This book is a collection (anthology?) of (loosely) Halloween related short stories by authors who won the Newbery Medal. Some of the stories are actually chapters excerpted from longer works, while others are stand-alone stories republished here. I did not do extensive research, but I don’t believe anything original beyond the introduction was created for this book.
I had a tough time finding full-length books with the word ‘Halloween’ in the title. There were lots of picture books and lots of early reader books, but to my great surprise, there were pretty much no adult books (with the exception of Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party) and even more shocking, no YA books either! Children’s chapter books supplied a few, including this one. I was attracted by the star-studded author list and the promise of stories from said authors which I probably hadn’t read.
I was disappointed to discover that quite a few of the tales in this book are actually just chapters pulled bodily from longer works – “The Baddest Witch in the World, “A Halloween to Remember”, “The Witch’s Eye”, “The Ghost in the Attic”. As a taste of the books they serve well, but they’re clearly just parts of a longer story which isn’t present in this book.
The remaining stories varied in setting and quality. The worst of the lot, the nearly incomprehensible “Witch Girl”, is the story of a family traveling to a new home who encounter a ‘young girl’ who claims to be a witch and to be entrapped by witches. After the previous story, which featured a five year old Ramona Quimby, I was primed to assume that a ‘young girl’ was probably ten or less years in age. Imagine my surprise when one of the adult(?) male characters in the story abruptly announced his intention to marry the ‘young girl’ he’d met a mere ten minutes prior. I certainly hope she wasn’t actually ten! The rest of the story was poorly plotted with no real sense of danger or… anything. It was just blah.
Of the others, the two which stood out in my mind are Madeleine L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday”, a weird little tale which seems to involve magic, but which also felt a bit to me like an hallucination on the part of the narrator; and Paul Fleischman’s “The Man of Influence”, about a sculptor who accepts a commission from a man who may not actually be a man.
Newbery-winning authors, however much I may disagree with the taste of the selection committee, are usually good writers. Certainly this book, which is about 20 years old and seemed to focus on writers with well-established careers, has plenty of good stories in it. But a large number of them were simply book excerpts, and none of them seemed to be ‘new’. As something to read aloud to a class it may be good, but otherwise I’d recommend reading the actual full-length books by these authors rather than this compilation. In the end, the only thing I really took away was an intense urge to reread all of the Ramona books.