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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Give Brain Candy at Halloween

By Rebecca Morgan

Halloween is one of the most joyous times for children in the US and some other countries. They dress up as a favorite character or fantasy and run from house to house to be given candy! What a delight!

Unfortunately, the sugary treats can have immediate and lasting negative impact for not only the children but their parents. Some kids eat so much Halloween night and succeeding days they get tummy aches and become hyperactive. They have trouble sleeping or concentrating. They may gain weight and have difficulty getting back to their normal weight. There may be fights at home between their parents trying to limit the goodie intake and the kids wanting to consume more.

Parents can find it hard to resist indulging in their kids’ loot. Some take the excess to work, where it becomes a burden on their co-workers who have trouble resisting the abundant sugary temptations.

While Halloween candy is not the cause, it can contribute to childhood diabetes and obesity, now at epidemic levels in the US.

What if we were to keep the fun parts of Halloween—dressing in fun costumes, visiting neighbors for a treat, having an evening out with your friends—but shifted the troublesome part—candy? What if we provided an equally delectable treat, but this one is for kids’ minds, not their tummies?

Why not give kids brain candy?

Books For Treats was begun in 2001 with just this premise. Give children books as Halloween treats.

Why give children books instead of candy at Halloween?

Books feed children’s minds, while candy only feeds their cavities. Books encourage children to read, and parents to read with them and/or ask them about their books. Many children rarely receive books as gifts, so even gently read books are special treats.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently released a report revealing that the average 15- to 24-year-old spends seven minutes daily on “voluntary” reading. If we kindle children’s excitement about reading before they are teenagers, they will continue the habit into adulthood.

Why would I want to go to the trouble of giving books? Candy is much easier to buy.

Do you recycle? If so, do you think it is a lot of work? No. You believe in supporting the planet by recycling materials so they don’t go into the landfill. Books For Treats takes a little more time than buying a giant bag of candy, but if you believe that you can help turn Halloween from a cavity-, obesity-, diabetes-contributing holiday into one that shows that society cares about our children, then it’s worth the extra effort.

Giving books instead of candy shows kids you care about them and are encouraging them to read. This not only helps raise their interest in reading, but raises their feeling that the community cares about their future. Literacy is key to success in today’s society. Book reading encourages curiosity, imagination and life-long learning.

“This is such an amazingly generous idea.” — Lynsey Georgiades

Why is candy a problem?

According to Nielsen Research, approximately $9.1 billion of candy was sold during the 2017 Halloween season—a new record. The average person spends nearly $16.45 on the Halloween candy—much of it being consumed before Halloween by the adults or their kids.

The average Jack-O-Lantern bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar, according to the California Milk Processors Board.

Childhood diabetes is increasing alarmingly. Couple that with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which show that today at least one in four children are 20% or more heavier than their ideal weight. It is clear that we do not need to be giving children more candy. We need a healthy alternative—one that “feeds kids’ minds, not their cavities!”

Parents complain that their kids are hyper before and after Halloween as they eat so many more sweets than usual. Parents have to limit the amount of candy their kids eat, which creates fights, crying and problems. Many parents either throw away unwanted candy or bring it to work for their coworkers to eat! Not a good solution.

Many adults find Halloween candy is a problem for them, as some eat it before Halloween, eat candy from their kids’ bags, or eat leftover candy brought to work by coworkers. Just think of the favor you’ll be doing for your waistline by not having Halloween candy to contend with!

How would I get inexpensive books? Kids’ books are expensive!

“I have done Books for Treats at our home for the last 2 years. This will be my third year. Each year I obtain a wider selection of books. I collect them year round from garage sales, thrift stores, and library book sales. Kids LOVE it.” — Christine Tyler, San Jose resident

Many libraries hold regular book sales. Call your nearest branch to see when the next sale is. A common library-sale price is $1/inch (stack up the books and measure along the spines). You can get 2 to 5 books for $1, depending on their thickness, so for the price of a candy bar you can give “brain candy” instead.

If you need to supplement your own book stash, take inventory of how many you already have in each grade category, so you’ll know how many more you’ll need for your trick-or-treaters. For guidance on how to tell the grade levels of the books you have, download our kit, as guidelines are in it.

