Inside: Are you looking for unforgettable stories to read in October with your kids? Our October list covers a wide variety of seasonal topics and includes books with imaginative plots and creative illustrations. Updated for 2021!
What’s in season? Pumpkins, ghouls, and bats! Read the spectacularly spooky, delightfully funny, thought-provoking, cozy stories on our list, shuffle the books, and repeat.
Every year we can’t wait to jump into fall reading. I thought I already knew all the creepiest, pumpkiest, and scariest picture books, but I was wrong. This year, I discovered a few new gems (i.e., Stine’s Little Shop of Monsters) and delightful surprises (i.e., Creepy Carrots!)
If you are looking for great read-alouds in the spirit of the pumpkin-apple-monsters season, plus a few odd-themed holidays and celebrations, check out the amazing books below. Besides Halloween, in October we also celebrate fossil day (Yay for dinosaurs!), music, poetry, teachers, ballet, Italian-American heritage month, and the birthdays of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pablo Picasso.
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1 – Firebird, Misty Copeland (World Ballet Day)
This elegantly designed book, written by a famous ballerina, is full of color and movement. Images of a white-clad dancer are superimposed against a dark city; a long-legged teenager in canary yellow in a blue room, leaps, and jumps in geometric space; the firebird flies through the pages, as if on fire; and the clouds are made of photographed strips of fabric.
In this book, there isn’t much text and what there is flows like a stream of thought without punctuation marks or capital letters: “in a pas de deux a music box for two, we will wrap our hearts careful as ribbons on pointe shoes.”
It’s perfect for little ballerinas as well as kids curious about ballet. World Ballet Day (today) is a celebration of the graceful art of artistic dance called ballet. Did you know that the name comes from Latin ballo, ballare, which means “to dance”?
2 – Creepy Carrots, Aaron Reynolds
This wonderfully creepy story is perfect for Halloween or any day of the year. Jasper loves fat and crisp carrots that grow on Crackenhopper field, but do the carrots like him? There’s a lot of action, suspense, and an unexpected twist at the end.
My kids find the idea that carrots can be evil and dangerous extremely funny. This is a great book to discuss what is being said with illustrations. Peter Brown’s atmospheric black, white, and orange drawings are expressive. The exaggerated facial expressions offer a great opportunity to talk about how Jasper is feeling in different situations and how he is dealing with his feelings. I love the lesson in problem-solving and moving forward.
3 – Everybody Bakes Bread, Norah Dooley (Italian – American Heritage Month)
Carrie’s mom is baking her grandmother’s Italian bread, but the kids can’t stop bickering. In a fit of inspiration, Mom sends Carrie on an errand (more of a wild goose chase) that takes her all around the neighborhood. Carrie learns that everybody bakes bread, but everybody’s bread is different: flatbread at Rajit’s house, cornbread at Mrs. DeLoach’s, and a pocket bread at the Lebanese family down the street.
You can almost smell the aroma of freshly baked bread whiffling off the pages of the book. Seven bread recipes are included at the book’s end to try with your kids. Sure, baking bread with kids is messy (and at times frustrating), but you get to spend time doing something together, something you all will never forget.
4 – Iggy Peck, Architect, Andrea Beauty (World Architecture Day)
Poor Iggy has no luck. His mom and his teacher conspired to discourage his dreams and stop his creative projects. Luckily, though, Iggy’s engineering genius saves the day, and his teacher realizes that there are worse things in life than an interest in architecture. This book undoubtedly will spark curiosity about architecture in any kid. Today is World Architecture Day, so, also check out Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects.
5 – My Teacher is a Monster, Peter Brown (World Teachers Day)
Bobby is convinced that his teacher is a monster, but a pleasant day in the park with the teacher by his side convinces him otherwise. We love how with the change of perspective, page by page, the monster morphs into a human. Great book! My kids sometimes wish to put labels on people, things, and events: “This museum is stupid!” (in the first room of the first floor). Or “this dinner is yucky!” (without even trying). This is a great book about prejudice and problems with quick judgments. It reminds kids (and adults) that with a little more information, our perceptions might change.
5 – Pumpkin Jack, Will Hubbell (National Pumpkin Seed Day)
Another great celebration that falls on October 5th this year (this is a movable holiday) – National Pumpkin Seed Day, and we have a story for you. “From jack-o’-lantern – to seed – to pumpkin again,” this story is written with the plant life cycle lesson in mind. When Tim carved his first pumpkin, little did he know that he was going to learn a lot about rotting, decomposing, growing, and nature. The book got my kids really excited about “recycling” their jack-o’lanterns this year instead of tossing them in the garbage bin. In each double spread, expressive, large drawings spill off the page in an orange haze.
