Monterrosa seems like an ordinary small town—until a resident is bitten by a strange-looking dog one night while taking a stroll past the graveyard.
When popular teacher Mr. Chu suddenly acquires a mean streak, superfast reflexes, and a weird giggle, worried fourth-graders Carlos and Benny (the Latino narrator and white best pal, respectively) rush off to do some research—in, where else, the local comic-book store. With help from store owner Mrs. Tamasese (known as the Samoan Slammer in her wrestling days, before an injury put her in a wheelchair), they reach the obvious conclusion that Mr. Chu will become a were-hyena unless he’s cured before the next full moon. Not so easy! Hale clearly crafts a main cast with an eye toward diversity, cued in the narrative with names, expressions in Spanish, references to hair and eye color and the like, and explicitly in the occasional line-drawn illustrations. He also unveils a supporting array of family members, shape changers, child-sacrificing cultists, and menacing strangers. Chucking in the odd gnawed corpse for atmosphere and butt references for laughs, the author provides narrow squeaks and plot twists galore. By the end, Carlos, Benny, and tough African-American classmate Tina “Karate Girl” Green emerge as a team of seasoned monster hunters—just in time for the next episode’s teaser.
A series kickoff with a promising mix of chills and chortles. (Light horror. 8-10)