Halloween stories for kids -- We grade some of the scariest goblin and ghost tales, like ''The Soup Bone,'' and ''Haunted House''

Halloween stories for kids

Outside after dark, whirling down the street, boldly banging at grown-up doors and demanding candy — for kids, Halloween is the wildest holiday. It’s also the strangest, a grab bag of prehistoric rites, medieval religious lore, and & harvest symbols. Toddlers often scream with fright when they see their brothers and sisters in Halloween masks, and even brave trick-or-treaters may be found checking under their beds for monsters when goblin season rolls around.

Books that celebrate the fun and help kids play with and master their unspoken fears are a great way to make the most of the countdown to Oct. 31. Here are some of the best:

A Dark Dark Tale
(Written and illustrated by Ruth Brown; Ages 5 to 9)
A black cat slips through the door of an old, dark house and explores its winding corridors and spookily empty rooms. The poetically terse, hauntingly understated text is exquisitely calculated to raise shivers of suspense. Everything is left to the imagination. The tension mounts and then dissolves in laughter when the last picture reveals a delectably funny surprise. This lovely story, published in 1981, rates as a Halloween classic because it tickles up a scare without ghoulishness, and provides a perfect, child-size catharsis. A+

The Soup Bone
(Tony Johnston; illustrated by Margot Tomes; Ages 4 to 8)
The Soup Bone is for braver souls. A little old lady needs a soup bone for her broth, and digs up an all-too-lively skeleton. ”Boogity-boo!” he clacks as he chases her up a tree. The jaunty tone and inventively humorous vocabulary take the chill off this potentially frightening tale. By the time the little old lady slips into her Halloween dog costume and frightens the skeleton, we know everything’s going to be all right. Margot Tomes’ witty, folk-style illustrations are delightful. A

Halloween Monster
(Written and illustrated by Catherine Stock; Ages 2 to 6)
Halloween Monster is a reassuring story with warmly sympathetic watercolor illustrations, just right for the very youngest trick-or-treaters, who might feel a little iffy about the night of disguises and goblins. The story is told by Tommy, an African-American boy who rakes leaves with his friend Billy, roasts pumpkin seeds with his Mom — and decides not to go trick-or-treatiig after all. Too scary. At the last minute, his homemade costume and his Mom’s encouragement change his mind. B+

Haunted House
(Jan Piénkowski; Ages 3 to 7)
Haunted House is the granddaddy of Halloween pop-up books and still the best pop-up of all. Doors creak open, cats’ eyes swivel, spiders dangle — it’s all garish, uproarious spoofery and it doesn’t miss a single horror-story cliché. Demons rise from the toilet, skeletons pop out of the closet, and, most marvelously, a ghost appears and vanishes over the canopy bed. The engineering is as clever and durable as the paper sculpture. Even after dozens of rereadings, the bat’s wings flap in a nasty, leathery way and the saw cutting its way out of the crate marked ‘Transylvania Express’ rasps convincingly. A

The Dark Way: Stories From the Spirit World
(Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Lambert Davis; Ages 8 and up)
The Dark Way is a big, handsome volume of 25 ”spirit” stories drawn from many cultures, ranging from Welsh gypsy to Haitian to Kikuyu, all tingling with the mystery of the unknown. Some are rollicking, some are roughly strange, but Hamilton manages with chameleon virtuosity to tell each in its distinctive cultural style. A nice touch: Each story is followed by a brief interpretive note. Unfortunately, Davis’ full-page color illustrations don’t live up to the richness of the text. They’re static and often merely horrible rather than genuinely eerie. B+