Spooooooooky: halloween reading for kids

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

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Last Updated 03/19/09

Picture Books

(Click for fiction, ages 5-12, young adult fiction and nonfiction )

Hilda and the Mad Scientist by Addie Adam. Illustrated by Lisa Thiesing. Dutton, 1995 (0-525-45386-5) $14.99

With a heart as big as her feet and her muscles, Hilda just loves to help people--and nobody seems to need her help more than Dr. Weinerstein, who lives all alone in a creepy old mansion up on Vampire Hill. Soon Hilda has moved in, to make Dr. Weinerstein eat his broccoli, brush his teeth and go to bed in long, wooly, itchy socks. But when Dr. Weinerstein decides to scare Hilda away by creating a monster, he finds that her terrible influence has even invaded his laboratory--and his new monster is much more horrific than he bargained for! Illustrated like a goofy mix between a folk tale and a horror movie, this is a lively, funny book with a terrific twist ending.

Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. Illustrated by Brian Ajhar. Dial, 1994 (0-8037-1376-2) $14.99

Looking for a book with a really strong female role model? Rich, pampered Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning is an adorable little girl, with the big fine eye of the Mannings and the big toothy smiles of the Wolvertons. But those aren't the only valuable traits she's inherited from her relatives, as a kidnapper discovers when he holds Scarlett Angelina for ransom and ignores her protests that "my mother says I always have to be home before dark."

This stylized parody of Victorian culture is not only funny, it's genuinely scary, with a slowly building, suggestive creepiness far more spine-chilling than more blatant terrors. The old-fashioned caricature illustrations complement both the humor and the horror, giving Scarlett Angelina a too-good-to-be-true look of demure innocence; the terrified faces of the kidnapper's pets when she treats them to her "famous Wolverton smile"--right before they inexplicably disappear--is hilarious. Older readers will also enjoy spotting the puns in the names.

Bat Jamboree by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Morrow, 1996 (0-688-13882-9) $16.00

After reading Bat Jamboree, I found it hard to remember that it was a brand new book: it had so much of the feeling of an old favorite. Readers and listeners of all ages will love this funny and dramatic description of the stupendous Bat Jamboree, in which 55 bats perform: "1 bat sang. 2 bats flapped. 3 bats cha-cha-ed. 4 bats tapped." After counting up to ten and down again, the show ends when--of course--"the bat lady sings." Appelt's rhyming text is playful and captivating and Sweet's pictures combine her usual winsome appeal with just the right, light touch of spooky battiness. The performer's costumes are especially fun, with the bats who "flapped" wearing 1920's duds and the bats who "tapped" in sailor suits; kids won't get all the jokes, but they'll enjoy the variety. A terrific book, for Halloween or any time. (3 & up)

In the Haunted House by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh. Clarion, 1990; 1994 (0-395-69942-8) $4.95 pb

Two pairs of sneakers--one big, one small--walk through a terrifying house, where "bats hang by their feet from the cracked chandelier" and a vampire lies in the coffin-shaped tub, smiling in his sleep. When the two finally run out of the house, it's revealed that they're a dad and daughter--and though the dad is wiping the sweat from his brow, the little girl is eager to go back in, because "Halloween Houses are so much fun!" The rhyming text is nothing special and Meddaugh's illustrations are not on par with the hilarious work she is doing today, but the unusual vantage point and turnabout ending make this an enjoyable book. The resolution at the end is nice for kids who have a love/hate relationship with being scared.

Night of the Gargoyles by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by David Wiesner. Houghton Mifflin, 1994 (0-395-66553-1) $14.95; Clarion, 1999 (0-395-96887-9) $6.95 pb

The secret life of gargoyles is captured in darkly fascinating words and pictures in this atmospheric book. During the day, the gargoyles squat on the roof of an art museum, "their empty eyes unblinking," but at night, their stone comes to life. The gargoyles creep through the museum, mocking the night watchman and meeting others of their kind at the fountain to complain about rain and pigeons--until light comes again and once more they must take their silent corners. Wiesner's rich black & white illustrations combine the realistic look of still, cracking stone with lifelike movements and expressions for a marvelously believable effect--yet the overall impact of the pictures is so otherworldly, it's hard to find them truly frightening. The text is a bit laboriously poetic, but does have some marvelous images: "The gargoyles rasp their wings and put their thumbs behind their crumbling ears to show their scorn." I suspect this book will be most successful with older readers and adults; it's very sophisticated for a read-aloud, and the text and design are too complicated for many beginning readers. (8 & up)

On Halloween written and illustrated by Lark Carrier. HarperFestival, 1999 (0-694-01292-0) $7.95

This atmospheric "peek a boo" book is a good start on a Halloween mood. As the text describes various scary things, using an effective continuous rhyme (We treat you to a fright/We go boo in the night/We glow with jagged light), cut-outs and partial illustrations invite readers to guess what's coming. The pictures use broad, uncomplicated shapes, for a visual style that's outwardly simple, but includes some surprisingly creepy touches: the "eyes" of two ghosts are starry sky, while those of pumpkins are flames. (3-6)

The Witch on a Windy Night adapted by Bernice Chardiet from a poem by Bernice Wells Carlson. Illustrated by Pamela Cote. Puffin, 1994 (0-14-055000-3) $4.99 pb

Some hungry animals try to get a witch to share her soup on a windy night, but the greedy witch decides to drink the whole pot herself--with explosive results. The mild watercolor illustrations, simple flaps to lift and enjoyable complete-the-rhyme, cumulative text of this book seems ideal for younger children who want to enjoy some of the trappings of Halloween without getting too frightened, if the thought of a witch exploding isn't too much for them. Cote seems to have had great fun making the pictures increasingly windswept, with leaves, birds, and bug-eyed frogs flying across the witch's room. (2-6)

Trick-or-Treat! by Ann Dixon. Illustrated by Larry Di Fiori. Scholastic, 1998 (0-590-28161-5) $2.99 pb

There are many Halloween books in which children turn the tables on scary creatures, but in this amusing story, it's the creature who gets to have the last laugh. As a group of children walk up the street, pretty cocky in their big powerful costumes, a little ghost watches from a window, seemingly anxious about how he's going to cope with this ferocious crowd. But when the five horrible humans yell "Trick-or-treat," they get more than they bargained for--and the ghost gets all the treats. A bustling text brings the children on and takes them off one by one, adding a bit of a math lesson in the process; the comic illustrations are basic and undemanding. (3-8)

Boo, Bunny! by Kathryn O. Galbraith. Illustrated by Jeff Mack. Harcourt, 2008 (978-0-15-21646-7) $16.00

The title of this book sets the stage well for the effective mix of spooky and cute it contains. It begins with "One shy bunny. One dark night" and the night is very dark indeed for the shy bunny--until it bumps into another shy bunny, and they discover how much easier it is to be brave with "two paws held tight." Short rhyming phrases create an evocative story: "One soft whoooooo! One loud booo! Jump. Bump! "Eeek! "Squeak!" The details are filled in by the acrylic illustrations, which give a sharply defined, tactile look to the two bunnies, making them look like favorite stuffed animals; the darkness of the night is accentuated by simple, bold shapes and lovely, ever-changing jewel toned colors. There's something about the book's visual aesthetic that doesn't entirely grab me, a overly gilded artificiality--but perhaps that helps provide a measure of distance from the spookiness. Overall, an appealing way to add to the Halloween atmosphere for young children. (3-6)

Mooses Come Walking by Arlo Guthrie. Illustrated by Alice Brock. Chronicle, 1995 (0-8118-1051-8) $10.95

Broadly drawn but surprisingly expressive illustrations by Alice Brock--yes, the Alice--have just the right touch of eerie humor for Arlo Guthrie's sly, silly poem about the secret life of "mooses." The mooses, drawn with blank, staring eyes and floppy antlers, like to come over the hill to "look into your window at night" and smile at your antics--so, "if you see mooses while lying in bed, it's best just to lay there, pretending you're dead." An appealing combination of the sinister and the goofy, with an irresistible loping rhythm. (4-10)

Come For a Ride on the Ghost Train written and illustrated by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. Candlewick, 1993 (1-56402-236-6) $12.95; (1-56402-504-7) $6.99 pb

Come for a ride on the Ghost Train, turn the split pages and discover goofy-looking monsters in the dark tunnels, multi-eyed aliens in the slimy swamp and ferociously fanged trees in the scary forest. There's no real story here, but an excellent way to create some Halloween tension--and a lot of noise, as the cartoony pictures invite the reader to sshrieek, ssqueeal and ssscreeam. Great for groups or parties, but I advise caution for the parents of sensitive children, as some of the pictures could be genuinely frightening. (3-7)

Beware Beware by Susan Hill. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick, 1993 (1-56402-245-5) $14.95

Although it doesn't directly mention Halloween, this story about a young girl torn between the safety of home and curiosity about the unknown fits in well with the dark and spooky Halloween atmosphere. Told in simple but evocative rhyme, it describes a little girl's imaginative fascination with the mysteries outside her home - but just when it gets to be too frightening, her mother arrives to take her back to the warm, cozy kitchen: safe, but still wondering "what's out there?" Soft, beautifully colored watercolors create both the comfort of home and the eerie loveliness of the frightening wood, in which all sorts of strange things seem to lurk.

Boo Who? written and illustrated by Joan Holub. Scholastic, 1997 (0-590-05905-X) $6.95

This simple lift-the-flaps book gives a particularly friendly introduction to some of Halloween's most famous characters: witches, black cats and skeletons. Short rhymes provide clues for young readers to guess who--or what--is hiding under each flap. The characters are so cheerfully drawn that lifting the flaps is more fun than scary; I especially liked the werewolf, shown soulfully baying at the moon. (2-4)

Hoodwinked written and illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2001; Voyager, 2005 (0-15-205386-7) $6.00 pb

Mitzi is a little witch who loves all things creepy. Her bedroom slippers have monster faces; her favorite cereals have names like "Raisin Brain" and "Newts 'n Honey." So when she decides to get a pet, naturally she wants something really, really creepy. But though toads and bats are definitely creepy, they just don't seem quite right. Then a cute kitten shows up at Mitzi's door--worse than cute... adorable!--but despite him being far from creepy, Mitzi soon finds him a perfect pet. "After all," she realizes, "looks aren't everything." Illustrated with lots of comically witchy detail, this story combines cute and spooky in near perfect amounts. (3-7)

I Know an Old Lady illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Scholastic, 1994 (0-590-46575-9) $14.95

Seemingly childlike yet darkly surreal illustrations humorously document the story of the old lady who swallowed a fly and was then forced to keep swallowing bigger and bigger animals until she died. The pictures include hilarious reaction shots from the old lady, torn between nausea and eagerness to sample the next beast, and from the spikey-headed little boy watching her, frantically trying to document the incredible event with a camera and notebook. (His ultimate success is demonstrated on the title page of the story, a picture of the old lady at the end, taped to the cover of his notebook.) I don't think this book will work well to sing along with--the small, rigid typeface just doesn't feel "singable"--but children will probably enjoy it on their own. (5-8)

Ghosts in the House! written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara. Roaring Brook, 2008 (978-1-59643-427-1) $12.95

With its palette of black and orange and ghostly white, this book just calls out "Halloween," but it also has another message: Take charge of your fears. A little girl goes to live in a splendid old house at the edge of town and discovers it's HAUNTED! But no problem: the girl whips out her witch hat, her white cat whips out a black witch-cat costume, and the two fly off on her broomstick to catch the ghosts. Soon each ghost has been washed, hung out to dry--smiling ghost faces indicate this is quite fun--and are put to use around the house, as curtains, tablecloths, and cozy throws. "And they all lived happily ever after," with the girl and cat sleeping under ghost blankets, which are also peacefully sleeping.

Flat, almost monochromatic linocuts are very striking, entirely orange and black with heavy black and orange outlines, except for the delightfully see-through white ghosts. The matter-of-fact air with which the witch girl tames the ghosts, and their simple cheerfulness, are equally appealing. (3-6)

The Haunted Castle by Stephanie Laslett. illustrated by Nigel McMullen. Dutton, 1996 (0-525-45690-2) $10.99

The odd-looking, heavily dressed Stein family aren't having much luck house-hunting--until Mr. Flannel, the real-estate agent shows them a very unusual castle, complete with wall-to-wall cobwebs and icicles hanging from the bathroom pipes. Mr. Flannel is perturbed to find bats in the bedroom and a skeleton in the bathtub, but as the Steins remove their wraps and sunglasses (revealing pointed ears and long fangs), they declare, "the house is perfect. Why, it's the house of our nightmares." Featuring, "six spooky holograms," this is an entertaining use of one of the latest novelty book gimmicks. The text is fairly bland, but kids will enjoy the running gag and the amusing details in the comic illustrations, as well as the striking holograms. (4-8)

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck. Illustrated by Mark Buehner. Lothrop, 1999 (0-688-16866-3) $16.00

Do we really need yet another soppy picture book about parental love? Why not, when the parent and kid in question each have three eyes and fangs. This rhyming narrative by a monster kid sings the praises of a loving mom who "gives me great big hairy hugs, bakes me cookies filled with bugs." Richly colored, strongly detailed picture create a traditional, fun, monsterly milieu, with lots of cobwebs, snake and bat motifs, and a one-eyed lovey for the monster to cuddle. (I couldn't help feeling disappointed with the very ordinary hot dogs the monsters roast.) Too genuinely sentimental to be considered a parody, this book lets parents share a message of love leavened with some refreshing laughs. (3-6)

Once Upon a Tomb by J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrated by Simon Bartram. Candlewick, 2006 (0-7636-1837-3) $16.99

We all have to go sometime, but as this book shows, some deaths are particularly apt. Epitaphs in rhyme for people ranging from a dairy farmer to a philosopher offer silly, gross, and occasionally witty looks at their untimely ends--the dairy farmer was crushed under a cow; the philosopher merely "came to a conclusion." There's not a lot of subtlety here: much of the humor is based on stereotypes (like the "school-lunch lady" who "never served a Jello-O mold/If it was more than six weeks old,") and the hyper-realistic caricature illustrations find the grossest possible interpretation of every verse, showing a school principal flushed down a toilet and a schoolteacher receiving an exceptionally bad papercut right through the neck. But those with a taste for the macabre, as well as for the disgusting, will find plenty to tickle them here. (To be honest, the decapitating paper airplane is pretty darn funny.) The shortest poems are perhaps the most successful: For an underwear salesman, "Our grief/Was brief." And for a fortune teller, the epitaph is simple but eloquent: "Here lies." (6-12)

