In most locations around the country schools have either started several weeks ago or have their first day this week. There are still some that adhere to the policy of classes resuming after Labor Day but it's happening already. Amid all the back-to-school displays of necessary supplies (which commenced right after the 4th of July), the colors of orange, black and white are appearing, as early as two weeks ago. Large grocery store chains are stacking bales of hay showcasing pumpkins, ghosts, black cats and mum plants at their outside entrances. Inside large box stores Halloween decorations and costumes are filling up the shelves and aisles. According to my calculations the first day of autumn is still thirty-one days away and sixty-nine days will come and go before we celebrate the holiday of Halloween.
In case you think I might be grumbling a bit about how retailers seem to be wishing our lives away, clearly forgetting to stop and smell the roses, this is simply not the case. A quick glance at my storage bins will reveal I love autumn and Halloween. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year to celebrate reading by handing out books instead of sweet treats. This year there will be a new title among the stacks. The Scariest Book Ever (Disney Hyperion, July 18, 2017) written and illustrated by Bob Shea is fabulous fun.
I'm a spooky ghost! Scary, right?
Our new supernatural friend is actually a bit spooked too. It seems the dark woods we noticed a few pages earlier has him most definitely on edge, although he won't admit it. His bravado is not quite sincere especially when orange juice is spilled on his white clothing. It might not have been an accident but does provide an excuse to not visit the dark woods.
He is curious about what we found when we went there. After our reply he declares dark holes usually yield nothing pleasant. He invites us to stay with him and participate in his version of scary. When he finds out what indeed came out of the dark hole, he believes it's a trick to get him to venture into the dark woods.
Each time we readers go back to the dark woods via page turns the ghost asks us what we saw, makes guesses and hardly believes what we say is true. He then tries to lure us to stay with him offering things like
After five visits to the woods with the unseen participant (us) reporting the state of affairs in the dark woods, the ghost agrees to go...to protect us...supposedly.
What he and his black cat see elicits a shriek of horror. If a ghost could die twice, this one would have been scared into a grave...another grave. His feline friend comes close and whispers the truth to him. Surprise! Surprise! Spooky surprise!
The specific word choices by Bob Shea used to create this first person narrative by the ghost will have you bursting out loud with laughter. The back and forth banter between the ghost and those traveling to the dark woods supplies tension, contrast and loads of comedy. The ghost's guesses at what is seen and his idea of scary will have readers of all ages delighting in the hilarity. Here is a sample passage.
You can stay here and help me with the
haunted housework. We'll tell spooky
stories and clean the bathroom.
That's scary, right?
It's not very often readers see a ghost looking worried but our narrator shown on the front of the opened dust jacket is very concerned. His constant cat companion is reserving judgment. To the left, on the back, on a canvas of yellow are the dark woods. Among the trees are the whites of eyes gazing right at the reader, as if the very trees are alive. Next to the ISBN in the lower right-hand corner stand a very spooked ghost and his cat. I love how this duo is positioned.
The book case is done entirely in an orange background. On the front are miniature scenes using characters in the story. They are participating in activities which are the farthest thing from scary. On the back of the case the cat is sipping milk from a saucer.
On the opening endpapers Bob Shea starts his story with the ghost first peeking through an open doorway and then climbing a staircase. With a page turn he is cautiously looking out an upstairs window on the left at the dark woods on the right, the title page. The verso and dedication pages continue the pictorial story with the ghost leaving in fright and hiding behind a chair.
Bold bright backgrounds in pink, yellow, blue, and white work well with the black canvas which serves to highlight facial and body features and text. This limited color palette showcases Bob Shea's fine lines and cheery details. The use of varnish to draw attention to the naked ghost (remember he spilled orange juice on his white clothing) adds to the laughter factor. Bob Shea uses large areas of color and double-page wordless images to excellent effect.
One of my many favorite illustrations is on a black canvas. The ghost is hovering at the top. His body is shown in black varnish. We can see his eyes and mouth. Extending from the sides of his body are yellow rubber gloves, worn when cleaning the bathroom. He has just dropped a white scrub brush. (I can't even write about this without laughing.)
Early this afternoon I had the pleasure of reading aloud The Scariest Book Ever written and illustrated by Bob Shea. My friend and her two children ages, two and almost five, and I were seated on my quilt-covered sofa. With every page turn we were howling with laughter. Bob Shea has a gift for writing stories which generate laughter within all of us. As I finished the girl jumped up and yelled out loud, "I love this book!" There is no better recommendation than that. Please make sure to have copies of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.
To learn more about Bob Shea and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features Bob Shea, his art and this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Here's the almost five-year-old holding Bob Shea's The Scariest Book Ever.