For me, that person is my Aunt Julie. She was one of those famed “cool aunts” who lived in a beautiful and exotic place (San Francisco), had a really cool job (Pastry Chef), and would sweep in at holidays or send me massive boxes on my birthday that were always packed with stuff that I felt sure simply did not exist in boring old Connecticut.My aunt worked at the now-closed bookstore and cafe A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. They had gorgeous displays of children’s books that she simply couldn’t resist, and I would find myself on the receiving end of some of the most beautifully illustrated hard-cover volumes I have come across, even now.
Recently I decided that I was going to make a display of some of my favorites, and while I wasn’t able to find a few on shelves in stores, they’re winging their way towards me as we speak from the Used section on Amazon. Scary Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting remains my unequivocal favorite, both for the lilting rhyme and the atmospheric illustrations, while The Witch’s Handbook is fantastic for both the level of detail and humor.There were also books that weren’t specifically Halloween, and instead were more Autumnal in theme. Autumn Story by Jill Barklem was the kind of book that made you want to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of cider in front of a roaring fire. The illustrations are so evocative of that brief moment in very late autumn when the earth hovers precipitously on the edge between harvest-time abundance, and the first bites of frost that will nip the branches bare. Inside the homes of these little mice are pantries that put mine to shame, brimming with home-canned jars of blackberry preserves and pots of honey. Even their bedrooms look more inviting, squashy mattresses spread with patchwork quilts and a fire crackling merrily in the corner.
These spooky, brilliantly-colored, imaginative, and comforting books are what Autumn has always meant to me. Nothing to me is more beautiful than the feeling of a shiver creeping up your back while you’re wrapped in a blanket, safe and sound, with the rich scent of cinnamon and woodsmoke on the air. It’s a time to simultaneously celebrate the life-giving fruit of the earth while honoring those we’ve lost and contemplating the mysteries of what lies Beyond.
So thanks, Aunt Julie, for all those wonderful books. And rest in peace, A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books. You may not have known it, but you were one of my best friends.