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 Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fearless Vampire Hunters? Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov

henry-hunterHenry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov (Henry Hunter #1), by John Matthews, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510710382

Recommended for ages 8-12

Tween sleuth Henry Hunter and his sidekick, Adolphus (Dolph, for short) head to Transylvania to investigate the vampire myth and its relation to the Beast of Snagov in this new series debut. Henry is an adventure seeker, a tween millionaire with absentee parents who let him do just about whatever his minds sets itself to; Adolphus is his chronicler, much like Watson to Holmes. Henry reads about the Beast of Snagov – a creature more terrifying than Dracula himself, and who’s rumored to be the origin of the vampire myth – and decides that he and Dolph need to investigate. Off they go to Transylvania, where they’ll investigate the historical Vlad Tepes – Vlad the Impaler, the model for Count Dracula – and meet an interesting ally in the process.

There are secret societies, supernatural creatures, and a very nice tribute to Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm in this fun supernatural mystery series. Kids will get a kick out of Henry Hunter and Dolph. Kids get to vicariously enjoy an adventure without parental intervention, with unlimited resources, and a teamup with a supernatural force in her own right. The characters are light and fun, and there’s some good information about Bram Stoker and his literary creations as well as the historical figure that birthed a legend, to be found here.

The kids in my library love mystery and supernatural/spooky books, so this will be a fun addition for me. I’ll mention Dracula and Lair of the White Worm, and display with the usual spooky suspects: Goosebumps, Cornelia Funke’s Ghosthunters series, and Angie Sage’s Araminta Spookie series. Originally published in Australia, Henry’s got another book in the series, Henry Hunter and the Cursed Pirates, so interested readers can keep their fingers crossed that he makes his way to our shores.

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.

Posted in Toddler Reads

Learn to Count with Dracula!

baby-draculaLittle Master Stoker: Dracula, A Counting Primer, by Jennifer Adams/illus. by Alison Oliver (Gibbs Smith, 2012), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1423624806

Recommended for ages 0-3

I was in a great little indie bookstore this weekend, when I came across this lovely. Seeing as how I like a little of the unusual in my board books, I fell instantly in love. BabyLit, in case you aren’t familiar with them, produces gorgeous board books, based on the classics, for babies. They drill down basic concepts in each classic, perfect for little ones.

Dracula is a counting book. Going from 1 to 10, we count different objects present in the famous classic: 1 castle, two friends (Mina and Lucy), 3 wolves, 4 ships, 5 heroes (Harker, Seward, Turnbull, Morris, and Van Helsing), and more. The pictures are rendered in the sweetest detail with just a touch of baby goth. The art is mainly black, gray, and white, with accents of red as necessary. There are little winks to the grownups who will read this book over and over again – Dracula’s face on the Demeter flag, well-known character names and locations, a rat wearing a bat shirt – that will make you smile and chuckle. There’s a wonderful sense of humor in the book, which is as perfect for grownups as it is for children.

1 castle

This is now in my toddler’s short stack of favorites. He carries it around with him and asks to read it several times a day. I can’t wait to fill out his classics bookshelf with more BabyLit, and I know for sure that I’m buying some of these for my storytime toddlers. How often do you get to read babies Frankenstein and Dracula, where they learn about basic concepts?

Check out BabyLit’s webpage for more titles, but don’t blame me if you end up buying a Pride & Prejudice playset. They’ve also got one of the best Pinterest layouts going, and you can check out some of their videos on Google+.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Cure for Dreaming gives us Dracula, suffrage, and mesmerism!

cure for dreaming The Cure for Dreaming, by Cat Winters (Oct. 2014, Abrams), $17.95, ISBN: 9781419712166

Recommended for 13+

Olivia Mead is a strong-willed young woman living in Oregon in 1900. She loves to read fiction – Dracula is her current favorite novel – and she dreams of going to college. She also happens to be a suffragist, something her narrow-minded father doesn’t know anything about. Olivia’s mother left her with her father when Olivia was a young child; she lives in New York where she ekes out a living as a stage actress and dates wealthy men. She sends Olivia money every birthday, but doesn’t seem to be otherwise too involved.

