Come for the ghost. Stay for the pirates

SKELETON ISLAND

From the Araminta Spookie series , Vol. 2

A class of school kids on a field trip gets an infusion of piratical machinations in this latest book in a series, following Gargoyle Hall (2015).

Living in a boarding school is the best thing ever to have happened to Araminta Spookie. And when the class field trip turns out to be to creepy Skeleton Island, she has no difficulty filling her classmates in on the mysterious pirate ship that sank beneath the seas nearby. A run-in with two nefarious girls leaves Araminta and her best friend, Wanda, stranded on the island, where they have the particular misfortune to run into bat guano, ghost girls, and skeleton pirates with a sweet tooth for buried treasure. Araminta is not particularly nice to Wanda, but it’s intriguing to watch her use her brains to get the two of them out of sticky situations. Kelly’s black-and-white illustrations temper the tiny traces of scary material, leaving the book appropriate for younger ages, though they appear to depict an all-white cast. Skeleton pirates are nothing new, and Araminta offers the usual goth-girl-in-a-jam formula. Still, there are enough piratical high jinks to keep young readers on their toes.

Come for the ghost. Stay for the pirates . (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61963-945-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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ATTACK OF THE SHARK-HEADED ZOMBIE

Aimed straight at proto-Goosebumps fans, this formulaic series opener pits two 9-year-olds against a great white shark with legs. Having lost his bike in a lake thanks to the latest hare-brained scheme of his impulsive cousin Henry, bookish Keats reluctantly agrees to finance a replacement by earning some money taking on odd jobs at a spooky local mansion. The prosaic task of weeding the garden quickly turns into an extended flight through a series of magical rooms after a shark monster rises out of the ground and gives chase. Dashing from one narrow squeak to the next, the lads encounter a kitchen with an invisible "sink," a giant vomiting bookworm in the library, a carpet pattern in the hall that (literally) bites and, most usefully, a magic wand that they get to keep (setting up future episodes) after spelling the monster away. Tilted points of view give the occasional illustrations more energy than the labored plot ever musters, and the characters rarely show even two dimensions. Fledgling readers will do better in the hands of Jim Benton’s Franny K. Stein series or Bruce and Katherine Coville’s Moongobble and Me books. (Horror. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 26, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-86675-3

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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Steer Cthulhu-craving kiddies to Charles Gilman’s fearful and funny Lovecraft Middle School.

DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM

Dr. Fell, foul fiend or friend to children?

The last house on Hardscrabble Street, empty and old, has always been a playground for the local children, so when a “sold” sign appears in the yard, no one’s pleased. Jerry and Gail Bloom and Gail’s friend Nancy Pinkblossom meet their new neighbor, the wizened Dr. Fell, and bemoan the loss of their play space. A few days later, a fantastical playground of pirate ships and castle towers appears in Dr. Fell’s yard. Before long, children start getting hurt there, but every injury on Dr. Fell’s playground heals quickly under his care. Gail, Jerry, and Nancy grow suspicious, especially when their parents start acting strangely. Then Gail returns from a visit to Dr. Fell acting brainwashed. Her friend and brother cure her, but as Dr. Fell’s control of the town grows, the trio realizes something terribly sinister’s afoot. Can they head it off? Actor and storyteller Neilsen’s debut tries too hard from the start. Dr. Fell speaks in purple prose and then translates himself nearly every time he converses, a characterization tic that grows old quickly. Repetition of humorless gags and forced quirkiness in nomenclature cannot be saved by a shallow attempt at Lovecraft-ian horror far too late in the tale. Terry’s black-and-white illustrations add atmosphere and depict an evidently all-white cast.

Steer Cthulhu-craving kiddies to Charles Gilman’s fearful and funny Lovecraft Middle School. (Adventure. 7-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93578-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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