The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. Harper & Row, 1986.
Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. When I was young, it was mostly a childrens’ celebration, a time when youngsters dress up in costumes and go door-to-door after dark, collecting candy and treats. Halloween celebrations have been expanding in recent decades to include increasing numbers of adults, who also don elaborate costumes, decorate the house and enjoy a party.
A central theme of Halloween is that it is a night for witches, ghosts and goblins, and all manner of (mildly) scary ghouls. It’s fun to be scared, just a tiny bit. We seek out the thrill of horror movies and enjoy being creeped out, all the while knowing we are perfectly safe. At this time of year, even preschoolers can enjoy the thrill of a scary story. A good starter for small fry is The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.
After a day of collecting nuts and seeds in the forest, the little old lady returns to her cottage through the dark woods. Soon she comes across a pair of big shoes. The two shoes follow her, CLOMP, CLOMP! Farther down the road, they are joined by a pair of pants, WIGGLE, WIGGLE! And so the story continues, as a long procession forms behind the little old lady. This cumulative tale offers little kids the fun of repeating the chorus as each new item joins the parade, clomp clomp, wiggle, wiggle, shake, shake, making it a perfect story for reading aloud to children. The surprise ending is the perfect antidote to the rising tension of the story and wraps up the suspense perfectly.
The Tailypo: A Ghost Story by Joanna Galdone. Clarion Books, 1977.
For primary children, The Tailypo is a surprisingly scary little picture book. My adult offspring still recall being scared stiff by The Tailypo. The story is simple: An old man chases a mystery creature that has crept into his cabin and is just able to cut its tail off with his hatchet before the varmint escapes. That night, he is haunted by the creature, who comes scratching at the cabin walls, whispering “Tailypo, tailypo, all I want is my tailypo!” You’ll have to read the events for yourself, but if one night you find yourself in the deep, big woods, listen for a voice in the wind: “Tailypo, tailypo, now I’ve got my tailypo…”.
The Half-A-Moon Inn by Paul Fleischman. Harper & Row, 1980.
I recall a neighbour bragging to me once that her preschool son had seen a Star Wars movie on the big screen and hadn’t been frightened at all. “Good for you, getting your son desensitized to violence at a tender age!” I thought, but didn’t say. The Tailypo is a good example of how a story that allows children to use a bit of imagination can be way more scary than anything you see on the screen. Another good example is The Half-A-Moon Inn. Written in an easily-accessible style with a simple vocabulary, The Half-A-Moon Inn is the story of a mute boy who goes searching through the forest for his mother after she fails to arrive home from her trip to market on time. He is soon lost and comes upon an inn. The old woman innkeeper takes him in, but he quickly finds that, far from being saved, he is being held prisoner. The innkeeper hides his shoes and coat so that he can’t run off into the wintry forest. He can’t speak, and finds that the people who visit the inn are illiterate, and can’t read his written messages asking for help. How will he escape? Every child’s nightmare, the tale is given life by the reader’s ability to put himself in the captive’s shoes, not by the language of the story or by gruesome events. The story is happily resolved in the final chapter.