The book is brilliant in its confirmation of an essential truth of childhood, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling,...

WHAT THERE IS BEFORE THERE IS ANYTHING THERE

A SCARY STORY

A lad is tormented by existential boojums every night in this comically eerie variation on a common bedtime trope.

No sooner do his parents bid him sweet dreams and switch off the light than the ceiling becomes “a black hole…black and infinite”—through which float small creatures of diverse shape who stand around his bed and stare at him fixedly. At last, the arrival of a slit-eyed blot that reaches out with twiggy tentacles and whispers, “I am what there is before there is anything there,” sends him pelting toward the parental bedroom. “It’s just your imagination,” soothes his mother, oblivious to the creature that floats into view on the last page. Liniers depicts the grown-ups from neck down to create a child-level perspective, but his dot-eyed, angst-ridden protagonist could be any age. Heavily crosshatched shadows and nighttime visitors with mildly grotesque features add appropriately spooky notes. Snuggling between parents (“But this is the last time”) banishes those boogeymen, right? Wrong.

The book is brilliant in its confirmation of an essential truth of childhood, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling, though possibly more for adult readers than for children . (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55498-385-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Still, a triumphant sally in the long-running war against closet and other domestic monsters, with these mildly scary...

AVA THE MONSTER SLAYER

Come bedtime, Ava is dismayed to discover that Mom has left her Piggy in the dryer…in the basement…where the monsters are.

Mom is answering the phone, Daddy is out in the garage, and big brother (the one who told her all about the monsters in the first place) is naturally unhelpful, so Ava pushes up her glasses, screws her courage to the sticking place, and sets off to the rescue. It’s not a quiet expedition, as Ava has several monsters to frighten off before she even gets to the basement door, and once down the dark stairs, she finds Piggy in the clutches of not one but two big, green horrors. Along with oversized screeches and repeated exclamations of “OH NO!” to highlight the all-caps narrative, Felten scratches out a fierce young heroine in heavy-framed specs and heart pajamas, brandishing a homemade wooden sword and recklessly charging a succession of grimacing ghouls to reclaim her beloved plushy. The illustrator is a little cavalier with details—a basement monster licking its lips while holding Piggy “in his yucky hand” has neither lips nor hands in the picture. Also, the pink boots and sparkly crown that Ava pauses to don may be overdoing the girly bit.

Still, a triumphant sally in the long-running war against closet and other domestic monsters, with these mildly scary monsters not slain but thoroughly routed. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63450-151-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Series fans won’t be disappointed, but young readers and listeners who know only the original ditty may find this a touch...

THERE WAS AN OLD MERMAID WHO SWALLOWED A SHARK!

Having eaten pretty much everything on land in 13 previous versions of the classic song, Colandro’s capaciously stomached oldster goes to sea.

Once again the original cumulative rhyme’s naturalistic aspects are dispensed with, so that not only doesn’t the old lady die, but neither do any of the creatures she consumes. Instead, the titular shark “left no mark,” a squid follows down the hatch to “float with the shark,” a fish to “dance with the squid,” an eel to “brighten the fish” (with “fluorescent light!” as a subsequent line explains), and so on—until at the end it’s revealed to be all pretending anyway on a visit to an aquarium. Likewise, though Lee outfits the bespectacled binge-eater with a finny tail and the requisite bra for most of the extended episode, she regains human feet and garb at the end. In the illustrations, the old lady and one of the two children who accompany her are pink-skinned; the other has frizzy hair and an amber complexion. A set of nature notes on the featured victims and a nautical seek-and-find that will send viewers back to the earlier pictures modestly enhance this latest iteration.

Series fans won’t be disappointed, but young readers and listeners who know only the original ditty may find this a touch bland. (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-12993-9

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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