This week we’re reading three fantastic picture books with characters who act bravely in the face of fear.


The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Francois Thisdale

The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Francois Thisdale (Fifth House Publishers; ages 6-9) centers on First Nation Anishinaabe cousins who bravely pursue their aspiration of being good Trackers despite fears of the Windigo.

The author, who is First Nation Anishinaabe of the Ojibway Bear Clan from northern Ontario, describes the Windigo as follows:

“There are many stories of the Windigo from Native tribes. The Windigo is feared and respected by Anishinaabe peoples. It is said that the Windigo can transform itself into human or animal shape and can walk on the wind in the icy northern wilderness. Its giant spirit will hunt for Native people who are lost in the frozen winter bush! Strange unexplained sights and sounds come from the dark forest at night. It is the Windigo.

Many stories are told to keep children away from dangers of winter blizzards and to stop them from wandering away. Protection from Windigo is the strength and love of family. This love is powerful enough to scare thew Windigo away and keep you safe.”

After Uncle shares the story of the Windigo, Tom and Will find it difficult to sleep and when they hear strange noises in the night they know it is the Windigo. Strange scratches outside their window the next morning drive them to set of in pursuit, just as good Trackers would do. As they find Jack pine branches stripped of their needles, the boys are terrified but push forward. An eerie sound leaves them convinced of the Windigo’s approach but to their surprise (and great relief!) the source of these sounds is actually a young moose trapped in the deep snow. The cousins bravely rescue the moose, and return home to their Uncle with a Windigo story of their own to share.

Gorgeous illustrations and suspenseful writing fully engross the reader and have my kids sitting on the edge of their seats every time. This emotional engagement makes it a perfect read for discussing the concept of bravery, while the story’s details provide wonderful cultural education. And as a fun bonus, the endpapers show different animal tracks that you can spot throughout the book—just like good Trackers!


Uncle sits on a frozen birch log. Tom and Will sit on the snow quilt. The wind whines and wails above their heads, shaking the cedars. A pair of ravens perch on the clothesline, waiting for the story to begin. “The W-i-n-d-i-g-o, the Wandering Night Spirit of Winter, is out there.” Uncle raises his arms to the darkening sky. “The Windigo is to be feared. It howls loud enough to bring fierce blizzards with snow deep enough to bury you. It clouds your eyes and numbs your nose until you cannot breathe. The Windigo will make you lose your way.” Uncle’s frosty breath hangs in the air, forming ghostly white images. His voice grows louder.


“Let’s take cover under that big Jack pine. Your legs must be tired,” says Tom. “Not mine,” says Will. “Yours must be.” “It’s warmer here,” says Tom, “but we’ve come a long way and we should get home. Whatever made those tracks is gone. I know. I’m a good Tracker.” “Right. I’m a good Tracker too,” boasts Will. Tom removes his mitts to wipes his nose, but Will’s sudden scream stops him. The branch above their heads is stripped of its needles! Eaten clean away. The boy’s eyes are large as the Freezing Spirit Moon. Wandering night spirit…it eats anything in its path! A dark shadow skitters past and is gone. “The Windigo!” screams Will. “It was only a lynx,” whispers Tom. But the reassuring words are for himself. “Let’s get out of here!” they say together.


Will and Tom dig frantically. The moose lies still and cold. Tom reaches over and with a gentle touch, rubs the velvet nose. Will does too. The moos breathes softer and does not move. Then, with quick thrusts, his legs are free. He shakes himself and stands tall. The boys look into his eyes. He nodes his large head twice and disappears in the night.


Does Frankenstein Get Hungry? by John Solimine

Does Frankenstein Get Hungry? by John Solimine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers; ages 5-8) is a fun and clever approach to tackling fears of monsters.

Lying in the dark, a young girl finds herself imagining ghoulish things creeping around her room. In an effort to find sleep, she bravely confronts her fears with a series of questions that put each monster into a humorously mundane context, such as eating lunch at school, flossing, and sharing toys with their siblings. The fear-deflating effect is completed with colorful, light-hearted illustrations.

