The crinkle of leaves, the windy nights.
You can go ahead and enjoy all the pumpkin spice whatever you like. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin other than decoratively.
For me, other than the aesthetics of a neighborhood or roadways lines with multi-colored leaves, the thing I look forward to the most this time of year is Halloween specials. I’m not a horror movie guy, so Jason, Freddy, the rest of you will have to sit this one out. The old, original Universal crew of Dracula, Frankenstein and friends? Okay, those I’ll get behind. And maybe one day I’ll talk about the wonder that is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Or how I have to watch Arsenic & Old Lace with Cary Grant at least once a season.
But beyond those, there’s something I really, really dig this time of year on the same level of those classics, and that’s watching family-friendly Halloween specials with the kids. I love it. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every year. Sometimes it’s a weekend, nighttime treat with a big bowl of popcorn for all of us and some apple cider to sip on. Or, it’s just a spur of the moment afternoon viewing because it’s Autumn and why not?
Either way, Fall and Halloween specials with the kids are my bag, and I wanted to pass along some of my personal favorites to recommend for anyone looking for some non-scary, but intensely entertaining treats for the eyes of your little ones, or even just you.
So, let’s hope into this leaf pile of nostalgia and spooks, shall we?
The Skeleton Dance, a Walt Disney short from 1929, in all its black and white glory, is simply that – a group of skeletons that come out of the cemetery when the sun goes down and dance the night away, with macabre music made on their very own bones.
Lonesome Ghosts is a 1937 Disney short featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghost hunters tricked into an old house by a group of mischievous ghosts looking for some entertainment. This one, in full-color, is another Disney classic.
If you possibly get iffy at times about the use of firearms in old cartoons, as I tend to be a bit wary of, know Mickey does bring a shotgun with him into the home. Standard for cartoons of the day, it’s good to know upfront should you want to put it into both a historical and safety context for any young ones, as I’ve tried to while we enjoy. Or, if unlike me, you don’t care about that sort of thing, then enjoy all on its own.
Capping off the Disney trio is my favorite of the three – Trick or Treat from 1952, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie enlisting the help of a witch named Hazel (voiced by the late, great voiceover legend June Foray) for some Halloween comeuppance against their Uncle Donald, who proves to be the worst uncle in the world with the tricks he plays on the boys.
The opening and closing song of “Trick or Treat” will get stuck in your head, but it’s so much fun to sing, you won’t mind.
I’m always intrigued by the fact that the Grinch was one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular characters, but only appeared in that one published tale when he stole Christmas. Other than that, he’s been relegated to screen appearances, perhaps fueled by the adage about small doses. With its typical Seussian rhymes, it focuses on a young Who from Whoville who confronts the Grinch on Halloween/Grinch Night in an effort to stall him from making it to Whoville and scaring the entire population.
There’s familiar canine companion Max, and a lot of bizarre, surreal elements during the scare-sequence that might seem like something out of a Dali painting brought to life, but in the end, this sing-song tale of facing your fears is a fun Halloween romp that was actually written by Dr. Seuss himself! Minus Karloff this time around, Hans Conried, a familiar face to TV audiences in the 50s/60s and prolific voice-over actor, brings his refined diction to the titular Grinch.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Come on, does this one really need much of a write-up? This one has been a classic for decades.
Though no matter how many years go by, you can’t help but ask why this group of kids are so incredibly mean to poor Charlie Brown (and in this case, Linus, too).
Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive on Halloween night, while the rest of the Peanuts gang go trick-or-treating in ghost costumes, where ol’ Chuck gets nothing but rocks. While yes, moments in it serve as a great reminder to not be so mean to people (what is your problem all the time, Lucy?!) the classic animation and characters still make it a fun tradition each and every year.
Curious George Halloween Boo Fest
I refer to this as a contemporary classic and it’s quickly become one of my staples of the fall season.
Seriously. I will watch this whether kids are in the room or not. And it’s not just because the Man in the Yellow Hat is my spirit animal.
Taking place primarily at the Man’s country house (my favorite setting for the PBS Kids Curious George TV series, which alternates between their city apartment and the man’s family home in the country), George is intrigued by the neighborhood tales of No-Noggin, the scarecrow whose head disappeared years and years ago and now comes back at Halloween to kick off people’s hats and take them as his own.
