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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Books That Go Bump In the Night

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

I don't think that I'm a particularly brave person.  I'm scared of storms and fire and flying and speaking in front of strangers. (Heck, I'm scared of speaking in front of people that I know!)  However, I love spine-tingling books and movies.  When I know that I'm safe, that what I'm reading or seeing on screen isn't real, I love that feeling of suspense, of goosebumps and my hair standing on end.  I've read several chilling tales this month, and thought I'd share them here for older kids and adults who share my affinity for the horror genre.  (Please note: Not all of the books below are actually classified as "horror".)

I'll start you out with some haunting poetry:

Halloween ABC,
written by Eve Merriam
and illustrated by Lane Smith, 1987

You may wonder why I'm sharing an ABC book in a post for middle grade and young adult readers.  I decided to include it here instead of mentioning it in my post about Halloween picture books because I feel some of Merriam's poems might be too spooky for young children.  Older children and teens (and adults!) who enjoy a good scare, however, will appreciate her poetry, along with Smith's dark illustrations.

I wrote more about this book in a previous post, which can be seen here.


The Whispering Room:
Haunted Poems,
chosen by Gillian Clarke
and illustrated by Justin Todd, 1996

This anthology contains both classical and contemporary poetry, including that of Carl Sandburg, Lilian Moore, William Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Marchette Chute, and Jack Prelutsky.  Subjects range from ghosts and the bogeyman to a dark, dark wood to the Titanic to the wind.


Witch Poems,
edited by Daisy Wallace
and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, 1976

A collection of eighteen poems about witches, this book includes the work of e.e. cummings, Karla Kuskin, James Reeves, Myra Cohn Livingston, and more.  Along with the poetry, each two-page spread also features deliciously eerie black and white illustrations by Hyman.

I first noticed this book on the library shelf several months ago, but didn't pick it up until earlier this month.  When I finally started flipping through it and reading the poems, I knew I wanted to bring it home and read it over and over again.  A reviewer on Amazon called this book "creepy-crawly" (in a good way), and I have to agree.  It's perfect for reading aloud on Halloween or any time you want to scare up some fun!


If you're in the mood for something that will make you shiver but don't have time to read a longer book, I suggest trying one of these compilations of short stories:

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,
collected from folklore and retold by Alvin Schwartz,
and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, 1984

Many of the stories in this book were already familiar to me. I'd heard versions of them when I was younger, at slumber parties and Girl Scout camp.  Schwartz collected the tales from folklore and then wrote them down in his own words. Most of the stories are only two or three pages long, so they make for a quick read.

My favorite parts of this book were the ghoulish illustrations by Gammell -- in my opinion, they are much scarier than the stories themselves.


Fear: 13 Stories of Suspense and Horror,
edited by R. L. Stine, 2010
R. L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, put together this anthology of thirteen short stories by different authors including Meg Cabot, Jennifer Allison, and Walter Sorrells.  (Stine also contributed a story of his own.) While each offers moments of terror and suspense, the plots of the stories vary widely-- from the disappearances of humans on a distant planet to a school shooter and his victims to a portal into a shadowy world.


The Oxford Book of Scary Tales,
selected by Dennis Pepper
and illustrated by many, 1992

This book contains 35 stories and poems, both classic and contemporary, representing a wide variety of cultures and traditions.  Many authors are featured, including James Kirkup, Grace Hallworth, and Robert Scott.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book, but my favorite entries were the poem "This is the key to the castle" by Dave Calder and the story "Tiger in the Snow" by Daniel Wynn Barber, which literally gave me goosebumps!


The House of Dies Drear,
written by Virginia Hamilton
and illustrated by Eros Keith, 1969
Thirteen-year-old Thomas and his family move to Ohio, to a Civil War-era home which used to be a station on the Underground Railroad.  Filled with secret doors and tunnels, the house is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the abolitionist Dies Drear and two runaway slaves who were murdered there.  When strange things begin happening, Thomas starts to think there really are ghosts in his new home.

This book was required reading for my kids Emmalie and Nick in elementary school (5th or 6th grade, I believe).  I remember both of them talking about it at the time, and when I spotted it at the library awhile ago, I decided to read it myself.  More a mixture of history and mystery than a horror story, the book does still have an aura of spookiness about it, with a dash of suspense thrown in as well.


The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe,
written and illustrated by Scott Gustafson, 2011
Young Edgar Allan Poe (Eddie) is falsely accused of destroying his neighbor's chicken coop.  With the help of his raven, an imp named McCobber, and the magician Captain Mephisto, Eddie tries to solve the mystery and find the true culprit.  Though the story is fictional, Gustafson does offer quite a bit of factual information about the real Edgar Allan Poe.  He also provides several pages of stunning artwork that illustrate his story.

I found this to be a cleverly written book, a quick read that kept me engaged.  While the tale has a gothic feel, as well as moments of suspense, it also contains a healthy dose of humor.


The Graveyard Book,
written by Neil Gaiman
and illustrated by Dave McKean, 2008
When a man named Jack murders a family, he inadvertently leaves one survivor -- a young toddler.  The boy escapes from his home and ends up in a nearby graveyard.  Ghostly residents there adopt the boy, naming him Nobody (aka Bod).  They raise him in the graveyard, where Bod learns all about the living and the dead.  Now a teenager, Bod finds himself in danger from the man Jack who is still hunting him.

As Gaiman himself says, this story was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, only instead of being raised by wolves, Bod is brought up by ghosts.  I thought this was an interesting plot idea, and Gaiman succeeds in mixing the macabre with humor and fantasy to create an engrossing book.