Olivia’s father can’t take much more of his headstrong daughter’s ideas. He fears her behavior will lose him patients, so he contacts Henri Reverie – a mesmerist (a hypnotist) that hypnotized Olivia in a recent performance –  to “cure” his daughter. He asks Henri to help Olivia to “see things as they really are”, and rather than argue with him, to say, “All is well” when she’s angry.

It backfires. Horribly. Olivia does see things as they really are – she starts seeing oppressive men as bat-vampire-wolf creatures, and anti-suffragist women as pale, ghostly beings. She is unable to defend herself, only able to say, “All is well.” She finds herself the target of ridicule as her father glories in his “success”. But he hasn’t succeeded in doing anything other than stoking the fire of Olivia’s independence, and her desire to get away from him at all costs. She seeks Henri’s help in restoring her mind, and finds out that Henri’s story goes far deeper than a mere stage performer.

The Cure for Dreaming is one of those stories that initially makes your head swim – Dracula, suffrage, and hypnotism? It all comes together, but there are moments when the narrative lost me. There is a subplot surrounding Henri’s younger sister that was felt almost tacked on, and Olivia’s father verged on caricaturist in his rage. Olivia seems far too complacent about her absent mother leaving her with a verbally abusive and neglectful father – she left because she couldn’t take it anymore, but it was okay to leave her kid with him? And it’s okay to drop a line and tell her how much she misses her ONCE A YEAR?

Overall, The Cure for Dreaming is an interesting read. The photos that Ms. Winters chose to feature throughout the book, archival photos of suffragists and the time period, drew me right in. The subplot about an anonymous letter that adds fuel to the suffragist fire was one of the best parts of the book.

The author’s website offers a treasure trove of information, including book trailers, information on the periods during which her novels take place, an FAQ, links to social media, and book information.

 

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

Book Review: Wiley & Grampa’s Creature Features, by Kirk Scroggs (Little, Brown, 2006)

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Wiley & Grampa books take the sting out of scary books for kids by making them hilarious and gross. They got in early on the ‘potty humor makes boys read’ trend that I have seen time and again, but author Kirk Scroggs gets it, and he writes well.

The stories revolve around young Wiley, a boy who lives with his grandmother and grandfather, in what appears to be “good ole boy country”. Wiley and his grandfather loves Pork Cracklins and monster trucks, and his grandmother is always after them to finish chores. Somehow, Wiley and Grampa always end up in trouble with the supernatural.

In the first book, Dracula vs. Grampa at the Monster Truck Spectacular, Wiley and Grampa sneak out to go to a monster truck show, despite Gramma’s telling them that with the storm coming, no one is going any where. They meet Dracula himself, and get the sneaking suspicion that Dracula’s very interested in Gramma, who just happens to resemble Drac’s dead wife. If that isn’t enough to entice readers, there are monster trucks. That run on blood.
In Grampa’s Zombie BBQ, Wiley, Grampa and Gramma are having barbecue and Gramma’s making her famous honey paprika barbecue sauce. When a horde of zombies shows up and shows an appetite for Gramma’s food, all is fine – until the food runs out, leaving Wiley and his grandparents to fend for themselves. But can the school lunch lady and her toxic beet borscht save the day?

The books are great for younger readers who are still getting into the swing of chapter books, for readers who want a good laugh, or readers who want their monsters a little less threatening. Wiley and his family are funny, and they are never really in any danger, giving more skittish readers reassurance. The books are illustrated with blackand white sketches on every page and the characters are drawn as exaggerated, caricature-like people.
There are ten Wiley & Grampa books available, the last of which came out in 2009. Kirk Scroggs’ website has a section dedicated to the series and links to more content.