September 07, 2006


Oh No, Not Ghosts! By Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Adam McCauley. Harcourt. $16.

All Hallows’ Eve: 13 Stories. By Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt. $17.

     It’s a bit early in the year to start thinking about the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night around the end of October, but not too early to start looking for some anticipatory shakes and shivers.  Here are two books that offer them – for two different age groups.

     Oh No, Not Ghosts! takes a humorous approach to the subject of haunts – appropriate in a book for ages 3-7.  It also gets in a bit of sibling rivalry and some interesting family dynamics.  A boy and his younger sister are trying to get to sleep quietly, letting their father get his own rest.  The boy keeps telling the girl all the things not to be afraid of – which, of course, makes her all the more afraid.  This would be mean if Richard Michelson did not tell the story so humorously, and if Adam McCauley did not make the illustrations so overdone that they provoke more snickers than gasps.  This is a story in which every element ties to the next: the sister gets scared at the idea of ghosts, so the brother promises to dress up like a werewolf if any ghosts come around, and scare them away.  Then the sister gets scared of werewolves – and the brother says he could get rid of them by turning into a giant.  Giants scare the sister, so the brother explains how the girl could turn herself into a demon and scare any giant off – which gets the girl scared of demons, and so on.  The frights continue, the kids get noisier and noisier, and at last they are interrupted by – well, you can figure it out, and most kids will, too.  But the ending is a refreshing reminder to pay more attention to the real world and less to make-believe frights.

     Vivian Vande Velde’s frights are make-believe, too, but she makes them seem very realistic indeed in All Hallows’ Eve, whose 13 stories include some really scary ones.  Even readers ages 12 and up – the target age range for the book – may be spooked by some of the terrors Vande Velde dreams up.  She is at her best when the stories have a wry edge to them rather than raw terror, as in “MARIAN”; when they add some warmth to the fright, as in “Holding On”; when they reserve the real shudders for a twist ending, as in “My Real Mother”; or when they are just plain weird, as in “When My Parents Come to Visit.”  Revenge stories (“Best Friends”) and offbeat ghost tales (“Cemetery Field Trip”) also work well.  But there are a few stories here in which Vande Velde crosses the invisible line between chilling and out-and-out terrifying, and these tales may be too strong for sensitive readers.  “Morgan Roehmar’s Boys” and “When and How,” in both of which Vande Velde deliberately and gruesomely destroys well-meaning protagonists, will be too intense for many tastes.  Still, Vande Velde is a fine and facile writer, and some of the goosebumps she raises will stay with you right through All Hallows’ Eve itself, even if you read the stories well before that date of dread.

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