Halloween Book Fun

Giving out books to trick-or-treaters has been a fun way to share my love of reading with children. I stumbled upon the idea years ago when Googling creative ways to donate books. California mom and author Rebecca Morgan founded “Books for Treats” in 2001 to “feeds kids’ minds, not their cavities.”

I don’t object to giving out Halloween candy. (Truth be told, it’s possible I’ve eaten as much of it as I’ve handed out over the years.) But I do champion literacy and the mental health benefits of reading books.

Only about 1 in 3 fourth-graders in the United States are proficient in reading, according to a report by Save the Children. If children can’t read at grade level by fourth grade, they’re unlikely to ever catch up. A key part of the problem is that many children don’t have access to books in their homes or family members who read to them.

To combat those facts, we give books at Halloween. My husband was skeptical at first. In his defense, I tend to go overboard when it comes to books. So, I conceded it might be possible that children would not be thrilled with getting books, and we stocked up on plenty of candy as a back-up.

As it turns out, books-for-treats was a huge success.

The kiddos love it, and they remember. Many run up the driveway saying, “This is the book house!” Often, they take their time going through the baskets to find just the right book, while parents laugh and say, “Just pick one!” Every now and then, a child simply can’t decide and will slip two books into their pumpkin bucket or pillowcase. I smile and look the other way.

Teenage trick-or-treaters are some of the biggest fans; they’re both grateful and suspicious. “I can just take this?” Every year, we buy more books than the year before. We always run out before the night ends.

Giving books for treats at Halloween is a fun way to improve child literacy. And the kiddos love it. #booksfortreats #authorsforliterarcy #readingcommunity

If you’re still not convinced this is the Best. Idea. Ever, check out this CNN article highlighting a neurobiological study of the benefits of books and detriments of screen time on a preschool child’s development. The brain scans are startling. Kids need books.

There are many ways to stock up on books without breaking the bank. Here are few ideas:

  • Thin out your own book collection of board books, early readers and young adult books that your children have outgrown and no longer want. One year, we gave out Manga graciously donated by my daughter who was moving overseas. The kids went bananas.
  • Used-book stores often have large selections of kids’ books in clearance for $1 each. One year, we bought comic books (50 cents apiece) at Bookmans, an indie bookstore in Arizona. When the bookseller learned we were going to give them away to trick-or-treaters, they gave us a 10 percent discount to boot. Library sales are another great source for inexpensive books.
  • If you prefer to give out new books, The Dollar Store often has ones that fit the bill. You can also order inexpensive books from Oriental Trading Company, like this set of 10 nursery rhyme readers for about $6.

DIY Halloween Décor – Old, Spooky Books

In a related note on my obsession with books, check out this photo gallery highlighting a fun DIY project. I hate throwing away books, but sometimes they get outdated or worn out. Other times, the books are of such low quality, I am not comfortable donating them. My solution is to repurpose them in fun ways, like making books look old and spooky for Halloween décor. Scroll down for simple instructions.

DYI Instructions

  1. Tear the covers off paperback books. Paint covers of hardbound books – I used red; when it was dry, I dabbed on burnt umber with a scrunched paper-towel to make it look aged.
  2. Pour left-over coffee into a 9”x13” glass pan. Dip books one at time into the coffee. You can either submerge the entire book, or just the edges; it depends on how old and wrinkled you want them to become.
  3. Fan out the pages and shape the books however you’d like.
  4. Set them outside in the sun to dry, or arrange in front of a fan. Flip the books periodically to make sure all sides get air. It can take a few days to dry thoroughly, depending on how deeply you submerged them.
  5. I also created fake book titles in spooky fonts, make-believe potions and creepy graphics to cut and paste into the books. I dipped the printouts into the coffee and set them on a cookie rack to dry (move quickly when dipping the paper, so it doesn’t get too soggy and fall apart).
  6. Have fun decorating them with Halloween doodads, if you want. I used plastic spiders and ping-pong balls painted like eyeballs. Brush on Modge Podge or Elmer’s glue to help secure pages and décor.


Writing to Grab the Reader

Historical novelist and creative nonfiction author Jessica McCann answers two questions from aspiring writers in this four-minute video.

  1. How do you write an opening line that will grab readers?
  2. There are so many entertainment options out there today. Do you think it’s getting harder to catch the attention of readers?

Contemporary Fiction Spotlight: Afraid of the Light

Guest post written by Barbara Anne Waite

Afraid of the Light

Paperback, 352 pages

Published June 16th 2020 by Kregel Publications

Written by Cynthia Ruchti

Buy Afraid of the Light at Bookshop.org and support indie bookstores and authors

Afraid of the Light is a contemporary novel that taught me some interesting, yet disturbing, facts about a serious subject.

Often when I read, I wince at parts of a story that seem unnecessary or too much fluff. This story fell into the wonderful category of perfect – no wincing, no disappointment, no fluff. I liked that there were not too many characters; and those main people became disclosed layer by layer, making it a bit like a mystery.

My all-time favorite books are Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, which some might call romance novels. But they are character driven, observations of behavior. That’s why Cynthia Ruchti’s character-driven novel was a perfect book for me. It is the story of a troubled clinical psychologist and some of her clients who are hoarders. Her rescue comes from a man driving a garbage truck. Yes, a character-driven contemporary mystery/romance that satisfied. It contains touches of humor and valuable truth woven throughout. It was an out-of-the-ballpark 5-star read for me, a totally satisfying novel.

This guest review was reposted from Goodreads with permission. Barbara Anne Waite is a nonfiction and historical fiction author. You can follow her reviews on Goodreads and learn about his books on her website. Waite’s most recent book is the historical novel, The Colour Box, about sisters Anne and Elizabeth Hart and their struggle against the injustice of slavery on the British island of Antigua in the eighteenth century.