Looking for a quirky and frightfully funny book series?  Try this one:

May Bird and the Ever After,
written by Jodi Lynn Anderson
and illustrated by Leonid Gore, 2005
Ten-year-old May Bird lives near the woods of Briery Swamp, a place where several different people have mysteriously disappeared over the years.  She's considered an oddball at school and her only friend is her pet cat, Somber Kitty.  One day May finds a letter from 1951 that is somehow addressed to her.  The letter leads her on a quest -- into Briery Swamp and then to the land of Ever After, where people go after they die.  There she encounters ghosts, ghouls, the Boogeyman, and the evil Bo Cleevil, all the while trying to get back home again.

May Bird Among the Stars, 2006
May Bird is still alive... and still stuck in the Afterlife.  She is torn between going home to her mother (if she can ever figure out how to get back) and saving her friends in Ever After from the evil Bo Cleevil.

May Bird Warrior Princess, 2007
May Bird is finally back on Earth and famous for having survived "the land of the dead".  She feels out of place, however, and finds herself missing those she left behind in Ever After.  When she returns to the Afterlife, she discovers that much has changed (for the worse) in her absence.  Can she save Ever After -- and Earth itself -- from Bo Cleevil?

Though this series is filled with ghosts and otherworldly creatures, and it does have an eerie quality about it, the thing I liked most about it was Anderson's dark, tongue-in-cheek humor and the way she pokes fun at popular culture.  I laughed out loud many times while reading these books!


The Crowfield Curse,
written by Pat Walsh, 2010
An orphan in the winter of 1347, fourteen-year-old William works as a servant at a monastery.  While out gathering firewood, he discovers a hobgoblin caught in a trap.  William saves its life and learns that only people with the Sight can see hobgoblins.  Soon the boy is caught up in a mystery involving dead angels, evil curses, a haunted hollow, and creatures of the fay -- and danger looms ever closer.

I found this to be an intriguing, spooky story, filled with suspense and enchanting characters.

Walsh has written a sequel to this book, The Crowfield Demon (2011).  Our library doesn't have a copy of it yet, but I am on the waiting list to read it when it arrives.


Anya's Ghost,
written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, 2011

This young adult graphic novel shows readers the life of high school student Anya, a Russian immigrant who is trying to be more "American" and fit in with the other teens at school. One day she accidentally stumbles down a deep hole in a park.  While trapped there, she encounters a ghost named Emily, who died in 1918.  When Anya is rescued from the hole, Emily follows, offering to be her friend and give her advice to succeed in life.  After awhile, Anya discovers that Emily may have ulterior (and sinister) motives for helping her....

This is only the second graphic novel that I've ever read.  It took a little while to get used to because of that.  There really is a difference between reading a regular novel and reading a graphic novel.  However, once I adjusted to that, I found Brosgol's story entertaining.  It pulled me in right away and kept me eagerly flipping pages.  

Just a note:  At first glance, the "comic book look" to this novel may make it seem like it's a story for middle grade readers -- but it's not.  Some of the content and situations presented are much more suitable for older teens and adults.


Finally, for those who are eager to be scared over and over again, here is an entire horror series that I highly recommend.  I found this series in our library's section for middle grade readers, but if it were up to me, I think I'd put them in the young adult section.  I'm pretty sure these books would've given me nightmares if I'd read them when I was 9 or 10:

The Last Apprentice:
Revenge of the Witch,
written by Joseph Delaney
and illustrated by Patrick Arrasmith, 2004
Twelve-year-old Thomas is the seventh son of a seventh son. When he is apprenticed to Mr. Gregory, a Spook whose job is to fight evil spirits and witches around the County, Thomas foresees a lonely, dangerous life ahead of him.  He does not expect to face a powerful enemy, Madame Malkin, on his own and so soon after leaving his home.  Despite warnings from the Spook, Thomas befriends Alice, the young daughter of a witch family.  Will she help him?  Or betray him?

The Last Apprentice:
Curse of the Bane (2005)
Thomas and the Spook travel to Priestown on unfinished business. A terrifying, vicious monster called the Bane has been imprisoned deep in the catacombs of the town's cathedral. Though it has been unable to break free to roam the land, the Bane can reach out with its thoughts, controlling the minds and actions of the town's inhabitants.  As if Thomas and the Spook didn't have enough to worry about, they must also evade another enemy in Priestown, the Quisitor -- a man who pursues and executes anyone suspected of witchcraft or being too close to the Dark.  Now the Quisitor is on the hunt for the Spook, who is high on his list.

The Last Apprentice:
Night of the Soul Stealer (2006)
Thomas and the Spook travel to Anglezarke, Mr. Gregory's bleak and desolate winter home.  There Thomas meets Meg, a lamia witch who doesn't remember what she is, and hears rumors of a barbaric beast called Golgath.  He also encounters Morgan, one of the Spook's former apprentices.  Morgan hates Mr. Gregory and, since leaving his employ, has learned necromancy (communication with the dead).  Now Morgan hopes to use his new powers -- and Thomas -- to unleash a malevolent spirit on the County.

I have really been impressed so far by Delaney's writing.  The story is chilling -- it has kept me on the edge of my seat through all three books.  The characters are well-developed and Delaney manages to weave several different plot lines together to create an interesting story with many twists and turns.  Arrasmith's illustrations lend a creepiness to the story, as well.

Other books in this series include Attack of the Fiend (2007), Wrath of the Bloodeye (2008), Clash of the Demons (2009), Rise of the Huntress (2010), Rage of the Fallen (2011),  Grimalkin, the Witch Assassin (2011), Lure of the Dead (2012),and Slither (2012).  I just started reading Attack of the Fiend yesterday, and plan to read through the entire series.  I can't wait to see what happens to Thomas, Alice, the Spook, and the others....


For even more spooky stories, please check out my post from last year, Oh, the horror!

Do you like reading scary books?  If so, what are some of your favorites?  I'm always on the lookout for book recommendations!

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