When we are visiting at my parent’s house, my kids play with Micro Machines, Polly Pocket and Rainbow Bright while I sneak over to the bookshelf to indulge in the fading copies of The Berenstain Bears and Little Critter.
Most of these books from my childhood have little pieces of white paper stuck to them, with my elementary-aged handwriting listing their “library number.”
For example, on the back of The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat is a sticker reading “A28B.”
I may not have fully understood the Dewy Decimal System, but I was quite sure how to play with books.
Pictures in books from my childhood take me right on back…
One glance at any page of Ox-Cart Man, for example, and I’m home.
Home at 1081 P. Drive, doing homework at the dining room table, eating dinner as a family in the kitchen, throwing a piece of bread to Sass out in the garage, or doing a play in the basement with my neighborhood friends. I look at the picture of ox-cart man walking the long road to Portsmouth, and I can hear our front door creak, smell Thanksgiving stuffing, feel the warmth of a down vest in a house where, in January, the thermostat stayed below 65 all day, and dropped down to more like 50, all night. My parents didn’t believe it was necessary to be warm in the winter.
And so every other Thursday, or so, I’m inviting you to come on back with me, as I write about the picture books of my past.
And because today, my first Throwback Thursday, is Halloween, I’ll start with the Berenstain Bears and three frightful books about pumpkins.
The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House, 1989)
It appears that even though I stuck the “library sticker” on the back, this book actually belongs to my brother, as his name is written, in my Mom’s handwriting, on the inside cover. But as we all learned in The Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight, brothers and sisters have to share.
Like all Berenstain Bear books, this one has a short, rhyming forward that foreshadows the topic of the tale.
This one reads: “Even little bears/ expect a good fright/ when they go out for treats/ on Halloween night.”
Also like most Berenstain Bear books, this one is as much about Mama teaching Papa right from wrong as it is about Mamma teaching the cubs. In Trick or Treat, the lesson is this: “‘appearances can be quite deceiving.’”
The cubs (and Papa) learn that Miz McGrizz isn’t a, “scary-looking old grouch-puss” after all, and thankfully Too-Tall and his Gang don’t execute their plan to teepee her house. Complete with costumed cubs, trick-or-treat maps and a moonlit Halloween eve, this book not only teaches a lesson about acceptance, but is fun and even a little bit spooky.
The next three books aren’t just a little bit spooky, they are terrifying. Although I was also convinced that E.T. would come crashing out of my closet and eat me.
The Pumpkin Smasher by Anita Benarde (Weekly Reader Books, 1972)
This flimsy paperback, with thin, newspaper-like pages and a color pallet of only black, beiges and orange, begins: “In October, when the leaves of red and gold fall to the ground, the people of Cranbury get ready for Halloween.” And continues to explain this means decorating the town—the entire town—with pumpkins.
“Every year, the whole town gets into the Halloween spirit of shivery fun, until…one Halloween…”
“THE PUMPKIN SMASHER STRIKES!”
After three years, three Halloweens, of SMASHED PUMPKINS, the townspeople of Cranbury are ready to cancel Halloween, but the “Terrible Turner Twins” have an idea.
They paint a giant rock to look like a pumpkin, and the “WITCH,” who it turns out is the pumpkins smasher, gets so angry when she can’t smash this pumpkin-rock she hops on her broomstick and flies away.
The image that takes me home in this book is the two-page spread of the dark, dark town on Halloween night. Everything is black expect for the jack-o-lanterns sitting on each doorstep. The sharp, bare braches of the trees look like they are going to blow out of the page and scrape my face, and a giant orange moon slowly rises behind the church steeple.
It is this page I think of when I read the last line, “I hope the Pumpkin Smasher Witch doesn’t find your town, but if she does, you know what to do about it,” with a shiver.
The Magic Pumpkin by Lucille El. Sette, illustrated by Phyllis L. Tildes (Weekly Reader Books, 1984)
From the town of Cranbury to the town of Dayfield we go.
The Magic Pumpkin begins, “No one in Dayfield liked old Mr. Squiggs. He was grumpy. He was grouchy. He was nasty. He was MEAN!”
“What’s more, Mr. Squiggs didn’t like anyone in Dayfield. He didn’t like children. They were too happy. He didn’t like animals. They were too noisy. He didn’t like grown-ups. They were too nosey.”
And so every Halloween Mr. Squiggs picked an ugly pumpkin and carved it into a scary face, in order to terrify the children and make them scream.
“That’s what happened every Halloween until…until…one special Halloween and one very special pumpkin.”
The magic pumpkin Mr. Squiggs picked that year wouldn’t keep the scary face he carved into it. Rather, it started smiling, and its smile drew the children, the happy children, right up to Mr. Squiggs.
“And then…and then…THE REAL MAGIC HAPPENED!”
The pumpkin winked, Mr. Squiggs smiled and they all lived happy Halloween forever after.
This is exactly the kind of book people should PAY to hear my Dad read out loud. THAT, my friends, is true magic.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd (The Trumpet Club, 1986)
Speaking of read alouds, today, at library story hour, Miss B. read my last Halloween-themed throwback Thursday book, a book I’ve been too scared to read out loud to my kids thinking they would be, well, too scared.
Contrary to my fears, they loved every word of this tall tale, every “CLOMP” of the two big shoes following the old lady through the dark woods, every “WIGGLE” of the pants close behind, every “SHAKE” of the shirt, “CLAP” of the gloves, “NOD” of the hat and “BOO” of the pumpkin head!
Like the little old lady, who said to each article, “I’m not afraid of you,” my kids weren’t afraid either. Not one bit. They were up on their feet, clomping and clapping and wigging and shaking.
But it turns out, the old lady was at least a little bit scared, and when she finally got home she locks her door.
But then she hears a knock.
“Should she answer it?”
Miss B., (who was dressed up as a baby) looked out at all of us after reading this question and interjected (“I wouldn’t!)
Neither would I! But the brave little old lady who isn’t afraid of anything DOES open the door, and she works with those haunted clothes and pumpkin head to make a scarecrow that will “scare all the crows away.”
“And that, friends,” as Miss B. always says, is “THE END!”
Proving that good picture books are TIMELESS.