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 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 Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

The Frankenstein tale gets a new jolt in Heartless

heartlessHeartless, by Leah Rhyne (May 2016, Polis Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781940610870

Recommended for ages 13+

After an argument with her boyfriend, college co-ed Jolene Hall storms out of his apartment and wakes up on a table in a creepy room, naked and covered in jagged wounds and stapled flesh. She tears herself loose and manages to get back to her dorm room, but she and her roommate, Lucy, notice pretty quickly that something is very, very wrong: Jolene is dead. Sort of. She has no heartbeat, and despite being able to walk and talk, she needs to be charged up in order to continue operating at a normal level. And she stinks. No offense. Jolene is determined to find out who did this to her, and what exactly she is now. The fact that college co-eds are disappearing right and left makes her pretty sure that what happened to her is part of a much bigger operation – but is her investigation going to put Lucy in danger?

This rejuvenated take on Frankenstein appealed to me, because I like the whole flipped fairy tale genre that’s emerged over the last few years. While Heartless certainly has its moments, overall, I wanted a little more. Jolene ends up being fairly skin deep (no pun intended) for a good portion of the book, and Eli, her boyfriend, is a complete jerk. There’s next to nothing likable about him, and Lucy is a little too happy-go-lucky, we’re-going-on-an-adventure about this whole situation. The villain(s) were a little too easy to spot, making the reveal somewhat anticlimactic. I would have loved more of Jolene’s introspective moments; those captured me and kept me moving through the story. The idea of a person embracing their fate and making his or her peace with it, while trying to save others from a similar fate, is a fascinating idea. Having to witness how other people process this fate, whether it’s a parent or a loved one, can be brutal and Ms. Rhyne captures some intense and deep feelings in those moments.

The book’s ending lets readers know there’s more of this tale to be told. I don’t do spoilers, so let’s just say that I’m interested in seeing where this goes, because I’ll be darned if I’ll let the story continue without me.

The book will work for readers who like a little drama in their horror; a little star-crossed romance in their chiller. iZombie and Warm Bodies fans will jump on this book, so make sure to booktalk it to those audiences if you’ve got them.

Leah Rhyne’s author website has more information about Heartless and her zombie series, Undead America.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Revew: Wonkenstein: The Creature from my Closet, by Obert Skye (Henry Holt, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Rob is a 12-year old boy whose main use for books is to throw them into his closet. He has better things to do, after all, than read. Plus, Rob’s closet is just strange. It’s not because it’s got a second-hand door with a pony sticker on it that says, “Smile”. For starters, the doorknob is big, gold, and has a bearded man’s face engraved on it – and his expression seems to change. For another, the closet is where Wonkenstein – a creature that seems to be a mashup of Willy Wonka and Frankenstein – comes from one day, and now Rob’s closet will not open so he can send him back.

Rob tries to keep Wonkenstein a secret while trying to get him back to his world, but he ends up getting into more trouble, whether at home or school, the harder he tries. Poor Rob just wants life to go back to normal, but at the same time, he finds himself getting attached to the little guy.

Wonkenstein is a cute book for younger readers and older readers that may have drifted from reading and just need something fun and familiar to pull them back. The book has fun black and white illustrations that look like a child’s drawings and helps, along with the first-person voice of the book, add to the fantasy that Rob is narrating his own true story.

Obert Skye’s website has information about all of his books, plus author and tour information, and the publisher’s website has a book detail page with much of the same information, plus links to the book’s pages on social networking sites incluing Shelfari and LibraryThing.