6 – The Little Piano Girl, Ann Ingalls
Once upon a time there lived a little girl who was one of eleven children, so poor she wore shoes two sizes too small (for which she was bullied mercilessly). By the time Mary Lou Williams was four, she taught herself to play piano by ear, and then by the time she was six, she was so good, she was paid to play at parties.
When she grew up, she became “the first lady of jazz” and “the most famous female jazz musician of all time.” In this inspiring, true-life Cinderella story, we learn that dreams come true. We also discover that while families come in all different shapes and sizes, it’s never a good idea to use your family as an excuse for doing and not doing things in life. You need to decide what you want, work for it, and always remember you’re more capable than you think.
7 – Please Bury Me in the Library, J. Patrick Lewis (National Poetry Day in the UK and Ireland)
Today is National Poetry Day in the UK and Ireland, so let me share with you our current favorite poetry book. This collection is all about books and reading, so if you love books, reading, and good poetry, you will definitely enjoy this book.
Here is a sample from one of the poems: “What if books had different names like Alice in … Underland? Furious George, Goodnight Noon…” This poem got us thinking and amusing ourselves with wordplay and alternative titles – Charlotte’s Dead, A Wrinkle in Slime, The Little Engine that Stood, Where the Wild Things “Arrrgh!” Ha-ha-ha!
8 – Overscheduled Andrew, Ashley Spires
“Saturday: Sleep in until 5:30 a.m.!!! Smell roses during dance practice…” Do these fastidious instructions sound funny? As someone with a Type A personality and a history of over-scheduling my kids, I find this book hilarious. One thing nobody tells you about over-scheduling is that you are often not even aware it’s happening.
Andrew thinks he can manage a lot: karate, singing lessons, drama club, French movie club, dancing, Spanish, bagpipes, and more. And it really looks like no matter how many classes he takes, there always seems to be some time left for fun. But over time, his life just gets busier and busier until…
Read the book to find out what happens to poor Andrew. The artwork by the author is simple but effective, conveying a wide range of emotions and adding to the enjoyment of the story. Overwork and a chronic lack of restful time is an important topic to discuss with your kids for the sake of their mental health (and yours too)!
9 – Extra Yarn, Mac Barnett (I Love Yarn Day)
The delightful heroine of this story finds a box of magical yarn. No matter how much she knits, she never runs out. After she has knitted sweaters for every person and animal in town, she knits sweaters for buildings, cars, and trees. One day an evil archduke comes to town. It may seem that all is lost, but it isn’t. We love the unexpected ending.
Jon Klassen, the talented illustrator of multiple bestsellers and Caldecott Medalist, pus his signature on the story. The sweet illustrations are funny and expressive and transform a good story into one that is simply irresistible.
10 – Lawrence in the Fall, Matthew Farina (Fall)
Lawrence can’t think of anything to collect. His classmates have impressive collections of coins, ribbons, marbles, combs, and playing cards, but Lawrence has nothing. However, a walk in the forest opens Lawrence’s eyes to the natural beauty around him and the unique shape and color of each autumn leaf.
This book will inspire your kids to take a closer look at the stunning shades of red, orange, and yellow in autumn foliage, and maybe even start a leaf collection of their own. I have a soft spot for beautiful pencil artwork, and this book is a treat.
11 – Eleanor, Barbara Cooney (Eleanor Roosevelt’s Birthday)
Even though we might not like some parts of our personal history, there could be good things that come out of it at the end. That’s what happened to Eleanor Roosevelt (nee Roosevelt, she married her cousin). She had a very rough life, but it made her sensitive to the plight of others. And when life thrust her into the limelight, she channeled her pain into social and political actions in the public arena.
The book covers a lot of ground but concentrates on her childhood from birth to graduation from a boarding school. The illustrations by the author cover the time long ago from fashion to manners to room decor.
11- Columbus, Demi (Columbus Day)
Columbus is an incredibly complex historical figure. Was he a greedy villain? Religious fanatic? Dreamy adventurer? Mass murderer? There are many conflicting accounts of what really happened over five hundred years ago.
In Demi’s biography, we learn that Columbus was a self-made man. At the age of fourteen, he ran away from home to become a sailor. He learned everything about tides and stars, vessels and riggings, maps and charts, and soon became an expert in the art and practice of navigation. He was also a good leader, entrepreneur, self-promoter, and persuasive speaker (he definitely managed to talk nobility into giving him money, sailors, and ships again and again!).
