This is without question my favorite time of year. September has not disappointed me thus far, bringing milder temperatures, beautiful breezes, and clear blue sky (for the most part). Since autumn is obviously coming, I find myself thinking about the things I associate with the season. One thing, of course, is Halloween. It's a curious holiday for me, because I enjoy my memories of it more than the actual celebration of it. Halloween celebrations are very watered down these days, something I've blogged about in the past.
A weekend visit with a friend of mine who happens to work in the Children's room of my former employer got me thinking about Halloweenish books--ones about ghosts, witches, and other such things. She has a book group that is reading my all-time favorite children's story (for kids about age 8 or so and older), The House With a Clock in Its Walls. It is no exaggeration to say that I've read this book 100 times, and still re-read it occasionally when I want something to read that's not total fluff, but that doesn't tax my brain, either. Kids today tend to be fans of Harry Potter, but I identify with a different collection of children's and young adult literature. Naturally, the items that I recall (and still own in many cases) are from the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. So, here is my short list of "supernatural-ish" stories that I enjoyed reading until the age of 12 or so--and some I still re-read to this day.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs
I love the original Edward Gorey artwork for the cover, and inside the book. I wish all subsequent books had been illustrated by Gorey, but often he only did the covers. This is Bellairs' very first children's book, and part of a trilogy about a 10-year-old boy called Lewis Barnavelt, who moves in with his Uncle Jonathan after his parents are killed in an auto accident. He discovers that his uncle is a wizard, and that Jonathan's best friend and next door neighbor (Mrs. Zimmerman) is a witch. Sometimes these kinds of stories end up sounding trite and tacky, but this one is excellent. He does an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere of a Michigan community in 1947.
Witch Water by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The second book in another series that started out as a trilogy, and now encompasses 6 books. Another neighborhood witch story, this one is about an evil witch, or a seemingly evil one--it's hard to tell if it's in Lynn Morley's imagination, or if it's really the case. There's not much doubt by the end of the series. Witch's Sister is the first one in this set, but this one stands out to me because it's the first one I read. One of those stories my mother brought home to me when she was working at the library.
The Haunting by Margaret Mahy
An interesting story about a family that has a hereditary "magician" in every generation. Barney Palmer has the sense of being "haunted", and is assumed by the family to be the hereditary magician. However, the story events take an unexpected turn, that eventually reveals the real magician in the family. Creepy, gloomy atmosphere to this one. And Barney's sister Tabitha is so perky, you want to shoot her. Another "witchcraft" story of interest by Margaret Mahy is "The Changeover", about a young Australian girl who becomes a witch. It is interesting to note the different ideas about what witches are in these stories. Naylor writes about a witch from the Isle of Man, and Mahy's witches are Australian. To round that out, we have the next book:
Call the Darkness Down by Dixie Tenny
This is another family witch story, and this time it's in Wales. Morfa Owen is an American who studies abroad in her family's native Wales, and she ends up uncovering some frightening family secrets involving witchcraft while she's there. This was a later read for me--I discovered it accidentally in the early 1980s while browsing the YA Fiction section of the library.
Two Too Many by Nora Unwin
The last book in this list specifically about a witch, this is a cute story with great illustrations about 2 abandoned kittens who are taken in by a large black cat, only to discover he is a witch's cat, and through a series of mishaps they end up accompanying the witch on a grand race over the moon. I discovered this book in 1978, and I still absolutely love it. I mean heck, it has black cats in it. What's not to love?
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (illustrated by Arthur Rackham)
This is the classic story that was in Irving's "Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman", and has been portrayed in a variety of versions. This version is an extension of the original story, and what makes it is Rackham's wonderful illustrations. This is always portrayed as a spooky ghost story, but it really is more about a prank played on a superstitious schoolmaster.
50 Great Ghost Stories edited by John Canning
This is actually a collection of ghostly tales from Great Britain--I think my edition has a 1971 copyright. While there are many such collections, this is the only one I recall having an account of the Horror of Berkeley Square. It's hard to know whether or not that story was true (it's alleged that it was), but I do know that 50 Berkeley Square is the current site of my favorite rare bookseller:
(Just an FYI for anyone wanting to visit Magg's--you need to go there with a specific research area of interest, and they will hook you up with the specialist of that area. You can browse with the specialist's guidance, but it's not in the style of a W.H. Smith's or Borders by any stretch. You can visit their website to get an idea of what they offer).
Now, getting away from the prose, there are a couple of children's rhyme collections that I can recall:
Spooky Rhymes and Riddles by Lillian Moore
I still have a rather beaten-up copy of this book, which has a decidedly 1970s style of illustration. The cover of my copy has "Billy" written in pencil on it--a little creepy, as Billy was my brother's name, and he died 21 years ago. Nonethless, it is a cute little rhyme book--here is an example of a couple of the rhymes and their illustrations:
Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky (illustrated by Arnold Lobel)
This book is fantastically written and illustrated. Some of the poems, like "The Ghoul", would probably be considered too disturbing for the often-coddled youth of today. For a fairly complete look at this book, check out this very detailed posting at The Haunted Closet blog.
That's it for now. I'm sure I'll come up with other seasonally appropriate things in the near future. In the meantime, consider these perpetual recommendations, especially if you have a lifelong interest in "supernatural-ish" things.