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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thrillers Leave Haunting Chills for Boys And Ghouls

It's that time of the year againa you know a "ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night." If you would rather read about these creatures than see them, here are a few books guaranteed to give you permanent gooseflesh.

If haunted houses with all manner of creatures skulking about are just your cup of witches' brew, look no further than Mommy? an absolutely inspired collaboration by three literary giants. With Maurice Sendak supplying the art work, Arthur Yorinks the story line, and Matthew Reinhart the paper engineering, this pop-up book is definitely for boys and ghouls of all ages. A Doctor Dentons-clad toddler wanders into a spooky house and asks each monster he meets the same question. "Mommy?" None of the vampires, goblins or werewolves deters our intrepid toddler. Does our wayward little tyke ever find his mummy a er, mommy? Keep turning the pages to find out. The answer will pop right out at you! (Don't forget to peek under all the flaps. More spooky fun for all.)

Speaking of haunted houses, no place could be creepier than "The Old Willis Place." There's something not quite right there. The new caretaker and his daughter know it, the animals know it, and Diana and Georgie know it better than anyone. The Old Willis Place was once stately Oak Hill Manor, the home of Miss Lilian Willis, a mean-spirited woman if there ever was one.

Terrible things happened there ten years ago, secrets better off left behind the boarded up windows and doors. Only Diana and Georgie know the truth, and they're not telling. They can't. Not just yet. As author Mary Dowling Hahn works the narrative to a mind-numbing conclusion, Diana and Georgie must face Miss Lilian once again. Will Diana and Georgie learn their true fate? Or will they be bound to the old Willis place forever? This is one chilling tale.

A word of caution: Don't follow Diana and Georgie into the cellar. You might not come out! (For more stories about spectral children, try Time for Andrew and Wait Till Helen Comes, also by Hahn.)

If you weren't totally creeped-out visiting the old Willis Place, you must try Skeleton Man by Abenaki storyteller and author Joseph Bruchac. An updated version of an old Mohawk Indian legend, this slim volume has, page-for-page, more sheer terror than most books twice its size. Molly's parents have vanished. Gone. No explanation. No clues. Nada. Molly can fend for herself for a while, but finally must turn to her sixth-grade teacher for help.

Unfortunately for Molly, Social Services has located a relative to take care of her -- a great-uncle previously unknown to her. He seems nice enough and, on the surface, everything appears fine at Uncle's house -- modern appliances, cable TV hook-up, a computer. He even fixes food that kids like. But Molly knows that Uncle is not what he purports to be. He's so thin a so pale. a

Molly just knows that Uncle has something to do with her parents' disappearance, but what and how? Like the warrior heroine in the Mohawk legend, Molly knows that only she can discover the truth. Only she can determine the outcome of the mystery. In the nail-biting conclusion, Molly confronts Uncle in his true form. Racing to outsmart The Skeleton Man, Molly feels his bony hand grab her ankle. a Will she escape? Will she find her parents? Or will the Skeleton Man claim yet another victim? Be warned a R. L. Stine said this book gave HIM nightmares!

Those of us who fondly remember those '50s and '60s cheesy horror flicks will want to share Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, by Adam Rex, with their kids and grandkids. In 19 delightful ham-on-wry poems and (very) short stories, Rex shows us a personal side to some of our favorite movie monsters.

The title poem finds "Frank" searching for ingredients to make the perfect sandwich. After a foray into the nearby village, "Frank" returns home with a variety of veggies, thanks to the neighbors' food-throwing attempts to scare away the big guy.

Then there's The Phantom of the Opera. He has writer's block -- he can't come up with new lyrics for anything. Poor Phantom. He has the tune to "It's a Small World" stuck in his head playing over and over and over and. a (Something anyone who's been to Disney World can understand.)

The Creature from the Black Lagoon, on the other hand, ignores his mother's warning about swimming too soon after eating. "Just think of all you had for lunch: A squid! Three eels! Hawaiian Punch! A bag of chips! A crab knish! A peanut-butter jellyfish!"

The end result? Well, let's just say he had a sinking feeling.

Quick-eyed readers will note that Rex employs the art styles of several different illustrators to tell his tales. Look for the styles of Maurice Sendak, Richard Scarry, Edward Gorey, Charles Schulz and even John James Audubon, to name a few.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.