Nate the Great!

Happy Halloween! I’ll be celebrating this spooky holiday with a beloved character from my childhood (Throwback Thursday!), or more specifically, my younger brother’s.

In Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt, our sleuth returns to solve the mystery of the missing Little Hex. Join Nate and Sludge as they try to find the whereabouts of this scared little kitten.

Nate the Great Halloween

This book makes a great Halloween adventure for young readers or those learning English. Sharmat uses a lot of common words and phrases, as well as repeats a few more difficult words throughout the book for readers to practice and master.

Activities for Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt:

– Drive around town with your child and look for haunted-looking houses, just like Nate. Ask them to describe what sort of things might be in a haunted house. Let their imagination go wild!

– For older kids, look for an actual haunted house or research the local ghost legends in your area. A lot of these haunted sites have special events around Halloween. Spooky!

– Put two items, one light and one heavy, in two different baskets. Have your child pick them up and ask them why one might be heavier than the other.

– Learn about Halloween traditions from around the world. Good ideas include Ireland (the first Halloween was celebrated there in the eighth century- the ancient festival of Samhain, which Halloween was based on, is even older!), China (Teng Chieh), and Mexico (Dia de los Muertos).

For a full history of Halloween, check out the History Channel’s website.

– Make costumes with your child from items in their (and your) wardrobe. Dress up your pet, just like Fang. Have fun trick-or-treating! (This is also a good opportunity to talk to your child about strangers and safety.)

Happy Halloween!

Begley pumpkin

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow- Washington Irving

Ichabod Crane is probably one of my favorite characters of all-time. Because he’s such a… well, he’s such a character!

His description, most fitting for someone called “Crane,” is one of the most memorable and archetypal out there. With “narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together,” it is only too easy to picture him ambling about the small village, on his way to the schoolhouse. Oh, and he’s the singing-master of Sleepy Hollow and is more than happy to take his payment in free room and board at the homes of his pupils, most often those with “pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard.” Add in his enthusiasm for the gentler sex, only surpassed by his enthusiasm for a beautiful and bountiful table, and you have a just-right mix of foolishness and likability for the perfect ghost story protagonist. Think a 19th Century Scooby Doo.

Ichabod Crane in the Disney short "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" (1949)

Ichabod Crane in the Disney short “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949)

When Irving puts this comically lanky and somewhat awkward (especially when it comes to romancing the beautiful heiress Katrina Van Tassel- poor Ichabod!) schoolteacher in the path of the Headless Horseman, peril is sure to follow.

The short story has been adapted to numerous films and TV series, most recently a modern adaptation airing on FOX. While some have taken liberties with the details of the story (including the birthdate, occupation, and marital status of Ichabod), all offer insight and a worthwhile visual representation of this haunted village.

Set from Tim Burton film adaptation, "Sleepy Hollow" starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane (1999)

Set from Tim Burton film adaptation, “Sleepy Hollow” starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane (1999)

If you’re interested in learning more about the real-life village of Sleepy Hollow, head over to visitsleepyhollow.com or sleepyhollowny.gov. Bonus because it’s Halloween: haunted hayrides, a masquerade ball, and the terrifying Horseman’s Hollow!

Don’t forget to comment at The List, found at the top of the page, to get your favorite Halloween book featured as our next book club selection!

The Witches- Roald Dahl

I’m so glad that I included The Witches on the Halloween reading list. Every time I read something by Roald Dahl, I wish that I hadn’t waited so long to pick it up again. The Witches was no exception.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Who doesn’t love a good adventure where the hero faces impossible odds against a group of ugly, sinister villains and comes out victorious? When that hero is a quick, resourceful little boy-mouse? Even better!

If you’re reading this book for the first time, lucky you! Find a child that hasn’t really connected with reading yet, read it aloud, and watch them fall in love with the written word. You won’t be disappointed. The wonderful thing about this book (actually, all of Roald Dahl’s books) is the way that it creates a fantastical, creative, and absolutely original story that appeals to the imagination but is also so rich linguistically that it is delicious to read for the words and phrases alone. Here are The Home Book Club rules for reading The Witches:

1. Read it with someone, preferably someone young (or young-at-heart).

2. Read it out loud, if only to say the phrase “It was so crumpled and wizened, so shrunken and shriveled, it looked as though it had been pickled in vinegar.” If a better description of an evil witch’s face exists, I don’t know it.

3. Do the voices, especially The Grand High Witch!

This Halloween, skip the ghost stories and serial killer novels. Sure, we can all be spooked by things that go bump in the night. Enjoy a real novelty by reading about things that go bump in the broad daylight. Pick up The Witches and learn how to spot and defeat a real witch with a little boy-turned-mouse and his cigar-smoking Norwegian grandmother. And if you’re rooting for the other side, you can always read it to learn the recipe for Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker!

