Reviews

ARC Alert! Elizabeth and Zenobia

Miller, Jessica. Elizabeth and Zenobia. Amulet Books. 208 pages, 2017. Hardcover $14.60, ISBN 978-1-41972-724-5

Elizabeth and ZenobiaTL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Anticipated Publication: September 2017

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

When her father decides it is time to move back to his childhood home, Elizabeth and her friend Zenobia have no other choice but to go along. (Father isn’t so pleased that Zenobia is coming along since she is, after all, imaginary — well, maybe not quite imaginary, but not quite real, either.) Elizabeth is afraid of everything — ghosts, the dark, gloves without hands in them — and Zenobia loves EVERYTHING creepy or disturbing. Poisons? Check. Ghosts — oh, excuse me, Spirit Presences? Check. Edgar Allan Poe? Check. Something is … off in Witheringe House, and to Zenobia’s delight, the conditions are PERFECT for a haunting. Add to that the fact that the East Wing of the house is forbidden to the girls, the eeriness increases the longer the girls are there. As more secrets are revealed, more seances are performed, and more bizarre midnight happenings occur, it becomes clear that something is truly and deeply wrong at Witheringe House. Will Elizabeth be brave enough to uncover the truth, and will she be strong enough to vanquish the evil that lurks in the house?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

The book’s description refers to it as “middle grade gothic horror,” and that is a perfect description. That creeping weirdness so critical in a good gothic novel is here in full force. Plants that seem a little too alive, a house with many secrets, silent and seemingly ubiquitous housekeepers, and a governess contending with mysterious forces all feature here. The book moves quickly, but it’s a page-turner, meaning that readers are going to enjoy this scary story enough not to want to put it down.

It’s a great read-alike for fans of Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. (Doll Bones is also similar with regards to creepy ghost factors!) Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned several times as he has the honor of being Zenobia’s favorite author. The book also draws upon gothic classics; Witheringe House of course reminds us of the title of Wuthering Heights; the governess plot smacks of Jane Eyre; the nursery’s walls are reminiscent of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” and the whole “don’t go in the East Wing” situation is VERY Bluebeard. There’s something here for every gothic fan!

 

Grade Level: 4-8

 

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Reviews

Of Mice and Music and Darkness and Thread and Soup: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

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DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Candlewick, 2003. 272 pages. Paperback $17.99 ISBN 9780763617226

I am SO LATE TO THIS PARTY.

Despereaux is named for the despair he causes his mother at his birth — the only of the mouse litter to survive, he is also born with his eyes open, marking him from the very beginning as “different.” While the mouse community sees his differences as negative ones — ultimately banishing him from their society — the narrator helps readers to see that Despereaux’s “lack of conformity” is the very thing that makes him our little mousie hero. Despereaux braves certain death, rats, darkness, and a cook’s knife on his quest for the one he loves … will he be successful?

DiCamillo’s narration is gorgeous; it feels as though someone is sitting beside you, telling you the whole tale. The “Coda” at the end of the book reinforces this feeling, as the narrator asks that we imagine that we are like Gregory the jailer listening to Despereaux’s story in the dark. Truly, this book fills up a reader like light can brighten a bad day and soup can warm a person. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs or reader’s theatre — encouraging students to swap turns as narrator and perhaps having students “act out” the characters could be a lot of fun. There is also a great deal of space to discuss universal truths — fear, goodness, kindness, bravery — when reading through this book in a group. Despereaux is often fearful, but he works through his fear for the good of others. Roscuro is no doubt a bad guy … but we can see what made him that way. DiCamillo’s small lesson on “empathy” is perfectly packaged and will make for some great class or club discussions.