One Witch by Laura Leuck. Illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Walker, 2003; 2005 (0-8027-7729-5) $65.95 pb

Count up and down to a truly gruesome brew, as one witch gathers contributions for her empty soup pot from a gaggle of ghastly neighbors: "Four goblins eating bugs gave the witch some slimy slugs. Five vampires on the loose gave the witch some fresh blood juice." After ten werewolves hand over their spider soup, the witch sends out invitations to all who helped her. Everyone loves it too, but they save a last bowl just for...YOU! The last page, in which the witch smilingly holds out a bowl of the ghastly goop, will have listeners howling. This is perfect for Halloween storytimes: the flowing rhymes are just right for reading aloud and the precise, angular illustrations are seriously creepy. (4-8)

Boogie Bones by Elizabeth Loredo. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Putnam, 1997 (0-399-22763-6) $15.95

It's a little known fact that skeletons are just a bit frightened of people, who, after all, have "no bones about them." Still, when skeleton Boogie Bones hears about a dance contest at the town hall, he can't resist an opportunity to really show his stuff. Disguised in a moldy tuxedo, baseball cap and huge fake moustache, Boogie wows everyone with his tango and mambo, his rumba and waltz. But then the band starts playing "Jumpin' at the Woodside," and Boogie begins to lindy hop... a dangerous dance for someone in a fragile disguise. Both funny and creepy, this is an unexpectedly joyous story; dark-toned but glowing paintings accentuate a mood that is simultaneously grotesque and charming. (6-10)

Old Devil Wind by Bill Martin, Jr. Illustrated by Barry Root. 1971, 1993; Voyager, 1996 (0-15-201384-9) $5.00 pb

If you've ever wondered what makes some houses so spooky, this delightfully eerie cumulative tale reveals a possible explanation. It all begins one dark and stormy night, when a ghost floats out of the wall and begins to wail. Stool decides that if Ghost is wailing, it will thump, and Broom, hearing Stool thump, decides that it should swish. Soon Floor is creaking, Owl is hooting and naturally, Witch is flying around the house. Dim, subtly anthropomorphic illustrations give this odd book just the right amount of evocative creepiness, making it one of the rare picture book that actually captures the atmosphere of Halloween. * (3-8)
Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Henry Holt, 2006 (0-8050-7429-5) $16.95

Embedded Spanish words in a spooky English verse offers readers an essential Halloween vocabulary, as los esqueletos rattle bones, los fantasmas drag their chains and las brujas guide their broomsticks. All of the awakened creatures of the night are on their way to a monstrouus ball; the purposeful progression of the sometimes truly frightening creatures and the complex, murky illustrations successfully build up a chilling mood, but the familiar ending, in which all of los monstruous are scared away by trick-or-treating kids, seems anticlimactic. Although this is primarily Halloween as celebrated by kids in the U.S., visual allusions to Spanish culture give the book a richer polish. (6-10)

Beware, Take Care by Lilian Moore. Illustrated by Howard Fine. Henry Holt, 2006 (9-8050-6917-8) $16.95

A city is the background for the poems in this collection, but not just any city: this one has ghosts, monsters and dragons along with its parks, supermarkets and apartment buildings. Most are more annoying than scary, some even friendly... but then there are those that are just...there:

Something is there
  There on the stair,
     Coming down
        Coming down
          Stepping with care.
            Coming down
              Coming down

Something is coming and wants to get by.
The illustrations--pastels with a dark, slightly out-of-focus look-- make the most of the urban setting, placing a monster casually draping his hand over a penthouse terrace, a dragon popping popcorn for little leaguers to catch in their mitts, and another monster taking his unknown, unseen pet for a walk, responsibly carrying a pooper-scooper. The fully depicted monsters are a bit of a let-down, just big and hairy and occasionally oddly dressed; the more mysterious poems offer the best combinations of text and picture, with glimpses of enormous eyes or feet to complement the shivers raised by the words. (4-8)

Cat's Knees and Bee's Whiskers written and illustrated by Sandy Nightingale. Harcourt, 1993 (0-15-215364-0) $14.95

Baldrick, a witch's cat, discovers the dangers of playing Sorcerer's Apprentice when he tries to cast a spell to get to the moon - which must be full of mice, of course, since it's made of green cheese. Little does he know that the spell will give him a strange new body - or that the moon mice will turn out to be bigger than he is! The amusing story is complemented by whimsical drawings which neatly counteract plot elements that might upset sensitive children (Baldrick gets rid of all the mice around, but we see them packing up and moving out rather than being eaten), making the book appropriate for any child who can sit still for a fairly long story.

Martin and the Pumpkin Ghost by Ingrid Ostheeren. Translated and adapted by J. Alison James. Illustrated by Christa Unzner-Fischer. North-South Books, 1994 (1-55858-267-3) $14.95

Strikingly attractive pen & ink illustrations are the highlight of this story about overcoming fears. Martin is afraid of everything: "not just wasps and spiders and monsters in the dark, but dogs and bullies and the teacher, and even his sister Clara." Then one night he has a dream, about a good witch who tells him that "the Pumpkin Ghost" will help him to be brave. The next day, when Clara yells at him, he hears a little voice advise, "Be ni-i-ice to your sister," and when he cheerfully says "Good morning, Clara," she is friendly for the first time in weeks. As the day goes on, Martin encounters everything else he fears, but the Pumpkin Ghost--cleverly illustrated as a huge, translucent pumpkin, superimposed on the scene and taking on the face of whoever Martin's afraid of--tells him what to do. By the end of the day, Martin has learned how to face up to his fears and no longer needs the Pumpkin Ghost or the good witch. The writing is not memorable and the message is somewhat didactic and unrealistic, offering no scenarios in which a fear is not so easily defeated, but children will relate to Martin's feelings and experiences. The relaxed, expressive illustrations offer an unusual combination of mundane and fantastic touches, from a little girl picking her nose to a garden full of live gnomes.

We Are Monsters by Mary Packard. Illustrated by John Magine. Scholastic, 1996 (0-590-68995-9) $3.99 pb

This rhyming text proclaims the anthem of a band of goofy-looking monsters: "We are monsters. Monsters are cool! We are monsters. Monsters rule!" But though they get up to all kinds of mischief--even taking things without saying please!--the monsters have one secret dread: children hiding under their beds! Although the watercolor illustrations aren't completely successful, failing to find the right balance between scary and absurd, this is a lively book that's good for some rereadings even after the joke ending is revealed. (3-6)

Halloween Countdown by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. 1977; HarperFestival, 2002 (0-06-000512-2) $6.99 board

I have no idea what the original illustrations for this poem were like, but it's hard to imagine mourning them. As a little boy counts down from "ten ghosts in the pantry" to "one ghost right behind me..." Yaccarino somehow takes simple white blobs with black blobs for faces and makes them into the silliest, most obnoxious ghosts ever, as they tiptoe--tipblob?--down the stairs, or follow our irritated hero in a conga line. With a simple ABAB rhyme scheme that works perfectly in board book format, and those marvelous ghosts to enjoy, this is a pleasure for adults to read and reread. (2-6)

The Teeny Tiny Woman written and illustrated by Arthur Robins. Candlewick, 1998 (0-7636-0444-5) $10.99

This unusually cheerful rendition of a classic ghost story leavens traditional spookiness with an odd mixture of the cozy and the grotesque. The teeny tiny woman, gayly dressed and brightly smiling, finds "a teeny tiny bone on a teeny tiny grave" and happily takes it home to make "teeny tiny soup." (Perhaps taking frugality a mite too far.) That night, as she starts to hear a voice calling "give me my bone," her bedroom door opens further and further, and a green hand creeps ever closer to her. But when the teeny tiny woman yells in her loudest teeny tiny voice, "take it!" the original owner of the bone runs off in terror. The story doesn't have quite the same impact as it does under the blankets or by a campfire, when the owner of the bone is never more than a terrifying suggestion, but in a book meant for preschoolers perhaps that's just as well. (3-6)

Pumpkin Faces by Emma Rose. Illustrated by Judith Moffatt. Scholastic, 1997 (0-590-13454-X) $6.95

This is one of the coolest ideas for a Halloween book I've seen in a while: it can actually be read in the dark. Both the text and portions of the pictures glow in a delightfully eerie way; the drawback is that the book has to be "activated" be exposing each page to light for several minutes. (If it starts to fade while reading, a flashlight quickly reactivates it.) The story itself is actually not scary at all, a cheerful little rhyme about different kinds of pumpkin faces; humorous collage illustrations show a mouse, cat and dog replicating the expressions on the different jack o' lanterns as they playfully squabble. Of course, all of the faces, animal and pumpkin, glow in the dark. I'm not sure whether children young enough to enjoy this book will also enjoy having it read to them in the dark, but those who aren't easily scared will find it fascinating. (2-4)

Halloween Party written and illustrated by Linda Shute. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1994 (0-688-11714-7) $15.00

A more jovial side of Halloween is shown in this rhyming story about the "dusty, musty, marvelous; freaky, friendly, fabulous" Halloween party. With buckets of worms and bowls of slime for decor, devil's food cupcakes and bobbing apples to eat, and lots of loud instruments to play, it's truly a "snazzy, jazzy, jamboree Halloween Party." But least you forget the other spirit of Halloween, there's a spooky, funny surprise. The effervescent text is fun to read and the watercolor illustrations are lively and colorful, with a few nicely done eerie touches.

The House that Drac Built by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Gulliver, 1995 (0-15-200015-1) $14.00; Voyager, 1998 (0-15-201879-4) $6.00 pb

A clever and literate Halloween version of "The House that Jack Built." It's a wild and restless night for the terrifying creatures that live in the dark mansion that Drac built, as a bat is bitten by a cat, who is then chased by a werewolf, who then wrestles with a manticore and so on. But the dreadful beings are both conquered and soothed when a group of fearless trick-or-treaters show up. Children who are spooked by "haunted houses" will appreciate the power reversal of this story, as well as its nicely crafted cumulative rhymes. The illustrations, oil and pastels with a marbleized look, are a little too stiff and stylized to be a perfect match for the text, but have an appropriately gruesome quality. (4-8)

The Hobyahs retold by Robert D. San Souci. Illustrated by Alexi Natchev. Doubleday, 1994; Dell Picture Yearling, 1996 (0-440-41212-9) $5.99 pb

Eerie poems add an especially spooky touch to this dark folktale about the Hobyahs, creatures with "fur and claws and pointed ears and sharp teeth." The Hobyahs live deep in the woods, but nearby is a little house, the home of an old man, and old woman and a little girl. Every night the Hobyah's plan to "tear down the house, eat up the old man and woman and carry off the little girl," but every night, the barking of one of five faithful dogs scares the Hobyahs off. But when the old man and old woman get tired of all the barking, the chase their dogs off, one by one, until no one is left to protect them. And that night the Hobyahs come. . .

As this repetitive story develops, Natchev's strongly textured illustrations build up tension by bringing the Hobyah's closer in each picture: first they are merely glowing eyes, next we see their fangs and claws, then they are leaping into the night. Each appearance of the Hobyahs is accompanied by a short, evocative poem that accentuates their silent menace. Despite a happy ending for the little girl and the dogs, this is definitely a scary story. (4-8)

By the Light of the Halloween Moon by Caroline Stutson and Kevin Hawkes. Puffin, 1994 (0-14-774215-3)) $4.99 pb

This charming rhyme-story, similar in pattern to "The House that Jack Built" and "The Green Grass Grew All Around" is delightful to read aloud, with an irresistibly sing-songy rhythm. A toe "that taps a tune in the dead of night" becomes the target of increasingly sinister characters who inevitably foil each other's plans to grab and eat it, until the owner of the toe (a little girl) firmly smacks the last culprit, saying "That toe is mine!" The lively pictures (reminiscent of Rankin and Bass claymation) suit the story well and the triumphant ending will probably overcome any fear aroused by the ghoulish characters. * (3-8)

Calavera Abecedario written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Harcourt, 2004 (0-15-205110-4) $16.00.; Voyager, 2006 (0-15-205906-7) $6.00 pb

Loosely inspired by Don Pedro Linares, a skilled maker of cartoneria (papier-mache objects), this book opens with several pages describing the Linares family making calaveras (skeletons) for the Day of the Dead. This leads into the real meat of the book, a strikingly illustrated Spanish alphabet featuring very busy skeletons: a Bruja stirs a potion, a Jardinero waters plants and a merry Ilustradora draws pictures for children. Traditional colorful clothing against a deep black background make the pictures eye-catching and there are some lovely visual touches, like a skeleton Frieda Kahlo ("K) drawing a self-portrait, and a skeleton doctor who manages to look very concerned for his patient, despite his lack of skin or actual features. A final spread showing all the skeletons together makes me wish the book were bigger: it would make a gorgeous poster. (3-12)

On Halloween Night by Frieda Wolff and Dolores Kozielski. Illustrated by Dolores Avendano. Tambourine, 1994 (0-688-12972-2) $15.00; Mulberry, 1997 (0-688-15482-4) $4.95 pb

For those who like their Halloween stories spooky and shivery, this book shows how even everyday scenes like toads croaking in a swamp can take on a scary significance, when watched by two little children on Halloween night. With dark, shadowy, elegant watercolors that are more suggestively chilling than overtly frightening, the book is drenched with an atmosphere of subtle dread, somewhat leavened by the comforting presence of the young watchers. A very interesting use of rhyme and meter and the repetition of a ghostly wail at the end of each page makes this an excellent choice to read aloud at a party. It can also be used as a counting book. (4-8)

Beneath the Ghost Moon by Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Laurel Molk. Little. Brown, 1994 (0-316-96892-7) $14.95; 1998 (0-316-97007-7) $5.95 pb

With some of the most delightful and expressive animal drawings I've seen outside of a Garth Williams illustration--joyously dancing mice, sly skateboarding lizards--Beneath the Ghost Moon is a visual delight.

