Costume Party: Different generations enjoy storybook-inspired Halloween

When my sister and I were kids, my mother always made our Halloween costumes. With some fabric and thread, she would transform us into matching mermaids with tinsel wigs and scaled tails; or a princess riding a batting-stuffed, polka-dotted horse; or a baby caterpillar with six dangling, pillow-stuffed legs; or even an alien with an outfit made out of industrial metallic bubble wrap. Her creations were always one-of-a-kind. 

But to me, the most memorable costumes she made were the ones that referenced our favorite storybooks. One Halloween, our neighborhood bookstore had a storybook character costume contest. Of course she wanted to enter us.  

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was my favorite book at the time, and I wanted to be the beautiful butterfly at the end of the book. So my mother painted a Monarch butterfly pattern on the outside of two large pieces of cushion foam and I painted the inside. I wore my favorite red canvas Keds covered in white polka dots, and a headband with dangling antenna. My sister was dressed as Mary Poppins in an old coat and flower-embellished rounded hat carrying an embroidered handbag stuffed with a duck-handled umbrella. We actually won the contest, as a pair. 

Now that I’m a mother to a 3-year-old toddler and 11-month-old boy/girl twins, I enjoy creating their costumes every Halloween. I’ve made my eldest daughter a magician’s bunny outfit and sat her in a top hat when she was a baby, transformed a onesie into a Dia de los Muertos baby outfit and created the Giant Squid from the book I’m The Biggest Thing in the Ocean! by Kevin Sherry.  

Storybook characters are great inspiration for Halloween costumes. So far my eldest daughter has a couple of characters to choose from this year, and for the twins, it’s just a matter of deciding on what duo theme to choose. Here are some of my favorite ideas for children’s costumes based on popular storybooks.  


Madeline From Madeline By Ludwig Bemelmans 

What You’ll Need: Rounded straw hat; thick black ribbon; thick red ribbon; short blue dress with short sleeves; white, rounded collar button-down shirt; white socks or tights; black closed-toe shoes. Optional: red yarn, white gloves. 

How-To: Tie a bow around the brim of the straw hat with the thick, black ribbon, leaving the ribbon tails long so that they hang off the edge of the hat. For the uniform, dress your child in the white, button-down shirt with the blue dress on top of it. If you have trouble finding a short-sleeved blue dress, try Cappel’s, Goodwill or a local secondhand store. Take the thick, red ribbon and tie it in a large bow underneath the shirt’s rounded collar, in the middle of the neckline. Finish with the white socks and black shoes. If you want your daughter to have a red bob like Madeline, hand-sew multiple strands of yarn to the inside of the straw hat to create a “wig.” You could also add white gloves for a more formal Madeline (or for warmth if it’s cold this season.) 

Peddler From Caps For Sale By Esphyr Slobodkina 

What You’ll Need: Three to five caps; newspaper; needle and thread; elastic; a fake mustache or black face paint; a white, button-down shirt; a black suit jacket; black and white plaid or black pants; a black bow tie; dress shoes. Optional: a small monkey stuffed animal. 

How-To: Make the peddler’s stack of caps by stuffing each cap with a little bit of newspaper to make it sturdy and then hand-sew each of the caps directly on top of one another. Hand-sew a piece of elastic to the inside edges of the bottom cap, like a chinstrap, to make the stack stay steady on your child’s head when they wear it. Place/paint the fake mustache on your child’s face and then dress him in the button-down shirt, pants, black suit jacket, black bow tie and finish off with the dress shoes and stack of hats. To add a little more character, sew a small monkey stuffed animal to your child’s shoulder, or just have your child hold it. 

Bunny From Pat The Bunny By Dorothy Kunhardt 

What You’ll Need: White sleeper; elastic headband; white infant gloves; cardboard; needle and thread; large cotton ball; white furry fabric; fabric markers or fabric paint. Optional: fabric glue.  

How-To: Dress the baby in the white sleeper to represent Pat’s fur. Embellish the sleeper by fabric-gluing a large cotton ball to the bottom as a tail, and glue or hand-sew an oval piece of furry fabric to the belly. For the ears, cut pieces cardboard into the shape of small bunny ears and stuff them into the infant gloves so they stand up. Draw pointed pink ovals on the inside of the ears with a marker/fabric paint. Attach the ears to a thick, elastic headband by hand-sewing the bottom of the gloves to the top of the headband. Put the headband on the baby and you’re done. 



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