“The Raven”- Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming;

And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws the shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Many scholars focus on the raven. The bird has become associated with dark, mysterious places and days.  Just watch any Halloween movie and you’ll see one, perched ominously on the rusty gate of an abandoned house or an illegible tombstone in a foggy cemetery. Poe himself titled the poem “The Raven,” drawing the reader’s attention to its dark messenger before even getting to the first line.

This Halloween, I want to focus on an equally important word in the poem, one that I think does even more than the raven to communicate the menacing tone of Poe’s work. It brings more distress to the narrator than loss or fear. It drives him to eventual madness: nevermore.

The narrator begins the poem as many of us do, reading late into the night, trying to forget the troubles of his day. Maybe you even picked up “The Raven” looking for the exact same thing. How many times have we all “nodded, nearly napping” while reading before shutting off the light and going to sleep? He hears a faint sound and dismisses it, as we all would, as “some visitor… nothing more.” He even goes so far as to open the door but seeing nothing but darkness, his imagination begins to run wild with fear. The rapping returns, this time at his window and he opens it to find a raven. The raven comes in, unusually calm for a wild bird, sits on top of a bust, and proceeds to answer each of the narrator’s questions with one word.

“Nevermore.”

Just as the poem begins in a mundane and perfectly typical scene—a lonely guy reading in bed, trying to forget his girlfriend—so do his questions. He starts by asking the raven his name, to which the bird replies “nevermore.” The narrator is amused, thinking this an absurd name for a bird, attributing it “little meaning, little relevancy.”  But soon his thoughts turn darker. He begins to think about that word, wondering what the raven means when he says it. The word itself begins to take a hold in his mind. He fears he will “nevermore” be able to get past his lost love. He fears he will not see her in heaven. He fears that there is no cure for his heartache. Finally, he fears that the raven will never leave and that he, the heartbroken, will be haunted by that word.

When a friend asks you if their ex-girl or boyfriend will ever come back, you say “maybe” or “perhaps.” If you don’t think there’s a very good chance, you could even say “probably not” and still leave a small opening for hope and possibility. When someone asks you if they will ever get over the loss of a loved one, you say “eventually” or “with time.” But Poe does not use any of these words to answer the narrator’s questions. Instead, he turns to the absolute. The raven answers with a word devoid of any hope of reconciliation, healing, or even closure. When finally pleaded with to leave, to leave the now distraught narrator with peace, if not with hope, the raven answers again, “nevermore.” Although it takes him a few stanzas, the narrator realizes the significance of the word “nevermore.” And it drives him into despair and insanity.

Poe uses plenty of dark imagery to convey the menacing tone necessary for a poem about heartbreak and loss. From the very first line to the description of the room’s furniture, Poe evokes a dark, damp, and forgotten atmosphere. The “bleak December” night, full of shadows from a neglected fire, does nothing to alleviate this ominous mood. The narrator himself is scared into a frenzy just by a faint tapping at his door. When the raven finally appears, all the more frightening for his unconventionally composed and precise manner, the reader and narrator both are about to jump out of their skin. Add to that the image of dark curtains and heavy, velvet chairs, as well as the use of words like “croaking,” “ghastly,” and “gaunt” and it’s no wonder that the reader is caught up in the narrator’s descent into fear. But the word that really pushes the narrator, and by extension the reader, over the edge is the final one, made even more significant for its placement within the stanzas. The word that the raven repeats and repeats, never allowing the narrator to escape its finality.

“Nevermore.”

The thing that drives the narrator to insanity is not a dark or dreary night. It’s not the loss of his love or even a sound at his door or window. The thing that destroys the narrator and makes the poem such a memorably dark work is the loss of hope, without any chance of recovery. It is the definite and absolute nature of that most critical word, “nevermore.”

Let’s Read in October!

“Once upon a midnight dreary,” we decided to begin October with a reading list full of mayhem and a monster that “alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.” We’ll fill our month with accounts of “terrors of the night, phantoms of the night that walk in darkness” and those fantastic things that are “most unlikely but– here comes the big ‘but’– not impossible.”

Join us all through October to discuss your favorite Halloween stories. Leave a comment anytime before October 25th and we’ll add your favorite Halloween book to the list, to discuss on October 31st.

October 8th- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

October 11th- The Witches by Roald Dahl

October 17th- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

October 25th- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

October 28th- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

October 31st- Happy Halloween! Let’s discuss your favorite ghost story!

Here’s a printable calendar to hang on your fridge, tuck into your nightstand, or keep in your office to remind you that October will be a month of spooky tricks and delicious literary treats. Happy Haunting, all you little ghouls!

calendar