Great songs, great characters, and just enough spooky Halloween atmosphere without being scary, this has become such a favorite of mine that when it recently came off of Netflix, I had to go out and buy a copy on DVD so we could have it.
So there’s your homework this season. To enjoy some fun viewings with your little ones or on your own that still stand the test of time in my opinion and are the perfect on-screen companion to the month of October.
Grown-Up Bonus Viewing: Send the kids to bed and delight in all the kitsch of 1970s pop culture with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, where Mr. Center Square himself guffaws his way through a haunted castle with Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton at his side and cameos by everyone from Betty White, to Florence Henderson, to KISS and H.R. Puffenstuff’s Witchiepoo.
“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive more youer than you.”
That comes from Happy Birthday To You, one of the myriad of books in the catalog of Dr. Seuss masterpieces that decorate many a bookshelf and have influenced any number of childhood, and foster a creativity across all ages.
And today, March 2, 2017 marks the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Geisel, as he was born.
You look quite terrific for one hundred thirteen,
the lessons from you, we still every day glean.
These days, it’s hard to think of a time before Seussian rhyming and characters like the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat weren’t part of our everyday culture. Words like Nook, and Grinch have become a part of our lexicon.
There is so much that could be talked about personally about Geisel, who was born to German immigrants in Springfield, Massachusetts. He experienced quite the share of discrimination and hate as a child as Americans fought Germany in the era of The Great War, now known as World War I. He lived on Mulberry Street, and it’s been said that on walks with his older sister, other children would throw bricks at them, spout hateful threats and call them names due to their heritage. It’s said he was the final scout in line to receive a medal when Theodore Roosevelt came to town, but by the time it was his turn, he received no medal but a lecture from Roosevelt. Some historians theorize that anti-German people within the town tampered with the medal count that day and believe that incident teamed with the screaming lecture from TR may have led to the classic Horton Hears a Who Line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Throughout many, if not all of his tales, Geisel seems to have a common theme that resonates no matter our age – fairness, justice for what’s right, doing the right thing, and celebrating the differences among all of us.
Whether it’s Horton in Horton Hears a Who, trying to save the Whos that are on the head of the flower despite the other creatures of the jungle making life downright miserable and tortuous for him, the Sneetches learning that just because some have stars on their bellies and some do not does not mean that they’re truly any different from each other and can get along, or the importance of opening our eyes to what is around us and seeking out knowledge to better understand people, places and our shared world in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, it’s all about learning to better understand each other.
So many of these books that we read as children, we now read to our own kids. A well-preserved copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish of mine now sits on my son’s bookshelf amid other classic Seuss outings as well as some newer editions by new authors influenced by his trademark style. Most notable of these newer entries is The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series, which our son adores, each book engaging young minds as the Cat and his rhymes teach about everything from bugs, to space, to money, or animals.
One of the running gags between my son and I are to suddenly take our conversations into rhyming territory, going back and forth, sometimes to a point where he ends up making up his own Seussian type words just to keep the rhyme going.
And while it’s all in good fun, it’s even better to know that some researchers say there’s more than just the silliness behind Dr. Seuss’ rhymes.
“The words that he made up are fun for children — they see the cleverness behind the word construct and the meaning of the word,” said Ann Neely, a professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee told Live Science in 2015.
It is true that some parents have concerns about the silly, made-up Seussian words, that it could lead to confusion in children, but Neely goes on to say that all that nonsensical jumble actually helps children on the path to reading, raising their awareness of the sounds that letters make.
“The words that he made up were often funny, and it helps children with their literacy skills later on as they’re learning to read if they’ve heard how language can be played with,” Neely also told Live Science.
She added that the predictable rhythm of the sentences also could play a large role in teaching children to read.
“That gave children confidence in their own reading ability,” Neely said. “In some ways, it’s like Mother Goose rhymes, in that when we say, ‘Oh, he’s like Humpty Dumpty,’ we know that it’s because ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.'”
Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss leaves a legacy that still carries on generation after generation, and as I say, it’s hard to imagine a world without his imagination, his doodles, his rhyme, and his wonderful way to make us all think about the world we share.
“Shout loud, I am lucky to be what I am! Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham! Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry ham!”
What’s your favorite Seussian tale?
Storytime is a wonderful and strong tradition to have in your household, and the earlier you start with your kids the better.
We’ve made storytime a nightly habit in our house, starting the week our little guy came home from the hospital. Now almost two, it has become routine for him to go to the bookshelf, grab a few books he wants and then bring them into our room for a family reading on the big bed.