Historical Fiction Spotlight: When I Last Saw You

Guest review written by Lynne Spreen

When I Last Saw You

Paperback, 358 pages

Published May 4th 2021 by Bent Pine Publishing Corp

Written by Bette Lee Crosby

Buy When I Last Saw You at Bookshop.org and support indie bookstores and authors.

Margaret, in her late 60s, is recently widowed. When going through her husband’s files, she finds a receipt from a private detective. She calls him and finds out that he did some work for her late husband, years ago, trying to uncover the truth of Margaret’s childhood. Margaret hires Tom to get back on the case, because she wants to know the truth, finally. Why did her large family break up? Why did their mother send the children away?

Although Tom is retired, he’s intrigued. After a bitter divorce, he doesn’t have that much going on in his life, so agrees to investigate, spending many hours talking with Margaret about her family, trying to get leads. He sets out on the road, but after his initial foray, asks her to fly in and join him. She agrees, and they begin their search together. As they drive around the South, investigating (it’s set in 1968, so there’s no Google), they grow close.

As they return to Margaret’s roots, another story begins to unfold in parallel: that of Eliza, Margaret’s mother, and the early years of the family, before all the children were sent to live away from their mother. Dirt poor, living in a shack in West Virginia coal country, Eliza is married to the brutal, selfish Martin. He gets a job in town, leaving her to raise their ever-growing brood in desperate poverty while he lives well and has other women to entertain him. Eliza is a good woman, and the children are loved. Martin visits occasionally, keeping Eliza pregnant and the children frightened.

As Margaret travels with Tom and begins to learn what happened to her family, she is also learning about herself, coming to understand the cost of the life-changing concessions she made to her late husband. Will she finally, now, prioritize herself and seize happiness? Is it too late?

When I Last Saw You is a beautiful story, richly detailed, with characters who stayed with me after I finished the book. Highly recommended.

Review reposted from Goodreads with permission. Lynne Spreen writes midlife fiction and romance, because she believes life after 50 is a rich, untapped literary vein of human drama.  You can follow her reviews on Goodreads and learn about her Dakota Blues book series on her website.


Newsletter about Reading, Writing and Life

I’ve launched an email newsletter and monthly giveaway to shine a spotlight on reading, writing and life. It will feature content that isn’t on my website (so be sure to subscribe even if you follow my blog), highlighting interesting books and articles, writing tips and inspiration, motivational quotes and ideas, and more. Plus, every month one newsletter subscriber name will be drawn to win something fun and bookish (like a bookstore gift card, signed paperback, audiobook, journal, etc.).

Go to the newsletter sign-up page and enter giveaway by clicking here!

(You can also earn bonus entries for the monthly giveaway by using the Rafflecopter form on the sign up page to share this with others.)


Writing Deadlines and Goals

Historical novelist and creative nonfiction author Jessica McCann answers two questions from aspiring writers in this five-minute video.

  1. You said when you’re writing a book, you should take time to get it right. But how do you take your time when you’re on a deadline?
  2. Do you set daily word count goals to get your book written?

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Elephant of Belfast

Guest review written by Annette:

The Elephant of Belfast

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published April 6th 2021 by Counterpoint Press

Written by S. Kirk Walsh.

Buy at Bookshop.org and support indie bookstores and authors.

Inspired by the true story of Denise Weston Austin, the “elephant angel.”

Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1940. An orphaned elephant leaves an island of Ceylon to make a new home at Bellevue Zoo. At the docks, Hettie Quin, zookeeper, meets a three-year-old elephant named Violet. Violet becomes Hattie’s favorite charge. They bond. Hattie cares for Violet. And Violet trusts Hettie. When bombs fall on Belfast and the city becomes an inferno, people rush to shelters and Hettie runs to the zoo where animals are scared and agitated. Hattie calms Violet.

What is special about this story is the warmness created from the very first pages between Hattie and Violet. But there is much more to the story. I’d say majority of the story is character development of Hettie, her family, friends and others. It makes the story very dynamic and interesting.

I warmed up to the main character right away. After losing her sister and the abandonment of her father, Hettie finds solace in caring for the young elephant. She feels more comfortable with the animals than people. She works hard to be the first female zookeeper.

It was interesting to get a glimpse into people’s minds. How some Irish viewed Nazi. They wanted to be rid of Brits for good from Northern Ireland, thus they’d welcome Germans with open arms. Also, the rationing of food affected not only humans, but also the animals at the zoo, which further affected some decisions in handling the animals.

When the city is bombed, you can see the massive destruction as buildings are turned to rubble. You can feel the helplessness when trying to find someone who is missing. And the heart-wrenching effects on animals at the zoo. The rescue efforts of Violet kept me on edge.

Richly imagined and vividly presented. There is so much deepness and liveliness in descriptions. Thus, resulting in a very vibrant story with characters you deeply care for and prose you greatly enjoy.

P.S. This brief article gives a bit of history about the true story that inspired this work of fiction.

This review was reposted with permission. You can follow Annette’s reviews on her blog and Instagram (@AnnetteBReviews)


Life Essentials

Food, shelter, purpose, companionship, and books: essentials of a happy, meaningful life. They don’t always have to be in perfect balance, but they are a package deal. #lifetip #writetip #FindYourPurpose

#FindTheBeautyInAdversity #PeculiarSavageBeauty


Writing Advice and Lessons Learned

Historical novelist and creative nonfiction author Jessica McCann answers three questions from aspiring writers in this five-minute video.

  1. What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer?
  2. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
  3. What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your writing career?