Arts and Entertainment

Island author shares a new Halloween tale

Tom Brenner reads from “And Then Came Halloween” at Books by the Way. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Tom Brenner reads from “And Then Came Halloween” at Books by the Way.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Debut children’s book author Tom Brenner doesn’t think Halloween should be scary.

“It’s just a night out when kids rule the streets,” he said with a smile.

Brenner, an Islander and retired sixth-grade teacher, had his first book published in July — “And Then Comes Halloween.”

It’s a whimsical picture book with lively turns of phrase that give as much imagery to the book as its cut-paper illustrations by Caldecott-winning illustrator Holly Meade.

The story chronicles the homespun preparations of a few neighborhood children as they ready their costumes and homes for the big night of candy gathering.

“We always made our costumes. It was always our family tradition to do that: Go trick-or-treating, get all the candy, come home and dump it all on the floor,” Brenner said. “I love the whole idea of being someone different. In that one night, (kids) can be whoever they want to be and run around and collect candy.”

Brenner, 74, will read his seasonal tale at Books by the Way on Saturday, and the reading will be accompanied by Halloween-y treats and activities.

The book is particularly well suited for Vashon, a community that has wholeheartedly embraced the October holiday and gives over its town core to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.

The book has been a hot seller at Books by the Way and across the country, said co-owner Jenni Wilke.

Parents, grandparents and teachers top the list of those who’ve snatched up “And Then Comes Halloween” at the book store, she said.

“What has impressed me is that educators — teachers or former teachers — are saying this is the best Halloween book they’ve ever seen,” Wilke said. “I know it’s a kids’ book, but it’s a really big deal.”

A longtime teacher in the Bay Area, Brenner moved to Vashon in 2002 after his retirement, with the idea that he’d become a children’s book author.

“I’d spent so much time reading them,” he noted.

But Brenner’s first novel faced repeated rejection by editors. Undeterred, he decided to take a course offered at the University of Washington — “Writing for Children.”

“I thought, ‘I’ll go back to school and learn what I’m not doing right,’” Brenner said.

Brenner wrote “And Then Comes Halloween” as an assignment for the course.

He’d never intended to write a picture book, he said — he had hoped to publish a children’s chapter book and has several unpublished manuscripts to his name.

But instead, he found success in the highly competitive world of picture books.

“When I wrote this one, I had no thought of being published, because my focus was on writing novels, but it just happened,” Brenner said.

The picture book, published by Candlewick, is rich with lush language and onomatopoeic words that are fun to say and hear.

Asked to pick out a favorite phrase or two, Brenner turned to one of the first pages in the book and read, “The bones of trees begin to show.”

He said his playful book is aimed at 4- to 7-year-olds and those who love them — “people who have kids that age who can remember their own Halloweens.”

“Hopefully, their Hall-oweens were like mine, and they can remember them and make a connection,” Brenner said. “Our Halloweens didn’t have anything to do with being scared.”

Island author Tom Brenner will read “And Then Comes Halloween” at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at Books by the Way.

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