The rhyming story tells the epic tale of the invasion of the crimson and green crawlies, who creeped into a farmhouse on the night before "Ghost Eve" and destroyed the beautiful costumes and masks the mice had made for their fancy-dress ball. The mice are ready to flee, until one small white mouse cries, "Let us take back our home. Let us take back the night. We can't let that crew win without a good fight." And so, armed with pin swords and bottle-cap shields (for one of the funniest pictures in the book) the mice march through the darkness, scaring the crawlies away forever--all but one "smallest of crawlies" who decides to stay and--in the standard picture book cliche ending--learn to dance, "beneath the Ghost Moon." The self-consciously whimsical text is not the equal of the pictures, with too many forced rhymes and awkward scansions that make reading aloud difficult, but with its mice characters that are convincingly both animals and "people" and a witty juxtaposition of the small beasts with man-made objects, this book is irresistible. (5-8)

Benjy Bear's Halloween by Harriet Ziefert. Illustrated by Emilie Boon. Candlewick, 1996 (1-56402-885-2) $7.99

This bland but pleasant activity/board book comes with reusable vinyl stickers. As amiable-looking Benjy Bear prepares for Halloween, the text prompts the reader to use the stickers to help him decorate his house, carve his pumpkin face and accessorize his costume. Unlike some other sticker books, there's a little room for creativity here: readers aren't simply instructed to use a particular sticker, but are given several choices, so Benjy's pumpkin can look happy, sad or scary. (2-5)

Halloween Parade by Harriet Ziefert. Illustrated by Lillie James. Puffin, 1994 (0-14-037143-5) $3.25 pb

Halloween Parade is for the very earliest readers, with few words per page and many repetitions. The book packs a lot of action into few words, but I'm not sure if the rushed atmosphere, sentence fragments and frequent changes of rhythm convey enough of a sense of story to keep beginning readers interested and give them a real feeling of accomplishment. The watercolor illustrations of plump, happy children are cute but not particularly eye-catching. (4-7)

Scare the Moon by Harriet Ziefert. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Candlewick, 1995 (1-56402-657-4) $12.95

This surprisingly charming pop-up book features a little fanged witch named Grieselda and a little fanged warlock named George who decide to have a booing contest: "Whoever scares the moon is the winner." As the two boo louder and louder, they scare all sorts of things--a rat, a ghost, even an entire house--but the moon is simply entertained by their efforts. But when Grieselda and George boo together, even the moon is terrified. Pull-tabs and pop-ups make the most of Karas' goofy illustrations of the frightened objects; the increasingly amused face of the moon and its eventual shrinking scuttle away are especially delicious. (3-6)

The Teeny-Tiny Woman retold by Harriet Ziefert. Illustrated by Laura Radar. Viking, 1995 (0-670-86048-4) $11.99

This well-known spooky story about the teeny-tiny woman who finds a teeny-tiny bone is a natural for beginning readers, who may be especially encouraged by a chance to read it to others. Ziefert's retelling is nicely detailed and Radar's watercolor illustrations capture the surface cuteness of the teeny-tiny woman while adding small, sinister touches that emphasis the underlying creepiness of the story. Only the ending seems a bit of a let-down--either because it's too rushed or because it's just not the same when it isn't being shouted by a friend in the dark. (4-8)

Fiction, ages 5-12

A Creepy Company by Joan Aiken. Dell Yearling, 1995 (0-440-40993-4) $3.99 pb

"Creepy" is a good word for these supernatural stories, yet "baffling" also comes to mind. Again and again as I reached the end of a story, I felt that I had somehow missed the point. Why, for example, does a miserly old man fall prey to a procession of toads? What is the hidden significance behind a woman's wooden leg, continually referred to simply as "my disability?" There seems to be something behind many of these stories that I just don't understand, build-ups that don't seem to connect to pay-offs--which in a sense makes them all the spookier. Readers who enjoy weirdness for its own sake will probably like this collection more than I did. (10-14)

A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. Puffin, 1994 (0-14-036111-1) $3.99

It's hampered by a slow start and rather too much similarity between stories--horrible and/or vengeful visiting relatives show up so often, one can't help but wonder about Aiken's home life--but there are some genuine shivers to be had from these tales, as well as a chuckle or two. Most of the horror comes from eerie situations and suggestive happenings, with very little violence or gore; the very British tone of the narratives adds an exotic touch for American readers. The stories were written to accompany the dramatic, sharply contrasting illustrations, which may explain the unevenness of the collection--when the combination really clicks, however, it's chillingly effective. (10 & up)

Give Yourself a Fright by Joan Aiken. Delacorte, 1989; Dell Yearling, 1995 (0-440-41014-2) $3.99 pb

Family relationships are the underlying theme of this collection of supernatural stories: family demands, loyalties, affections and curses. These relationships form emotional backdrops for the eerie stories, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, often bitter. Poetry is also a running theme--and like family ties, it is portrayed as something impossible to escape. With the exception of the title story, these tales are more interesting than scary. (9 & up)

Ghost Beyond the Garden by Lynn Blankman. Avon Camelot, 1996 (0-380-78273-1) $3.99 pb

After an accident that seriously injured her mother, eleven year old Elly is left suffering with a broken arm, terribly troubled dreams, a new phobia about heights and a heavy burden of guilt: "If only--if only she hadn't stood by so stupidly as her mother fell and fell and fell..." Then Elly finds a locket in the secret drawer of a family desk, and discovers that wearing it sends her back in time, to 1912. There she's like a ghost: the only person who can see her is Winnie, a lonely girl who eagerly accepts Elly's friendship. But when Elly finds out who Winnie really is, she realizes that her life is in danger, and that this time there is something Elly can do to help--if only she can conquer her worst fear.

Although this story doesn't bring anything really new to its familiar plot, and experienced fantasy readers may find it both predictable and ultimately implausible, the smooth narrative and likeable characters do make it an engrossing read. The time travel scenario falls apart at the end, but is otherwise well thought out, and the happy ending is warm and satisfying. (8-12)

Scared Silly illustrated by Marc Brown. Little, Brown, 1994 (0-316-11360-3) $18.95

Subtitled, "A book for the Brave," Scared Silly is meant to help parents and children "acknowledge the natural fears we all have as we struggle with the darkness both within us and without." (From the foreword by Robert Cole.) Whether or not it will achieve that admirable goal, it's an enjoyable collection of stories and poems, illustrated by with an emphasis on the "silly." Many of the pieces emphasize unfounded or conquered fears (a bully turns out to be a friend; shouting BOO! at the monster in the closet makes him go up in smoke), but there's also a fair number that are just plain scary fun. The book ends on a positive note with the full text of Ogden Nash's "The Adventures of Isabel," about a little girl who calmly turns the tables on anything that tries to scare her. Brown's lighthearted watercolors of toothy trolls, pensive pythons and warty witches show the humorous side of those objects of fear; his shark, on the other hand, scared me.

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase. illustrated by Peter Sis. Knopf, 1968; 2003 (0-375-82572-X) $15.95

It seems that every adult has that one children's book: the book that you will never quite forget and always yearn to identify. It may be a plot, a character, or barely an image, but something about that book made it stick. This was mine. And though the helpful folks at rec.arts.books.childrens helped me identify it years ago (under its original title, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden), and I subsequently bought a lovely musty smelling discard from the Salem library, with the original title and illustrations, I'm thrilled to see it finally in print again.

The heroine, Maureen Swanson... well, she's not much of a heroine, for starters. In fact, she's a rude, obnoxious bully. But Maureen meets her match when she sneaks into a deserted house and sneers at the portraits of seven lavishly dressed women on its walls. There is an old magic lurking in the Messerman mansion and Maureen will pay for her rudeness--and for taking home the feathered bracelet she found in the house.

What was it about this book that so stuck with me? Aside from the memorable nastiness of the main character, it was mostly a barely defined sense of creepiness. Rereading it today, I see that in fact the creepiness is in some ways quite subtle, a cold, shivery kind of covert menace. Even understanding, or guessing, more than Maureen does, the reader is still never quite sure what is really going on and what the consequences might be.

It is, even now, a one of a kind story. Get your copy now, while they still smell good.

The Whispering Room: Haunted Poems selected by Gillian Clarke. Illustrated by Justin Todd. Kingfisher, 1996 (0-7534-5024-0) $15.95

Readers might expect this book to be filled with verses about ghosts, witches and Halloween, but although those topics are certainly represented, most of these poems were obviously chosen less for their subject matter than for their evocative imagery. Theodore Roethke's "The Bat" reminds us that "Something is amiss or out of place When mice with wings can wear a human face," Lilian Moore's "In the Fog" describes how "The Fog wraps you up and no one can find you," and Stevie Smith's "Fairy Story" tells a chilling tale about encountering a little creature in a dark wood: "He said if I would sing a song The time would not be very long. . . I sang a song, he let me go But now I am home again there is nobody I know." The best parts of the book combine the poems with illustrations that reflect their most "haunted" elements: for example, Christina Rossetti's poem "Who Has Seen the Wind?" might have a completely different flavor in another collection, but here, paired with a dark, twisted tree that forms the shape of a rearing horse, it's right at home. Not all of the illustrations are as effective: some are more self-consciously clever than atmospheric. But overall this is a very intriguing collection, an excellent choice for classroom reading. (7-12)

The Scary Book compiled by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson. Beech Tree, 1994 (0-688-04594-4) $4.95

Just right for getting into the Halloween mood, this entertaining collection features classic ghost stories and humorous poems by popular writers (including Shel Silverstein, Jane Yolen and Arnold Lobel), as well as jokes, riddles and ghoulish tricks to play. Nothing in it is really all that scary--except the tricks if they're done right!--but the well-told tales and verses will read aloud nicely. An excellent sourcebook for Halloween party ideas.

The Real-Skin Rubber Monster Mask by Miriam Cohen. Illustrated Lillian Hoban. Greenwillow, 1990; Dell Picture Yearling, 1995 (0-440-40949-7) $4.99 pb

Now that he's in Second Grade, Jim wants to be something "horrible and disgusting" for Halloween, instead of something funny. "In Second Grade you have to be really scary," he tells his mother. But the Real-Skin Rubber Monster Mask, Batteries Extra, which looked so great in the store, seems different when Jim wears it Halloween night; being "really scary" is suddenly too scary. Luckily his friends have a plan, and a shared costume saves Jim's Halloween.

Like the other books about Jim and his classmates, this is a warm, believable look at a common childhood experience. Hoban's simple illustrations of the cute, rosy-cheeked children are expressive and likeable. (5-8)

The Ghost in the Third Row by Bruce Coville. 1987; Dell Yearling, 2001 (0-553-15646-2) $5.50 pb

In the first in a series of supernatural mysteries, theatre-loving Nina Tanleven lands a part in a musical--despite an audition featuring a most unexpected audience member. A somewhat trite plot is peopled with enough likeable characters and snappy dialogue to make this an entertaining read.

Waiting Spirits ("Bruce Coville's Chamber of Horrors" #4) by Bruce Coville. Archway, 1996 (0-671-53640-0) $3.99 pb

This book eschews the heavily occult elements of the previous titles for a more domestic horror that touches a far more sensitive nerve. When Lisa Burton and her little sister Carrie visit their grandmother's childhood home, they're expecting a really boring summer. That's before the walls start dripping swamp water and the ghost appears, insane with grief over the loss of her daughter, also named Carrie, decades earlier. When Lisa discovers that the ghost has mistaken the living Carrie for her daughter, she realizes that her little sister is in terrible danger of joining the other Carrie. With a tauter, less slapdash narrative, this book might have rivaled Lois Duncan's thrillers; as it is, the undemanding story is a little too straightforward and superficial. It is quite eerie though, rather effectively incorporating gothic novel sentimentality and melancholia with a modern setting.

The Doll Who Knew the Future (formerly titled The Oracle Doll) by Catherine Dexter. Four Winds, 1985; Beech Tree, 1994 (0-688-13117-4) $4.95 pb

Rose's plans for a carefree summer change abruptly when her grandmother becomes seriously ill and her sister Lucy's "talking" doll begins to exhibit a strange power for prophecy. When their mysterious neighbor reveals that the doll is possessed by the oracle of Delphi, Rose must decide how much she really wants to know about the future. An exciting eeriness is blended with many well-drawn details of ordinary family life, for an enjoyable, not-too-scary but not particularly subtle fantasy.

The Very Real Ghost Book of Christina Rose by James M. Deem. Houghton Mifflin, 1996 (0-395-76128-X) $14.95; Dell Yearling, 1998 (0-440-41426-1) $3.99 pb

This story about three young ghost hunters seems to have more in common with Deem's offbeat nonfiction books than his brilliant novel 3 NBs of Julian Drew--in fact, Deem even makes one of those annoying cute author references to his How to Find a Ghost. But there is more to the story than meets the eye, including a gentle pathos underlying the ghostly shenanigans; as narrator Christina Rose reminds us, real ghosts "are lonely and miss you and just want to be loved."

Christina has reason to know about ghosts: she's sure that she was visited by the spirit of her dead mother at the age of three. Seven years later, Christina, her father and her B.O.M.A. brother Dante (Born One Minute Apart--don't you dare call them twins) have moved to California to begin a new life--but instead of escaping the supernatural, it seems to have followed them. Things keep moving around their new house, sometimes coming dangerously close to hurting someone. With the help of their new friend Roberto Wing, his psychic mother Carol and parapsychologist Professor I. Barrymore--each of whom has a ghost story or two to share--Christina and Dante try to solve the mystery of their new home. But the most important ghost story turns out to come from their own father, whose skepticism about Christina's ghost has only made it harder for all of them to come to terms with their bereavement.

