The Most Frightening Story Ever Told: Philip Kerr

Book: The Most Frightening Story Ever Told
Author: Philip Kerr
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

MostFrighteningStoryThe Most Frightening Story Ever Told is a middle grade novel by Philip Kerr about a boy named Billy Shivers. Billy starts spending time in a small-town bookstore called The Haunted House of Books. Taken under the wing of the store's quirky owner, Mr. Rapscallion, Billy learns about the store, goes on a trip, and helps to run a contest. The contest involves five children (selected by lottery)  who will listen to "the scariest story ever told." The winner will be the one who doesn't run screaming from the store. 

Here are a few thoughts: 

  • Isn't this a great title? It's not that this book is all that scary, but it's a title to totally hook young readers. My six year old wanted to read it, though it was definitely a bit advanced for her. 
  • The homages to Roald Dahl are everywhere in The Most Frightening Story Ever Told, from the contest to the group of terrible children who are selected to the inclusion of poems. Mr. Rapscallion bears more than a passing resemblance to Willy Wonka, though he has a bit more backstory (a slightly estranged daughter and even an eventual love interest). 
  • There are lots of other references to books and movies (bringing the book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein to mind). These references range from Alfred Hitchcock to Stephen King to Edgar Allen Poe to It's a Wonderful Life (and doubtless many others). Many of these references will be over the heads of 10-year-old readers, making this an excellent choice for a family read-aloud (and a book that adult gatekeepers will enjoy. 
  • Like both Grabenstein and Dahl, Kerr repeatedly laments (to an exaggerated degree) the fact that people don't read books as much as they used to, due to other distractions. Librarians are particularly likely to enjoy this one. 
  • The plotting of The Most Frightening Story Ever Told is a bit disjointed, with the inclusion of several stories-within-the-story. It takes quite a while for Kerr to get to the contest itself. It took me a fair bit of time to get through the book, but I did get hooked and finish quickly once the contest kicked off.
  • What kept me reading was that from the very first page, I liked Billy's voice. I flagged about a dozen passages in the first quarter of the book and then stopped marking them because I knew that I couldn't quote them all anyway. 
  • There's a twist at the end that I did see coming from early on, but Kerr did a good job of keeping me from being 100% sure about it throughout the book. Wondering about this also helped keep me hooked on the story. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Billy and Mr. Rapscallion's voices:

"Now, some shop doors have a little bell that rings when you open them. The Haunted House of Books was a shop that had something very different--a hollow, wicked laugh, like something from an old horror movie. Not only that, but when you walked in the doorway, you stepped onto an old subway grating and a current of cold air came gusting up from below the floor. All of this was meant to give someone entering the bookshop a bit of a fright. And Billy was no exception. He yelled out loud and then he chuckled as he saw the funny side of what had happened." (Page 7)

and:

"They're too busy with their nerdy electronic games and their stupid televisions and their annoying cell phones and their geeky computers to think of reading books," said Mr. Rapscallion. "It makes you wonder why people even bother to teach reading in schools." Mr. Rapscallion sighed loudly. "It makes me worry for the future of the human race. Always supposing that I do actually care about something like that." (Page 25)

There's also a chapter in which Mr. Rapscallion tells a scary story. Under the chapter title is: "Note: This chapter should be read out loud to your little brother or your small sister, immediately before bedtime."

So you see, it's right up my alley, with literary references and sarcastic humor. And scary books and more scary books. 

The Most Frightening Story Ever Told is not so frightening that it will disturb middle grade readers, but it does have some scary moments. It is a book that will please Dahl fans, book fans, and anyone who loves the trappings of spooky stories (especially haunted houses). The vocabulary is somewhat advanced, and there is a British feel to the story, making this a book that might suit middle schoolers more than elementary school kids. I'm certain that it's a book that adult fans of children's literature will find engaging, as I did. Recommended for home and library purchase!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 29: #PictureBook Reviews, Reading Print Books, and Encouraging Readers

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book and middle grade) and one post about the advantages of reading physical books with kids. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one with more detailed quotes and responses to some joy of learning-related articles, all centered around growing bookworms. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read three adult novels, and most of an adult nonfiction title. I read/listened to: 

  • Jacqueline Winspear: In This Grave Hour. Harper. Adult Mystery. Completed March 21, 2017, on MP3. This is the latest installment in the fabulous Maisie Dobbs series. England officially enters World War II, with various consequences. 
  • Charlaine Harris: Poppy Done to Death (Aurora Teagarden, No. 8). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed March 25, 2017, on MP3. This is a much lighter series, but I enjoy it. 
  • D.E. Stevenson: The Tall Stranger. HarperCollins. Adult Fiction. Completed March 25, 2017. This was a first read for me of this D.E. Stevenson title. Charlotte from Charlotte's Library was kind enough to loan it to me, long-distance.

