Thursday, October 22, 2009


THE MONSTEROLOGIST: A MEMOIR IN RHYME "ghostwritten" by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by Adam McCauley (Sterling)

Greasy green lizards
And raw chicken gizzards,
Spell-binding spells
cast by spell-casting wizards.
Dead mice and head lice
and flapping bat wings--
these are a few of my favorite things!

Yes, even Rogers and Hammerstein takes a Halloween hit in this erudite collection of rememberances by one who has spent his life chasing the most famous of creeps. This poem is a good representation of the work because it underscores the poet's distinct lyrical quality, with a wit, sophistication and confident meter that hearkens to the days of Tin Pan Alley, though in this context, perhaps more like Daigon Alley.

Years ago when I was young,
I found it hard to say
what I would be when I grew up
and had a job someday.
Perhaps when people ask you
what you are going to be,
You'll choose a fine degree like mine--
In monsterology!

Fifty pages of fond and funny reminiscences of the fictional escapades and chance meetings between "the monsterologist" and a bevy of beasts are played up with eclectic collage, lively layouts and frenetic fonts, a style that is sure to entice fans of Lane Smith of Stinky Cheese Man fame. This collection with a vinyl burgundy cover embossed in gold has some literary heft, hosting an interview with the Loch Ness Monster, musings on the Golem and Grendel, a wink to a cyclops and a nod to other ghastly Greek monster icons (Just one look at Medusa/Could turn you to stone./When she says, "let's talk,"/Play it safe. Use the phone). And what collection would be complete without a few words about the ghosts of Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong? Expect the unexpected! This book about being a monsterologist made it fun to be a readiologist...and the lucky kid who gets this will have the best of both of those worlds. (9 and up)

One more "ologist" worth mentioning is R.L. La Fevers' novel, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX: NATHAN FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST, BOOK I (illustrated by Kelly Murphy, published by Houghton Mifflin), the first in a series about a gentle boy taking care of the mythical beasts who come to depend upon him. Using some familiar devices (parents disappeared, child left to fend for self amidst unsympathetic adults a la Lemony Snicket), Nate is taken under the wing of his distant cousin, the last "beastologist." When this guardian needs rescuing amidst an expedition, Nate is left to discover his own expertise and independence. This book rises above the fray thanks to succinct, elegant writing, high adventure, likeable talking creatures and the fact that a very dear little boy rises to the occasion, even after years of admonishments ("You need a little more time to grow up," his father had said. "When you're old enough to travel well and your sense of adventure has developed, we'll send for you then"). Decorated with fetching sketchy ink illustrations and a nice size for children who enjoyed the Spiderwick series, this strong start promises many hours of enjoyable fantasy perfect for armchair curl-ups, and just in time for the chilly days of fall. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Something old (classics below), something new (above), something borrowed (how about a library book!), and Seems we're ready for Halloween. Here is more frightfully good seasonal poetry; print up your favorites in a freaky font and toss 'em in bags along with the lollipops.

The delightfully irreverent Rex (THE DIRTY COWBOY) has written a book so funny, it's scary. Bring your best monster face, it will will be weeping with laughter from these poems, whether it's "The Creature of the Black Lagoon Doesn't Wait an Hour Before Swimming," "An Open Letter from Wolfman's Best Friend" ("Dear Wolfman,/I wanted to make some things clear./ I know we've been roomates for nearly a year,/and I probably should have said something before,/ but could you please try/not to scratch the front door?"), "The Invisible Man Gets a Haircut" (would you look at the barber's expression?) "Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in his Teeth," "The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'The Girl from Ipanema' Out of His Head," shall I go on? How about listening to an oversensitive Bigfoot's lament, getting the skinny on a Witch-Watcher's Club, and of course, what collection of hoorors would complete without a visit to the dentist? Children will not like this book, they will love it, and the poems are only surpassed by the artwork, distinctive, distinguished, and utterly limber in style, ranging from painterly to comic-bookish. A mix of Shel Silverstein, Art Speigelman, Colin McNaughton, and something wholly original and inspired, this holiday book really put Rex's talent on the map, even if the map happens to be of Transylvania. It liiiiives! (7 and up)

by Linda Ashman, illustrated by David Small (Simon and Schuster)
"Guaranteed--some day, some place--/You'll meet a monster face to face./Don't destroy a great vacation--/Arm yourself with information!/With this handy monster guide,/You can take these beasts in stride./Save yourself the stress and stife!/Save your spirit! Save your life!" So begins the voyage via hot air balloon to thirteen countries, each page luckily illustrated by a Caldecott artist in top form and unluckily plagued by lengendary creatures such as the nefarious Russian Domovik, the terrible Japanese Tengu, or the not-so-hot Hotots of Armenia. Anyone who reads this book is likely to learn something new in this international monster who's who, and the frontspiece is an attractive world map to help you locate the monsters (and steer clear of them). Let each child in a classroom make up their own monster description using the format in the book, and bind them together for your own homemade Essential Monster Guide! Also worth noting: this Caldecott-winning artist is currently in contention for the National Book Award for his illustrated memoir for adults, STITCHES, which is scary in its own grown-up way. (8 and up)

THE ROBOTS ARE COMING by Andy Rash (Scholastic)
Speaking of grown-ups getting scared, some teachers cringed at this politically incorrect collection of poetry, but one class made the teacher read this book three times in a row. Verse about voodoo, coffee-drinking robots, hypnotists, clones and the loch ness monster are just a few of the motley crew that grace the pages of this outlandish collection. My favorite is "Werewolf": The moon comes out/and the werewolf shouts,/"TIME TO BE A WOLF/AND ROAM THE FOREST!"/ The moon is gone/and the werewolf yawns,/"Time to be a man/and see the florist."/the victim lies/in the bed and sighs,/"I'll never go out/on another full moon."/ The bouquet has/a card that says,/ "Sorry I attacked you./ Get well soon." The artwork is bold and modern with plenty of artsy green-and orange. The last poem in the book, "Good Night," is reassuring in it's own creepy way. While perhaps not for the faint of heart or more parochial collections, this snazzy bit of subversive fun reaches its intended audience on the Halloween shelf. (8 and up)

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