Artfully relating supernatural activities to the feelings of a family in the midst of loss and change, this clever book combines genuine emotional resonance with the appeal of a good yarn. Readers looking for a few light chills may be both surprised and pleased. (9-12)

A is for Apple, W is for Witch by Catherine Dexter. Illustrated by Capucine Mazille. Candlewick, 1996 (1-56402-541-1) $14.99; 1997 (0-76360-385-6) $4.99 pb

No one likes to hear their mother called a witch, but when Apple Olson's classmate Barnaby starts teasing her, Apple is particularly upset. Because, although nobody is supposed to know, Apple's mother really is a witch: usually a nice, motherly kind of witch who can materialize hair scrunchies and cook anything--"even pumpkin pie, even French fries"--in her big black pot. But when Apple decides to shut pesky Barnaby up with a spell of her own, she discovers that there's a lot more to witchcraft than just turning rice crackers into chocolate chip cookies. Written in a pleasantly matter-of-fact tone, this is an unsophisticated but entertaining look at some of the possible consequences of magic in a child's everyday world. Some readers may be put off by the character of Apple's mom, who often seems distant and cold, but overall this is a fun, light read. (8-12)

Diane Goode's Book of Scary Stories & Songs illustrated by Diane Goode. Dutton, 1994 (0-525-45175-7) $15.99; Puffin, 1998 (0-14-056432-2) $6.99 pb

Goode's ghoulishly whimsical illustrations are a fitting accompaniment to this collection of eerie yet silly stories, poems and songs from around the world. Gruesome skeletal faces, creepy clawed hands and malevolent, fanged-tooth grins abound to illustrate traditional stories like "My Big Toe" and "The Green Ribbon" as well as lesser known tales like the Estonian "The Goblins at the Bathhouse" and the Tirolean "Spooks A-Hunting."

Although some of it is quite entertaining, I found this book disappointing overall. Like many ghost stories taken from oral traditions, those included here are somewhat on the spare, unembellished side and probably work better told than read. One, "the Mermaid," features a very modern love triangle that seems inappropriate for a children's book of this kind. (To make matters worse, one of the characters is illustrated as quite a young boy.) I could also have done without "The Pumpkin Ghost," which is full of fat jokes--one of the last safe prejudices in children's books. Even the pictures occasionally miss the boat: Walter de la Mare's poem "Someone," which is worthy of something deliciously spooky, has the blandest of illustrations. (5-10)

The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion, 2004 (0-618-43018-0) $15.00; 2007 (978-0-618-98741-4) $5.95 pb

Diana and her brother Georgie live near the spooky Old Willis Place, bound by a set of rigid "rules" to always stay hidden and alone. With no one to talk to but each other, the two amuse themselves by spying on and teasing the estate caretakers that constantly come and go. But when a new caretaker arrives with a daughter about Diana's age, the urge to make a friend becomes irresistible. Will breaking the rules lead to a horrible punishment--or might it be the means to their rescue? Equal parts scary and sad, this is a compelling ghost story with an unexpectedly tender message of redemption. (9-12)

Time for Andrew by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion, 1994 (0-395-66556-6) $13.95; Avon Camelot, 1995 (0-380-72469-3) $4.50 pb

Drew's first sight of the ancestral house he's going to spend the summer in is not an encouraging one. "Charles Addams would have loved it. So would Edgar Allen Poe. But not me." Nervous and imaginative, Drew senses presences all over the spooky house--and when he finds an old photograph of a boy named Andrew, who could be his double, it's almost no surprise that Andrew's ghost appears in his room that night, But this Andrew isn't dead--on the verge of death from diphtheria, he has somehow travelled through time to the present. And as the boys quickly realize, if he stays there, he can be cured.

Meaning only to hide and let Andrew pretend to be him, Drew is himself drawn through time to 1910, forced to pretend he is Andrew. It's not easy--though they look just alike, Andrew is cocky and fearless, always getting into trouble and fights. Although he grows to love Andrew's family, Drew wants his own world desperately. But Andrew, terrified that he is "doomed to die in 1910," refuses to trade back until Drew can beat him at a game of marbles. As the summer drags on, Drew finds himself forgetting his own world and becoming more and more like Andrew. Can he ever win the right to get back to his own time--and if he does, will it be too late to be himself again?

Satisfyingly atmospheric as a ghost story, Time for Andrew is also an involving, touching story about two very different boys who learn to understand each other from the inside out, each gaining something he needs from the other's personality. A few of the plot points don't quite mesh together--why does Drew agree to the games? Why isn't the history of the house changed when Andrew doesn't die?--and the emphasis on the importance of physical courage is sometimes troubling from an adult point of view, but overall this is a well-written and absorbing book. (9 & up)

The Werewolf in the Playground and Other Spooky Halloween Stories by Gail Herman. Illustrated by Abby Carter. HarperFestival, 1996 (0-694-00803-6) OP

The next best thing to listening to spooky stories around a campfire, this is an enjoyably terrifying collection about children encountering some dreadful situations--and generally not living to tell the tale. Although gruesome enough to create genuine chills, the stories aren't overwhelmingly gross and leave most of the gore and violence to the reader's well-primed imagination. In one of the more appealing packaging gimmicks I've seen, this book is sold with a flashlight (AA battery not included) for "under the covers" reading--but kids will probably be disappointed by the weakness of the beam. (7-10)

Ragged Shadows: Poems of Halloween Night selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Giles Laroche. Little, Brown, 1993 (0-316-37276-5) $15.95

Cut-paper collages show the story of a girl's Halloween night, accompanied by poems which capture the enjoyably eerie mood of the evening. A good book for providing atmosphere which isn't overly frightening, as the pictures are more jolly than scary and the poems are mood pieces, not horror.

Unbearable! by Paul Jennings. Viking, 1995 (0-670-86262-2) $14.99

A very tasty fly-swatter... a hypnotized chicken... a boy with the most powerful foot odor in the world... readers with sensitive stomachs might find Jennings' latest collection of bizarre stories "unbearable," but most will delight in his surprising and hilarious twists on reality. Put-upon but far from helpless underdogs are the heros and heroines of these stories, valiantly fighting against nasty bullies and callous adults with unexpected help from supernatural forces. Most of the stories are funny, some are haunting, but all are very entertaining. (9 & up)

Undone! by Paul Jenning. Viking, 1995 (0-670-86005-0) $14.99; Puffin, 1997 (0-14-038398-0) $3.99 pb

Imaginative, scary and sometimes revoltingly funny, this collection of macabre stories is fast-paced and easy enough to lure reluctant readers, yet has a refreshing underlying intelligence and moral sensibility. Most of the stories have a "triumph of the underdog" theme, with bullies getting their comeuppance in a very satisfying manner, but the plot twists are so cunning and witty, that inevitable triumph is continually surprising. Occasional touches of pathos add depth to the somewhat bare bones writing and a gleefully sickening sense of humor is sure to entertain all but the most squeamish readers. (10-14)

Ghost Night by Neil Johnson. Dial, 1996 (0-8037-1946-9) $16.99

With novelty books becoming increasingly common, it's no surprise to see one of the oldest forms resurrected for this "adventure in 3-D." Unfortunately, this book is an excellent reminder of why the fad died out in the first place: it's a remarkably tedious way to look at pictures. I initially had a lot of trouble using the enclosed plastic glasses to get the 3-D effect, and even after I got the knack, the pictures were very blurry; a second test subject also found them blurry and got eyestrain as well. And the conventional, rather sappy story about a lonely Civil War era ghost waiting endlessly for word from her murdered lover is nothing without the pictures. (7-12)

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones. 1981; Greenwillow, 1996 (0-688-14598-1) $15.00; Beech Tree, 1997 (0-688-15492-1) $4.95 pb

Available in America for the first time, this ghost story by popular fantasy writer Jones is one of her strangest books--sometimes horrible, sometimes funny, but always unexpected. Sally is a ghost, but she doesn't know why or how. In fact, she doesn't even know for sure she is Sally, just that she seems to have once belonged to a family of four very odd, morbid and imaginative sisters named Sally, Charlotte, Imogen and Fenella. And somehow, whatever happened to her is connected to Monigan, a goddess the sisters invented to worship, who has taken on a life of her own. As Sally's ghost--if it is Sally's ghost--discovers the extent of Monigan's power over them, she realizes that the future of the sisters' and their friends has already been affected by their sacrifices to the malicious goddess--and it will take even more sacrifices to break her power.

It took me quite a while to get into this story: none of the characters are initially very likeable and the plot seemed less confusing than simply pointless. However, once the underlying reason for the girls' odd behavior became clear--they are outrageously neglected by their parents--the characters became more understandable and the twists of the plot started to become compelling. Interestingly, the plot actually reaches its climax in the second-to-last paragraph; that might explain why I found myself thinking that this might have made a better short story or novella. But though the book could certainly benefit from a tighter, more focused style, patient readers with a taste for the uniquely British style of fantasy will find it rewarding. (10 & up)

Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones. Greenwillow 1982; 1993 (0-688-0153404) $14.00; Beech Tree, 1997 (0-688-15545-6) $6.99 trade

Class 6B seems like a fairly ordinary boarding school class, divided into fairly ordinary types of children: the powerful popular kids, who always come out on top, their nondescript followers, and the loners and outcasts, who are the inevitable target of the others. Or as outsider Nan Pilgrim puts it: "Girls are divided into real girls (Theresa Mullett) and imitations (Estelle Green). And Me." But at least one of the kids in 6B isn't so typical after all: someone in the class is a witch. And even though witchcraft is punishable by death, bizarre things keep happening which just might change the status quo at Larwood House forever.

Like The Magicians of Caprona, The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life (all of which are set in the same fantasy universe, but can be read independently), Witch Week is among Jones' more accessible books, using sympathetic characters and familiar situations as an anchor for the always-complicated and often confusing magical goings-on. Enjoyable as a humorous fantasy, Witch Week also has something to say about the tyranny of school life and what it can do to people forced to play out roles they haven't chosen. (10 & up)

Chicago and the Cat: The Halloween Party written and illustrated by Robin Michal Koontz. Cobblehill, 1994 (0-525-65138-1) $12.99

Short, easy to read chapters describe the comic misadventures of Chicago the rabbit and her friend the cat as they try to get to a Halloween party in Chicago's brilliant costume idea: a horse suit. More smoothly written than most easy readers, this story is also funny and just a little exciting. The simple watercolor illustrations of the plump, huggable characters are a bit on the cutesy side. (5-8)

One-Minute Scary Stories written and adapted by Shari Lewis and O'Kun. Illustrated by Pat and Robin DeWitt. Dell Picture Yearling, 1991; 1993 (0-440-40833-4) $4.99

Legends from several cultures, ghost stories and classic horror tales like "The Tell-tale Heart" are retold here in a short, easy-to-read-aloud format, suitable for a group which may not have the attention span for longer, embellished stories (or for readers who may not be up to them). Please note that the stories in this collection range from spooky to terrifying, in no particular order, and some of the illustrations are also quite frightening; if the stories are to be read aloud to young children, they should be chosen carefully, in advance.

Kidzilla and Other Tales ("The Psychozone") by David Lubar. Tor, 1997 (0-812-55880-4) 4.99 pb

"Your Worst Nightmare" is the title of one of the stories in this collection, but Lubar manages to provide any number of nightmares, each one "worst" than the last. Sometimes lighthearted, often deliciously chilling, these stories give bizarre new twists to some standard fears--vampires, sharks, "big kids"--as well as inventing quite a few new ones to keep readers up at night. Unlike many other books of this type, the focus is on satisfying surprises and carefully suggested terror rather than on revoltingly graphic details, so it's perfect light entertainment for readers who like to be scared without being totally grossed out. (8-12)

The Vanishing Vampire ("The Accidental Monsters" #1); The Unwilling Witch ("The Accidental Monsters" #2) by David Lubar. Apple, 1997 (0-590-90718-2; 0-590-90719-0) $3.99 pb

This promising new series looks at what happens when ordinary kids suddenly get extraordinary powers. In The Vanishing Vampire, Sebastian wakes up from a faint to discover blood on his neck; the next day he wakes up with super-sharp senses, a wavering reflection--and a terrible hunger. Narrating a sometimes funny but more often shuddery story, Sebastian describes his fight to regain his humanity and resist his overwhelming hunger for blood, even when (in a surprisingly touching scene), his best friend offers his. "I knew that once I started I could never stop. I was sure that the first drink would pull me forever from the human world."

In a somewhat lighter vein (no pun intended), The Unwilling Witch puts Sebastian's sister Angie at just the right place and time to be endowed with witchcraft. Soon Angie finds herself enjoying possession of a black cat, a flying vacuum, and the uncontrollable ability to turn Sebastian into just about anything you could think of, including old oatmeal. But when two strange women start to follow her, and objects in her room begin to transform into nightmarish creatures, Angie realizes that power can be dangerous. And she is also troubled by a sobering question: is she a good enough person to have it? Although written at the same superficial, undemanding level as most series fiction, these books are notable for their imaginative and thoughtful exploration of what it's like to acquire supernatural powers. Sebastian's transformations and Angie's discoveries are fascinating reading, and the moral dilemmas they face are intriguingly different. Readers who enjoy being creeped out without being grossed out will be glad that "somehow, the quiet town of Lewington gets much more than its share of The Accidental Monsters." (8-12)

The Witch's Monkey and Other Tales ("The PsychoZone") by David Lubar. Tom Doherty, 1997 (0-812-55881-2) $3.99 pb

This follow-up to the wonderfully creepy Kidzilla and Other Tales is a more uneven collection but still lots of fun. Some of the stories are so fast-paced that they seem rushed, as if their only point is to get to an ending in which a character dies in a particularly weird and ghastly way. But there are also some delightfully creative and blood-curdling surprises, like the tale about a boy who discovers--too late--what's really behind his little brother's absurd fear of cows. Don't read this if you don't want to be up all night. (8-12)

Seven Spiders Spinning by Gregory Maguire. Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer. Clarion, 1994 (0-395-68965-1) $13.95

Although set before and during Halloween, Seven Spiders Spinning is original and funny enough to become a year-round favorite. Seven baby spiders of a deadly prehistoric breed are frozen solid during the Ice Age; through a complicated series of circumstances they are unfrozen just in time to imprint on the seven members of a girls club, The Tattletales, who are planning their entry for the annual Halloween Pageant of Horrors. Each spider, while trying to reach his own particular young goddess for a love bite, suffers a bizarre, accidental end. When the last spider, crazy to avenge his siblings, bites the girls' beloved teacher, the Tattletales must put aside their long-term feud with the rival boys club, the Copycats, and mount a massive trick-or-treat campaign to save her with local sweets, supposedly the only antidote.