12 – Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, Laurie Wallmark (Ada Lovelace Day)
The second Tuesday in October is the day we celebrate women in technology, and it’s named after an early English mathematician Ada Byron Lovelace. Ada’s mom hoped that rigorous academic studies and self-control exercises would prevent her daughter from taking after her dad (famous poet Byron who is now believed to have been a psychopath), and hired the best tutors to train her daughter’s mind. Thus, in the milieu of early Victorian high society, a girl appeared whose head was filled with numbers and computational possibilities rather than petticoats and suitors.
The only thing I disliked is that instead of mentioning Ada’s marriage and three children, it says “unfortunately, society and circumstances made it difficult for Ada to live the life she’d dreamed of, that of a professional mathematician.” In fact, Ada’s biographers state that her husband was supportive of her interest in math, and it’s common for women to temporarily slow down when they have little kids. Who knows what she would have done with her life if she didn’t die of cancer in her 30s!
13 – When You Are Brave, Pat Zietlow Miller (International Day for Failure)
Sometimes we might feel “Too small. Too quiet. Too tired. Not enough.” We wonder about what lies ahead, and the world might seem “Too big. Too loud. Too hard. Too much.” That’s when we can use our minds to change the way we feel.
We love the illustrations, the plot, and the main message in this book that no matter what happens, we will be ok. Life doesn’t always go the way we want to or the way we planned. The mental exercise the little girl does in the book will be useful to all who want to feel more confident that they can handle whatever life throws their way.
13 – Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Many Anning, Laurence Anholt (National Fossil Day)
An amazing true story about a little girl obsessed with dinosaurs in the 1800s. At the age of ten, after her father’s death, Mary Anning helped her family financially by scouring the crumbling cliffs of Lyme Regis for fossils. The fossils were then sold to tourists and scientists. She ended up uncovering Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaur, and Pterodactyl skeletons.
In the process, she taught herself anatomy, geology, and many other scientific disciplines, becoming a pioneer in the field of paleontology (the study of fossils). Although she wasn’t respected during her time (she didn’t have an official science background and was poor), her name is now in the halls of fame of the greatest fossil hunters of all time.
After reading this book, my kids wanted to know even more about her. We learned that this story skips some important points. Such as the existence of her brother who searched alongside her, and that her dad and her dog died as a result of fossil hunting. Our family had an interesting discussion about why the author might choose to write her biography this way.
14 – Easy as Pie, Cari Best
After watching a cooking show, Jacob decides to make a peach pie. He closely follows the instructions of a TV chef:
…concentrate on what you’re doing no matter what…if something unexpected happens, fix it as best as you can, and …always finish what you start.
Artist Melissa Sweet, probably best known for The Right Word (Caldecott Honor, 2015), uses bright pen and watercolor illustrations to show that anything is doable as long as you put your mind and heart into it. Reading this book might give you the perfect reason to bake your own pie, which (in my opinion) is the best way to enjoy the season’s best flavors.
15 – The Little Shop of Monsters, R.L. Stine and Mark Brown
From the author of the Goosebump series (we love them!) comes a delightfully scary (but not too scary) tale about a shop where the narrator buys all his monsters. As two kids make their way through the rows of stinky, drippy, slimy monsters, they learn about their habits, favorite snacks, and sleeping habits (heads up Sleeper-Peeper sleeps under your bed). The interesting twist at the story’s end is that you don’t get to choose your monster. The monster chooses you. Boo!
16 – Rain Makes Applesauce, Julian Scheer (World Food Day)
Do your kids know about healthy eating? If you want your kids to grow healthy and strong, they have to know how food works, what nutrients are, why certain foods are better than others for providing us with energy, and why there are sayings like an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I’m working on a list of books about food to read with kids. For now, let’s read this 1965 classic and Caldecott medal finalist.
Rain Makes Applesauce is an imaginative and playful tale open to many interpretations. Its lilting poetry encourages creativity, and my kids come up with a different meaning every time we read it. Detailed and beautiful drawings remain interesting no matter how many times we look at them.
17 – The Great Pasta Escape, Miranda Paul (National Pasta Day)
“Since the beginning of their lives (which was earlier that morning), the pasta at the factory followed the rules.” But then Fettuccine overheard a casual conversation between two factory workers and learned that people eat pasta. EAT! This piece of intelligence called for some drastic actions. Perhaps mutiny. Or something even better – a great pasta escape. The book is hilarious, the illustrations are a riot, and if your kids love pasta even half as much as my kids do, they will enjoy this book tremendously!!
18 – Ice Boy, David Ezra Stein (National Chemistry Week, Oct 17-23, 2021)
National Chemistry Week is an annual celebration to promote the value of chemistry in everyday life. We’re very excited about this year’s theme Fast or Slow: Chemistry Makes it Go. We’re going to celebrate by making our no-fail, 3-ingredient, 5-minute slime, and performing some other exciting chemistry experiments. And of course, as always, by reading some good books about chemistry.
