Reviews

Keep Calm and Creep On: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Fox, Janet S. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Viking, 2016. 388 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-451-47633-3; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-51818-650-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-751713-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes … ish

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk (?)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

London is in the grips of the Blitz — it is World War II, and children are being sent away from London in order to remain safe from constant bombings. Safety is the foremost concern for the Bateson family; Mr. Bateson is a spy on a mission for MI6 — but before leaving, he secures three places at Rookskill Castle in Scotland for his children. There, the Lady Eleanor has opened an academy for children displaced by the bombings. Kat, the eldest Bateson, feels responsible for her younger siblings and does her best to remind them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as they must leave their mother and Great-Aunt Margaret behind in London. Before seeing the children off, once-sharp Great-Aunt Margaret passes a family heirloom on to Kat. She gives the girl a châtelaine and explains that it is an extremely magical item that will help keep her safe. Kat, a lover of math, logic, and puzzles, is disturbed by this explanation, particularly since it just goes to show that Great-Aunt Margaret really is losing her marbles. 

Rookskill Castle is creepy from go, and Kat finds herself facing mystery and weirdness galore. Why is there a shortwave radio hidden in a secret room? What is Lady Eleanor trying to hide? And — most disturbing of all — why are so many secrets in the castle unexplainable by logic and common sense? Is there a spy at Rookskill Castle … or is there something much worse at hand?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had a lot of potential. Historical fiction plus fantasy? SOLD! The premise was amazing. World War II plus creepy age-old magic sounds delicious. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel was a tiny bit disappointing. (This caught me by surprise given the starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.) The start of the novel is very strong, but not long after the Batesons arrive at Rookskill Castle, the story begins to meander. Quixotic episodes repeat with little impact on the plot, and major problems are set up that either fall by the wayside or are resolved in the blink of an eye. Every few pages we are reminded about how logical Kat is … to the point that you start to wonder when it will crop up again (hardly a mysterious thing can happen without the reader being reminded of Kat’s logic). Anachronisms also crop up throughout the text as well as dialectical issues that just don’t sound right. 

That said, however, the book does deliver on tone, so I would still recommend it to my readers looking for something creepy and set in a castle/past period. I also have to think that perhaps the book just didn’t speak to what I wanted from it, especially given its reception by major reviewing outlets.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for a readalike for Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Elizabeth and Zenobia.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 01/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/15

Publishers Weekly starred 01/04/16

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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

 

Reviews

Coraline the graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. Adapted and Illustrated by P. Craig Russell. HarperCollins, 2008. 186 pages. Hardcover $16.19, ISBN 978-0-06-082543-0; Tr. $6.48, ISBN 978-0-06-082545-4; PLB $15.51, ISBN 978-0-329-69109-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Horror (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s delightfully creepy novel. Readers who are familiar with the novel will recognize the elements that come straight from Gaiman. The story itself is scary and wonderful to read, so this review will focus on the illustrations.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

As other commenters have noted, P. Craig Russell’s style is not entirely compatible with the “feel” of Gaiman’s story. It looked too realistic for Coraline; I supposed I’ve been spoiled by Selick’s interpretation in the film. Russell’s Coraline looked older (as commenters have noted), and she did not look like the girl I imagined. Furthermore, the Other Mother was clearly evil from the start in this adaptation. She is drawn in much sharper lines than Coraline’s mother, and her face is clearly predatory from Coraline’s first moment in the Other flat. I like how the film (and, arguably, Gaiman’s text) only hint at some creepiness (i.e, another Mother? What the what?) but doesn’t spoil that she truly is an evil creature. She looks wholesome (save her button eyes). While the film does open with the Other Mother remaking the doll into a Coraline doll, this is not a major spoiler of the terrifying beast that she is (the transformation in the film from humanoid Other Mother to arachnid made out of sewing needles is truly frightening!) Russell’s Other Mother was scary early on, her sharp teeth spoiling the evil reveal from her very first smile.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

A cool activity for a book club reading this graphic novel would be a scavenger hunt. It would not be quite so high stakes as Coraline’s search for the children’s souls and her parents, but it could still be fun! Items could be hidden throughout the school, and teams will be timed to find them. An alternate possibility would be to turn part of the library into an “escape room.” Kids will have to solve the puzzle and escape before the Other Mother takes their eyes! (Gruesome, but potentially fun)! I would have a box of buttons and a spool of thread handy just to creep out the kids if my group skews towards older tweens. (Ideas from myself; how to do an escape room here; I will refer to this activity several times in this document.)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/08

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 9/1/08

Kirkus Reviews starred 6/15/08

Kliatt starred 9/1/08

Library Journal starred 1/1/09

School Library Journal starred 7/1/08

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 6/1/08

 

Does the Cat Die?: (Highlight this whole line for the answer) >>> NO! 🙂

 

Review referenced:

John (screen name). (2009, Feb. 22). Comics: John reviews “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell (Review of the book Coraline). Wit War. Retrieved from https://witwar.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/comics-john-reviews-coraline-by-neil-gaiman-and-p-craig-russell/

