October 26, 2006


The Midnight Library: Voices; Blood and Sand; End Game. By Damien Graves. Scholastic. $5.99 each.

Epossumondas Saves the Day. By Colleen Salley. Illustrated by Janet Stevens. Harcourt. $16.

     This is trick-or-treat season, and one way of giving kids a treat is by giving them a book that tricks them – preferably a little scarily.  Of course, the fright has to be matched to each child’s age to avoid giving little ones nightmares or making sleep difficult – and to prevent older kids from dismissing stories as, well, “kid stuff.”

     The Midnight Library is for ages 8-12, and will work especially well at the younger end of that age range.  “Damien Graves” is a suitably silly/spooky pseudonym: Voices is by Shaun Hutson; Blood and Sand by David Savage (itself a pretty good name for an author of books like these); and End Game by Ben Jeapes and Robin Wasserman.  Each volume – there will be others in the series – contains three easy-to-read stories in which kids in the target age group get into shivery trouble because of supernatural happenings.  The title story in Voices has to do with the blessing – or is it a curse? – of being able to hear people everywhere talking, even when they are not talking to you.  “A Perfect Fit” is a tale of shoes possessed by some sort of evil creature – a fairy-tale theme updated to the age of high-priced sneakers.  “An Apple a Day” is about a boy’s unpleasant neighbor and his very unusual apple orchard – how unusual, the boy finds out only when it is too late.  Bad things happen to kids in all these stories – they’re not terribly frightening, but are not for squeamish or overly sensitive children.  In Blood and Sand, the title story is about two children who probe a bit too closely into the reason some sand sculptures are ultra-realistic.  “Man’s Best Friend,” one of the best stories in these books, is about a parrot that talks about death and seems capable of causing it – and a boy who figures out what is going on and is able to save his family…he thinks.  “Stranger in the House,” among the worst of these tales, is a cliché-filled story of demonic possession that has no ending except a girl’s determination – it is likely to disappoint most readers.  In End Game, the title story is about a boy who thinks how cool it would be to play “a game that manipulated reality,” but who discovers it is not so cool after all.  “The Other Sister” is about a kindhearted girl who picks the wrong person to befriend.  “Is Anybody There?” is a story of mysterious text messages that seem to be coming from a cell phone that isn’t connected.  None of these stories is especially well written or creative, but all have some chilling moments – and two more books in the series are planned.

     The danger in Epossumondas Saves the Day is more comical than real – even children ages 3-7, the target age group, will likely realize that the bad things that happen will be reversed by the end of the book.  This is Colleen Salley’s third update of the old Southern tales of Epaminondas – here transformed to a lovable possum.  It is not quite as freewheeling or fun-filled as Epossumondas or Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail, because it is significantly more repetitious – which means it will appeal mostly to kids at the lower end of the target age range.  Janet Stevens’ exaggerated illustrations, though, are as roguishly charming as ever.  The story is about Epossumondas’ birthday cake, for which his Mama needs some sody sallyraytus – the old Southern term for baking soda.  But various characters’ attempts to get the sody all end in a confrontation with a “GREAT, HUGE, UGLY LOUISIANA SNAPPING TURTLE,” until Epossumondas himself figures out how to save everyone (well, except the turtle) and get the sody back home, too.  The huge size of the turtle may startle or scare some younger readers, but after their initial shock, they should quickly realize that big bad turtles, like big bad wolves, get what they deserve in the end.

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