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Parent to Parent: Halloween books can put kids’ fears to rest

Simply looking at store aisles crammed full of Halloween candy can spin kids into tantrums. Looking at silly or scary read-aloud books is a healthier option for October. Just in time for fall and a monstrously fun Halloween season, a new crop of books can take your wee pirates and princesses on an imaginative tour.

Reading books together is one way to talk to your children about their fears and about what’s real and what isn’t. Here are a few new books about the spooky holiday, plus some conversation starters and activity ideas to go along with them.

• “How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?” by Wendell Minor (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013). All sizes of pumpkins are shown at a county fair. Just how big are the biggest ones? Could you carve one into a boat? When discussing the book, sneak in new vocabulary words such as “gigantic” and “astronomical.” Then head to a pumpkin patch to compare sizes, try out a scale and use new descriptive words before picking out the perfect pumpkin.

• “Halloween Hustle” by Charlotte Gunnufson (Two Lions, 2013). A skeleton bumbles his way into a Halloween party. Try dancing like a skeleton and predicting how the story will turn out.

• “Halloween Night” by Marjorie Dennis Murray (Greenwillow Books, 2013, reprinted in paperback). This book is full of rhyming text inspired by “’Twas the Night before Christmas”: “’Twas Halloween night and all through the house, every creature was stirring, including the mouse. The halls were aflutter with little brown bats, while hoards of black spiders crept out of the cracks.” Ask your child what rhyming words he hears. Which rhymes can he remember and repeat? Point out details in the illustrations and see what new things you spot when you read the book again.

• “Click, Clack, Boo” by Doreen Cronin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013). The typing cows are back in the latest in a series about Farmer Brown and his animals. Like many small children, Farmer Brown does not like Halloween. He finds it terrifying, but he tries to cope by leaving candy on his porch and a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Talk with your children or students about what might happen next in the book. Will it be trick or treat for Farmer Brown? Also ask: What is your child afraid of? What are some coping skills you can think up?

• “Skeleton for Dinner” by Margery Cuyler (Albert Whitman and Company, 2013). A skeleton misunderstands a party menu, thinks he is on the list to be eaten and runs away. Point out the sizes of “Little Witch” and “Big Witch,” and talk about whether skeletons and ghosts are real. Make up your own spooky Halloween menu with your children.

• “The Super Smelly Alien” by Nicky Lander (Price Stern Sloan, 2013) comes with a stinky scratch-and-sniff spot on the cover and the companion book “My Monster Smells Gross.” Preschoolers love to laugh about what stinks and talk about monsters. Head out on a nature hunt to see what’s smelly.

Not new, but a crowd-pleaser among preschoolers, is “Go Away, Big Green Monster” by author and artist Ed Emberley (Little Brown and Company, 1992). Use this classic to help your child chase away those nighttime fears. Through die-cut pages, children can build a monster and then take him apart – again and again.

In addition to reading Halloween books together, it’s fun to have a costume box available all year for imaginative play. Whether for Halloween night or year-round fun, here’s some costume advice from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

• When buying a costume, skip the ones made of flimsy material and look for items that have the label “flame resistant.” The label doesn’t mean these items won’t catch fire, but it indicates the costumes will resist burning and should extinguish quickly once removed from the ignition source.

• Costumes should be short enough that kids won’t trip on them.

• Check that eye holes are large enough to allow full visibility and that nose holes allow for adequate breathing.

• If trick-or-treating, decorate costumes and candy sacks with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car’s headlights.

• If you’re decorating your child’s face with makeup you’ve never used before, dab it on his arm ahead of time to check for a possible allergic reaction.