With a constant barrage of absurd situations and over-the-top exaggerated characters, Seven Spiders Spinning is wildly entertaining. As each spider sets out on his quest, only to meet a gruesome death, the suspense and humor mount to make each new spider murder more subversively funny than the last. Yet there is no truly nasty edge to the humor; the overall atmosphere of the story is warmhearted and likeable. Black & white woodcut style illustrations with a prehistoric feel to them add an appropriately creepy touch. * (8 & up)

Making Friends With Frankenstein written and illustrated by Colin McNaughton. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-308-7) $19.95; 1996 (1-56402-962-X) $6.99 pb

The gross, grisly, subversive and wickedly amusing atmosphere of children's playground verses is perfectly captured in this original collection of "monstrous poems and pictures." By turns gruesome, malevolent and cynical--but always gleeful--Making Friends With Frankenstein is delightfully shocking and hysterically funny. The cartoony pictures are an excellent match for the verses: neither are for the weak of stomach. American readers may be baffled by occasional references to English expressions and culture, but that's no big deal--most kids will devour this book and scream for more. * (5 & up)

Rosie No-Name and the Forest of Forgetting by Gareth Owen. Holiday House, 1996 (0-8234-1266-0) $15.95

When eleven-year-old Rosie tries to rescue a kitten trapped on a broken stairway and falls, she finds her day taking a very odd turn. She can't seem to get anyone to notice her anymore, except for a strange girl who lures Rosie into a nearby forest and disappears. Soon Rosie is lost and very frightened--especially when she discovers that she can't remember anything about herself except her first name. When she meets a boy named Alastair playing in the forest, he seems like a connection to ordinary life, despite his odd talk about servant troubles and "the war." But Alastair is actually in deadly peril from a powerful, malignant force--and that force now wants Rosie, too.

Not your typical time-slip fantasy, this moody, often creepy story seems designed to be deliberately nightmarish. Although it has some plot inconsistencies, especially in the familiar "it was all a dream--or was it?" framing structure, the whole atmosphere of the story is so intentionally disorienting, it's easy to forgive these lapses. Readers who are bored with simplistic horror stories will find this an entertaining, more challenging thriller. (9-13)

The Ghost Belonged to Me by Richard Peck. Puffin, 1997 (0140386718) $5.99 pb

Peck has a flair for a seemingly unsopshisticated, down-to-earth, "just plain folks" style and in this book he makes the most of it, producing a surprisingly effective mix of broad, ribald comedy with supernatural tragedy and just a hint of romance. A small town in 1913, immersed in petty rivalries and class snobbery, makes a perfect background for this story about a boy named Alexander who finds he can communicate with the spirit of a dead girl--and consequently, just might learn to communicate with a live one. * ( 8 & up)

Ghosts I Have Been; The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp by Richard Peck. 1977, 1983; Dell Yearling, 1994 (0-440-42864-5; 0-440-42154-3) $3.99 ea.

Ghosts I Have Been, a sequel to the delightful The Ghost Belonged to Me, is an enjoyable episodic adventure most notable for its narrator. Blossom Culp isn't your everyday fourteen-year-old: as a girl from the very worst side of the tracks in a very stuffy small town, she has always lived by her wits, which are considerable. In this story, set in 1913, she describes how her attempt to fool the snobbish kids in town with fake supernatural powers strangely backfired when it turned out that she really could see into both the past and the future. Blossom's distinctive voice--intelligent, plain-spoken and feisty-- fills the book with life, while her keen eye for foolishness and hypocrisy adds some thoughtful, as well as humorous, commentary. Plentiful dashes of folk-wisdom and literary allusions help create a feeling of the past. Although I have always found the first book a more complete, satisfying story, Ghosts I Have Been is very entertaining, whether read as a sequel or by itself.

If you like Blossom--and most readers will--The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp is also worth reading, although it is inferior to the first two books. Its first half is practically a repeat of the beginning of Ghosts I Have Been; even worse, as in Ghosts I Have Been, the events of the previous book have been essentially nullified, so that Blossom once again starts out as a friendless nobody. Although Blossom's outcast social role is very important to her character, so is her determination to defeat it; having her overcome the same hurdles through three separate books and rise only to fall again each time is not only exasperating, but disheartening.

Peck's device of using Blossom's "second sight" for pointed social commentary also does not work as well in this book: in Ghosts I Have Been her bleak visions of the future are poignant, but those of The Dreadful Future...,--in which she time travels to the nightmarish future world of 1983--are cliched and sarcastic. Rather amusingly, the "future" chapters have also dated badly. (9 & up)

Save Halloween! by Stephanie S. Tolan. Morrow, 1993 (0-688-12168-3) $14.00

Eleven-year-old Johnna Filkins feels out of place, both at school, where the other kids sneer at her unfashionable clothes, and at home, where she knows she disappointed her minister father by being born a girl--Johnna Josephine instead of John Joseph. Johnna eases her loneliness by having conversations with Jesus in her head, since her mom says "we should think of Him as our best friend. Of course, He doesn't answer. That can be very hard on a friendship."

When Johnna becomes co-writer of her class's Halloween play, she begins to feel like one of the gang for the first time. But then her Uncle T.T. comes to town. T.T. is also a minister, but a very different kind from her benevolent, endlessly charitable father - he's a showman, an evangelist, who gets people to give money to the church by showing them "the devil doing something directly to them...that they feel they just have to do something about." And T.T.'s current cause is Halloween--"the devil's holiday."

With her family joining whole-heartedly in T.T.'s crusade against Halloween, Johnna is torn between the two sides--especially when the crusade leads to all Halloween activities in her school being cancelled. She can't believe Halloween is responsible for the evil in the world--but can she fight for her play without betraying God or her family?

The topic of religion is a difficult one for serious children's book writers, who have an understandable horror of seeming preachy. But by creating a conflict in which Johnna must question what she does and does not believe, Save Halloween! effectively demonstrates that her spiritual feelings are as natural as her longings to be more like other kids. And although there's no miraculously happy end to the restrictive practices of her family, standing up for what she believes does earn Johnna the right to participate in her father's church services, formerly denied to her because she's a girl.

Tolan handles the sensitive issues of her story with care and surprising subtlety, merely hinting at ideas too complex or troubling for her narrator to comprehend fully. At times she seems almost too even-handed in her attempt not to make villains out of any of her characters. It's a commendable attempt at impartiality - and it fits the voice of her young narrator - but some readers may grow impatient with what the book carefully does not say>.

Who's There? by Stephanie S. Tolan. Morrow, 1994; Beech Tree, 1997 (0-688-15289-9) $4.95 pb

Eight months after the death of their parents, fourteen-year-old Drew and eight-year-old Evan are sent to live with an aunt and grandfather they had never even heard of. Right away, the big old house called Rose Hill seems like home, and when Drew hears singing coming from her brother's room, she thinks that he too is finally healing--he hasn't said a word to anyone since the accident. But something isn't right at Rose Hill. As Drew browses through the crowded attics, looking for roots and keys to the past, she finds herself unbearably cold and nauseated. Her new friend Will claims to have seen a ghost at the window of a door that won't open. And nobody seems to want to talk about her father, or the boy who would have been their Uncle Evan, if he had lived. With Will's help, Drew begins to piece together the story of the family tragedy that drove her father away from Rose Hill--but will she learn the whole truth in time to save herself and Evan from a deadly danger?

Both thoughtful and exciting, Who's There neatly combines a chilling ghost story with a story about healing and belonging. The supernatural plot is a bit melodramatic, reminiscent of one of Louisa May Alcott's lurid thrillers, but the well-realized characters and suspenseful action keep it plausible and engrossing. (9-13)

Supernatural Stories edited by William Mayne. Illustrated by Martin Salisbury. Kingfisher, 1995 (0-7534-5026-7)

This solid collection has an old-fashioned, British feel, despite the inclusion of several International folk tales, and American authors such as Mark Twain and--in what may be his first ever appearance in a book for children--Truman Capote. Nonetheless, somehow most of the stories seem to evoke pipe smoke and paneled libraries, with horrors sinisterly implied, rather than spelled out. (10 & up)

Blood Brothers by Jill Morgan. HarperTrophy, 1996 (0-06-440562-1) $4.50 pb

Tucker suspects that something is odd about the migrant "Travelers" who're working on his parent's farm, but the truth is much more terrifying than he could have imagined. The Travelers are harboring two boys, Dillon and Xander, victims of an ancient evil that changed them from ordinary twins into vampires. And though they are trying to resist "turning to the blood," the craving is becoming too strong for them--especially Xander.

Somehow drawn to Dillon despite his fears, Tucker can't help but feel sorry for these boys who will never grow any older, who are "eleven, going on forever." But can it ever be safe to have a vampire for a friend? Especially when the vampire's twin brother is thirsty for blood?

An unusually believable horror story for children, this book has a conflict that readers can easily identify with, as Tucker tries to decide how he can help his friend without risking his family's safety--and whether he should even try. "It was hard to figure out what was right and wrong anymore. All the lines had crossed over and blended." The authentic feel of the story is a double-edged sword, however: unlike more fanciful stories, it hits some sensitive nerves and consequently is often genuinely terrifying. In particular, Dillon's description of how the vampire Valdier killed his parents and turned both him and his brother into vampires is deeply disturbing, touching on many childhood fears at once. Recommended for the thick-skinned or readers who really like to be scared. (8-12)

Teacher Vic is a Vampire... Retired by Jerry Piasecki. Skylark, 1995 (0-553-48281-5) $3.50 pb

When one of the most promising graduates of the U of B (University of Blood) decides to retire from terrorizing towns and start teaching humans, his family is none too thrilled--and neither are his students. Their classes are held by candlelight, their class pet is a wolf and their teacher seems far, far too excited about an upcoming blood drive. But when trouble strikes in the form of a very nasty street gang, Teacher Vic's students realize that having a vampire for a teacher can have its advantages--as long as he stays. . . retired.

Written mainly as a comedy--except for some rather grisly scenes towards the end--this is a somewhat laboured but often funny book. The inverted premise is always good for a laugh, and those with a taste for puns won't be disappointed. Piasecki has yet to find the right balance between conflict and reconciliation, however; the pervasively hostile tone of most of the characters threatens to overpower the good-natured intent of the story. (8-12)

Laura for Dessert by Jerry Piasecki. Skylark, 1995 (0-553-48285-8) $3.50 pb

The sequel to Teacher Vic is a Vampire... Retired is another horrifically humorous punfest. Laura Easton and her accomplices in the plot to expose Teacher Vic as a vampire were last seen about to run into some of Vic's old friends; now they're slated to be the "guests of honor" at a vampire dinner party. But despite some pretty dire warnings about what happens to vampires who spoil each others meals, Teacher Vic can't stand by while one his students becomes coagulated quiche or a capillary pie, and he and five of his students set out to crash the dinner party and save the dinner. More funny than scary--and thankfully missing the hostile atmosphere of the first book--this is an entertainingly silly read.

Bat Bones and Spider Stew by Michelle Poploff. Illustrated by Bill Basso. Delacorte, 1998 (0-385-32557-6 $13.95; Dell Yearling, 1998 (0-440-41440-7) $4.50 pb

Henry Hooper is feeling nervous about visiting his new friend, Artie Doomsday, on Halloween. Artie lives in a big, spooky house on Hollows Hill, a gloomy place everyone calls Haunted Hill. When Henry meets Artie's sister Wanda--are those fangs a costume or not?--and his grandmother, wearing a witch outfit that's been in the family for years, Henry is more nervous then ever--and when they serve bat bones and rattail meat for dinner, he's overcome with hiccups. Luckily, all of the Doomsday family knows plenty of dumb monster riddles to help him get over his fear.

This nicely intriguing plot will encourage beginning readers to find out what happens, and lovers of bad puns will enjoy the riddles that are smoothly woven into the story. Basso's energetic, cartoonishly dramatic illustrations add to the silly mood; I particularly liked Artie's uncanny resemblance to a good-natured Frankenstein. (5-8)

Mary by Myself by Jane Denitz Smith. HarperCollins, 1994; HarperTrophy, 1999 (0-06-440568-0) $4.95 pb

After just a few months of being a sister, Mary comes home from school one day to find that she is once again an only child: "Felicity was not there. As suddenly and seamlessly as she had entered our lives, she was gone." And not only has Mary lost her sister to SIDS, but it seems her parents are gone too: her father always working late, her mother acting as if Mary were invisible.

When Mary is caught lighting matches on her best friend's roof, her parents decide to send her to camp, for a "change of scene." There she meets Celeste, who is plump, unpopular and "wears too much bug repellent," and Laura, who dresses all in black and likes to make voodoo dolls and hold seances. Celeste wants to be friends, but Laura's darkness is somehow irresistible to Mary, who finds herself following her lead in ways she never would have imagined: "I've seen other girls be this mean, but I've never been good at meanness. I'm horrified by this black seed taking root inside me, but I'm also thrilled." But when Laura's malice turns against her, Mary has to decide what she truly wants from a friend--and from herself.

In the guise of a tense, slightly spooky story, Denitz has created a subtle portrait of a child set emotionally adrift in her time of greatest need. (The thematic layers call to mind Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Newbery honor-winning book The Witches of Worm.) The haunting mood is enhanced by a present-tense narrative that makes no attempt to sound conventionally childlike, using instead a terse, almost formal style that says very little directly, yet continually echoes of emotions too great or terrible to express: "I curl up in a ball and think about something that doesn't have anything to do with feelings, like a sky or a white wall." The inability of the adults around her to recognize that Mary has suffered a devastating loss is also not directly articulated, just left to the reader to interpret; this delicate use of subtext makes this a rare children's book about depression that is not simply depressing to read. But perhaps the story's greatest triumph is the way it shows not only the bona fide lure of a darker side, but the true benefit of refusing to give into it: It is not Laura but Celeste, whose power is her refusal to be corrupted by meanness, who shows Mary how to make Felicity live again, "not by the power of a seance, but by the strength of my memories." * (8 & up)

The Trespassers by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Delacorte, 1995 (0-385-31055-2) $14.95; Dell Yearling, 1996 (0-440-41277-3) $3.99 pb

In The Trespassers, Snyder returns after many years to a genre she has perfected: realistic fiction made suspenseful by a supernatural atmosphere that may or may not have any basis in reality. The result is not just a compelling story, but the first of her books I've read as an adult that engaged and involved me as much as those I read as a child.

