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The beginning of a Harry Potter–esque series for those who prefer gross-out horror to magical whimsy.

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In Allen’s debut YA adventure, a brother and sister must survive the horrors of their mystical ancestral home and the haunted gardens that surround it.

Lily Blackwood and her brother, Silas, live a transient life as actors in their family’s low-budget stage show, an awkward steppingstone that Lily believes will one day lead her to fame and the adoration of crowds. Lily’s dreams crumble when her uncle Jonquil, a mysterious, rough-looking man draped in a wolf fur, kidnaps her and her brother and delivers them to their family’s original home—the otherworldly Nightfall Gardens—a preternatural land where creatures of myths and fairy tales are both real and deadly. It’s Lily’s birthright and curse to become the new matriarch of this estate, to guard and maintain it, and to keep the darkness of the gardens contained. While she is quarantined inside the house, timid Silas is sent into the gardens as the mystical groundskeeper’s new assistant. The knowledge he gains among the arboreal evil, when combined with his sister’s defiant ambition for a life beyond Nightfall’s gates, leaves the children poised to challenge the dark fate that has descended upon them. Allen’s novel starts swiftly, bringing Lily and Silas into the spectacle and danger of Nightfall as quickly as possible, then the pace slows to a pleasant amble to adequately highlight each gruesome experience. The novel thrives when depicting the bizarre and dangerous: cocoon-sleeping slug women; mummy butlers that are falling apart; vengeful corpse eaters; and even the heroes’ closest ally, a green-skinned tomboy. Still, with so much focus on frightening imagery, the novel doesn’t build much suspense, leaning more toward the gross than the scary. This is not necessarily a flaw. Many YA novels aren’t looking to utterly terrify their readers, and intriguing mysteries and foreshadowed threats for the Blackwood children in the second volume easily offset any flagging tension.

The beginning of a Harry Potter–esque series for those who prefer gross-out horror to magical whimsy.

Pub Date: May 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615804453

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Flycatcher Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2013

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Broccoli: No way is James going to eat broccoli. “It’s disgusting,” says James. Well then, James, says his father, let’s consider the alternatives: some wormy dirt, perhaps, some stinky socks, some pre-chewed gum? James reconsiders the broccoli, but—milk? “Blech,” says James. Right, says his father, who needs strong bones? You’ll be great at hide-and-seek, though not so great at baseball and kickball and even tickling the dog’s belly. James takes a mouthful. So it goes through lumpy oatmeal, mushroom lasagna and slimy eggs, with James’ father parrying his son’s every picky thrust. And it is fun, because the father’s retorts are so outlandish: the lasagna-making troll in the basement who will be sent back to the rat circus, there to endure the rodent’s vicious bites; the uneaten oatmeal that will grow and grow and probably devour the dog that the boy won’t be able to tickle any longer since his bones are so rubbery. Schneider’s watercolors catch the mood of gentle ribbing, the looks of bewilderment and surrender and the deadpanned malarkey. It all makes James’ father’s last urging—“I was just going to say that you might like them if you tried them”—wholly fresh and unexpected advice. (Early reader. 5-9)

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-14956-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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The seemingly ageless Seeger brings back his renowned giant for another go in a tuneful tale that, like the art, is a bit sketchy, but chockful of worthy messages. Faced with yearly floods and droughts since they’ve cut down all their trees, the townsfolk decide to build a dam—but the project is stymied by a boulder that is too huge to move. Call on Abiyoyo, suggests the granddaughter of the man with the magic wand, then just “Zoop Zoop” him away again. But the rock that Abiyoyo obligingly flings aside smashes the wand. How to avoid Abiyoyo’s destruction now? Sing the monster to sleep, then make it a peaceful, tree-planting member of the community, of course. Seeger sums it up in a postscript: “every community must learn to manage its giants.” Hays, who illustrated the original (1986), creates colorful, if unfinished-looking, scenes featuring a notably multicultural human cast and a towering Cubist fantasy of a giant. The song, based on a Xhosa lullaby, still has that hard-to-resist sing-along potential, and the themes of waging peace, collective action, and the benefits of sound ecological practices are presented in ways that children will both appreciate and enjoy. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83271-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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