Easy Bookish Halloween Costumes for Kids

I don’t know about y’all, but every year, I try to plan for Halloween early and every year, my kids promise they have absolutely, positively made their final decision and then change their minds. When costumes are elaborate, handmade things (looking at my 7-year-old for whom I made a Ladybug dress last year and who told me in July she was going to wear it again this year with a few adjustments and then announced, last week, that she had changed her mind back to being a Light Fury), this can be not only frustrating for the adults making the costumes, but also flat out impossible; there are, after all, so many hours in the day and so many days in a week, etc.).

Of course, handmade isn’t the only way to do Halloween, nor the only way to do bookish cosplay. Many people have the idea that cosplay has to be elaborate, time consuming, and expensive when in fact it can come straight out of your closet or be made inexpensively from thrifted or sale pieces. Even if you’re buying things new, you don’t have to spend a fortune to put together a great look.

Need some ideas?

Black Canary (a la Meg Cabot and Cara McGee’s Black Canary: Ignite)

In the new Black Canary kids’ graphic novel from DC, all Dinah Lance wants is to become a police officer like her dad. He’s not real keen on the idea, considering how dangerous Gotham is and the fact Dinah has inherited her mother’s voice: one that can shatter windows and collapse bleachers. When the time comes, it turns out Dinah has also inherited her mother’s drive to be a hero. And that means she needs a costume.

You will need: a black T-shirt, a black motorcycle jacket, black bike shorts, denim cutoffs, black fishnets or tights, black shoes, black domino mask. Optional: blonde wig

This Black Canary variant is relatively easy to put together: most folx have a black T-shirt, and if you don’t have a plain one, turn a printed one inside out. Black bike shorts are easy to find on the cheap at big box stores or at large online retailers. The cutoffs are a great way to give an old, threadbare pair of jeans new life (make sure to measure length with them on the person who’s going to be wearing them. It’s much easier to take more fabric off than it is to put fabric back on). Same with the tights. Dinah wears black boots in this book, but I’d say any black footwear that’s comfortable for walking will do. The big ticket item for this cosplay is the motorcycle jacket; I’d recommend going with pleather because it’s way, way cheaper, no one gets upset if something happens to it, and it’s easier to find second hand. The mask can be cut from fabric scraps, and old dishtowel, or an old sheet, and you can either sew a piece of elastic around the back to make sure you leave enough fabric at the ends to tie it on.

The wig is 100% optional; yes, Black Canary has traditionally had blonde hair, but the beauty of cosplay is making the costume to suit the person who’s going to be wearing it. I’ve done plenty of cosplays with whatever color hair I happen to be sporting at the time and it has never once made it difficult for other people to identify which character I’m dressed as (Jet City, look out for ginger ends Poe Dameron).

Swamp Kid (a la The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid by by Kirk Scroggs)

Russell is, literally, middle school pond scum. His body is composed from algae, a tree trunk, and vegetables, so—like the swamp where he was found—frogs live on him. When mysterious new powers begin to manifest and Russell begins to have visions of the legendary Swamp Thing, he and his friends Charlotte and Preston set out to discover the past Russell can’t remember and his relationship to the mighty, if creepy and somewhat disgusting, Swamp Thing.

You will need: a green sweatshirt or long-sleeved shirt, brown sweat pants, plastic plants, a hot glue gun, hot glue gun refill sticks, green face paint, green hair wax or spray on color, a plastic frog, and a permanent marker.

Procure the base layer and go cheap; you’re going to be covering it with other stuff anyway. Set a budget for fake plants and then take your kiddo to the craft store and let them run wild amidst the leaves and flowers and vines, and plants (within the budget). Don’t let them sucker you into anything fancy and silk. If you don’t have a hot glue gun, buy one while you’re there and make sure you buy at least one extra package of refill sticks (I always use at least twice as much hot glue as I’m planning to use for a given project). Slide cardboard inside the shirt and pants to keep the garments from getting stuck together by any glue that might soak through. Hot glue the plants to the top and one leg of the pants, then use a permanent marker to sketch a bark pattern on the other leg of the pants (you can optionally make a stencil: find a picture on the web, print it out, and then cut it out so your art is laid out exactly the way you want. If you’re down and kiddo is amenable, you can paint their face and hands green with makeup (most drug stores and department stores have it) and add green hair wax or spray to complete the look (if you’re spraying, do it outside. Trust me).

