The Best Halloween Picture Books of 2019
I absolutely love Halloween books. But, in general, I still think that fans of Halloween and scary stories are getting the short end of the stick in the world of picture books. This October, our local bookstore already had a bigger Christmas section set up than Halloween. It’s time for a revolution, Halloween fans. It’s time to celebrate the spooky books near and dear to our hearts.
You have to imagine that there’s a little trepidation from publishers to green light an expensive project that might give kids nightmares and supposedly won’t have widespread appeal. And, as one author/illustrator pointed out to me, books geared towards specific times of year can already be a hard sell to publishers.
That’s probably why the vast majority of new holiday books in the stores are licensed properties - the types of books where you can see what your favorite TV characters do on Halloween and Christmas. So I might have to dig a little deeper, but I always search very intently for new Halloween-themed and creepy picture books each year to share with our 7-year-old and 3-year-old. Because books that scared me as a kid are the ones I remember the most vividly.
And this is obviously the best time of year to share those scary stories with the kids. After all, Halloween is the ultimate celebration of the imagination. In the past, I split Halloween picture books and scary picture books into two separate lists. Just because a book has monsters in it doesn’t mean it has to be limited to Halloween. But, who am I kidding, October is still the best time to read scary stories. So there’s really no better time than Halloween to celebrate the best spooky books from 2019 in one big list.
But have no fear, fans of not-so-scary Halloweens. While spookiness may earn a picture book extra points from me, this list is still a family-friendly Halloween list at heart. Ultimately, this is a collection of the best new picture books from 2019 to read together with the family this October. I hope you find something to fire up your kids’ imaginations this Halloween!
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Written and Illustrated by Pawel Pawlak
Oscar is definitely a new favorite skeleton in our house. This lonely young skeleton has lost a tooth. The funny thing is, he’s really self-conscious about it. Being a skeleton is bad enough, but he thinks it’s the fact that he’s missing a tooth that will really make it hard to find friends.
Luckily, he soon meets a human girl who is burying a tooth, and she agrees to let him have it, as long as he agrees to help her find a friend. And I think you probably see where this is going. The odd couple become great friends. And Oscar even takes his new friend to visit the land of the dead - called “the other way” in this story. And imagining having a skeleton friend take you to visit “the other way” is by far the spookiest scene of the book.
But I haven’t told you the best part of the book - not by a long shot. Pawel Pawlak’s illustrations are built from absolutely jaw-dropping paper cutouts. This is a stunningly gorgeous picture book with the most original charm and style. It completely defines my love for the whole book - and instantly endears it to our hearts.
Written by Trisha Speed Shaskan and Illustrated by Xindi Yan
I can’t say enough about how beautiful the illustrations in The Itty-Bitty Witch are. Xindi Yan adds so many amazing details to her artwork - it truly brings this story to life and completely builds this world. I could easily see this story being seamlessly turned into a Halloween TV special with the same artwork. I absolutely adore the first few pages of the book - simply building the setting of this school for young witches.
The setting feels a lot like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is certainly a good thing. And the story revolves around a big Halloween broom race that the main character, Betty, is desperate to win. She wants to win so bad because she thinks it will stop the other students from bullying her and calling her Itty-Bitty.
The theme of bullying certainly offers plenty of opportunity to empathize with Betty, and plenty of kids will relate to feeling small or inadequate at times too. So ultimately what we end up with by the end is a good dose of motivation for celebrating our strengths - and the importance of not letting others define you.
Written by Lynne Marie and Illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo
Moldilocks and the Three Scares is a modern, spooky twist on Goldlilocks and the Three Bears - although I’m quite certain you didn’t need me to crack that code for you. But, from the very beginning, the tale is being set up to have a very different ending than the original - and it’s a surprisingly sweet one.
Spoiler alert, but the big change from the source material here - other than Moldilocks being a zombie of course - is that Papa Scare, Mama Scare, and Baby Scare are going to let Moldilocks join their family in the end. It’s pretty neat to add a little touch of empathy-building to the end of this one so our kids can feel happy for this zombie that she found a place to call home.
Our son is a big dog fan, so his favorite part of the book is their dog, Plasma, who follows the family of monsters around the house. My favorite part is the two-page spread of the three monsters discovering Moldilocks in Baby Scare’s bed. It’s incredibly spooky, and all it says is “HOW DARE YOU…”. It gives me a chance to use a scary voice and add a tiny thrill to the book, but of course any fear at all dissolves away very quickly with the happy ending.
Written by Susan Montanari and Illustrated by Teresa Martinez
Not to be confused with the famous Ray Bradbury book by the same name, The Halloween Tree is an original story of a grumpy tree at a tree farm that doesn’t want to be a Christmas tree. He’s so grumpy his pine needles fall off, nobody ever buys him, and, eventually, a neighborhood is built around the place where he stands.
It turns out this is a sweet story of love and belonging, because things change when children start to play in his branches and use him for their imaginative games. He never thought he wanted to be brought home by a family or be the center of a celebration, but when the adults talk about cutting him down, he realizes how much he’d miss having the kids playing on him.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Ultimately, it’s a book about love - like melting the Grinch’s icy heart. I love the imaginative games the kids play, I love the tree’s grumpy face, and I love the grand finale when the kids save the day by transforming the old tree into a festive Halloween tree.