“I culled our personal books last year and gave them out at the door with some candy. The books were a HUGE hit!” — Cathy W., Schenectady, NY

Why give gently read books instead of new books? Won’t kids think that is cheesy?

Kids appreciate books, even gently read books, as long as they are in good shape. You’ll need to screen the books to make sure the books aren’t ripped or marked up, although they may have the previous owner’s name in the front and/or a library stamp.

“I escorted five fourth grade boys trick-or-treating and they were thrilled the most about receiving a Books For Treats book. When the boys saw their friends they exclaimed ‘Look at the cool book from the lady across the street!’ When we arrived home, I quickly hid the bag of candy. My son Jeremy didn’t even ask for the candy; he begged for the book that he received from Books For Treats!” — Catherine Edwards

“They were leaving here, waving their books and running to their mothers, saying, ‘I got a book. I got a book!’ It’s not a trick. It’s a treat….We enjoy seeing the kids get excited about getting a book.” — Ann Reeves, Kennewick, Oregon

What will the kids think about getting books instead of candy?

Our experience is that kids, as well as their parents, are thrilled by receiving books for treats. They are much more enthusiastic than we have ever seen them when we gave candy. We have witnessed many children running to the sidewalk waiving a new treasure yelling, “Mom, look! I got a book!” We also see a group of kids standing on the sidewalk showing each other their books. We heard one girl greet a friend coming from the other direction “Hey, this house gives books! Cool!”

When asked what she thought of Books For Treats, seven-year-old Alana said, “I like books better than candy. A book lasts a long time and candy is gone in a bite! And I can sit on my daddy’s lap and read the book over and over with him.”

“I offered books this Halloween. Two children were so excited they left their sacks of candy at the door and took off with the books—they had to come back later and retrieve their candy (and they thanked me again for the books). Some of the older kids wanted to know if they could have more than one book.

“Next year I am going to do again. The kids were excited to get something other than candy and books were the treat. I just loved their looks of surprise when the ‘book basket’ came out and they could pick the one they wanted.” — Joan Nettesheim

“Kids were squealing with joy and delight….I think I got more joy than they did. They didn’t want the candy. They kept yelling to each other, ‘Hey, this is the house with all the books.'” — County Commissioner Lisa Weik, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

How do I get involved?

  • Like our Facebook page
  • Gather gently read children’s books to give to your trick-or-treaters.
  • Download our free kit at to help sort your books by grade level.
  • Volunteer to help (fill out the form at
  • Have your company become a sponsor
  • Make a tax-deductible donation of any amount through PayPal to We appreciate any funds, as they help us purchase books, provide PR to get the word out, and keep our website up to date.
  • Talk to your friends, co-workers and neighbors about participating in Books for Treats. Send them a link to

“Thanks for getting me involved in Books for Treats. This has turned into one of the premier events in downtown Campbell. The community has really embraced Books for Treats.” — Bob Carlson, Campbell Rotary Books For Treats Chair

“I’m so glad I did this! Your downloadable kit made it so easy! This was so fun!!! We are off the main trick or treating route in a well-to-do suburb of Birmingham, AL called Mountain Brook. Kids here can absolutely afford books and are well educated, so I was afraid they’d think it was goofy but they loved it!! A pack of 6th grade boys said it was “awesome and cool” with genuine excitement. A few little girls ran back to their parents screaming happily, “Look mama, I got a book!” I’ve been telling everyone I know about it yesterday and today! Thanks for your organization! “ — Laura McLester

How do I give gently read children’s books at Halloween?

Collect books. Then download our kit to help you sort your books by grade level. It has a full set of instructions on how to sort the books, how to make it easy to give books to your trick-or-treaters, and even signs for your door so kids—and parents—know you’re a book-giving house.

“I distributed 697 books to trick-or-treaters at my house in Southbridge, MA last night. Your kit was a huge help in terms of getting things organized and sorting the books by reading level.

“It was very easy to collect donations of books for younger kids from parent friends whose kids had outgrown them. I ended up calling Friends of Library organizations and negotiating bulk sales for about $10 per box.” — Amelia

About Rebecca Morgan:

Rebecca Morgan founded Books For Treats in 2001. Communities and residents all over No. America have joined the Books For Treats movement. For more info, go to

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