Every year, I debate whether or not to dress up for Halloween in the library. Every school is different of course, but at the one where I currently work, most students celebrate Halloween, and dressing up is part of school culture.
At a pre-K–8 school, there’s a wide difference between what each grade level does for Halloween. Up through first grade, students and teachers go all out in preparation for a Halloween carnival. Most intermediate students wear costumes, and, to a lesser degree, so do their teachers. Although not every upper-grade student dresses up, interested parties can participate in a “Green Halloween” contest and make Halloween costumes out of recycled materials, then appear in a fashion show in front of all their classmates.
Every year, I get a good sense of the Chicago middle-school zeitgeist. Two years ago, every other homemade costume was Minecraft-related. Last year was extremely emoji-heavy. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.
As for me, I really enjoy coming up with book-related costumes. Every time I attempt one, I spend far too much time thinking about and ultimately rejecting most of my ideas. Most years, I run out of time to do something creative and just end up wearing purple and black-striped witch stockings. This year, I started early.
I began by asking myself what I look for in a great book costume, then decided I have three requirements. One: It has to be easy to make from things I have at home, or that I can get easily. Two: It has to be something from a book I really like. Maybe not my favorite book, but I’m not going to bother with something from a book I don’t care about. Three: I’m looking for something a bit original. Though I’ve certainly dressed up as Thing 2—my co-librarian as Thing 1—I’m always looking for something even slightly more obscure than that.
This year, I decided to turn to a well-qualified and creative source: my sixth graders. We’re between projects, and they were already primed to think creatively from preparing for their first Green Halloween. so we spent last week’s classes coming up with ideas for book character costumes that met my first two requirements. (All book character costume ideas seem fresh to children who haven’t spent the last 12 years googling other librarians’ book costumes, so I let them off the hook on that front.) Some of their answers were fairly standard, of course, but even the standards had plenty of flair in the capable hands of fashion-savvy sixth graders.
Three character ideas came up over and over again: Elephant and Piggie, the mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and the tree in The Giving Tree. Over the years, I’ve seen more than one student dress as Laura Numeroff’s mouse, but it certainly helps when several of my girls have been wearing overalls anyway recently. I’m thrilled that Elephant and Piggie are in the mix. To these kids, Mo Willems is a classic author. And I love the fact that my students consider The Giving Tree-tree as important a character as the boy. One very well-spoken girl came up with a lovely idea for a Lorax-themed costume: orange clothes with yellow yarn for a mustache and eyebrows. (I didn’t find out how she planned to attach them.)
Many students suggested their favorite dystopian YA characters. Katniss Everdeen (boots, all black, a toy bow and arrow) once again figured prominently in their answers, as did Thomas from The Maze Runner (football chest plate, jeans, fingerless gloves). I have to admit that I’ve never read The Maze Runner and thus don’t know if fingerless gloves are crucial, but I thought they were a nice touch.
A couple of kids went with ideas I’ve seen many, many times, like Waldo and the Cat in the Hat. I just loved one girl’s interpretation of Waldo-wear: jean shorts (otherwise known as “jorts”), her striped shirt, suspenders, “white, red, or even black Converse,” and red nails “to add a little decoration.” As in so many things, it’s all about the details.
Turns out Converse should really be a part of anybody’s costume closet. One girl thought it would be simple enough to turn herself into the titular character of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X with her red Converse, a pink dress, and a homemade cape.
As for my costume this year, I found the perfect thing at Target. This fall, they’ve been selling one-piece pajamas (otherwise known as “union suits”) made to look like animals and characters. Comfortable? Warm? Can be worn over actual clothes? Check, check, and check. I just needed to pick one that could somehow work with a book I love.
When I saw their purple dragon pajamas, I knew I’d found a winner. I’ve liked dragon stories since I was young. I still talk kids into reading Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. I live vicariously through them when they proclaim that love and talk other kids into reading it. This year, I was truly taken aback (in a good way!) by E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. I didn’t find the cover particularly enticing, but once I started it, I was hooked. What a story! But since I was looking for an idea that would span the grade levels I decided a picture book costume was the way to go.
Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess fit the bill. Onto my dragon pajamas, I’m affixing a little princess I made out of a paper bag. With any luck, I’ll spot a Waldo or an Elephant Gerald among the superheroes.