'Bunnicula' Author James Howe's Best Children's Book Halloween Costumes
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the sweets. As a writer, I "dress up" as characters every day, inhabiting them from the inside. Halloween is an opportunity for everyone--writers and readers, kids and adults--to get creative and inhabit the character they'd like to be, if only for one night.
Most Halloween costumes are store-bought and based on movie, TV or videogame characters--and those get old and familiar fast. Even when the costumes are homemade, they're often the same characters we see year in and year out. I want to suggest replacing those familiar costumes with costumes that are fresh and new. "And who are you meant to be?" will be asked much more often when the answer isn't obvious: another lightning-scarred Harry Potter, wart-faced witch or green-stockinged Peter Pan.
Old: Harry Potter
New: Hugo Cabret
OK, Harry Potter isn't all that old, but he sure is familiar. My vote for the "new" Harry goes to another orphan boy living a life of adventure in a world of secrets and mystery: Hugo Cabret. Like Harry, Hugo is the hero of both a book and its movie version, so one can draw on either or both as a source of costume ideas.
What you'll need: Woolen jacket (or jacket-style shirt), turtleneck or striped sweater, short pants, tousled hair and an old key on a leather strap worn round the neck.
Old: Pippi Longstocking
New: Freckleface Strawberry
Pippi is a totally fun character, especially with those wild pigtails poking out in either direction. But isn't it time to give those pigtails a rest? How about letting them relax into the free-flowing ponytails of that contemporary saucy redhead, Freckleface Strawberry?
What you’ll need: Red hair (or wig) with ponytails, lots of freckles, capri pants and a short-sleeved top. Oh, and a big, big smile.
Self-serving? Moi? Well, maybe just a little--but come on, wouldn't you rather see a vampire with bunny ears on the other side of that trick-or-treat door than the same old Bela Lugosi impersonator? And yes, I know that Dracula is not a children's book character, but he may as well be, and goodness knows his costume is as deathless as he is. So take a long nap, Dracula, and hop on up, Bunnicula!
What you'll need: A black cape, bunny ears and fangs. For extra credit: a white carrot with fang marks. (A parsnip and red marker will do the job nicely.)
Old: The Cat in the Hat
New: Pete the Cat
I love Dr. Seuss as much as the next guy, but that's the point: Everybody knows the cat in the hat, and people are just getting to know Pete the Cat. To know Pete is to love him. Not only would it be fun to be Pete for Halloween, but, when people ask who you're supposed to be, you'd get to sing his cool songs.
What you'll need: Blue pants or leggings, a yellow shirt with big different-colored buttons, high-topped sneakers (mismatched colors would be fun here, too) and cat ears and whiskers.
Old: Max from "Where the Wild Things Are"
New: Arnold of the Ducks
Of all the characters I’m suggesting, Arnold may be the least well-known--which is one reason I'd like to see the old, familiar Max replaced by the less familiar Arnold, who also just happens to be one of my favorite children's book characters. Arnold doesn't just go on a one-night romp with wild things; he spends his entire early childhood in the wild being raised by ducks. He learns to swim and quack and fly! Who wouldn't want to be Arnold? His costume may be a bit more challenging (sewing skills are advised), but it would be one-of-a-kind and totally fun to wear.
What you'll need: A brown long-sleeved T-shirt tucked into brown shorts, brown felt "wings" with feathers (can be made from felt or other soft material) to be attached between sleeves and body of T-shirt and some kind of cap to suggest a feathered head.
Old: Peter Pan
New: Fly Guy
While on the subject of characters who fly, let's bring Peter Pan in for a landing and launch the Fly Guy. What a fun character! Not only do you get to have wings, you can buzz and be pesky.
What you'll need: Brown shirt tucked into brown shorts, black leggings, mesh strainers for the eyes and wings.
Old: Wicked Witch of the West
New: Miss Viola Swamp
My daughter was the Wicked Witch two Halloweens in a row, and as much as I loved helping her create the costume--green face and all--by the third year I was ready for a change. May I suggest Miss Viola Swamp? The character herself is a costume! Miss Nelson was the real Viola Swamp, and imagine what fun she had inhabiting her. Hmm, maybe I'll be Miss Viola Swamp this year!
What you'll need: A black dress, green and yellow striped tights (you can use colored vinyl tape to create the stripes), a black wig with black earmuffs attached, big gobs of red rouge on each cheek, and warty-looking dots on the nose. And don't forget to turn that Freckleface Strawberry smile upside down into a mean frown!
Old: Winnie the Pooh and Piglet
New: Toot and Puddle
The sweet, endearing friendship of Toot and Puddle and their life in Woodcock Pocket have claimed a place in my heart very near the one long inhabited by Pooh and Piglet and their friends of the Hundred Acre Woods. These are perfect characters--and costumes--for a pair of siblings or friends. You can draw on the books and/or the Nick Jr. TV series for costume ideas.
What you'll need: Pig noses for both. For Toot: A yellow turtleneck sweater and cargo shorts. For Puddle: A striped turtleneck sweater and blue jean overalls.
James Howe is the award-winning author of over ninety books for young readers, including the popular "Bunnicula" and "Pinky and Rex" series. His novel "The Misfits" was the inspiration for national No Name-Calling Week. Its three companion novels are "Totally Joe," "Addie on the Inside" and "Also Known as Elvis" (to be published in June 2014). His most recent picture book is "Otter and Odder," illustrated by Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka. James Howe lives in Yonkers, New York with his husband, Mark, their two cats and a hound dog named Lily. They are visited by many trick-or-treaters every Halloween.