's Moved in Next Door?"
Most of his poems are of the schoolyard variety -- silly and/or tasteless enough to make grown-ups groan -- although some are quite clever as well.
Here's one called "Dead Ringer":
Death in the steeple!
Tell the people!
I've a hunch I knew him well!
Dead as a dodo!
It's his face that rings a bell!
* An easy reader with a Halloween theme is "Mary Marony, Mummy Girl," by Suzy Kline, illustrated by Blanche Sims (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $13.95, 78 pages, ages 6-9). Mary Marony is a second-grader trying to cope with problems that will seem familiar to a lot of suburban kids.
Her parents are pinching pennies because the economy is slow, and so is her father's job selling real estate. Mary does well in school, and she has a couple of reliable best friends, but she is teased to no end by Marvin, the boy who sits behind her in class and makes fun of her because she sometimes stutters.
Mary decides she wants to be a mummy for Halloween. When she accidentally rips a hole in her sheet that night, she's delighted. She shreds the sheet into strips before she's struck with guilt, thinking that her parents can't afford to buy a replacement sheet. But all is well when Mary takes third place in a Halloween art contest and wins a $5 gift certificate to a nearby department store -- where a new sheet just happens to cost $4.99.
The ending gets even sappier when Mary picks Marvin to pose with her when the newspaper photographer comes to take pictures of the art contest winners. Why is she nice to Marvin? Good question.
* Just out in paperback is "Real Mummies Don't Bleed: Friendly Tales for October Nights," by Susan Whitcher, pictures by Andrew Glass (Sunburst/Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $4.95, 119 pages, ages 7-11). Ms. Whitcher, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, wrote this book while living in Baltimore.
It's a collection of five short stories, with several scary moments. The best story is called "The Paper Bag Genie," about a young girl who finds a paper bag from a deli blowing across the mall parking lot and discovers a genie inside. It turns out that the genie has escaped from the deli owner, a witch of a woman who uncorked the genie's bottle and put him to work washing dishes and mopping floors.
Jewel, the little girl who finds the bag, hears the genie's sad tale and decides to help him. He needs to get back into his bottle, which is at the deli. Jewel, with courage beyond her years, manages to outwit the deli owner, and the genie is thrilled to have Jewel as his new master.
* Illustrator James Ransome, whose works include "Uncle Jed's Barbershop," a 1994 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, will be giving a slide demonstration and autographing his books at three Baltimore County Public Library branches: Woodlawn (Nov. North Point (Nov. 2) and Catonsville (Nov. 3). Doors will open at 6 p.m. for all three appearances, and the presentations will begin at 7 p.m.
Free tickets can be reserved by calling or visiting the three libraries.