Spooky, Spooky, Spooky…

I absolutely love the fall season, and where I live, the trees are changing colors and the air is crisp and cool.  I recently visited my favorite apple orchard and winery and it was such a sweet and simple pleasure!  I am also one of those adults who likes to still dress up in a costume, and this year, I’m going to be a fairy at the library Halloween party.  I was never one for ugly costumes.  I am also going to attempt reading two ‘scary’ classics, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (which is one of my all-time favorite books) and Dracula by Bram Stoker, which I’ve never read.  If I’m feeling ambitious, I may try Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde whose premise has always scared me.  What are your favorite autumn or Halloween traditions or tales?

In my scariest witch cackle, I bring you a booklist of scary, thrilling and spoooooky novels to enjoy for the Halloween season.  I named this post after one of my favorite Halloween picture books for younger kids, appropriately called, Spooky Spooky Spooky! by Cathy MacLennan.   The simple rhyming story of velvety bats, howling cats and slithery slugs brings laughter and smiles every time I read this to a child.  Perhaps try discovering your childlike nature and take a few minutes at the bookstore or library to read a Halloween picture book.  I find many are creative stories that will bring the wonder of the changing autumn season back to your eyes.  You could even try an R.L. Stine Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.  These will definitely have you remembering how much fun it was to tell a spooky story at a sleepover or while driving in the car at night, without losing sleep because you are so ‘freaked out’.   I also discovered this website called “Scary for Kids”  which has scary stories, videos, games, music and much more, and I found the site to  be entertaining without being gruesome or too adult.

For those who are looking for a truly creepy novel to get you in the mood for Halloween, then try one of these.  Some are recommendations from friends thanks to another informal poll.  Others are simply books that I, as a librarian, would suggest to someone interested in a creepy read.   I would love to hear your favorite scary stories and tales in the comments below!

Tailypo;  Now here is a folktale I have never heard about and one that would scare anyone!  This version is retold by Jan Wahl and illustrated by Wil Clay.   I was researching the history of this tale, and it appears to originate as an African-American story typically told in the Appalachias.  No one ever knows what the Tailypo is, but this large animal haunts the man who tried to hunt him.  If this folktale isn’t for you, check out American Folklore online, it’s a huge resource for all kinds of scary stories.

The Shining by Stephen King;  I think we can all agree that Stephen King is the master of thrills and chills.  The Shining is undoubtedly one of his best.  This is the story of Jack Torrence as he starts his new job in the Overlook Hotel, looking for a fresh start in his life.  Winter begins to set in, and so does the horror.  Other popular tales from Stephen King are Carrie, Misery, It, and Pet Cemetery.  Check out Stephen King’s website where you can get to know him as a writer and learn more about his books.

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris; This classic is the story of FBI agent Clarice Starling as she interviews the twisted mind of Dr. Hannibal Lector, a former psychiatrist who delves deep into the corners of Starling’s mind.   This is a series, and some say the sequels are not as good as this first one.  This book was also made into a blockbuster movie.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski;  According to Library Journal’s review, this is the story of a man named Johnny Truant who comes into possession of a strange manuscript which gains possession of his very soul. The manuscript is a complex commentary on a documentary film (The Navidson Record) about a house that defies all the laws of physics.   It is described as a horror novel, but also characterized as a psychological thriller, a quest, a literary hoax, a dark comedy, and a work of cultural criticism.

Nightmares:  Poems to Trouble Your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky;  Those of us who know Prelutsky know his poetry for being funny and witty.  His Nightmares poetry is perfect for sharing with older kids or reading alone as an adult, offering just enough “spooky” to delight on a Halloween night.   It also includes illustrations from Caldecott winning artist Arnold Lobel, so it’s a treat for your eyes too.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice;  While most everyone now associates vampires with the Twilight series, Anne Rice was the original master.  Some of you may have seen this movie adaptation with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.  Now you need to read the book about the makings of a good-old-fashioned vampire, as he tells his story to a young reporter.  The Washington Post called the book, thrilling, original, sometimes horrible, sometimes beautiful and always unforgettable.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman;  Now a television series, the story started as a graphic novel!  In just a few short months, the world has reached the apocalypse and zombies have taken over.  The main character is Rick Grimes who befriends a group of survivors as they try to find their loved ones, and essentially figure out what to do in their new atmosphere.   If you haven’t read graphic novels before, give this one a try.  The artwork is muted colors, along with blacks and whites, giving it a more eerie feeling as you read.

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School Supplies and Summer Reading

The crisp opening and binding crack of a never before read book reminds me of biting into a juicy piece of fruit. It’s absolutely delicious.  It is why I haven’t transitioned all my reading to an E-Reader.  I would miss that smell of the paper too much.   I have to say, I was a complete booknerd and had the same feeling about a school textbook…but only when I received the brand new textbook, because it had so much possibility!  No one else had smudged their dirty fingers on the pages or written their name on the inside cover. It was all mine, even if I didn’t really enjoy the content inside.

