Best Picks for Halloween: The Widow’s Broom & The Stranger

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This is a throwback to the 1990’s—I remember pouring over all of Chris Van Allsburg’s books, reading them one more time just to make sure I had the story right, totally wrapped up in the mystery of it all. There is something nicely strange about ambiguous endings, which Mr. Van Allsburg has in abundance. Most stories end up happily ever after, or even miserably ever after, but the author at least TELLS you outright how things end up. It was altogether new to encounter a story whose ending was up to my own interpretation & insight. I used to ask my dad to just tell me what it meant and he was wise enough to resist.

The Stranger, first published in 1986, is as full of compassion and warmth as it is with mystery. Farmer Bailey and his family take in a man who has lost his memory. As the season should be shifting from summer to autumn, the stranger stays with them, and the leaves aren’t changing. The clues are there on every page—what name would you give to the stranger?

Another Van Allsburg classic, The Widow’s Broom, published in 1992, has plenty of Halloween elements: witches, pumpkins, ghosts at night, and tough kids trolling the neighborhood. The black-and-white illustrations are rich with detail, and even the plain broom stick shows emotion. This story, like The Stranger, has undertones of compassion (the widow and the abandoned broom form an unlikely friendship) as well as a clever twist to save the day.

In this spooky season, curl up with some stories that will leave you with a healthy dose of mystery.

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