Neely's eight-year-old brother Grub is full of anxieties, about everything from his cholesterol level to the inevitability of death. As their older sister puts it, "You know how people say that if you get hurt too easily you're thin-skinned? Well, our Grubbie just hasn't any skin at all." But Grub is strangely unafraid of old, spooky Halcyon House; it is Neely who feels a chilling presence whenever they sneak into the deserted mansion, to play in its wonderful playroom and dream about Monica, the little girl who lived there until her mysterious death. When a boy named Curtis and his family move into Halcyon House, Neely and Grub put up with his odd behavior and outbursts of temper in order to continue their visits to the playroom--and, perhaps, their communication with the spirit of Monica. Then Neely is warned that Grub is in danger at Halcyon House--but does the threat that hovers over her sensitive little brother come from something supernatural, or something human?

This slow-building, suspenseful story incorporates many captivating details--the deserted house, the secret playroom full of toys, the mysterious Monica, who may or may not have been murdered and may or may not be a ghost--into a satisfying whole. Vivid characterizations make the story seem especially alive, despite some improbable elements. The Trespassers is too rough overall to be one of Snyder's very best books--but it is in her very best tradition. (8 & up)

Hey Dad, Get a Life! by Todd Strasser. Holiday House, 1996 (0-8234-1278-4)$15.95; Troll, 1998 (0-8167-4530-7) $3.95 pb

An odd and oddly disturbing ghost story, this book looks at two sisters being haunted by an unusual ghost: their dead father. The older sister Kelly, narrating in a facile but inoffensive style, describes in virtually every chapter how much she misses her father and how much he used to do for her. Gradually it becomes clear that Dad is still around, and still willing to do almost anything for his daughters--perhaps even too much. Eventually both Kelly and the ghostly presence of her father realize that it's not right to have her homework and housework done for her and her every wish granted; in a confused ending, the ghost stops doing anything at all, yet may or may not still be present--apparently it's just too risky for him to continue to play Monopoly and watch t.v. with his daughters, without giving in to their every whim.

On the surface this is a likeable tale about a family learning to move on after a tragedy, yet I found the wish-fulfillment approach of the plot and the almost genie-in-a-bottle character of the father so inherently implausible--even distasteful--that I couldn't really enjoy it. The fact that a lesson is learned doesn't make the book any better: it's such a weird, confused lesson. The situation of Kelly's mother is also presented very oddly, with the supposedly loving ghost apparently having no compunctions about granting his daughter's wishes and ruining her attempts at dating again. This story is interesting and entertaining enough to find some readers, but I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. (8-12)

Bad Day at Monster Elementary by Mike Thaler. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Avon Camelot, 1995 (0-380-77870-X) $3.99 pb

It's Friday the 13th at Monster Elementary School and Drac Jr. is hanging upside down inside his locker and won't come out, Little Kong has grabbed the cafeteria lady and climbed the flagpole and Creature from the Black Lagoon has flushed himself down the toilet--all this even before recess! Things just go from bad to worse, but all's well by the end of the day--until the principal, Mr. Potts, remembers that tonight is PARENT'S NIGHT!

This is a one-joke story, but the joke is pretty funny. Monster-lovers will especially enjoy seeing the offspring of their favorite scary characters, gleefully carrying on their family traditions. The short sentences are easy on beginning readers without being predigested and the illustrations are lively and comical, although stylistically a little bland. (6-9)

Spook House by Don Whittington. Avon Camelot, 1995 (0-380-77937-4) $3.50 pb

In this sequel to Werewolf Tonight and Vampire Mom, Winston and Broccoli decide to spend the night in a haunted house--not on a bet or a dare, but to help whatever spirit lurks there to move on. Broccoli and Winston, of course, aren't just ordinary twelve-year-old boys: they're The Key and The Chronicler, on a magical quest against great evil, and a haunted house should be all in a days work for them. But this is no ordinary haunted house. . . and the deadly evil they encounter there may well be the end of them.

Despite the title and extremely grisly cover, Spook House is less a horror novel than a convoluted mix of horror, high fantasy quest adventure and a sort of all-purpose shaman mysticism. The end result is odd but kind of interesting. Although many of the loftier passages simply seem ridiculous, the situation--ordinary kids who are also mysterious powers for good--has a built-in appeal. Without having read the first two, though, the book is hard to follow--and it's definitely not for the squeamish.

The Best Halloween of All by Susan Wojciehowski. Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh. Candlewick, 1998 (0-7636-0458-5) $9.99

A change of pace from scary or silly Halloween books, this picture book for older readers is a comfortable family story. Seven-year-old Ben is looking at old Halloween pictures, and sadly, each one has a bad memory for him: every elaborate costume lovingly made by his folks was too hot, or too bulky to move in, or made him feel stupid. Finally Ben decides that this Halloween is going to be different and tells his parents he wants to make his own costume. Making an "intergalactic-space-starship robotron armed with a laser-pulverizer-beam rod" out of a grocery bag and paper towel rolls, he has "the best Halloween of all." This is a story many readers will emphasize with. The message that fancy costumes are often mostly a way for grown-ups to show off is clear but not didactically blatant; its the cozy watercolors that really get the point across, showing droll pictures of Ben as a yelling one year old clown, a mulish two year old rabbit and an extremely ticked off three year old angel. (6-8)

Vampire Bugs by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Illustrated by Curtis E. James. Delacorte, 1995 (0-385-32082-5) $13.95; Dell Yearling, 1996 (0-440-41155-6) $3.99 pb

Inspired by African-American oral tradition, these stories of voodoo queens and conjure men have been well crafted to be accessible to modern readers without losing the flavor of the originals. Their spooky allure is enhanced by what they reveal about the lives and thoughts of the earliest African-Americans; particularly interesting is the "Tale of the Golden Ball" in which a young black girl is made "beautiful" by a charm which turns her hair and skin golden but triumphs when she discovers how to free herself of the charm and of those who only wanted her when she was gold. An intriguing collection. (8-12)

Meet the Monsters by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Patricia Ludlow. Walker, 1996 (0-8027-8441-0) $15.95

Would you know what to do if you met a Yeti? Or Frankenstein's monster--or the Sphinx? This handy instruction manual introduces readers to some of the most famous mythological and literary monsters--and thankfully, offers tips on how to defeat them. Appropriately strange, creepy pictures illustrate the solutions, as carried about by some brave but nervous children. The text isn't completely successful: the tongue-in-cheek prose, written in the form of poetry, has an awkward, overly pedantic feel to it, like a parody of children's primers that doesn't always come off. Where it works though, it can be hilarious, like the scholarly discussion of what a mummy is, punctuated by repetitions of the single word "Yechhhh." (6-10)

Intermediate and Young Adult (10 & up)

Stonewords: A Ghost Story by Pam Conrad. HarperTrophy, 1997 (0-06-440354-8) $4.95 pb

Winner of the Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery, Stonewords is a horrifying yet hauntingly beautiful story about love and forgiveness.

Because Zoe's mother is "a little crazy," the four-year-old Zoe is taken to live with her grandparents, Grandma and PopPop. That's when she first meets Zoe Louise, a girl whom no one else seems to see or hear, a girl who never grows older. Zoe Louise becomes Zoe's first and closest friend: "Sometimes we fought. And sometimes we got along like best friends, like something out of a book... I guess that's why I grew to love her as much as I did." But their friendship has always had an uneasy side for Zoe, who can't understand the rules of Zoe Louise's strange existence; by the time she realizes that Zoe Louise is a ghost, her friend has started to physically deteriorate in macabre ways. Torn between pity and dread, Zoe resolves to save Zoe Louise--but she can only do it her love can overcome her fear.

Elegantly combining tenderness and terror, Stonewords turns a chilling ghost story into a rare exploration of what it means to love. Surprisingly, the genre is perfectly suited to the theme, demonstrating how love can be mixed with anger, and even revulsion, without losing its essential power. It's a truth that stirs something deep in the soul, beautiful in its rightness even when it's horrible. * (10 & up)

Zoe Rising by Pam Conrad. HarperCollins, 1996 (0-06-027217-1) $13.95; HarperTrophy, 1997 (0-06-440687-3) $4.95 pb

"There are no endings, just as there are no simple beginnings, because always we can go back to yet another before, another yesterday. . ."

At the end of Conrad's astonishing time-travel fantasy Stonewords, Zoe was able to forgive her mother for being "a little crazy"--too crazy to take care of her daughter or even to really love her. But for a child, forgiving a parent rarely means forgetting them. Now aged fourteen, Zoe still has a secret wish, "that she would somehow change, that she'd show up one day transformed and willing to take on the task of being a true mother to me."

It's at summer camp that Zoe discovers she still has the ability to send herself through time and space, to be a ghost in someone else's present. Trying to see her grandparents in the present, she instead finds herself seeing her mother as a little girl--no longer like "a blown-out egg... hollow and fragile," but as the happy child she once was. "I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was so full and whole." And as Zoe begins to understand just what--or who--destroyed her mother's wholeness, she knows that somehow she must once again interfere in time to save someone she loves.

In a formally expressed but very vivid narrative, Conrad tells a story about love and inner strength triumphing over seemingly impossible obstacles. It's compelling, yet flawed in feeling too much like a replay of its predecessor--and an inferior replay, with little of the mysterious horror that made Stonewords so heart-wrenching. Indeed, the form evil takes here is disappointingly stereotypical, a stock character right out of the pages of a old-fashioned melodrama. What makes Zoe Rising interesting nonetheless is Conrad's attempts to give voice to feelings and events of great mystery and power; although I didn't love the book, I admired the courageous spirit underlying it. The structure of the ending is particularly admirable: not a magical undoing of the past, but a new beginning. (10-14)

In the Middle of the Night by Robert Cormier. Delacorte, 1995 (0-385-32158-9) $19.95; Laurel-Leaf, 1997 (0-440-22686-4) $4.99 pb

Sixteen-year-old Denny Colbert has grown up under a shadow, the shadow of a tragic accident in his father's past that has made him the target of a relentless hate. Every year, right before the anniversary of the tragedy in which twenty-two children were killed, the phone calls begin. "Don't answer the telephone," his parents warn him. "Don't let anyone in the house. Be careful whom you choose for friends." But Denny is tired of being different from other kids, of always feeling alone--and one day he answers the phone. The caller is Lulu, a mysterious woman whose smoky voice is so tantalizing and seductive, Denny finds it easy to forget that she must be one of the callers who is after revenge. . .

Told from several points of view--that of Denny, his father as a young man, and one of the survivors of the accident--In the Middle of the Night is a rather uncertain mix of suspense story and psychological novel. It starts off hauntingly creepy, but the flashback to Denny's father's past, although interesting in itself, dissipates the energy of the suspense; the story's eventual return to the revenge plot is rushed and disappointingly predictable. Not quite succeeding as a horror story, it's also somewhat unsatisfying as a novel. Few of the events seem to have any meaning or moral weight attached to them; there's nothing emotionally resonant to take away from the story except a rather staggering portrait of Denny's father's guilt-stricken acceptance of martyrdom: "For some, time does not heal. The pain stays and it has to go someplace. It comes to me. . . It makes them feel better. I offer myself up to them.

Perhaps it's the thought of a real tragedy involving children, eerily coincidental with the hardcover publishing date of this book, that makes me so dissatisfied with its nihilistic approach. Up to a point In the Middle of the Night is compelling and intriguing but it left me--like Denny hungering for Lulu's calls--feeling empty.

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan. Little, Brown, 1974; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-91805-7) $4.99 pb

It took me a while to get into this book, which starts out like so many other gothic suspense stories. Kit, whose mother recently remarried, isn't happy about being sent to boarding school, and even less happy when she arrives at Blackwood and feels--surprise!--an immediate sensation of evil. Her room is strange and spooky and there's almost no light in the hallway. When the other students arrives--oddly, only three of them--all four girls begin to have strange dreams and hallucinations.

So far, so what. But when the truth about Blackwood School is finally revealed, it is absolutely skin-crawlingly creepy; unlike many suspense novels, this one is more enthralling after the secret is out, and we are left to see whether Kit and the other girls can escape the unspeakable evil of Blackwood School before it's too late.

The end, again, is a bit of a let down, because Duncan doesn't give her twisted scenario the thoughtful exploration it deserves. Still, this is the book to turn for a deliciously horrible time.

Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan. Delacorte, 1997 (0-385-32331-X) $15.95; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-22725-9) $4.99 pb

Seventeen-year-old Sarah is miserable in her new home, the small, very conservative town of Pine Crest; she and her mother--who moved there to live with a still-married man--are virtually outcasts. When Sarah plays a fortune-teller at a school carnival, things seem to be looking up: the other kids are impressed, especially charming and popular Eric. But when he convinces her to make fortune-telling into a business, using information gathered by her hostile stepsister-to-be Kyra, her "fortunes" begin to inspire fear and hatred. To make things worse, Sarah finds herself actually having what seem to be true visions, and her research for a report on the Salem Witch Trials is giving her terrifying dreams. Still, she refuses to listen to her friend Charlie's theory that some kind of karma is being played out by her and the other teenagers in Pine Crest--until it's too late.

Duncan weaves several theories about the paranormal into a story that's quite compelling, albeit not entirely convincing. As usual, her plotting is far superior to that of most YA thrillers but some atypically sloppy foreshadowing keeps it from seeming as taut and well crafted as her other work. But the story does become progressively more interesting--and harrowing--as it goes on, with a truly fascinating plot twist and several black and white characterizations that turn out to be intriguingly grey. Charlie, a fat, generally despised boy who is the book's unexpected hero, is an especially likeable character. (12 & up)

Locked in Time by Lois Duncan. Little, Brown, 1985; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-94942-4) $4.99 pb

A really good thriller is often one that accesses emotions that lurk beneath our awareness, bringing them to chilling light. This, one of Duncan's most effective stories, eerily blends a popular fantasy with an unsuspected nightmare, showing that one is the inevitable outcome of the other.

The setting is an isolated mansion in New Orleans, where Nore Robbins has come to meet her father's new wife and her two children. Nore is pretty upset about her father's impulsive remarriage, less than a year after her mother's death, but she tries to be pleasant to her beautiful new stepmother; it doesn't hurt that Lisette's son, Gabe, is about Nore's age and very attractive. But though Lisette is gentle and charming, Gabe is attentive, and Josie, Gabe's sister, is as likeable as a moody, turbulent, thirteen-year-old can be, Nore can't escape a feeling that something is very wrong at Shadow Grove. Gabe and Josie keep referring to events they couldn't possibly have witnessed, and they have a disturbing habit of dosing their mother with "sleepytime anisette" whenever they want to sneak out at night. And an air of misery and secrecy seems to surround the family--especially Josie, whose rocky passage through the "awkward age" seems far more anguished than normal adolescent turmoil. When Nore finally discovers the bizarre truth about her new family, she can barely believe it. But what's worse, she can't get anyone else to believe it either...

