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  • Louise Ellis-Barrett

Spooks and Ghouls, Freaks and Fools ...


Halloween need not be a time for fear of fear but a time for fun in the fear. Why? How? Because there is great opportunity to be safely scared whilst having fun reading of course! Here are some brief reviews of the amazing Halloween books I have been reading in the last we - but these books are of course not just for Halloween, they can be enjoyed all year around and some may be enjoyed just as much in the daytime or even the summertime!

Mrs Blackhat by Chloe and Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children’s Books) is a witch who just loves black – from her boots to her broomstick black is the colour, there is just one problem – her cat – he insists on being ginger! With lots of laughs, plenty of rhyme and abounding with humour everyone will love this Happy Halloween title.

Witch Girl by Jan Eldridge (Scholastic) comes with a warning – this is one to read with the lights on because when Evangeline Clement and her grandmother are given an unusual case to solve in a creepy old mansion Evangeline is about to encounter nit only some terrifying monsters but also a long-buried family secret … a cracking read for the dark and bewitching nights surrounding Halloween. Complete with cobwebs and spiders adorning the pagers thanks to Risa Rodil.

Another witch with a problem is Em Lynas’ Help I'm Trapped at Witch School (Nosy Crow). Maybe she is the most magical of all the pupils at Toadspit Towers but is she about to meet her match in not one but three super-scary tests? Is it all doom and disaster or can Twinkle survive her third twisted entanglement? Jamie Littler’s depiction of the geyser of Icelandic ice bursting out of the toilet is one of my favourites!

Yet more witches to come still so stay put on that broomstick for now … Bianca Pitzorno’s The littlest witch has been translated by Laura Watkinson and illustrated by Mark Beech (Catnip) and provides the perfect book for giggles this Halloween … Bianca has a wonderful way with words, weaving them into a thoroughly readable story which is quite simply hilarious. Laugh out loud at the escapades of Alfonso as he tries to inherit his great-uncle’s fortune by making a witch fall in love with and marry him!

Vivian French’s Tom & Tallulah and the witches’ feast​ (Walker Books) is another delight, a fairy tale adventure with plenty of magic and mayhem. Terrible cook Tallulah has to prepare a feast for the witches so that she can retain her place in the circle … only she can’t cook! Add in plotting witches, mad grandmothers and a trust cat and crow and the ingredients are there for a great story – Vivian French has done this but can Tallulah do her meal?

Wish for a Witch is maybe what is needed after the last tale! Kaye Umansky and Ashley King (Simon & Schuster) bring us a second title featuring Elsie Pickles attempting to lead a normal life away from magic and mayhem. The trouble is the tower keeps calling and Elsie can’t resist of course … this time her challenge is a grumpy genie …

From witches we must now turn our attention to vampires. Amelia Fang returns in Amelia Fang and the memory thief (Laura Ellen Anderson – Egmont). Amelia is of course excited for her birthnight party but why can none of the creatures of Nocturnia remember her party or anything else for that matter? Can Amelia solve the missing memories mystery before its too late?

Vlad the world’s worst vampire: midnight fright will definitely make you laugh for Vlad is far from brave or scary and he’s afraid of the dark! With Anna Wilson’s cleverly imagined story, one that turns our ideas about vampires on their head and Kathryn Ourst’s illustrations filling the pages with additional story to enjoy this is not to be missed.

Monsters, ghosts and ghouls are additionally a feature of this time of year…

Spectre collectors: a New York nightmare has a few great twists and turns thanks to Barry Hutchinson readers can have a go at being detective as they read this mystery story (Nosy Crow). Or if it is feline detectives that you would like to emulate then try out

Max the detective cat: the phantom portrait Max has sniffed out a new mystery to be solved, one with bumps in the night and ghouls to catch. (Sarah Todd Taylor & Nicola Kinnear, Nosy Crow)

And because he loves writing so much his fans will be thrilled to hear that Barry Hutchinson, along with illustrator Lee Cosgrove has a second

book for reading this Halloween … Night of the living ted (Stripes) has zombie, alien, ghost and even witch bears on the loose – can they be stopped and the humans save from doom?