 

Escape Room:

Booth, H. (2016, July 14). TPiB: Locked in the library! Hosting an escape room program at your library (blog post). Teen Librarian Toolbox. Retrieved from http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2016/07/tpib-locked-in-the-library/

 

Reviews · Uncategorized

Bones, Boats, and Books: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Podehl, Nick and Black, Holly. Doll Bones. Digital file. Listening Library/Findaway World, 2013. 5 hours 11 minutes, 23 seconds. $39.00 ISBN 978-0-8041-2293-1

This is a wonderful unabridged audiobook. The book alone would definitely be creepy, but hearing this ghost story aloud is chilling. Poppy, Alice, and Zach are engrossed in a game involving pirates, thieves, and an imprisoned Queen. The Queen, an expensive bone china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s living room case, is the focal point of their adventures. While they have been barred from ever opening the case (let alone touching the doll), the children use the Queen as the driving force behind all of their characters’ action. When Zach’s father throws away Zach’s action figures in an effort to force him to grow up, Zach is so upset that he can’t bear to tell his friends what happened. Instead, Zach lies and says that he doesn’t want to play anymore. In an attempt to draw Zach back into the game, Poppy opens her mother’s cabinet and takes out the Queen. Immediately, Poppy claims that the ghost of Eleanor Kirtchner appeared to her in the night, telling her story and claiming to be the ghost of the dead girl used to make the Queen. The china that makes up the Queen’s body? According to Poppy, it came from Eleanor’s bones. Poppy claims that the only way to put Eleanor’s spirit to rest is to bury the Queen in Eleanor’s own (empty) grave … all the way in East Liverpool, one state over and a long bus ride away.

Black can transition from game to ghost story in an instant, leaving the exploits of William and Lady J in the dust as she jumps to a frightening description of the Queen and her (perhaps malign) intentions. Poppy, Alice, and Zach have clearly differentiated voices in Podehl’s reading, and Zach is a fun narrator to walk alongside as we try to ensure that the Queen is properly buried. Is the Queen really haunted by Eleanor’s ghost, or did Poppy just make it all up as one last, grand Game? It’s a creepy, delightful, “unputdownable” story, perfect for a student who enjoys ghost stories, Neil Gaiman, or other scary reads.

Tweens who reviewed the book on Common Sense Media were split. Of the three reviews, one tween loved the book, one was very disappointed and wished that it was up to par with Black’s other books, and the third thought that it was too scary. Despite these mixed reviews, if there was interest in my patron base, I would like to use this book with students for a fun read. School Library Journal also selected this audiobook as a “Pick of the Day” in 2013.

 

Programming Ideas: This would be a fantastic alternate to a library read-aloud for older students. At five hours it’s a bit of a commitment, but perhaps a group of interested students could gather at their lunch breaks to listen. Doing half an hour a day only took me about a week and a half, so it’s definitely a doable listen as a pre-Halloween scary read! (Idea from myself).

 

Reviews read:

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). All teen and kid member reviews for Doll Bones.    Common Sense Media. Retrieved from             https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/doll-bones/user-reviews/child

School Library Journal. (2013, Aug. 2). Pick of the day: Doll bones (audio) (Review of      the audiobook Doll Bones). School Library Journal. Retrieved from    http://www.slj.com/2013/08/industry-news/pick-of-the-day-doll-bones-audio/

Stewart, D. (n. d.). Doll bones (Review of the book Doll Bones). Common Sense Media.   Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/doll-bones

 

Reviews

Creepy-Crawlies, Kids, and Cavendish: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand

LeGrand, Claire. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 352 pages. Hardcover $15.54 ISBN 978-1442442917

img_0141This creepy book is an excellent read for fans of Coraline. Victoria’s dearest ambition is to be the best; nothing short of perfection will do. In her quest for perfection, she has decided to live life without friends … until, of course, Lawrence “the Skunk” (so called for his stripe of gray hair) strikes her as so pathetic, so utterly unable to take care of himself, that she makes him her Special Project and hangs out with him in order to be a good influence. As Victoria struggles with her B in music — impossible! A B?! And here’s Lawrence, a veritable music prodigy! — she misses the fact that Lawrence looks very anxious, and his parents are acting very oddly. In fact, once Lawrence disappears mysteriously, Victoria notices everyone acting very oddly. The answer to all this weirdness lies in the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, run by the too-perfect Ms. Cavendish and her assistant, the unsettling gardener, Mr. Alice. As Victoria hunts for the truth, she finds herself sucked into the Home and learning far too much about why her town runs like a well-oiled machine.

This book has a definite gross-out factor — creepy creatures, slime, mystery meat, beetles, and cockroaches fill the pages. This book is also terrifying — much like how Coraline’s scary button-eyed Other People are too good to be true, so is Ms. Cavendish and her orphans’ home. This book is perfect for the student who wants to be scared, one who looks for disturbing stories where kids have to battle some pretty evil big bads. This would be a great Halloween book club book or display item, and it has definitely earned a spot in a Coraline book talk.

Readalike: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.