A life of adventure is the last thing on people’s minds when they think of ice cubes in their freezer, but Ice Boy is a hugely entertaining book that aims to change that. Water circulates around the planet: melting, evaporating, freezing, and then melting again. So when Ice Boy, the hero of this story, leaves the safety of his freezer and melts, it’s only the beginning. His exploits are so entertaining the kids will never guess that they are learning some serious science along the way. (By the way, did you know that you drink the same water the dinosaurs drank millions of years ago?)
The illustrations by the author are wonderfully adorable: the scenes, the expressions, the colors – we love it all. Furthermore, David Ezra Stein’s website offers a fascinating look inside the making of Ice Boy. It’s a great book to talk to kids about the importance of finding what makes you happy while still staying safe, and also about curiosity, knowledge, and searching for answers.
19 – Goodnight Goon, Michael Rex
The idea of turning kids’ beloved classic Goodnight Moon into a Halloween tale is brilliant. My kids know by heart the words of Goodnight Moon, and it adds a certain level of excitement to reading Goodnight Goon.
“In the cold gray tomb there was a gravestone
And a black lagoon and a picture of
Martians taking over the moon
And there were three little mummies rubbing their tummies…”
I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed with all the neat and awesome rhyming. Nothing feels forced and out of tune. We like the detailed illustrations by the author. It’s a wonderful addition to your Halloween library.
20 – The Diamond and the Boy, Hannah Holt
“Penny poor, curiosity rich” Tracy Hall was a curious and persistent kid who was bullied in school. He studied hard, frequented the library, and grew up to be a physical chemist. All his career, he experimented and failed countless times until one day he discovered how to make diamonds. For real!
The left side of each double spread narrates the scientific story of diamonds, while the right side of the page is dedicated to Tracy’s life and work. This dual-narration might be a bit confusing for younger kids. But you can get over this problem by reading only one side at a time, then coming back to read the other side. Digitally colored illustrations by Jay Fleck (Tilly & Tank) brighten the narration and move the story along.
21 – I’m Trying to Love Math, Bethany Barton (Celebration of Mind Day)
Today is the day we celebrate the magnificent power of our minds and the birthday of Martin Gardner, a popular mathematics writer. To honor Martin Gardner’s contribution to math, his birthday was selected as Celebration of Mind Day – the day we salute critical thinking, intellectual challenges, enjoy puzzles, and show respect for math (lol). To celebrate, find a way to exercise those grey cells today.
In I’m trying to love math, an unspecified narrator (who we presume to be a human child) and an alien have a humorous conversation about math. The alien, whom we lovingly refer to as ET, opens the narrator’s eyes to the fact that math is all over the planet Earth and is a huge part of daily life.
Pen-and-ink art is amusing and a huge part of the book’s success with my kids. The story’s main idea is that when children say they don’t love math, they typically refer to boring worksheets, but real-life math, like a recipe for delicious cookies or music, is easy to love.
22 – The Biggest Apple Ever, Steven Kroll
When the teacher announces a competition for the biggest apple, we hope that our favorite character wins (each of my kids picked a different favorite). But the story is not about winning; it’s about losing and learning that when we work together, we create something amazing. The beautiful illustrations enliven the story and make me want to grab my kids’ colorful pencils and start drawing apples.
23 – Miracle Mud, David Kelly (Lena Blackburne’s Birthday)
Would you pay money for a bucket of mud? It seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what all major and minor baseball leagues in America have been doing for the past seventy-five years. It turns out that baseball players have always gone to great lengths to take the shine off the new baseballs, giving them more grip and breaking them in. They did some bizarre things – like rubbing balls with spit and tobacco juice – until the day Lena Blackburne discovered that mud from the Delaware River gets the job done with less work. Today, athletes still buy Lena Blackburne’s mud (and if you’re curious, you can too)!
Don’t worry if your kids (like mine) are not that into baseball. With catchy illustrations and minimal text, it offers an exciting look behind the scenes of big sport. It’s great to discuss the role of chance in historical events and provide a basis for geographical exploration. Pull out a United States map, trace the Delaware River with a finger, and use the map scale to calculate the distance it would take to deliver mud to California or Idaho or Alaska…
24 – Yellow Time, Lauren Stringer (Leaves)
Fall is the perfect time for leaf projects and colorful art lessons. So, line up your paints, especially yellow and other autumn shades, and curl up with Yellow Time, a book that will inspire you to get started right away. As you read, you can make it a game to count the number of times the word “yellow” is repeated in the story. “Everywhere fills with yellow.” and “Children run in the yellow air.” You can also set out many different materials in the same shade (i.e., pom-poms, craft paper, paints) and invite kids to create “a yellow symphony of yellow.”
