Not Very Scary by Carol Brendler

Posted on

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Not Very Scary,
written by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Not-Very-Scary-cvr.jpgI love a good scare on Halloween. But when my kids were little they only wanted to be frightened a teensy, weeny bit, if at all. Are your children like that?  I’d say that Not Very Scary (Farrar Straus Giroux, $12.99, Ages 3-6) by Carol Brendler with illustrations by Greg Pizzoli, is just the right picture book for youngsters who want to feel the excitement and anticipation of Halloween without an ounce of the fear factor.

As the title says, this picture book is not very scary, in fact Brendler’s language has made it wonderfully whimsical and ultimately upbeat with its main character’s positive self-talk. This Halloween-themed tale takes Melly, the charming chartreuse-colored monster, on a walk to see her cousin, Malberta. Melly’s been invited over with the promise of a surprise, but on her journey to her cousin’s she is followed by all sorts of scary creatures, testing Melly’s bravery. She hesitates at first then continues on when she finds:

A coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail!

Melly also encounters two skittish skeletons and three wheezy witches along with a trail of other seemingly frightening fiends. Also out for a stroll are seven frenzied fruit bats, eight spindly spiders, nine rambunctious rats, culminating with ten vexing vultures in this cumulative counting story that is sure to be read aloud to delighted children dozens of times. Parents can point out how the text builds up tension through Melly’s self-reassuring remarks. After seeing the coal-black cat, Melly says “Not the least bit scary,” to my favorite, “Not significantly scary,” upon seeing six sullen mummies. I love how Pizzoli drew each grouping of ghouls looks cautiously at the following set and he’s taken great care to make the characters absolutely adorable, never menacing, and all in marvelous colors. The ghosts grin, the witches balance on brooms and the mummies make some serious dance moves. And of course, the best part is the surprise at Malberta’s place that parents and kids alike will find most pleasing.

 

 


The Worst Witch to the Rescue by Jill Murphy

Posted on

The Worst Witch to the Rescue by Jill Murphy is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

The-Worst-Witch-Rescue-cvr.jpgJill Murphy’s The Worst Witch was one of my favorite books as a child in London, so I was very excited when the sixth book in the series, The Worst Witch to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, 2014; $14.99 for hardback, Ages 8-12) was released.

Mildred Hubble, an earnest yet disaster-prone student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, must contend with tricky spells, an even trickier classmate, and a very stern teacher. Despite her (well-earned) reputation for being awful at magic, Mildred has had a wonderful summer and returns to the Academy full of hope. Her summer project has turned out splendidly, and she is a natural at the new ceramics class. Even Ethel Hallow, Mildred’s long-time tormentor, is being friendly. Could this be the year when things finally go right for Mildred?! Alas, no. Mildred quickly learns that her luck hasn’t changed, as her good beginning unravels at rapid speed. Miss Hardbroom won’t listen when Mildred’s project goes missing, and even her friends Enid and Maud have trouble believing her theories. With her cat Tabby and tortoise Einstein, Mildred will have to work even harder than usual to set the record straight.

The Worst Witch series is a wonderful entry into fantasy. Mildred is a relatable and sweet character, who tries so hard, but gets things so wrong. However, her plucky attitude and perseverance make her admirable. Jill Murphy has created a fantastical world that is charming, but includes (somewhat) frightening elements that children will understand. Often times the frights are more people than magic based. Unfortunately, just about every story written about a witch or wizard attending a school of magic will be compared to the Harry Potter series. However, Mildred Hubble was the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy a good 23 years before Harry stepped foot in Hogwarts, and she’s been accidentally wreaking havoc ever since.


Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

Posted on

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan and illustrated by John Rocco, (Disney-Hyperion, 2014; $24.99. Ages 9-12), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

percy-jackson-greek-gods-cover.jpg

When approached by a New York publisher to “tell all” about the gods, Percy Jackson asks:

“Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again (Percy Jackson, p.ix).”

Despite his understandable concerns (irking the gods can be dangerous to your health), Percy, in typical teen fashion, humorously narrates nineteen stories about the Greek gods, weaving in snarky comments and observations. Surprisingly, blending these dark and grim stories with irreverent humor makes the myths (a little) less horrific. Here’s Percy’s interpretation of an exchange between Kronos and Rhea concerning their children and …um…. Kronos’ food choices:

“He [Kronos] stuffed Hestia in his mouth and swallowed her whole.
Just like: GULP. She was gone.
As you can imagine Reha completely freaked.
“My baby!” she screamed …”
“Oh wow,” Kronos belched. “My bad …(p. 23).”

Percy’s title for each myth, not only reflects his wit and humor, but lets the reader know how Percy will interpret that myth. Demeter Turns Into Grainzilla puts a spin on a pop culture monster (Godzilla) when Demeter becomes a monster and daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades.

I’m ashamed to admit that I laughed while reading stories about kidnapping, infanticide, and cannibalism. Good gods! What kind of mother does that make me?

John Rocco, who has illustrated three of Rick Riordan’s series, is the 2012 Caldecott honor for Blackout. Rocco’s dramatic illustrations depict robust and muscular gods (recalling Classical Greek statuary), powerfully pulsing with light and energy. His strange and grotesque monsters should satisfy horror fans without overly frightening gentler souls. Visit Rocco’s website to learn more about the books he’s illustrated. Also check out his  blog which includes his artwork and sketches and links to painters who have influenced him (including Frank Frazetta and N.C. Wyeth).

At my school library, this middle grade book is already a big hit with Percy Jackson fans, as well as those who love Greek mythology. As both the 5th/6th grade classes are studying Greek mythology, one of the resources I used (in addition to this book) was the publisher’s excellent event kit. Activities include Percy’s Snarky Word Search, Get Your Greek On (trivia), party games, and more. Such a fun-and funny-way to learn about Greek mythology!

Click here to download the teachers’ guide.