Needless to say in that time, we’ve amassed more than a few that not only he likes, but my wife and I love to read as well.
As much as I often get nostalgic and wish for ‘simpler times’ or the always-idealized ‘old days,’ one of the great things about the current age we live in is that children’s books have come a long way from “Goodnight, Moon,” which, let’s be honest, is not one of my favorites.
These days, children’s books can be just as enjoyable for parents to read as the kids, so these are just a few suggestions that entertain parents as well as the kids that you might want to add to your family bookshelf if you haven’t already.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” & “The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle
It’s the 45th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this year and this book helps to teach days of the week and successive numbers through the timeline of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. It’s one of those classics that is just educational, fun, and absolutely beautiful, as are all of Carle’s books.
“The Grouchy Ladybug,” as her name states, is a bad-tempered bug that doesn’t say please, doesn’t say thank you, and has quite the ego, thinking she’s better than everyone she encounters. The story follows her journey and teaches about concepts like size, time and, of course, good manners.
If you end up really loving Eric Carle’s books (and how can you not?), take a road trip to Amherst, MA to visit the wonderful Eric Carle Museum right over in Amherst. You’ll find his original artwork, as well as get to view the work of guest illustrators on exhibit firsthand. This place is like a mecca for our family.
Books by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is a writer and animator and worked on Sesame Street for several years, where he won Emmy Awards, as well as shows on Cartoon Network. He has written so many wonderful books, but these are some of my favorites.
The Elephant and Piggie series – Gerald the Elephant (named after his favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) and Piggie are best friends and through these books deal with issues of friendship. Sometimes it’s separation anxiety, other times it’s being nervous about getting invited to a party, or sharing a new toy or ice cream. It’s all done in a conversational, comic book type style with word balloons and they’re just a lot of fun, each with its own great, positive message.
The Pigeon books – They star, obviously, The Pigeon, who usually wants something. Sometimes it’s to stay up late, or to get a puppy, or to drive the bus, and it’s always something he’s not supposed to do, giving the child, who oftentimes is being told “no,” the opportunity and power to say no themselves. These are highly interactive, so kids love them and parents can enjoy the humor, too.
That is Not a Good Idea – It’s done in a style of silent films, with a great twist ending and deals with just what the title says – not so good ideas.
This book asks the question “How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats” and it’s just one of a wonderful series by Jane Yolen. Each book teaches manners and the proper way to act in different situation, this one, of course being if you have cats at home and the proper ways to treat them. There’s books for dogs, parties, playing with friends, cleaning your room; this goes on and on. Great lessons and great images by Mark Teague with a dinosaur name hidden on each page. Many of these types of dinosaurs are well beyond the common ones we come to know, which provides an additional educational element.
Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack
It’s about two friends with very different views on life – one optimistic and one not so much. When children are emergent and anxious to start reading, this is a great book. There’s only 5 total words in it. Those words are repeated, so they learn them better and can eventually read on their own. And the story itself is just funny and touching, and shows why it’s nice to look on the bright side of life.
I Wish That I had Duck Feet and Gerald McBoing Boing by Dr. Seuss
Sure, there are more popular or well-known books by Dr. Seuss, but these are two that really have great lessons. Both are about being yourself.
In “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet,” a little boy daydreams about what it would be like to have different animal parts but realizes the downside of each.
In “Gerald McBoing Boing,” a little boy named Gerald can’t speak but is born with the ability to make incredible sounds when he opens his mouth. He gets made fun of by others for his difference, being called Gerald McBoing Boing by bullies, but it’s about Gerald finding his place in the world and being happy with who he is that ultimately finds him happiness.
Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
We have the collection with the first three books of the series.
Cronin writes these to be entertaining and hilarious, and this book details the trouble of poor Farmer Brown as the animals in his barn begin to type and start becoming literate.
When that happens, they have more bargaining and leveraging power with the farmer when he demands things like milk, eggs, etc. It’s a great book that really teaches about give and take and even peaceful protest.
Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman
The kids will get sucked in by the beautiful art and images of Batman and Robin by artist Ty Templeton, but the well-researched story by Nobleman tells the real-life story of Bill Finger, the man who created most of Batman’s villains, decided he should wear a cowl and gloves. It was his ideas that Batman what we know today and sadly didn’t get the credit for it. A great true story told in the form of a children’s book.