Maudlin Towers - Treasure of the golden skull (Bloomsbury Children's) is Chris Priestly’s return to the mystery riddled school, with pirates, treasure and of course great adventure.

Another returnee is Dirty Bertie. In a special book of stories for Halloween, Frights and Bites, readers can enjoy 9 comic capers with fangs, zombies, ghouls and ghosts! Don’t try Berties hijinks at home … you have been warned! (Alan MacDonald, David Roberts – Stripes)

Nelly the monster sitter by Kes Gray, Chris Jevons (Hodder Children’s Books) is another title that reunites us with a favourite character and will really will make you laugh this Halloween with the six-legged Gog, oozy orange Squurm and more to come, which will be your favourite? Which would you monster sit?

Ten nasty little toads, Steve Cole, Tim Archbold, (Zephyr) is a collection of the horriblest, most hilarious spooky stories full of naughty children. It may well make you laugh but be warned – there is always a price to pay! Each story is about a different little toad – will you be able to identify with any of them or are you really not that naughty? With fabulous full-colour illustrations this is a squeamish delight!

And because older readers like to be scared as much as younger ones, if not more, I made sure to read some to recommend to you too!

The dreadful tale of Prosper Redding, Alexandra Bracken, Quercus, provides an intriguing first person narrative. Prosper always thought himself to be unexceptional in a remarkable family but the truth is far more dangerous and when you discover why you’ll find it as hard as I did to put this one down. A demon read.

City of ghosts by Victoria Schwab, (Scholastic) is a book in four parts which starts with us meeting the Inspecters – Cass and her parents, parents who write about ghost but don’t really believe in them and a daughter whose best friend, Jacob, is a ghost. In part two - City of ghosts – we are with the family in Edinburgh to film a documentary. As Cass' parents cannot see, hear or feel and have no idea what this is doing to Cass. The reader discovers more about Cass’ unusual story which unfolds with a deeper darkness as the other side gets closer. By part three - Ghost hunters – I was getting quite scared, it gets very spooky and the introduction of some questionable characters – Lara and Findlay among them - adds to the suspense. I found myself wondering who was actually real! Part four – The Raven in Red - gets very dark, Cass and Jacob are trapped on the other side in a snare set by the Raven who steals Cass’ life force and forces them to take unsavoury and very dark attempts to thwart her plans. The story closes with part five - That’s a wrap – alluding to the end of the filming process, the end of Cass’ own camera film but also some new understandings and new beginnings. There is the suggestion of more to come but at the same time the questions that hang in the air suit the book entirely. Be brave, have a read but maybe do it in the daylight and remember your mirror necklace!

Terror train – Wiggots Wonderful Waxworld by Terry Deary, (Scholastic) has plenty of short chapters so you'll be turning the pages in spite of your building fear, this book is both engaging and scary!

It begins innocently enough, three old ladies having their morning breakfast, discussing a mysterious tower in their town and a young boy about to make a monumental theft. The characters are both likeable and entirely disagreeable – a little like a Roald Dahl novel – we love to hate them. There are the three old ladies who really cannot stand one another, the fat owner of the tower and the very rich lady. We will like the thief, the slightly inept police and some of the other characters we meet but there will be more we dislike.

So there we have it, an innocent enough story – a brand new and very expensive phone is stolen from a mean businessman but this is just the beginning.

Theft may not have been a good decision for the boy to make but entering into Wiggots Wonderful Waxworld may have been even worse … there is a very good reason for it to have closed down – and there is worse to come - but will he learn in time to make his escape? Will we learn more about the mysterious phone oh and of course the girl in the tank?

Written with Terry Deary’s trademark black humour to read this story you need to be very alert (oh and not easily scared) …

Open if you dare this Halloween!

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