Ghosthunters, No. 4: Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom! By Cornelia Funke. Chicken House/Scholastic. $4.99.
The Black Belt Club, No. 3: Beware of the Haunted Eye. By Dawn Barnes. Illustrated by Bernard Chang. Scholastic. $4.99.
The It’s Happy Bunny Nice Enough Mini-Poster Book. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $5.99.
It’s probably best not to take the whole monster thing in Cornelia Funke’s and Dawn Barnes’ latest books too seriously. Funke does a better job of keeping things lighthearted while still creating an aura of (some) menace as top ghosthunters Tom (boy hero), Hetty Hyssop (knowledgeable tutor), and Hugo the ASG (Averagely Spooky Ghost) get into their latest mess. This one’s a real mess: the town to which they are dispatched by Professor Slimeblott (who is up to no good himself, as you can tell from his name) is sinking into mud. Or the mud is rising to take it over. Or something like that. Tom is trying to get his GhostHunting Diploma, for some reason, and that requires him to take on a designated ghost on his own, without his usual backup. He’s supposed to encounter a mere Category Three Ghost, but the assignment soon turns, well, spookier than that, as various ghoulish beings (bearing acronyms such as BOSG [Bog and Swamp Ghost] and NEPGA [NEgative Projection of a Ghostly Apparition]) keep showing up to complicate matters. It turns out that there is GRAVE DANGER AFOOT, as usual, centering this time on a Minotaur – which Tom would have known if he looked at the book’s covers, since it snorts in fury on both the front and the back. What this Minotaur is doing underground with mud is never quite explained, but there are plenty of spooky occurrences to keep readers interested, and a more-harrowing-than-usual scene in which Tom takes too direct a look at the wrong kind of ghost and nearly suffers grave (so to speak) consequences. Funke is an outstanding writer, even in translation (she writes in German; this book was translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby); and if the Ghosthunters series sometimes seems too clever for its own good – well, that’s good, isn’t it?
The Black Belt Club takes itself very seriously indeed, which proves to be not such a good thing. These are semi-graphic novels, where some sections are done in cartoonlike panels and others with straight narrative. The idea is that four young karate students have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (oh wait, that was some version of Superman)…err, they go on missions to parallel worlds by using the Box of the Four Doors that happens to be conveniently located at their dojang. Beware of the Haunted Eye has Max and his animal of power, the Bear; Maia and hers, the Crane; Antonio and his, the Bull; and Jamie and hers, the Eagle, journey to an island where an Evil Eye perches on various characters’ heads and makes them act out of character, which means being really mean. All this has to do with the Eye wanting to bring darkness instead of light to the world when Spring comes. Why? Because it’s evil, of course. The Black Belt Club goes through the expected perils and comes out on top at the end, as expected, and would probably be more interesting to watch and read about if Barnes’ writing and Bernard Chang’s illustrations didn’t try to make all the story’s absurd frights seem somehow important.
Actually, the scariest character around may be Happy Bunny, because he looks so darned cute and is so darned rotten. That, of course, is what makes him fun; and if you’re already a Happy Bunny fan, you’ll get a big dose of that fun with the new Mini-Poster Book, which contains (what else?) mini-posters. There’s one of Happy Bunny with diploma, dressed for graduation, saying, “School prepares you for the real world, but I want the fake world,” and another of him with a big smile saying, “I love school, as long as I don’t have to go.” Indeed, many of these posters are school-themed: “I love teachers. Now give me an A.” “Homework is just like fun, if you call making your brain hurt fun.” But there are also some general-purpose Bunnyisms: “Don’t blame me. I was born awesome.” “It’s cute how you think I’m listening to you.” Every captioned poster has an uncaptioned one on the back, if you’d rather write your own snide comments. There are also 75 stickers here that reflect many of the same sentiments as the posters. It’s a thoroughly juvenile and sometimes rather mean-spirited compilation of Happy Bunny thoughts – which, of course, is exactly the idea.