25 – Paris in the Spring with Picasso, Joan Yolleck (Pablo Picasso’s Birthday)
Gertrude Stein was an American writer and art collector who settled in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. Her home became a gathering place for many expatriate artists and writers of the time. In this story, we follow a couple of Stein’s friends (including Picasso) through their day as they walk the streets of Paris, paint, write, and talk before they head over to Stein’s salon for dinner and conversation.
Marjorie Priceman’s classic bold, bright, and energetic artwork makes it more bearable for kids to stay put while listening to a meandering story about people they don’t know about yet. But I still think it’s always a good idea to open young minds to history, literature, art, and places around the world. And if like me, you are very familiar with Stein et al., you would be extra enthusiastic about reading this book and your enthusiasm will rub off on kids.
26 – The Ugly Pumpkin, Dave Horowitz (Pumpkin Day)
The classical story of ugly duckling gets a fabulous reinterpretation in this modern farm parody. One by one, the pumpkins are picked and carried away from the farm, but nobody wants the ugly pumpkin. Wandering away to ease the pain of rejection doesn’t help until the ugly pumpkin discovers that he is actually a squash. The illustrations are full of expression and bright autumn hues. We love the rhyming, poetic text and think that this story makes for a very enjoyable read-aloud and offers plenty of discussion points (belonging, coping with intensely painful emotions, and giving attention).
27 – The Cat from Hunger Mountain, Ed Young (Black Cat Day)
In this story, wastefulness is punished, generosity is rewarded, and kids are invited to ponder the meaning of the word “enough.” When do you have enough toys or enough food? When are you enough? The story is illustrated with striking artwork. My six-year-old at first thought it was scary. I think that’s because the dark-hued, abstract, mixed-media collage art is open to interpretation. An eye peeking through a jumble of shapes, a menacing gesture, a dark stare can mean many different things. But once we looked at each picture carefully and broke it into parts, he thought it was interesting and not scary.
28 – Bone Soup, Cambria Evans
Author and illustrator Cambria Evans put a Halloween spin on a classic Stone Soup tale. When a hungry ghoul comes to town anticipating a Halloween feast, he finds empty streets. The monster folk is hiding inside, refusing to share food with him. So the ghoul starts a fire and sets a cauldron with water to boil. Before long, the witch is sharing the stewed eyeballs, and the monster is bringing over a box of delicious bat wings, and it all ends with a big party.
It’s a non-scary Halloween story with simple but engaging illustrations. For fun and learning compare and contrast this story with one of the more traditional versions. What was the main character’s strategy? Did s/he manage to get the results s/he wanted? What is the enduring appeal of this story about working together and sharing?
29 – The Very Best Pumpkin, Mark Kimball Moulton
Could you give your favorite thing to someone else as a gift? I don’t know! I have a drawing of a goldfinch I did recently with a school pencil and watercolors, and I played with the idea of giving it away, but I can’t seem to be able to. In this story, a boy grows the very best pumpkin and hands it over to a girl next door. Luckily, she appreciates the gift, and a friendship is born.
30 – Dracula and Frankenstein are Friends, Katherine Tegen
What if you and your best friend can’t agree on the Halloween party. You want a rock band, stand-up comedy, and bat-wing pizza, while your friend insists on a traditional setup full of candy, jack-o-lanterns, and bobbing for apples. One way to go is to prevent your friend’s invitations from reaching the addresses and invite everyone to your home instead. That’s what Dracula ends up doing, and he finds out that cheating your friend out of a party won’t make you happy.
31 – Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, Ludworst Bemonster (Halloween)
Madeline lovers of all ages will enjoy this monstrous parody. “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines, lived twelve ugly monsters in two crooked lines.” Mrs. Devel (the keeper) doesn’t have an easy time keeping an eye on her monsters. They yell, whine, wet their beds, and even try to eat a reader’s dad.
One day Miss Devel senses “something is not right” and discovers Little Frankenstein is missing his head. Dr. Bone is called in, and the poor thing is taken to the hospital to get fixed. But oh no, now all the monsters wish to lose their heads. Literally.
This rhyming book is humorous, entertaining for parents and kids, and perfect for Halloween. The author’s own illustrations are imaginative and not too scary. I really enjoyed the irony and the clever parody of the original Madeline prose. Compare two books side by side for a lesson in literary parody.
Do you want to print the October booklist?
I added a printable list to my library of resources. You can get it by clicking HERE.