Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Company Of Captivating Creepiness

Are your doors and windows locked?  Are all the curtains closed and the blinds lowered?  Do you have a flashlight or matches and a candle handy in case the lights unexpectedly go out?  Is your best buddy, your furry friend, nearby?  Are you snuggling with a favorite blanket or stuffed toy you haven't used in years?  If you answered yes to all of these, you might be ready to read a collection of new truly scary stories.

My last encounter with a Guys Read title and an explanation of the series was Guys Read:  Other Worlds (Walden Pond Press, September 17, 2013) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Greg Ruth.  Stories from those outstanding creators still linger in my mind.  On September 16, 2014 the fifth title, Guys Read: True Stories (Walden Pond Press) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Brian Floca was released.  Ten authors known for their stellar work in writing nonfiction contributed.

The newest book, the sixth in the series, Guys Read:  Terrifying Tales (Walden Pond Press, September 1, 2015) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Gris Grimly is another highly anticipated work which exceeds all expectations.  I did not pace myself in reading these stories.  I consumed them like a survivor of a hike across Death Valley gulps cool water.  Michael Buckley, Nikki Loftin, Adam Gidwitz, Kelly Barnhill, Dav Pilkey, Daniel Jose Older, Rita Williams-Garcia, Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown, R. L. Stine and Claire Legrand, whose work you think you may know, will garner your respect for their versatility as writers.  These tales, their stories, will give you the willies for weeks...or longer.

 Jon Scieszka's introduction exquisitely sets the tone with a winning combination of creepy and comedy.  Here is a sample passage.

I'm not sure why some people like to read scary stories.  Many experts say it might be a way of conquering fears in practice.  Other experts say they love the rush of excitement, and the relief when the terror is over.
I say these people are nuts.

I hear my little brother's terrified screams a block away.  I pump my pedals as hard as I can and steer my bike toward home.  Tearing through my yard, I destroy my mother's azalea bush on my way to the back of the house.  There I find him clinging to the highest rung of a rotting rope ladder.

Tyler's imaginary friend, who through therapy with a child psychiatrist, he has walled out of his mind for years is back...in the flesh, befriending his four-year old brother.  Michael Buckley paints a horrifying picture of the realm of imagination crossing into reality.  Caught in a web of deception Tyler fights for his own sanity and the lives of his family.

My mouth is full of tarry black candy.  Licorice needles, Mrs. Carlson calls them.  She gave me a few long pieces, said I could have the whole jar if I didn't mess up reading today.

Nikki Loftin designs a scenario so normal the truth will pierce deep into the depths of your soul.  An old blind woman (or is she) misses reading her favorite literature.  A seventh grade boy needs to bring his English grade up to a B.  His mom thinks it's the ideal situation for them both with Jeremiah reading to Mrs. Carlson after school every day plus she makes the most delicious baked treats.  Do you remember the childhood chant of sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me?  Jeremiah discovers how truly evil words can be.

Once upon a ti---
I'll stop.  You don't even want me to finish that sentence.  Now you think I'm going to tell you a fairy tale.  You did not pick up this book in order to read a fairy tale.  You picked up this book to read a story that would scare you; that would freak you out; that would give you nightmares; a story so scary you'd pee your pants.  That's the kind of story you're looking for.  Right?

Trust me when I say Adam Gidwitz gives his own special treatment to a classic fairy tale of gruesome top-notch horror.  Three sisters, three brothers, hunters every one, and one man, a fowler, who is farthest from ordinary as you can be all live in a great, wild wood.  The youngest and least beautiful of the sisters, Marleenken, observes strange events but her clever mind seeks solutions.  Marriage, magic and murder might be mentioned more than once.

Before I start this story, let me first say that it is never, never, never, never, never okay to push your brother down a creepy, old, possibly bottomless well.
Or, almost never. 

There are legends attached to fountains and wells.  Wishes made when a coin is tossed into one are said to come true.  In Kelly Barnhill's version a rock with a paper wish attached thrown into a well on a polluted parcel of land gets carried to devilish darkness.  This wished-for brother has healthy appetites.  This wished-for brother has Arne, best friend Jamal and Owen the family cat going where they should not go and doing what cannot be undone.

When I was a kid, I loved scary things.  I watched horror movies constantly.  ...And my bedroom was filled with tons of cool monster stuff.

What by day was perfectly fine turns totally frightful every night for this boy.  Sneaking a flashlight to shine a bit of brightness works pretty well until the third grade, then Dav Pilkey sees what no guy should see; a sister who is not all there, so to speak.  Needless to say the commotion he creates causes his parents, particularly his dad, to make his life scarier than he can ever have imagined.