There is a great quote from one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail” in which Tom Hanks is writing an email to his then unknown love, Meg Ryan about the start of fall in New York City.  He says, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”  Yes!  I love school supplies!  I want to buy that newly sharpened bouquet of pencils every time the end of summer comes around.  It reminds me of those brand new books I can’t wait to read.  It also reminds me of the books I didn’t get around to reading that were on the summer reading list.

Working in youth services at a public library means there are tons of requests for books on the summer reading list.  I love to scour these different lists to check off what I’ve read and to also see what unusual titles make the lists.  The best this year I found was The Crucible by Arthur Miller on a junior high/middle school list.  Yes, you heard right, a college level book usually found in American Literature classes Freshman year was found on a middle school list.  I have a BA degree in English and I didn’t read Arthur Miller until college.  I was very surprised.

I also thought it would be fun to take an informal poll amongst friends to find out what books they enjoyed most that were on their summer reading lists.  Have you read all of these books?  Did any of these books stick with you even today as an adult? Perhaps there was one you dredged through but ended up appreciating later on?

I have two books that make my all-time favorites and strangely, I was assigned to read them sophomore year in high school English;  The Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea.  I love the wit and dry humor of The Catcher in the Rye and I think Salinger is one of the great American authors in modern times.  It’s definitely a character driven novel, and I love how he captures this young boy’s whining, his torments, and his anguish.  The Old Man and the Sea introduced me to the greatness of Hemingway.  Such a simple tale told in such carefully crafted simple prose, makes this a truly remarkable book.  Interestingly, both are male authors telling the story of one male figure, which is not a typical story I would be able to relate to.  However, when you look deeper at the symbolism and depth of human nature written about, it makes sense why I would love these books.

I did some digging to find the most assigned summer reading books and came up with so many choices, there could have been a list of 100 books.  I thought this was an interesting list from the Illinois State Library’s Read for a Lifetime program which appears to cover mostly contemporary literature.  Although now a bit old, this list from the Washington Post is a great mix of classics and contemporary authors.

Here are my top choices for summer reading catch-up ideas (aside from Salinger and Hemingway, which yes, you MUST read!).  I also included a list of the books that came about from the poll I took.  What would be your top books?

If you must give someone Charles Dickens, then give them A Tale of Two Cities.  War, love, Paris, nothing but the essentials of a great novel. One of my favorites of all time and a great book for British Lit lovers. Learn more about Dickens at Victorian Web.  Another fantastic family and semi-suedo-historical saga is East of Eden by John Steinbeck which has great scandal and family squabbles.  If I ever make it to Monterey Bay area, I will definitely put the National Steinbeck Center on my tour.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, or Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  You can also try The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins  or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Even if you are not a science fiction/fantasy fan, read one of these fantastic books and you will be transformed. They will make you think more about the world in which we live and how we as humans react and interact.  Check out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s of America website for even more ideas.

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse will provide a beautiful read into the lives of women in literature.  Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is another great insight into women’s literature.  While these are not necessarily happy-ending books, they will definitely have you think about and explore how emotions and struggles were once experiences and shared.  For more interesting women writers and topics try the National Archives.

Read a memoir or biography, even if it’s fiction.  A book like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is one example of a fictional story told from the perspective of a young boy who lost his father on September 11th.  Even though it’s not true, you are instantly in this boy’s world.  You realize his story could be anyone’s in search of understanding an influential person in life.  Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos is a great read along with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, all three a bit of coming of age combined with overcoming struggles stories with a bit of a fictional twist thrown in there. All are highly engrossing and entertaining.  For more biographies and memories, try this page on the Barnes and Noble website.

Other popular books that made the “Favorite High School Required Reading” from my informal pool were:

  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Jungle by John Updike

I hope these ideas have brought back some great reading memories or inspired a new interest in your reading tastes!  If you have more ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments.

Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The holiday season is upon us, which means endless parties with family and friends, tons of delicious food, and mounds of piles of presents to wrap.  Hopefully, amongst the busyness of the season, you are able to find some downtime to relax and enjoy, and perhaps even read a book (or two) for fun.

I’ve created a booklist of holiday stories, many are classics, some you can share with the young children in your life, and some you’ll want to keep just for yourself.  Several of these stories began as movies, or have become movies, and I find it interesting to compare how the two relate or differ from one another.   I’ve tried to include a variety of books for all interests and tastes, as the appeal is for a wide audience of readers.  However, if you really enjoy a specific genre such as romances, or mysteries, or children’s picture books and want some holiday suggestions, let me know! I’ve also included links to Google Books so you can check out the books from your library or find out where to purchase them.