Air, Earth, Fire, and Water Benders (a la Gene Leung Yang, Gurihuru, Michael Dante Di Martino, and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise)

If you haven’t see Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, not the movie) and read the comics that continue the story of Aang, Katara, Toph, Sokka, and Zuko, you and your kids are missing out. It is one of the most sophisticated animated shows I’ve ever seen—not so much in terms of technique, but in terms of story and emotion and character growth. The comics that follow continue on that same path, especially the ones penned by Gene Leung Yang and drawn by Gurihuru in which, despite having become close friends and comrades in arms, the players, especially Aang and Zuko, are forced to negotiate opposing politics and fundamental disagreements while remaining true to one another as people. Lessons, I’d point out, with which many of us still contend, even as fully formed adults.

The “costuming” on the show and in the books has always looked comfortable to me and, having worn foam armor and a helmet all day on more than one occasion, I can tell you comfort is definitely a deciding factor when I’m deciding on a con line up. And where Halloween is concerned, well, comfort means that much longer your kids can stay out and thus, that much more candy they’ll be willing to share.

You will need: a T-shirt, a short bathrobe, loose pants, a piece of fabric long enough to wrap around the waist at least twice as a belt, aluminum foil, costume makeup, spray paint, hot glue, Sculpey, and beads (color and type will vary depending on which nation the costume originates from).

While each of the nations in Avatar has its own distinctive clothing, there are some similarities you can capitalize on for Halloween purposes, provided you know the color scheme: saffron and orange for Airbender, greens and yellows for Earthbenders, reds, oranges, and gold for Firebenders, and blues and whites for Waterbenders. The internet is great for reference here and there are tons of shots of all the characters; just make sure you supervise younger kids if they’re doing the searching—there’s some reimagining of the involved parties as grown ups and some of them are…erm…thirsty. Explicitly thirsty.

Using an Earthbender as an example: I’d get a yellow T-shirt, a green bathrobe (a thinner, shorter one, not a big fluffy one—although hey, end of October), and loose green pants. Get a piece of fabric (or old sheet or whatever) in a color similar to that of the undershirt to use as a belt and to hold the robe closed. If you have more than one kiddo and they’re all doing benders (or even if your kid just likes to be fabulous), you can personalize their costumes with hair styles and accessories: Toph’s tiara can be easily modeled from foil, sprayed with gold paint, and you can stick a green jewel to the middle. Use the same technique for Zuko’s comb. You can buy beads that are similar to those in Katara’s braids or make them out of Sculpey (clay you bake in your own oven) and then paint brown to look like wood or you could add some faux fur to the collar with hot glue, or if you’re very daring, sew it on. Don’t go shaving anyone’s head just for their Airbender (I mean, you can if everyone agrees, but it definitely isn’t necessary): just draw the bottom of the arrow on their forehead with blue costume makeup (even Aang has hair at certain points during the show).

Greek or Roman Demigods (a la Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan)

If you’ve read Riordan’s books, you know that demigods have the option to attend one of two camps depending on the origin of their divine parent: Camp Half-Blood on Long Island for those of Greek descent or Camp Jupiter, in the Bay Area, for those spawned by the Roman deities. While the denizens of the facilities mingle freely, helping one another with quests and fighting together in battles, each is ultimately holds a special place in their hearts for their camp. In other words, the kid who wants the costume is going to have to decide if they want to go Greek or Roman.

You will need: everyday pants, everyday footwear, and orange or purple T-shirt or hoodie, sponge brushes, and black or gold fabric paint.