The dripping-with-atmosphere setting is part of the charm of this story, but what really makes it work is that it is not only scary, but ultimately, very sad. The horror at Shadow Grove is one that any of us might take upon ourselves, not realizing the consequences until too late; the villains are people who are meant to be kindly, but have been forced to learn indifference. Given the supernatural premise, it is a frighteningly resonant story, and therefore heartwrenching.

Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan. Little, Brown, 1976; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-98324-X) $4.99 pb

Although it might seem mild next to some of today's supernatural fiction, this deliciously suspenseful and evocative thriller has hardly dated at all and is still an excellent read. Rachel Bryant can't help but feel a pang of worry about sharing her room and her home with a stranger, her newly orphaned cousin Julia, but she means to try to love her like a sister. But the Julia who arrives is a surprise, an intense, secretive, oddly mature girl who somehow seems to charm everyone she meets, including Rachel's family, her best friend--and her boyfriend. Only Rachel and her dog Trickle seem immune to Julia's charm, and Trickle is banished to the yard for biting her... shortly before Rachel finds him dead.

Tension builds as Rachel finds herself becoming estranged from her family and friends, who invariably see her suspicions of Julia as jealous spite. Rachel is all alone as she tries to unravel the mystery of what kind of person Julia really is and what her plans for the Bryant family are.

An atmospheric first-person narrative by Rachel, looking back with lingering pain and dread, makes Summer of Fear unexpectedly involving and real, as well as entertaining.

They Never Came Home by Lois Duncan. Doubleday, 1969; Laurel-Leaf, 1990 (0-440-20780-0) $4.99 pb

With one terrible blow, Joan Drayfus loses her brother and her boyfriend; both boys disappear while camping in the mountains and it's clear that they must be dead. But when Joan learns that her brother Larry had a strange, secret life, she begins to wonder whether the disappearance was truly the accident it seemed. This early novel of Duncan's is sometimes compelling, but not particularly well-developed, coming off pretty low-key for a suspense novel. It also suffers from a picture of marijuana use that's barely removed from the movie "Reefer Madness" in its melodramatic distortion of facts; older readers will be very sensitive to this misrepresentation and will probably find the characters ridiculously square (to use an appropriately dated expression). On the plus side, quiet, supportive Joan is a sympathetic character, and her growing friendship with her boyfriend's younger brother Frank adds a refreshingly positive side to the often bleak plot.

The Twisted Window by Lois Duncan. Delacorte, 1987 (0-385-29566-9); Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-20184-5) $4.99 pb

Tracy, who is something of a loner since her mother's death, is nonetheless intrigued when a gorgeous boy named Brad comes to sit with her at lunch. But almost immediately, she realizes that something is wrong: Brad is only pretending to go to her school. Drawn to him in spite of her suspicions, Tracy is soon deeply involved in a plot to rescue Brad's half-sister, whom he tells her was snatched by her father. But there are pieces of the story that Brad hasn't told her, and Tracy's attempts to help could end in catastrophe. With plot twists that are far from subtle, there are no real surprises here, but the narrative flows well, with a drive that has less to do with chilling suspense than with the reader's need to see how a tragic story ends.

Creepers by Keith Gray. Putnam, 1997 (0-399-23186-2) $15.95; Red Fox, 2004 (0-09994-7564-2: UK Edition).

Originally published in England, Creepers is a weird, sad journey into a secret world of adolescence. "Creeping" means sneaking though back gardens on residential streets, trying to get from beginning to end of an entire street without being Spied by a Resie--noticed by a resident. The goal isn't to steal or vandalize: "the idea was to make the distance and not have the Resies know you'd even been there." But when two friends try to make the distance on one of the most difficult Creeps, the worst happens and one of them is Snared, with strange and tragic consequences.

The story is told in the first person by one of the boys, a seemingly normal kid. And in fact, he is a normal kid--doing homework, noticing girls... and creeping with his best friend Jamie. It's all part of ordinary life for kids, which doesn't make it any less exciting. The narration, slightly marred by some sloppy foreshadowing, is somehow all the more disturbing because it's so ordinary.

Written with total commitment to the values of its characters, Creepers creates a world in which creeping is far more sinister and important than adults would imagine: it's a battle, a test of manhood, a sacred ritual with its own vocabulary, legends and code of conduct. And like other battles and rituals, it cements deep bonds of friendship--bonds that can't bear to be broken. Offbeat and surprising though it is, Creepers has a classic theme: grief and loss as part of a rite of passage. (10 & up)

Look for Me by Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion, 1995 (0-395-69843-X) $13.95; Avon 1997 (0-380-72703-X) $4.50 pb

"Ill come to thee by moonlight" reads the secret message on the scrabble board. Should it be "Ill or I'll?" wonders Cynda--"a curse or a promise?"

Visiting her father for the first time since his remarriage, sixteen-year-old Cynda feels lonely and neglected: her dad is wrapped up in his new wife and son; their family seems complete without her. When a handsome and fascinating poet comes to stay in their isolated inn, Cynda is spellbound by his charm, and by his warm and ready sympathy for her family problems. Soon Cynda and Vincent are meeting in secret--always in moonlight. And by the time she realizes that what Vincent wants from her is not kisses, but blood, it may be too late to save herself--or her little brother--from his evil power.

Smoothly written and carefully paced, Look for Me by Moonlight casts its horrifying spell over a reader as easily as Vincent casts his over Cynda. In some ways, though, it may be more upsetting than the average horror fan hopes for. The vampire legend lends itself perfectly to sexual metaphors (for a compelling example of this process in reverse, see Cynthia Grant's Uncle Vampire) and Hahn skillfully exploits that correlation, creating a metaphor for child sexual abuse far more sickening than the actual events of the story. More than just a "horrifying" story, Look for Me by Moonlight is also a very disturbing read.

Eyes of a Stranger by Sharon E. Heisel. Delacorte, 1996 (0-385-32229-1) $15.95; Laurel-Leaf, 1997 (0-440-21993-0) $4.50 pb

"If you can't outrun them, outsmart them." That's Marissa's third rule for dealing with the jerks who make fun of her shriveled leg and limp. But she has no idea just how important that half-joking rule is going to be; it just might save her life.

Shy and self-depreciating because of her handicap, Marissa doesn't expect much happiness from life. Still, she can't help having dreams. And when a handsome stranger starts visiting ride her uncle's carousel, he seems like the embodiment of her most cherished fantasies--even though he's always with a different beautiful blonde. The "Mysterious Stranger" is so attentive, so intently focused on his dates, that Marissa can't help but long to be the object of his passionate regard. But when her dream finally comes true, it quickly turns into a nightmare.

Told alternately from Marissa's point of view and from that of the clearly deadly "Mysterious Stranger," this story creates an inevitable collision course which is chillingly effective. It can be a pretty nasty read though, as by its very nature it requires spending time in the mind of a psychotic women-hater, a truly wretched place to be. The strong portrait of Marissa somewhat counteracts that unpleasantness however, as we see her discovering the power that underlies her vulnerability. (13 & up)

The Bad Beginning ("A Series of Unfortunate Events" #1) by Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. HarperTrophy, 1999 (0-06-440766-7) $8.95

Don't say you weren't warned: "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." That's The Bad Beginning of this series, in which three children, through no fault of their own, finds themselves essentially living an Edward Gorey tale. Suddenly orphaned and homeless after a fire, the miserable Baudelaire children--Violet, Klaus and Sunny--are sent to live with their nearest relative, Count Olaf. The children soon find that their first impressions--"that Count Olaf was a horrible person and his house a depressing pigsty"--are unfortunately absolutely correct. But there is worse in store: the Count is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire family fortune, and he has a plan of unsurpassed fiendishness. Violet, who as the eldest feels responsible for the family, soon realizes that not only do her siblings face death, but she may be facing an equally unattractive fate as the Count's bride.

Carefully designed and illustrated to have a thoroughly gothic, Edwardian look (although the childrens' world includes credit cards and refrigerators), The Bad Beginning sometimes feels more like a huge literary joke or a clever bit of merchandising than am actual book. But though not all readers will "get" all of it--I doubt if I did--those with a taste for the humorously macabre will likely relish it. The narrative voice is particularly engaging, gently explaining unfamiliar terms to suggest the most unpleasant images possible, and occasionally referring to odd personal events in way designed to whet curiosity but never satisfy it: the image of someone telling the story who is kindly yet distinctly creepy is successfully created. But be warned that these books go further than the comic-book violence of Roald Dahl: the awfulness went beyond funny for me when Violet is threatened, albeit obliquely, with rape, and the second book in the series includes several murders. (10 & up)

The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Illustrated by ALton Raible. 1972; Dell Yearling, 1986 (0-440-49727-2) $5.99 pb

(review in progress)

On of Snyder's most fascinating books was also one of her most confusing for me as a child, before I learned to understand subtext. Unlike The Headless Cupid, which has a superficially similar theme--magic or not?--it's much harder to enjoy The Witches of Worm at its surface level; it's just too scary, sad, and unresolved. For those mature enough to understand its layers, however, it is a beautifully realized work. (10 & up)

Crooked by Laura and Tom McNeal. Knopf, 1999; Laurel-Leaf, 2002 (0-440-22946-4) $5.50 pb

Ninth graders Clara and Amos find their growing interest in each other painfully complicated by misunderstandings, peer pressure, family tragedies and the increasingly sinister attentions of school bullies Charles and Eddie Tripp. This unusually leisurely suspense story takes its time, building strong characterizations and powerfully charged situations along with a strong sense of menace.

Don't Scream by Joan Lowery Nixon. Delacorte, 1996 (0-385-32065-5) $15.95; Laurel-Leaf, 1997 (0-440-22710-0) $4.50 pb

A fairly predictable but nonetheless engrossing thriller, this book is narrated by Jess, a good-hearted, small-town girl who is flattered but also slightly disturbed by the constant attentions of two new boys in school. Unbeknownst to Jess (although not to the reader), one of the boys is almost certainly a dangerous sociopath. As frightening things begin happening in her neighborhood, Jess begins to feel suspicious--but will she trust the wrong boy?

This light story is enjoyable reading for those who like books that are more creepy than downright horrifying. The cover is rather off-putting, showing an unattractive, hyper-realistic painting of a girl's terrified face, but the book actually ends on a much stronger note, with the heroine putting up a great fight: "I can shout if I want to! If I'm going to die, I'm going to scream as I go." (13 & up)

Dreadful Sorry by Kathryn Reiss. Harcourt Brace, 1993 (0-15-224213-9) $16.95; 2004 (0-15-205087-6) $6.95 pb

A recurring nightmare and a deadly fear of water have been part of Molly Teague's life for as long as she can remember, but she's always managed to ignore them. When she meets her friend's cousin, Jared, things get harder to ignore: like the feeling she keeps having that she knows him; like the way she keeps calling him by the wrong name; like the song, "My Darling Clementine," that seems to be haunting them both. Hardest of all to ignore is what happens when Jared almost drowns her by throwing her into a swimming pool: a vision they both have of seaweed, floating boxes...and blood.

An evocative cover and intriguing title set the mood for this tightly plotted and suspenseful ghost story about guilt and reparation, an exciting and satisfying excursion into supernatural fantasy.

2004 Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge by Kathryn Reiss. Harcourt, (0-15-216574-6) $17; 2005 (0-15-205471-5) $6.95 pb

Zibby doesn't even like dolls; her birthday dream is of new rollerblades. So it's pretty strange when she finds herself spending her rollerblade money on a dollhouse she suddenly just has to have. Even stranger is the price--exactly what she has, down to the last cent--and the form the seller has her sign, stating she takes "full responsibility for the house and all its contents."

The contents turn out to include a large number of old-fashioned dolls-- and they're the strangest thing of all. Because anything that happens to the dolls also seems to happen to Zibby's friends and family... and even the nicest play scenarios always seem to go terribly wrong.

As Zibby and her new neighbors, Jude and Penny, try to solve the mystery of the dollhouse, they're beset with spooky encounters, unexpected pains and terrible nightmares. And then there's Zibby soon-to-be stepsister, whose resentment of Zibby's mom seems to be creating a whole new nightmare.

I was puzzled by the plotting of this book: after a long but well-paced first half, the story suddenly veers into new territory. with characters and elements that had been inadequately foreshadowed taking center stage. It turns out that this was originally a series of three books, and the welding of the numerous subplots, characters and themes into one leaves some awkward seams. (I should have guessed just from the cast of girls: anglo, black and asian, the ubiquitous triumvirate of girl's series books from the 1990's.) Nonetheless, this is an enjoyably chilling read that will appeal to fans of the genre. (9 & up)

Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubenstein. Simon & Schuster, 1995 (0-689-80136-X) $15.00; Aladdin, 1997 (0-689-81235-3) $3.99 pb

In a very bleak future, where urban decay and racial tensions have escalated to a terrifying degree, Joella, her brother Peter and her adopted sister Liane are kidnapped for a bizarre purpose: to become acrobats in an outer-space gymnasium, where aliens feed on the fear of the performers. In the world of the Galax-Arena, they are no longer children--"without parents, how can there be children?"--but part of the peb, a group of kidnapped youngsters who have become little better than vain, vicious, performing animals in captivity. As Peter and Liane, the family "stars," join the peb, Joella can only watch in fear, knowing that she is useless as a gymnast and will soon wind up as an alien's pet--or worse. But though Joella is not physically adept, she has another talent: the ability to see even hidden truths. And the hidden truth about the Galax-Arena may hold hope for their escape.

Reminiscent of William Sleator's classic young adult novel House of Stairs, in its portrayal of how fear, hopelessness and desperation can--but does not always--lead to a loss of humanity, Galax-Arena is a staggering, shocking book with a great many undercurrents, not all perhaps intended by the author. The very grim look at what happens to children when all elements of a "childhood" are taken away from them is quite relevant today, and not only in dangerous urban settings--many child performers, especially gymnasts, seem forced to risk more and give up more every year in order to succeed. For me, Galax-Arena was not just a cunningly disorienting and frightening story, but a painful reminder of how extraneous children really are in our society; despite much lip service about their importance, our actions speak louder than our words. The premise of the story may seem implausible at first, but at heart it's uncomfortably close to reality. Perhaps that's why Galax-Arena is so much bleaker even than House of Stairs: it exposes a truth that offers little hope for our future.