I hope you’ll find a new favorite in the list, rediscover an old or once loved story, and perhaps even begin making some new traditions this holiday season with a good book.


Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The movie White Christmas is a classic holiday movie filled with song, dance, and 1950’s flair.  Originally created as a song by Irving Berlin, and made famous by Bing Crosby in 1941, it has been the best known Christmas song in history.  This picture book by Michael Hague called, White Christmas, uses beautifully drawn, and colorful renderings to depict the magic of snow that brings us a White Christmas.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the movie as there is even sheet music of the song included so you can sing along.

The 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street depicts a classic holiday tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is also for many, the official start of the holiday season.  This adaptation by Valentine Davies, who also wrote the original screenplay, includes stills from the movie.  This particular edition of the book even won an award for Best Design from the American Institute of Graphic Artists.

The story for the more recent film called, Christmas with the Kranks, was taken from the original book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.  In this novel, a couple decides to skip the craziness of the holiday season and take a vacation.  However, when their daughter surprises them with a visit, the hilarity of the season takes off.  A quick and casual read for those looking for a nice break.

A Christmas Story written by Jean Shepherd introduces the world to a little boy named Ralphie.  Now in regular rotation around the holiday season, the 1983 movie brings to life this humorous tale from the point of view of a kid who just wants a BB gun for Christmas.  Shepherd tells his autobiographical story with wit and charm and captures the essence of what it means to be a kid at Christmastime.

No matter which holiday you celebrate (or wish to forget), the book Scenes From a Holiday by Laurie Graff, Caren Lissner and Melanie Murray will bring some humor and delight to your days.  Three stories by three different authors follow three different women along their journey to survive the holiday season.

Those looking for a story that will warm your heart, you’ll want to read the tearjerker called, The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere.  It’s a story about a little boy in search of a gift for his dying mother and is the first in a series of books by VanLiere.  This book will have you believing in not only miracles, but also the magic and goodness of people around you.  This book was also made into a 2002 film, and adapted into a song in 2000.

Another story about hope and faith is the first in a series by Debbie Macomber named, Angels Everywhere.  This book was also the inspiration for the TV series, Touched by an Angel.  The story is about the adventures of three angels named Shirley, Goodness and Mercy as they make their way through New York City helping those whose hearts needs a little help.

Those looking for some mystery will want to read Decked by Carol Higgins Clark, which is also the first in the Regan Reilly Mystery series.  Regan, a private detective, just wants to enjoy her class reunion, but ends up investigating her roommate’s murder.  This novel is full of suspense and anticipation that has made this a bestselling series.

Classic enthusiasts will enjoy the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published in 1843.  Although retold in many forms, this is the original.  There are many versions of the story including films, plays, and even graphic novels.  This edition from Signet Classics takes on the novel in its original form and includes additional Christmas stories by Dickens.

Many people only think of The Nutcracker as a beautiful ballet to see around the Christmas season.  Yet, it was originally a tale from 1816 written by E.T.A. Hoffman and again adapted in 1845 by Alexandre Dumas.  It wasn’t until 1892 that the story became globally known when the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned the story into the famous ballet we know today.  Even then, it wasn’t popular until the 1950’s in America.  Rediscover the many lands visited by Clara (or Marie as she is originally written) and the magic of the story this season.


In my family, the holidays are always filled with traditions and celebration and so below this first list, I’ve included a few additional selections that I find to be favorites.  Growing up in an Italian-American household meant we celebrated Christmas Eve with going to mass, placing baby Jesus in the manger crafted by my Papa, ate tons of fresh fish, and opened presents!  The books I’ve chosen below represent a taste of what I most fondly love about the Christmas season.  I’d love to hear your family traditions so please do share them in the comments!

In my family, food is one of the main topics of conversation.  When we are eating breakfast, we are talking about dinner.  Celebrations are no different, and always meant wonderful cookies and desserts!   This cookbook, Mangia, Little Italy by Francesa Romina, is one of my favorites for hard-to-find recipes for Italian treats.

Strega Nona is one of my favorite characters in children’s literature and was created by the master writer and illustrator, Tomie dePaolaMerry Christmas, Strega Nona will not disappoint as he uses his hand-drawn and colorful illustrations to depict the story of Strega Nona, Bambolona and of course, Big Anthony preparing for the big Christmas celebration.

Living and growing up in Chicago meant we always visited Marshall Fields, especially to see the windows at Christmastime.  This book from the Images of America series called, Christmas on State Street, has wonderful photos of this most beloved store including those great green clocks, the corner that you saw when approaching the store and so much more.  While it doesn’t replace actually visiting, it brings back great memories.


Enjoy reading and have a very wonderful holiday season full of delight, magic and surprise!