I haven't been back here since that night two years ago when my father died.  Then, it was summer.  I wore a red T-shirt and even though it was late, the sky still glowed purple and red over the abandoned sugar factory across the river.  Now it's October, and the night is everywhere, pushing through the skyscraper corridors on the howling wind.  The air tightens and releases like giant gasps; the whole city seems like it's trembling, waiting for the storm to hit.

Since the evening his abuela sent him to bring his father home for dinner, Marcos has not spoken a single word.  The events leading up to and after his father's murder have haunted him as have spirits coming from the river.  Daniel Jose Older leads us and Marcos on a journey where waiting and wanting blend with reality and the realm on the other side of life.

This is how I know something's different about my mother.  My waste not, want not, save-don't-spend mother says to me, while we're all next to the JetBlue check-in line, "It's not too late.  I can still get you a ticket."  She takes a blue booklet from her purse and sings, "I have your passport!"

Rita Williams-Garcia does not waste a single sentence wrapping us in mystery, tension and eventually terror from the beginning.  Winston, his brother Colin, who has escaped to college, and his dad are convinced their mother and wife has become a darker version of herself but that's ridiculous...isn't it?  After her return from Jamaica her gift to Winston of three coconut heads bearing an uncanny likeness to his cousins pushes him to fight for his life on his own.  Winston's worst fear is realized.
Chop, chop, chop.

If I'd known what suffering Thaddeus Rolf would bring me, I'd have put an end to my life right then.
Instead, I took his. 

Who can blame a thirteen-year-old lad from wanting to escape grueling servitude at the hands of an unrelenting master?  Certainly desperation pushed him to commit this heinous crime, assuming the identity of another man.  As Adele Griffin tells it and Lisa Brown visualizes it for us, Rolf punishes his assassin with his artistic ability from beyond his tomb in a barrel of stout.  For any crew member aboard the good ship, Charming Molly, a tattoo is a sign of a worthy sailor.  With each inked piece appearing on the boy's body, without benefit of a tattooist, disasters plague the voyage, the ship and its men.  There is no escaping this curse.  None whatsoever.

My name is Mark Martindale, but my magician name is Magic Marko.  Yes, I'm one of those weird kids who is totally into magic and magicians and tricks.  Someday, I'm going to be a famous magician and amaze millions of people.  I'm serious.  

Mark's best gift ever is a suitcase filled with one hundred magic tricks.  As fast as he can, trick by trick, he perfects them and marvels people with his abilities.  When a master magician comes to town Mark will do anything to attend the show, even if he has to take his pesky seven-year-old brother, Kevin.  Mark and his brother are about to discover the truth behind Alexander the Semi-Great's boast of not performing tricks but bending reality.  R. L. Stine is the true magician in this story.

Grandma Ruby had never trusted libraries.  "Don't go," she told Clark one gray day, when he was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, and quite frankly hating life at the moment.  

Clark and his new best friend Nina go to the library regardless of Grandma Ruby's eerie whispered songs which she sings daily since her daughter, Clark's Aunt Mara, has disappeared. As soon as Clark meets the librarian, Mr. Dunn, his eyes neatly hidden behind glasses glaring in the lights of the library, all his instincts tell him this man is wrong, this place is wrong.  When the shadowy kids with too-long limbs wearing masks slid up and down the shelves and walls, it's too late.  Then Claire Legrand writes

That was when the lights went out.

Guys Read:  Terrifying Tales edited by Jon Scieszka is a superb gathering of ghoulish, ghastly, and ghostly occurrences.  The characters conceived by these ten authors will amaze you with their bravery, threaten to freeze the blood in your veins with the depth of their evilness, and have you cheering at their wit.  Sheer dread seeps into you and your surroundings by their written words creating visions of worlds better seen than entered.  You have to remember to keep breathing believing the slightest sound on your part could signal your demise.  You should plan on getting multiple copies in your classroom or school libraries.  This title would make a great treat to hand out at Halloween.

The illustrations by Grim Grimly featured to the left of each story's beginning (with the exception of the Dav Pilkey and Lisa Brown images) depict the essence of each tale.  Shivering is not an option but a direct result from seeing each picture.  You will never look at old ladies or coconuts the same way again.

Do follow the links attached to each author's name to access their websites, learning about them and their other work.  I have included a link to the page at the Guys Read website for this title.  Enjoy reading a lengthy excerpt courtesy of the publisher.  

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