Interstellar Pig by William Sleator. Dutton, 1984; Puffin, 1995 (0-14-037595-3) $3.99 pb

One of Sleator's most enduringly popular books, Interstellar Pig is an exciting, often terrifying science fiction thriller. Sixteen-year-old Barney isn't much looking forward to his summer vacation, until he meets the fascinating neighbors in a nearby cottage, three exotic world travellers who, oddly enough, seem equally fascinated with him. Choosing to ignore some puzzling questions about his new friends--like why his parents seem to see them as much older than he does, and why they're so obsessed with exploring his house--Barney eagerly joins them in their favorite game, a mindbogglingly complex and utterly ruthless strategy game called Interstellar Pig, in which the stakes are the fates of entire planets. As Barney gets more involved in playing, the puzzling facts about his neighbors start to fall into place--but it's too late for Barney to avoid his role in a very deadly game. Superbly imagined (although Sleator seems a little unclear on some of the role-playing game concepts he uses), Interstellar Pig has the horrific qualities of a nightmare come to life.

The Night the Heads Came by William Sleator. Dutton, 1996 (0-525-45463-2) $15.99

This science fiction thriller is a rather disappointing "alien abduction" story with an implausible environmental twist. When Leo and his artist friend Tim are captured by bizarre, bodiless aliens, only Leo is returned--with his memory erased and a mind-controlling implant in his ear. Accused of foul play by Tim's parents--who strangely seem more concerned about the $357 Tim was carrying than about their lost son--Leo is sent to a hypnotist, who "uncovers" a patently ridiculous memory of an abduction by little green men. Then Tim returns, with a stack of nightmarish drawings and a confused story about dangerous aliens called The Others. . . leaving Leo to try and figure out which of his memories are real, what the aliens want from him and his friend, and just whose side he should be on.

As is often the case with Sleator's books, The Night the Heads Came is long on plot and action but short on detail and characterization; in fact its present tense narrative is terse to the point of resembling a rough draft, with none of the smooth inevitable-feeling unfolding of events that made previous Sleator books like Interstellar Pig (see above) so chilling. Still, I have to admit its grisly aliens gave me quite a case of the heebie-jeebies. (12 & up)

A Nightmare's Dozen edited by Michael Stearns. Harcourt Brace, 1996 (0-15-201247-8) $17.00; Laurel-Leaf, 1999 (0-440-22746-1) $4.99 pb

It's hard to predict how younger readers will feel, but this collection of "stories from the dark" certainly troubled my dreams after I read it. A companion to A Wizard's Dozen and A Starfarer's Dozen, it once again includes original contributions from some of the best modern fantasy writers for children and young adults. The results are unusual, imaginative and very, very chilling: Karen Jordan Allen creates the world's most terrifying teacher, whose punishments last even beyond the grave; Martha Soukup reveals the mystery behind the perfect smiles of airline attendants; Lawrence Watt-Evans shows that in the fairy world, no good deed ever goes unpunished.

One curious things about anthologies like this is how often similar themes pop-up, apparently unintentionally. This time the theme which appears in almost every story is the loss of a father; consequently, pain, loneliness and reconciliation are at the emotional center of many of them. In Bruce Coville's "The Japanese Mirror," a boy has to learn to cope with heritage from his father, both bad and good; in Jane Yolen's poignant "Bolundeers," a brother and sister find the memory of their dead father is still protection against dangers lurking in the dark. Touching on emotions as well as preying on fears, these stories aren't just more interesting than more straightforward horror: they are also scarier. * (10 & up)

All Hallows Eve by Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt Brace, 2006 (0-15-205576-2) $17.00

This collection of mostly original stories features teens experiencing horrors, and teens who are horrors, and often we don't know which is which until the very end. An undemanding read for fans of the creepy, grisly, and surprising. (12 & up)

Being Dead by Vivian Vende Velde. Harcourt, 2001 (0-15-216320-4) $17.00; (0-15-204912-6) $6.95 trade

The needs of the dead that cause them to interact with the living is the theme of this uneven collection, which includes several superbly crafted twists. (10 & up)

Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt Brace, 1995 (0-15-200221-9) $17.00; Harcourt, 2002 (0-15-216669-6) $5.95 pb.

Vivian Vande Velde's Dragon's Bait was an entertaining and romantic look at a relationship between a human girl and a far-from-human boy. Companions of the Night uses that pattern again, but this time with a tenser, more explosive awareness of what the differences between human and non-human can really mean. The result is a breathtakingly suspenseful story which is also an intriguing exploration of moral ambiguity.

Kerry Nowicki is very much in the wrong place at the wrong time when she goes to an all-night laundromat and runs into three men carrying a gagged and bloodied figure. But what she assumes is a drug deal gone wrong is actually something much more bizarre and horrifying: the men claim that their prisoner is a vampire, and they're planning to videotape him as he dies at sunrise. Terrified for both of their lives, Kerry seizes a chances to rescue the prisoner, whose name is Ethan. But their escape is only the beginning. . . because the three men were right. And now Kerry is also suspected of being a vampire, her family is in grave danger--and her only chance to save their lives and hers seems to be to keep helping the possibly amoral, certainly attractive, and totally unknowable Ethan.

In many ways a classic hostage story, Companions of the Night is utterly gripping, as both Kerry and the reader try to understand what Ethan truly is and how far--if at all--she can trust him. With the mythical sensual power of vampirism beginning to invade her dreams, her choices become even more difficult. Is it safe to follow her feelings? Or is she, as a vampire hunter claims, being "seduced by the glamor of evil"?

Through its taut and subtly erotic story, Companions of the Night raises questions about the unexpectedly slippery slope between good and evil, human and inhumane. The ending satisfyingly combines a realistic uncertainty about moral absolutes with a clear and forthright message that, nonetheless, there is always a choice.

Curses, Inc. and Other Stories by Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt Brace, 1997 (0-15-201452-7) $16.00; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-22767-4) $4.50 pb; Magic Carpet, 2007 (978-0-15-206107-4) $6.95 pb

Witches of all types are the subject of this batch of stories, including a Creole plantation slave with a deadly interest in reading lifelines, a boy witch who simply can't follow directions and a very modern witch who sells curses from her own web site. The mood also varies, from bluntly humorous to chillingly creepy and genuinely haunting. Imaginative and fun, this is a solidly entertaining collection. (10 & up)

Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt, 1995 (0-15200220-0) $17; Magic Carpet, 2005 (0-15205572-X) $5.95 trade

Except for a chilling version of "Hansel and Gretel," in which the two children are far scarier than any wicked witch, this collection isn't particularly grim or weird; most of the stories are lighthearted parodies of fairy tales that create humor by either switching the usual hero/villain roles or by pointing out the incongruities such tales are prone to, such as why any prince would want to marry a princess who had thrown him against a wall in a rage when he was a frog. With fairy tale rewrites abounding, these themes and ideas don't seem all that novel or insightful, but the author tells the stories very well, with a lot of humor, a delicate touch of romance, and an obvious enjoyment of her work. The paperback edition has changed the original heebie-jeebie inducing cover to one designed for a younger audience. (8-12)

Ghost Stories edited by Robert Westall. Illustrated by Sean Eckett. Kingfisher, 1993 (1-85697-884-2) $6.95 pb

Readers expecting "Goosebumps" style cheap thrills will be surprised but not necessarily disappointed by this collection of supernatural stories. Including many classic authors like Dickens, Saki and Guy de Maupassant, there are few stories specifically written for children here, and the moods are thoughtful, sad, comic or--like Alison Prince's eerie "The Lilies," subtly terrifying. Don't think that there are no bone-chilling stories though--Ray Bradbury's "The Emissary" had me sleeping with the light on. Mature readers will have the unusual pleasure of reading some fine writing as they get the pants scared off them. (12 & up)

Here There Be Witches by Jane Yolen. Illustrated by David Wilgus. Harcourt Brace, 1995 (0-15-200311-8) $17.00; 1997 (0-15-201657-0) $10.00 pb

This companion to Here There Be Dragons and Here There Be Unicorns is another large, attractively illustrated collection of stories and poems. Evocative front and back covers show mirror-images of a lovely young woman and a wrinkled crone, setting the mood for a look at the many faces of witches and other magic users, with influences ranging from the legend of Merlin to Shakespeare's three witches to Native American folklore. Many of the pieces are surprisingly amusing, with sly touches of postmodernism that manage to mix well with the witchy atmosphere. Overall though, this collection was a little thin for my tastes, more an attractive picture book than a really meaty read.

Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen. Harcourt Brace, 1997 (0-15-201524-8) $17.00

October is a good time to read this collection of fantasy stories, which is most notable for some delicious horror tales. In the shivery story "The Baby-Sitter," a girl learns that things that go bump in the night can have their uses, while "Bolundeers" and "Mama Gone" delicately combine horror and poignancy in two looks at the loss of a parent. Readers who enjoy retold tales will also enjoy "The Bridge's Complaint", which tells "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" from the point of view of the bridge--"Trit-trot, trit-trot, trit-trot, all day long"--and "Lost Girls," which exposes a chilling side of Peter Pan that Barrie never dreamed of. (10 & up)


The Haunted House by Fiona Conboy. Illustrated by John Leonard. Scholastic, 1997 (0-590-36205-4) $5.95 pb

Kids who have found Waldo once too often will enjoy this fun activity book of mazes, counting games and shape recognition. As travellers go through a spooky mansion--nicely enhanced with 3-D effects--they must solve various puzzles in order to find the key that will let them out. The puzzles aren't too hard, but young children may need help figuring out some of the instructions. 3-D glass are included. (4-8/6-8)

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich written and illustrated by Adam Rex. Harcourt, 2006 (0-15-205766-8) $16.00

The subtitle of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is "And Other Stories You're Sure to Like Because They're All About Monsters, and Some of Them are Also About Food. You Like Food, Don't You? Well All Right Then," and you might well think that tells you everything you need to know about this book. But you'd be wrong, because a silly subtitle doesn't do anything like justice to the breadth of its humor and the extraordinary stylishness of its design.

Vignettes in verse describe incidents in the lives of some famous and lesser known monsters, with some of the verses hard-pressed to live up to the inspired hilarity of their titles, which include "Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around All Night with Spinach in His Teeth," and "The Mummy Won't Go To His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies." The wacky/absurd/gross appeal to kids is obvious, but you probably have to be older to truly appreciate the full visual impact of these rich and richly allusive illustrations, which draw on numerous sources and styles. My favorites are a running gag in which the Phantom of the Opera, drawn in dramatic, silent-movie black and white, is portrayed in intense, bone-twisting anguish--because he can't get the tune "It's a Small World" out of his head. (6 & up)

Frankenstein Takes the Cake written and illustrated by Adam Rex. Harcourt, 2008 (978-0-15-206235-4) $16.00

From the cover illustration of "Frankenstein" eating the groom off his wedding cake, to the back cover's "Haiku About Adam Rex"--"He knows Frankenstein's/the doctor, not the monster./Enough already"--this book of monster poems is undeniably funny, with jokes lurking in every tiny area, even on the copyright page and under the jacket flap. (Library workers are going to go crazy processing this one.) And like Rex's previous book, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, it could take hours to fully appreciate the astonishing illustrations, filled with sly visual allusions and tributes. "Dracula Junior" is a perfect take-off on Charles Shultz, a vampire Charlie Brown, with bat instead of zigzag on his shirt. A running gag about Edgar Allen Poe is a black & white, big-headed, gothic extravaganza. And doctored photographs of the pumpkin-headed Headless Horseman and other of his ilk are superbly done and hysterically funny; I love the Horseman trying to nonchalantly slouch by a throng of "grandmas" who "hound me with piecrusts and poke at my head" with wooden spoons.

But--you could tell there was a but coming, couldn't you?--even more than the previous book, this one is heavy on the jokes for adults. The cultural focus this time seems less on the appreciation of old monster movie characters and more on the Internet age: The Headless Horseman keeps a very familiar looking running blog called "Off the Top of My Head,"; messages from extraterrestrials turn out to be classic spam. And a lot of the jokes from "Frankenstein's" wedding are about irritating mothers-in-law and the bride's last minute cold feet, again more adult arenas. Not that there's anything wrong with that!--just keep it in mind if you're choosing this book for a child. I've seen it recommended for teens, and certainly more literate middle graders could enjoy it. Here's a thought: any kid who enjoys the "Simpsons" Halloween specials would probably love it.

As with the previous book, I was more blown away by the pictures than the verses, but though they have some flaws of scansion and meter, they're also entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the running parody of Poe's "the Raven"; the raven's ending line--"what a bore," "Tipper Gore" "Get the Door! (Ya stupid poet)" gets funnier every time it appears. (8 & up)

A Rattle of Bones written and illustrated by Kipling West. Orchard, 1999 (0-531-30196-6) $15.95

Halloween makes a striking background for this introduction to collective nouns. Here we learn that a group of trick-or-treaters is a tribe, a bunch of crows is a murder, and a collection of spiders is a venom. All of the phrases are from published sources, although some were only recently invented; a note at the end encourages readers to come up with their own descriptions for things like a group of math teachers or bratty siblings. Despite the darkness of many of the terms, the mood of this book is oddly innocuous: a cheerful rhyming text and plenty of smiling Halloween creatures dampen the mysterious, creepy atmosphere created by phrases like an unkindness of ravens. Still, it may well spark some imaginations. (4-8)

Really, Really Bad Monster Jokes by Teri Sloat. Illustrated by Mike Wright. Candlewick, 1998 0-7363-0029-6) $4.99 pb

Crowded, grotesquely comical scenes reminiscent of Mad magazine are the main draw of this joke book. As promised, the jokes are really, really bad, with lots of enjoyably stupid puns. (My personal favorite: "Why did the farmer plant vegetables on his wife's grave? So she could rest in peas.") The jam-packed pictures of chatting zombies and vampires add life, of a sort, with fun details like the sign pointing to the "rest-in-peace rooms" at a ghoul gathering. (6-10)

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