10/16/2013 02:28 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Picture Books to Put the Fright Back in Halloween

Maybe you live in a neighborhood full of Halloween pop-up stores, for one or two months of the year occupying that seemingly hopeless and possibly contaminated real estate that used to be a bank, now full of cellophane chicken costumes and last year's super-villains, swords, staffs, brooms, sexy gags and desultory salespeople. Last-chance saloons are what these sort of resemble, especially here in this age of commercial hyper-availability, and yet it's amazing how often such last chances tend to sneak up.

Halloween book displays are a little like that too: waxy and soulless, the candy corn baggies at the bottom of your trick-or-treat haul. Bring us your melancholy pumpkins, your underachieving witches, your orange and black algorithms calculated not to strike fear.

Then it's off to the pulper (then turkeys, then elves), yet I can't help thinking we miss a precious opportunity every autumn to reconnect with the sort genuinely mysterious and often unsettling legends we have told since back when we were sleeping in caves. The books listed here will probably not appear in any seasonal displays at your local mega-mart, but they have not entirely disappeared either -- after two, after 10, after 17 years -- still shadows dancing across the darkest pagan night.

Halloween picture books