Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Monstrous brings the science of monsters to you

Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science Behind Your Favorite Monsters, by Carlyn Beccia, (Sept. 2019, Carolrhoda Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-5124-4916-7

Ages 10+

Okay, this is one of the best nonfiction reads I’ve read this summer. Eight movie monsters come together with witty writing, solid science and history, pop culture and myth, and amazing artwork to bring readers the “Science of the Monstrous”. Talk about electricity with Frankenstein’s Monster; whether or not science can make us immortal with Dracula (also, a spirited discussion on sparkly vampires); look at the zombie brain and pack a zombie preparedness kit while reading about zombie viruses; learn about math and whether or not you’re stronger than a dung beetle with King Kong; learn how to avoid – or, failing that, survive – a werewolf attack and read about the science behind the legend of werewolves; check out the ocean zones to figure out where the kraken dwells (and learn whether or not you’re about to be eaten by a giant octopus); talk evolution with Bigfoot while you scan a map of the US to see where your best chance of spotting him is; and, last but NEVER least, find out what kind of dinosaur Godzilla, King of All Monsters, is (hint: the awesome kind).

That’s the short of it. There is so much great stuff in here, I’d be here all day long if I tried to gush about how much I loved this book. I chuckled and snickered out loud behind the reference desk reading it, which brought some of my Library Kids over (the section on Why You Should Never Stress Your Mom Out made them laugh, which garnered a librarian look over the glasses from me). Everything in here is just pure gold, from the timelines like “The Monstrous History of Electricity”, where you learn that Thomas Edison used electricity on dolls to experiment with recorded sound (SO CREEPY), and a real list of radioactive creatures, like the wolves of Chernobyl and the cows of Fukushima. Carlyn Beccia’s writing is informative and whip-crack smart and funny – if I had a book like Monstrous available to me when I was in the middle grades, I’d probably be making freaky dolls talk to people in a lab today. Instead, I’ll figure out how to hold a program to let my Library Kids do it.

My Library Kids love the grossest history and science stuff out there, which I challenge myself to find on a regular basis; one of their favorites is Carlyn Beccia’s They Lost Their Heads!, along with Georgia Bragg’s How They Croaked and How They Choked, so I predict this book will disappear shortly after I say, “Hey, guys! Look what I’ve—“.

Long story short, Monstrous is a guaranteed win for your science collections, your STEM collections, and for your horror/monster/burgeoning goth fans. Check out author Carlyn Beccia’s webpage for more about her books, her art, and her social media links. Monstrous has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Bigfoot Files searches for Bigfoot and even mother-daughter ground

The Bigfoot Files, by Lindsay Eagar, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763692346

Ages 10-13

Mirando Cho is tired of being the parent. The 12-year-old student council president is dead set on securing a spot in a leadership camp this summer that will get her out of the house and away from her cryptozoolist mom, Kat. Kat’s obsession with mythical monsters, especially the ever-elusive Bigfoot, has taken center stage in her life: bills have gone unpaid, the house is in danger of foreclosure, and neither her father nor her grandmother is interested in helping out. It’s time for Kat to grow up, and Miranda has a plan to make it happen. The two set off together for another Bigfoot hunt, where Miranda plans to confront her mother with everything; once she breaks her down, she’ll help her get back on track to being a responsible adult. But nature has a different plan, and Kat and Miranda end up lost in the woods together. Miranda may have a thing or two to learn about magic after all.

The Bigfoot Files is an interesting take on the “irresponsible single parent, stressed out smart kid” story. We’ve got a mom who still has that spark of magic in her, but she’s let it take over her life, to the detriment of her daughter and the family finances. She’s always ready for the big score: the picture of Bigfoot, the big research grant, the one moment where the proof will magically appear. Miranda has overcompensated for her mother’s flightiness by becoming an overachiever with compulsive tendencies – she pulls her hair out to soothe herself and obsessively focuses on her planning, research, and lists, lists, lists. Kat is frustrating, and Miranda isn’t always sympathetic, which – let’s be real – is spot on. Both parties need to give a little to get somewhere, hence the trip into the woods. And that’s where things get interesting. Miranda is the ultimate skeptic – and as readers, so are we – until a pivotal moment that threatens to turn everything upside down. We get a touch of the speculative in our realistic fiction, inviting readers to keep the faith; there is magic to be found out there, if you’re willing to find it. Ultimately, readers and our characters come to a compromise and understand that somewhere in the middle lies the best way to go: bills still need to be paid, and magic can still exist.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Could Dracula make it in today’s world? Monster Science gives you the scoop.

monster scienceMonster Science, by Helaine Becker/Illustrated by Phil McAndrew, (Sept. 2016, Kids Can Press), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771380546

Recommended for ages 8-12

Monster Science takes a look at some of our favorite monsters – Frankenstein’s Monster, vampires, Bigfoot, werewolves, zombies, and sea monsters – and, using science smarts, discusses the plausibility of these monsters’ ever being able to exist in our world. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should really start stockpiling food and weapons for the upcoming zombie apocalypse, or stared for a little too long at those blurry pictures of Bigfoot and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster,  you’ll love this book.

The book devotes a chapter to each monster, provides background info, incorporating the history of the monsters, and using science, history, literature, myths and legends, helps readers work through whether or not these creatures could have ever existed or could exist today. There are colorful, cartoony illustrations, seriously groan-worthy jokes, and pop up facts throughout the book, and a quiz tests finishes up each chapter and challenges readers to remember what they’ve just read. There are enough gross facts – the stages of decay; electric shock bringing making dead body parts jerk and move, dead people who sat up at their own funerals – presented with a humorous bent, to delight middle graders who want something fun and gross to read, yet will also give them some cool facts to bring to their science class.

This is the kind of book I love booktalking to kids, because my awesome nonfiction selections are sadly underappreciated. When I put a coding book out, I get interest, because I have a library full of Minecraft mouse potatoes, but when I try to get them excited about science, I usually get eyerolls, or – zounds! – blank stares. A book like this will help me explain how wonderful and gross science can be! We can talk about The Walking Dead (no, they’re not old enough to read the comics, but you know they’re watching it at home), we can talk about Dracula and Frankenstein, and I can terrify them with repeated viewings of Mad Monster Party and the Groovie Ghoulies, because ’70s monster claymation and cartoons are aces with me, but they leave the kids bewildered. They don’t know what they’re missing.

In all seriousness, the book is fun leisure reading and a good companion to science, history, or ELA classes. There’s so many interesting facts, presented in a fun, light, manner, that kids will end up reading and remembering more information than they can imagine. Add it to your library collections, or make it a fun gift for a monster fan you know and love.