My kids love this book because they find it hilarious. I love that it empowers kids to bravely confront fears by changing their thoughts—a fantastic life skill! Overall, it’s an excellent addition to the Halloween season.


As I sit here in the gloom, things begin to crawl and creep—so I ask myself these questions to help me fall asleep.


Do GHOSTS have pets like dogs and cats, maybe a hamster they named Fred? Do they teach them silly tricks like roll over and play dead?


Do warty WITCHES with black-striped britches have to clean their rooms? There’s no excuses for being messy when you ride around on brooms!


Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos Press; ages 2-7) is the story of how a young Choctaw girl helped a slave family escape to freedom.

This book is written by a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and provides this historical context:

“There is a river called Bok Chitto that cuts through Mississippi. In the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears, Bok Chitto was a boundary. On one side of the river lived the Choctaws, a nation of Indian people. On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free. The slave owner could not follow. That was the law.”

Martha Tom is a young Choctaw girl who disobeys her mother and crosses Bok Chitto in search of blackberries. In doing so, she comes across a group of slaves secretly worshiping in the woods and sparks a friendship with a boy named Little Mo. Martha Tom shows Little Mo the secret to the Choctaw’s crossing of Bok Chitto—a bridge of river stones placed just below the water’s surface. When Little Mo’s mother is sold, he remembers the bridge and urges his family to pursue escape. And with the help of the Choctaw women they cross and disappear into the night in what, to the onlooking white guards, looks like a mystical event of slaves walking on water with angels to their freedom. The book then closes with a note from the author on the modern Choctaw people and Choctaw storytelling.

As the author notes in the book’s closing, “Crossing Bok Chitto is an Indian book, written by Indian voices and painted by an Indian artist.” It is a powerful story and beautiful window into the Choctaw oral tradition, which preserves this important piece of history. This is a book every American child should read. Not only to remember the injustice done to Native and African Americans, but to celebrate their cultures, courage, and perseverance.


They soon arrived at the river and it was Martha Tom’s turn to lead. She took Little Mo to the path, but he couldn’t see the stones beneath the muddy water. “This will be a fun game to play,” she thought. She walked five paces back to get a good running start, then leapt to the river! Little Mo reached out to grab her dress as she flew by to keep her from drowning. When Martha Tom landed in the river, she stood up! “Little girl, what kind of witch are you!” Little Mo cried. Martha Tom laughed, “I’m not any kind of witch. You can do it, too! Come on!” She took Little Mo by the hand and together the two of them went crossing Bok Chitto to the Choctaw side.


“Nooo!” she cried. The tears seemed to squirt down her cheeks. The children looked at their parents and began to cry. They had never seen their mother and father like this. “This is our last evening together!” he said. “Stop your crying. I want every one of you to find something small and precious, something to give your mother to remember you by, something she can hide, something they can’t take away. Now, get up and help your mother pack. You will not see her again.” No one moved. Then Little Mo pulled his father’s sleeve and said, “Daddy, there is a way we can stay together. We can go crossing Bok Chitto. Martha Tom told me how.” “Son, they’ll have the dogs guarding the river tonight, to prevent a crossing.” “Daddy, we can go just like you taught me—not too fast, not too slow, eyes to the ground, away you go! We’ll be invisible. Daddy, we have to give it a try.” For the first time that day, hope filled the father’s heart. “You are right, son. We have to give it a try.”


She took Little Mo by the hand, he took his mother, she took the children, they took their father, and together all seven of them went crossing Bok Chitto. When they reached the Choctaw side of the river, they blew the candles out and disappeared into the fog, never to be seen on the slave side again. The descendants of those people still talk about that night. The Choctaws talk about the bravery of that little girl, Martha Tom. The black people talk about the faith of that little boy, Moses. But maybe the white people tell it best. They talk about the night their forefathers witnessed seven black spirits walking on the water—to their freedom!