Inside: Children’s book suggestion for every day in October. A wide variety of topics, unforgettable stories, imaginative plots, and creative illustrations. Click each month to be taken directly to that list: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September.
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., R.L. 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 and Diwali, in October we also celebrate fossil day (yay for dinosaurs!), music, poetry, teachers, ballet, Italian-American heritage, and the birthdays of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pablo Picasso.
1 – The Little Piano Girl, Ann Incalls and Maryanne MacDonald (International Music Day)
Once upon a time there lived a little girl who was one of eleven children, so poor she wore shoes two sizes too small, and was bullied mercilessly. By the time Mary Lou Williams was four, she taught herself to play piano by ear, and by the time she was six, she was so good, she was paid to play at parties. And 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, don’t 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.
2 – Pumpkin Jack, Will Hubbell (National Pumpkin Seed Day)
“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.
3 – The Little Shop of Monsters, R.L. Stine and Mark Brown
From the author of the Goosebump series 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. My kids are obsessed with the Goosebump series at the moment, so they loved this book.
4 – 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 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.
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 rush to put labels on people and events: “This museum is stupid” (in the first room of the first floor). 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.
6 – Please Bury Me in the Library, J. Patrick Lewis (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 alternatives titles — Charlotte’s Dead, A Wrinkle in Slime, The Little Engine that Stood, Where the Wild Things “Arrrgh!” Ha-ha-ha!
We love J. Patrick Lewis for making us think about something we haven’t thought about before. Heaven as a library? Reading books to eternity? Brilliant! “Please bury me in the library in the clean, well-lighted stacks of novels, history, poetry, right next to the paperbacks.”
And “A good book is a kind of a person with a mind of her own” and “a bad book owes to many trees a forest of apologies.” So true! Lively illustrations add to the reading enjoyment!
7 – 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. Also, check out Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects.
8 – Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, Laurie Wallmark (Ada Lovelace Day)
Today is a holiday that celebrates 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 the 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. If she hadn’t died of cancer in her 30s, she might have become a professional mathematician just like she wanted.
9 – Lawrence in the Fall, Matthew Farina
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.
10 – 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.
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 convey the time long ago from fashion and manners to room decor.
12 – 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, put his signature touch on the story. The sweet illustrations are funny and expressive and transform a good story into one that is simply irresistible.
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.
14 – 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 (how did he manage to talk nobility into giving him money, sailors, and ships again and again?).
While there are quite a few pages in the second half of the book where I tend to skip half of the text, I still appreciate this introduction to a famous explorer, and we will definitely read it again this year on Columbus day.
15 – 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 near his house, but do the carrots like him? There’s lots 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 the 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, fears, and moving forward.
16 – Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary 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 science disciplines, becoming a pioneer in the field of paleontology (the study of fossils). Although she wasn’t very 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 times.
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.
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 workers and learned that people EAT pasta! This intelligence called for some drastic actions, mutiny, or maybe 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 – 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.
19 – Yellow Time, Lauren Stringer
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 symphony of yellow.”
20 – 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 set up 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.
I just learned that today is actually the birthday of Bella Lugosi, an actor who played Count Dracula in the original 1931 Dracula movie.
21 – I’m Trying to Love Math, Bethany Barton (Celebration of the 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 the Mind Day— the day of critical thinking, intellectual challenge, puzzles, and math. To celebrate, find a way to exercise those grey cells today.
In I’m Trying to Love Math, an unseen, 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 our 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 – Bone Soup, Cambria Evans
Author and illustrator Cambria Evans has 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 are 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 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?
23 – 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“
Perfect for little ballerinas as well as kids curious about ballet.
24 – Rain Makes Applesauce, Julian Scheer (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.
This sugar-free paleo applesauce recipe is our favorite. We like to add it to banana bread to make it super moist and extra yummy.
25 – Paris in the Spring with Picasso, Joan Yolleck (Pablo Picasso’s Birthday)
Gertrude Stein was an American writer and an 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.
While I think parents, especially the ones who like me are very familiar with Stein, et al., would appreciate this book significantly more than the kids, it’s always a good idea to open young minds to history, literature, art, and places around the world. 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 much about. Yet.
26 –The Ugly Pumpkin, Dave Horowitz
The classical story of the 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. It offers plenty of discussion points (belonging, coping with intensely painful emotions, and loneliness).
27 – Let’s Celebrate 5 Days of Diwali, Ajanta and Vivek (Diwali)
We’ve got every book about Diwali that our library offers, and this one was the winner. In this story, two kids from Chicago travel to India to experience Diwali, a festival of lights. Historically, it started as a celebration of the harvest and over time became India’s biggest and most important annual holiday that celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and the start of a new year. With this book, you will learn what is Diwali, how it’s celebrated, why new pots and pans are bought and sweets are made. You’ll also discover what Diwali has to do with brothers and sisters. This is more of an information book, so don’t expect too many re-reads and borrow it from the library.
28 – Because of an Acorn, Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Shaefer
The other day we went to the park with a bag of acorns my daughter had collected in our autumn walks and fed the squirrels. It was amazing to see those little creatures scampering down the tree, grabbing acorns my daughter offered them, and running away with them. Chicago squirrels are pretty tame.
In this gorgeously illustrated story, we see where acorns fit into the forest ecosystem. A little acorn might not seem like a bit deal, but every part of a harmonious system, even the tiniest bit like a microorganism, is vital to the propagation of the forest environment. With encouragement from us, our kids can grow up appreciating the fine balance of how all the animals, plants and microorganisms function together.
29 – The Cat from Hunger Mountain, Ed Young (National 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.
30 – 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. 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.
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.
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 on the original Madeline prose. Compare the two books side by side for a lesson in literary parody.