The great thing about this costume is it’s primarily composed of every day clothes (I mean, you can make armor and stuff if you want but that’s a different post). The thing that sets the campers apart from one another is whatever article of clothing (usually a T-shirt or hoodie so we’ll go with that) from either Camp Half-Blood or Camp Jupiter. Find the logo you want on the internet, print it, and cut out the spots you’re going to want to be painted on the shirt/hoodie. Most Camp-Half Blood wear is orange with black lettering and most Camp Jupiter wear is imperial purple with gold lettering, but I’ve seen both in all shades, so go with your heart.  Do the cardboard thing again before you paint. Use the foam brushes to lay the paint down—it doesn’t matter if it goes all over the stencil because only the parts that you’ve cut out are going to appear on the shirt. Make sure the shirt has time to dry and lay it flat where curious littles and pets can’t get to it (my Thor armor skirt forever embossed with cat prints begs you). If you don’t have the time or inclination to make camp gear, it’s readily available for order on the internet.

Peekpa (a la Last Shot by Daniel José Older)

Listen, kids dressed as Ewoks is perennially cute, and this one breaks every stereotype of your typical murder bear. She is an expert slicer who’s chosen to live in a busy city and to run missions for Condor Kel, whose husband, Sinjir Rath Velus, is one of Leia’s spies—and you can bet Peekpa gets in on that action.

You will need: a hoodie and tights/sweatpants of any color, old gloves, faux fur, doll stuffing/newspaper/old bubble wrap/old socks, an old tablet or one in a very secure case.

The color of the base layer really doesn’t matter on this one since it’s going to get completely covered, so use what you have, especially something that’s almost outgrown. Buy faux fur at the craft store (alternatively you can buy a pre-made Ewok or Bear costume). Sew or glue the fur to the base garments, including the gloves. Make the ears by cutting four rounds of fur and sewing—or hot gluing—two of them together (furry sides out), leaving space at the bottom to stuff them with whichever of the options you’ve chosen. Once you’ve stuffed, seal them and attach them to the hood of the base garment. If your kiddo doesn’t like having their head covered, and many don’t, you can attach them to a headband instead. It’s okay if they’re floppy (if you really want them to stand up, hot glue a thicker gauge of jewelry wire into the seam between the rounds when you’re attaching them to each other). Let your kiddo choose what, if any, clothes they’d like to wear over their suit. Hand them an elderly or well protected tablet. Boom: Peekpa.

The founding members of the Justice League as kids (a la Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen’s Secret Hero Society series)

An absolutely adorable series starting with Secret Hero Society, we get to see Diana, Clark, and Bruce as kids trying to navigate school, figure themselves—and one another—out, and test their skills as budding superheroes. The books tells their story in a variety of formats, from comics to straight prose to text messages to Bruce’s extremely detailed lists to party invitations, and my kiddos really engaged with the idea of their favorite heroes going through the same challenges they had, and were, and the varying ways in which the stories are told kept them engaged.

You will need: black pants or a black skirt, a sweater or sweater vest (color varies by character), a white collared shirt, a hero emblem patch, yellow fabric, red felt, fabric/hot glue.

In the picture, Diana is wearing the skirt and the boys slacks, but give your kiddos their preference. Find the cheapest white collared shirt you can; it’ll probably have chocolate all over it by the end of the night anyway. Diana wears a red sweater, Bruce a gray one, and Clark a blue sweater vest. Most craft stores have iron-on superhero patches, and the Trinity are pretty well represented, so get the emblem of your choosing and affix per the adhesive instructions instructions (do the cardboard thing again if you decide to use hot glue or fabric glue). Diana’s bandana can be made from an actual bandana, scrap fabric, or old sheets—just make sure you leave it long enough on the ends to allow for tying. Cut the star our of red felt and sew or glue to attach.


And there you have it: costumes for a crowd or for your one and only (heck, maybe for you), on a budget. They won’t take months to put together. And no matter how they turn out, remember: your kids don’t care whether it’s page accurate; they’ll just remember that you took the time to make it for them and the fun you had together while they were wearing it.