Rachel Bomberger is Internet marketing manager at Eerdmans. She loves reading, writing, and cuddling two-year-olds in “Tiny Ninja” costumes.
I have what you might call a hate-love relationship with Halloween.
I hate that it is so closely associated with paganism and the occult.
I love that it is so closely associated with All Saints Day and All Souls Day — two beautiful and moving church holy days.
I hate its increasingly heavy emphasis on candy and commercialism (for young children) and on raucous parties and revealing costumes (for adults).
But I love the way Halloween encourages families to get outside together and make friendly calls on all their neighbors.
This last love, for me, trumps all the rest, so, in spite of my faint misgivings, we celebrate Halloween annually at the Bomberger household.
The kids dress up as cowboys, monsters, or fairy-princess-knights (nothing too gory or complicated). We usually buy their costumes at Goodwill or cobble them together from items already in the dress-up box. This year, all three are going as ninjas.
Then, we go out and visit the neighbors.
There are a handful of young families on our block, but many of the folks who live there are older. They’ve watched their own children grow up and leave home, and they miss seeing little ones out and about in the neighborhood.
Watching their faces light up as all the sweet little children trot up to their doors, smile, hold out bags and buckets, and work their way through the familiar litany, from “Trick or Treat!” all the way to “Thank you! Happy Halloween!” — this is, hands down, my favorite part of the entire holiday.
What is not my favorite part of Halloween, however, is the annual seasonal display at our local library. I love seasonally appropriate books as much as the next person, but I’m not the sort of person to let my kindergartener go home with an armload of picture books celebrating sorcerers, ghouls, werewolves, zombies, and vampires (though he certainly might if I’d let him).
That’s why I was so thrilled to find a book like Meena. It’s not a Halloween book. It was never intended to be a Halloween book. But, somehow, it works perfectly as a Halloween book.
Here’s a piece of promotional copy I wrote for our new website (coming soon!) that explains in part why I think this book makes such a splendid Halloween read-aloud:
Halloween trick-or-treating can present a wonderful opportunity for children to get out and meet their neighbors. But what happens when those neighbors are a little . . . scary? In Sine van Mol’s Meena, the children of Fly Street are convinced that their elderly neighbor Meena is a toad-eating witch. But is she really? This humorous and hopeful book about overcoming misunderstandings will remind children that things are not always what they seem — and that sometimes the best of friends can be found in the most unlikely places.
That pretty much says it, I think.
Many of the neighbors our family calls on during our Halloween trick-or-treat extravaganza are a lot like Meena. They’re old. They’re stoop-shouldered. They’re pale. They don’t move quickly. They may have bushy eyebrows, sunken eyes, wiry hair, deep wrinkles, or even (like Meena) warts. Some of them do indeed bear a mild resemblance to the witches and monsters that fill the pages of many typical Halloween picture books.
But — also like Meena — there’s nothing wicked-witch-y at all about our neighbors. They’re good. They’re kind. They’re loving. They’re gracious. They shower our children with candy, smiles, and delight.
This is why I’m so glad to have met Meena. Despite the stream of abuse and bad behavior coming from her suspicious neighbor kids, she treats them with gentleness, patience, and great slabs of homemade cherry pie.
Meena helps me prove to my children that not everyone who looks scary is scary — and that external appearances are not always (or even often) a good gauge of internal loveliness.
The last time I finished reading this book aloud to my children, I asked them whether or not they thought it was scary. They flipped back to an interior page with an illustration of a character having a bad dream.
“This page is a little scary, but . . . no, not really.”
“Do you know what I find scariest about the book?” I asked them when it was my turn.
“The part that gives me the shivers is when the children treat Meena so cruelly. It frightens me to think that you or your friends might ever treat our neighbors the way those kids treat Meena at the beginning of the story.”
“Oh, Mama. You don’t have to be afraid. We would never be like that.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. That makes me feel much better. I won’t have any nightmares now.”
Have a safe and happy Halloween, everyone. I’m pretty sure I will.