Written by Angela McAllister and Illustrated by Madalina Andronic
50 spooky short stories from around the world are collected in this beautifully illustrated and very creepy book. According to the publisher, they are all retold to be suitable for ages 5+. But I’d definitely read ahead and make up your own mind before each story, because these stories are absolutely not skimping on the spookiness factor.
You might be familiar with a few of the stories, like Hansel and Gretel, but the vast majority of these short stories were completely new to me - and quite a few were creepy enough to give me goosebumps. One thing we really appreciated was how the table of contents separated the content by theme like “graveyard stories” or “into the woods.”
They remind me a lot of the various tales in the complete set of the Brothers Grimm that my dad used to read to me - which is just about the best endorsement I can give to a set of spooky stories to share with the kids.
Written and Illustrated by Erin Barker
Mr. Pumpkin is having a tea party, and he’s invited a very original cast of spooky characters. Ultimately the purpose of this tea party is to serve as a counting lesson for the kids. But, as I always say, if you’re going to make a counting book, make a beautiful counting book with extremely original characters in a spooky setting. There’s so much originality and charm in the book, our 7-year-old enjoys it just as much as our 3-year-old.
I really like the characters and the art style in this book. They’re memorable and creative enough for our kids to memorize their names and ask to go back and look at them again. My personal favorite is definitely Sir Bones, and our 7-year-old is a Lord Wolfington fan. But who could ever forget the greatness of Baron Laguna showing up right at the end of the party with a bunch of balloons.
I’m a big theme guy, so this is definitely one of my favorite counting books of all time. I’d love to see it get a board book version in the future, because these are the spooky characters kids everywhere need to learn their numbers with.
Written by Patrica Toht and Illustrated by Jarvis
Pick a Pumpkin was written and illustrated by the same team that created the beautiful Pick a Pine Tree that celebrated the simple joys of Christmastime. If you’re sticking to a strict definition of what constitutes a Halloween book - clearly celebrating Halloween - this one is hands down the best of the year.
Jarvis’ illustrations are so full of detail and they do a remarkable job of capturing the Halloween spirit. An extremely nice touch is that every single illustration is a two-page spread. This allows space for so much more detail in the pictures - and so much opportunity to really build this world of Halloween.
Pick a Pumpkin is a rhyming book that always flows very well into the next page - and it makes for a great read aloud. I’m glad it came out now when our kids are still young, because I can immediately tell it’s something we’ll be using to set the Halloween mood for years to come.
Written by Elizabeth Laird and Illustrated by Jenny Lucander
Grobblechops is quite simply a fantastic picture book. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books of all time - Bedtime for Frances. That’s because it features an imaginative child who is scared to go to sleep, and a father displaying top-notch dad prowess in soothing their fears.
And isn’t Grobblechops a spectacularly scary name for a monster? I love how its name isn’t mentioned until the very last page of the book, and I think it’s a very powerful reveal. It’s kind of creepy. “Does your monster have a name?” “Yes. He’s named Grobblechops.”
This is actually a classic story from Rumi - a thirteenth-century Persian poet and philosopher - but it was completely new for us. The give and take between father and son is legitimately funny. You simply have to experience for yourself the comical escalation of their questions and answers. And, holy smokes, the imaginative artwork in this book was a wonderful surprise.
Written by Federica Magrin and Illustrated by Laura Brenlla
The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts was obviously crafted with a great passion. It’s a very good-looking, oversized book and it has amazing illustrations. It’s organized by region of the world, and it basically contains detailed information on every famous monster you can think of - and many more you’ve never heard of.
It works great as a source of bite-sized scary stories, because many of the monsters have very scary descriptions. But I also very much appreciate the way the book is framed as something of a field guide - with the purpose of preparing you for encounters with these monsters. For most of the monsters in this book you’ll find a section detailing their weaknesses - or calming your fears and explaining why they’ll never hurt you.
Our son is a big fan of this one and loves studying and memorizing the various facts about monsters the same way many kids memorize dinosaur facts. This is simply the ultimate resource book for young fans of monsters.
Written and Illustrated by Sam Streed
Alfred’s Book of Monsters is immediately inducted into the Dad Suggests’ Legitimately Scary Picture Book Hall of Fame. You can immediately see that this is a very special book for fans of spooky things. I find Alfred to be a very relatable character as a little boy obsessed with monsters, and he’ll certainly go down in history as the star of one of our favorite scary books ever.
During this story, Alfred is reading about different monsters that lurk in the shadows in his little town. I love his deadpan one-word reactions to the detailed descriptions of the monsters - “Whoa.” The three monsters that Alfred reads about are perfectly unsettling - and Streed’s great use of color works very well for bringing them to life and making them so memorable.
I have a great appreciation for Alfred’s unabashed love for the macabre, and the comedy on display as he rebels against the delightfulness of things like tea time. The spookiness and the lighthearted humor find a perfect balance in this book, which tends to be the best way to deliver innocent thrills to kids. If you grew up loving scary stories and love sharing them with the kids, I highly recommend checking out Alfred’s Book of Monsters - our favorite new picture book for Halloween 2019.