Halloween ABC


Written by Eve Merriam, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Macmillan Publishing, 1987

Apple, sweet apple,

What do you hide?

Wormy and squirmy,

Rotten inside.

What makes this book so dangerous? It is violent and features satanic references.

This book is a collection of Halloween poems, each based around a word associated with Halloween, starting with ‘apple’ and going alphabetically through ‘zero.’ While some of the topics (such as ‘ghost’ or ‘owl’) are fairly obvious as Halloween words, there are others (like ‘umbrella or ‘yeast’) that you’ll need to read in order to discover what makes them scary. Some of the poems are longer than others, but they are all relatively quick reads and each is accompanied by a picture.

That's a creepy smile you've got there, Mr. Jack-o-Lantern.

That’s a creepy smile you’ve got there, Mr. Jack-o-Lantern.

Poet Eve Merriam was no stranger to controversy, with her 1969 book, The Inner City Mother Goose, drawing harsh criticism and threats of banning for its gritty realism and progressive themes. A staunch feminist, she published a children’s book about working mothers and wrote the first television documentary about women’s rights. There’s no question that the poems in this book are dark and spooky and it’s not, as the title may imply, a book intended to teach the alphabet to very young kids. It’s aimed at kids a little older, who enjoy all the shivery scary things that come along with Halloween. I thought it was great, with a fun blend of humor and horror that makes a perfect Halloween book.

I was very surprised to see that this was illustrator Lane Smith’s first picture book. As longtime readers know, he’s a big favorite of mine, so it’s really cool to know this was his first book. His paintings here are done in oil on board and they showcase the imagery and use of color, light and shading that make his artwork so iconic. This book has been challenged in several states, mostly citing the ‘demon’ poem for its glorification of Satan and the ‘icicle’ poem for suggesting that you could murder someone with an icicle. The book was republished in 2002 as Spooky ABC, but with no other changes.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that anything can be creepy with the right spin put on it.


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