March 04, 2010


Chocolate or Vanilla? Quick Quizzes for BFFs. By Lizzie Mack. Scholastic. $5.99.

Sweet or Spicy? More Quick Quizzes for BFFs. By Lizzie Mack. Scholastic. $5.99.

Bites: Scary Stories to Sink Your Teeth Into. Edited by Lois Metzger. Scholastic. $4.99.

     Middle schoolers who don’t take any of these three paperbacks too seriously can have a lot of fun with them. Lizzie Mack’s two books pose a series of pop quizzes to be given out to BFFs to evaluate their personalities and compare them with your own. There are four copies of each quiz, but only two copies of the one “For You and Your Best Friend Only” or “For BFFs’ Eyes Only” at the end of each book. There are two or three options for most questions, plus a few in fill-in-the-blank form. In Chocolate or Vanilla? – for example – a food quiz asks “eat in or take out,” “pizza or mac and cheese,” and whether you would rather eat “50 lbs of french fries or 50 lbs of potato chips.” A personality quiz asks “quiet or loud,” “splash through the puddles or walk carefully around them,” and whether you would prefer to “go bungee jumping or knit a sweater.” Among this book’s fill-in questions are which movies or books have made you cry; what your pet peeve is; which celebrity is “an all-time hottie”; and – on a somewhat more serious note – how many kids of your own you eventually want to have. In Sweet or Spicy? are such either/or questions as “kitten or puppy,” “penguin or polar bear” and “Komodo dragon or killer whale” (those three in a section called “Girl’s Best Friend”); and there are such “gross-out” questions as whether you would rather lie down in “snail slime or bird droppings” and whether you would prefer “strong body odor or scabs on your face.” There are some slightly more meaningful questions scattered through these two books – about school, growing up, family, even “the best qualities of a friend.” But by and large, the books are intended as light and lively amusements for girls to share with each other – something to giggle over, not something intended to make or break lifelong friendships.

     Bites is to be read, not filled out, and is aimed at both boys and girls; but it too handles potentially serious – or even horrific – subjects with a mostly lighter touch. The seven stories here are about the usual array of supernatural creatures: vampires, ghosts, werewolves. But the treatments are quite different. One story – “I, Blooder” by Peter Lerangis – reads like the first draft of an outline for a novel or screenplay, going all over the place and being filled with dead ends (so to speak) and potential plot points that never go anywhere. Kevin Emerson’s “The Coffin Deliveries” cannot quite decide whether it wants to be a funny vampire story or a scary one, finally opting for amusing – but not too amusing. On the other hand, “Ghost Dog” by Ellen Wittlinger has a genuine twist that is scary even if you see it coming. And “Perpetual Pest,” by Neal Shusterman and Terry Black, has some scary moments of the “ewww” kind. The other stories are “Going Old School in the Age of Obama,” a mildly amusing vampire tale by Christopher Paul Curtis; “Anasazi Breakdown,” an obvious but slightly chilling ghost/metamorphosis story by Douglas Rees; and “Where Wolves Never Wander,” Joshua Gee’s slight twist to the werewolf genre. None of these stories takes long to read and none will likely stay long with readers after they finish it. But for a short nibble of fear, or at least mild scariness, at least some young readers will enjoy sinking their teeth into Bites.

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