The Halloween season is my favorite time of year to homeschool, especially once the kids reach middle and high school ages. Pumpkins and mums are everywhere, night descends earlier and earlier, and tales of witches and monsters abound. During the Halloween season we read spooky stories and dark tales into mid November (until the Pilgrims attack). Below are a few of our favorite classics along with some beyond the book suggestions. Some of the links below are affiliate links. No need to be spooked, you can read my disclosure policy here.
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND (middle school)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is my favorite middle school Halloween season read. It’s the perfect addition to a colonies unit study or American History curriculum for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5 to 8). Puritans, politics, and the witch trials of colonial Connecticut are the bones of this story, which are fleshed out by the fictional main character, Kit Tyler. This novel is the perfect blend of well done historical fiction with the “be true to yourself” moral that appeals to this age group.
Beyond the book: Lit Mama Homeschool dedicated a whole blog post to activities for the Witch of Blackbird Pond. It is an amazing collection of hands on activities and writing ideas.
EDGAR ALLAN POE (middle school and high school))
Personally, I believe the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe belongs on every bookshelf. I reread at least one story every year. Some of the Cohorts share my affection for his stories and poems, though not my commitment (they would say obsession). The Underling is not a fan of Poe. One Halloween, I read the Tell-Tale Heart out loud to him and a cohort when they were around the age of 11 (yes, I’m that kind of mom). I read it while thumping the table to the beat of a regular heart beat. As the story escalated, my thumping escalated, ending in the final loud bang (no spoilers, but if you’ve read the story, you know the part). The Underling has never listened to or read anything by Poe since. I’m afraid I may have spooked him off of Poe for life. I’m hoping to lure him back this year with a new graphic novel, Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. I mean, can you really get through life without knowing the story The Cask of Amontillado?
Beyond the book: It’ll be the Death of Me is a fun interactive choose your own adventure online activity. This is a great way to explore Poe. Be sure to poke around the rest of the Knowing Poe website for more lesson plan and activity ideas.
FRANKENSTEIN (high school)
My favorite dark and spooky tale is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. Now let’s talk for a minute about this book. There are two versions on the market: the 1818 version and the 1831 version. The 1831 version is the easiest one to find on the market, the most popular, and more conservative than her first version. It is the version most read by high schoolers. The preface is longer and the origin of the story altered to be less shocking. The story itself is edited as well from the original with an eye for appeal to the average reader in the 1830s (so again, less shocking). Please be aware of what version you are buying. Besides the novel itself, there are some delicious versions of the story on the market. One of our favorites is the graphic novel, Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel (American English, Original Text)adapted by Jason Cobley. This is written for grades 7 (ages 13+) and up and I think this is a solid age recommendation. Cobley has another version on the market that is rewritten in modern and simpler English, but I recommend the one told with original text.
Beyond the book: Crash Course is a phenomenal free homeschool resource. Crash Course Literature has two episodes on Frankenstein. Part 1 is titled “Don’t Reanimate Corpses!” while part 2 has the more unspooky title of “Frankenstein Part 2.”
THE CRUCIBLE (high school)
The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller is one of my favorite books that really isn’t a book, but in fact a play. I’ve actually never seen it performed on stage, but hope to one day. I use this book in high school American history and literature classes. Actually an allegory for McCarthyism, this play is also a partially fictitious retelling of the historical Salem Witch Trials. Some of the characters in the play were in fact actual people involved in the witch trials, but let me assure you, the historical record is much more disturbing than the play.
Beyond the book: PBS LearningMedia is a free resource, but to get the most out of it, you will want to register. One of my favorite resources for teaching The Crucible is their Primary Source Set. This collection is full of primary documents for both the Salem Witch Trails and McCarthyism, so you can easily contrast and compare these two periods in American history. For a lesson plan built around the Crucible and this primary source set, check out the Teaching Guide: Exploring the Crucible.
DRACULA (high school)
Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is the original vampire classic. There are several Dracula graphic novels, but I haven’t found one I would recommend above the others. This isn’t required reading at our house like Frankenstein, but I reread it every couple of years. I’m willing to admit the history of Vlad III and the time period Stoker wrote in fascinate me more than the novel itself. The Underling isn’t too interested in Dracula, but it is one of the Cohorts top 10 favorite books of all time.
Beyond the book: The story of Mercy Lena Brown is astounding to me. I had no idea there was a vampirism scare in New England in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Mercy’s story ran in a few papers at the time; one such article ended up among Bram Stoker’s papers. Read the Smithsonian article by The Great New England Vampire Panic,” to learn more. “The Real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler,” by (Live Science) is a well researched brief history of Vlad III.“