PrisonerOfAzkabanI'm currently listening to Vicious Circle by C. J. Box (the latest Joe Pickett novel) and reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I'm still reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling to my daughter. She returned from a weekend away on Sunday and the very first thing she asked me was to read Harry Potter to her. She continues to read more and more on her own, too, although she tends to start books without finishing them. She is currently reading The 13 Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, and has pronounced the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree books by Ellen Potter and Qin Leng next on her list. But this could change any time. You can find her 2017 reading list here

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Charlotte and the Rock: Stephen W. Martin & Samantha Cotterill

Book: Charlotte and the Rock
Author: Stephen W. Martin
Illustrator: Samantha Cotterill
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

CharlotteAndTheRockCharlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin and Samantha Cotterill is about a girl who wants a pet, but instead is given a large rock. Charlotte tries to make the best of her unusual pet, celebrating the positives (hypoallergenic, good listener), but she can't help noticing that the rock is not good at eating her leftover broccoli from the table. Nor is the rock at all helpful in getting her out of trouble in school. ("You said WHAT ate your homework?") Charlotte adapts, but she never stops wishing that her pet could offer her more affection. A surprise twist at the end delighted me, and is sure to please young readers. 

I quite liked Charlotte and the Rock. Though I've read other stories about inanimate pets (My Pet Book by Bob Staake, Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly), something in the matter-of-fact tone of Charlotte and the Rock really worked for me. Like this (over two page spreads):

"But as with any pet, some things proved difficult.

Walks were not fun.

Really not fun."

Here we first see a red-cheeked Charlotte gritting her teeth, struggling to pull the rock (wearing a knitted hat) up a hill with a leash. Then (the really not fun part) she is flying down the hill behind the rock, as a squirrel jumps out of the way and people stare from inside shop windows.

Charlotte is adorable, with freckled cheeks, round glasses, and a plausible range of expressions. You can't help but feel for her when she is playing with her rock in the bath (using it to model a deserted island), wistfully wishing that the rock "could love her back." Her joy at the end of the book is a true pleasure to behold. 

Charlotte and the Rock is my favorite picture book of the year so far. Although it may be targeted a bit more towards preschoolers than to elementary school kids, I eagerly look forward to sharing it with my daughter. I'm sure she will love Charlotte (and the rock) as much as I do. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books  (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: March 24: #KidLit Mirrors, Transitioning to Chapter Books + Knitting

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #GrowthMindset, #STEM, #SummerReading, autism spectrum, baseball, chapter books, economic diversity, Edgar Awards, Eric Carle, knitting, librarians, literacy programs, new readers, Readergirlz, Scholastic, schools, Sesame Street, teaching, and Women's History Month.

Book Lists + Awards

QueenOfTheDiamondIt's almost #baseball season! Yay! @momandkiddo shares Best Children's #PictureBooks about Baseball #BookList https://t.co/EKFG9CK1XZ

2017 #AnnaDewdney #ReadTogether Award Finalists Announced | 5 excellent #PictureBooks http://ow.ly/g9V930a89dZ  @PublishersWkly @penguinkids

In honor of #WomensHistoryMonth 20 #PictureBook biographies about awesome women! from @literacious  http://ow.ly/s4M830a3x5f  #BookList

#EasyReader List for the 2017 #SummerReading Program, focus on Architecture, Building + Construction http://ow.ly/Snjj30a7DYN  @mrskatiefitz 

Chapter Book List focused on Architecture, Building + Construction for 2017 #SummerReading from @mrskatiefitz http://ow.ly/atB630aaal0  [See also middle grade list here: http://ow.ly/AmnA30ac8cQ]

2017 Edgar Award Nominees in juvenile + #YA categories from @tashrow    #mysteries #kidlit https://t.co/wJN7VPw3hE

Diversity

When Our #Reading Lives Help Us Understand Our Life Situations | #kidlit mirrors for financial stress http://ow.ly/bJuQ30a3wXP  @nerdybookclub

WalkWithMeWe need #kidlit mirrors reflecting class issues: @SevenImp shares 2 #PictureBooks w/ economic difficulty http://ow.ly/g1kc30a0Ypv  @FuseEight

This is interesting. @sesamestreet introduces first new TV muppet in 10 years: Julia, who has #autism @npr_ed https://t.co/3SzJTO7YMw

Judging Books by Their Covers, looking for brown people, post by Laura Reiko Simeon @LEEandLOW via @CynLeitichSmith https://t.co/LT5ewaZOTc

This made me sad: author @Barbaradee2 asked by teachers not to talk about her #lgbt -friendly book http://ow.ly/nMet30ac7Cf  @nerdybookclub

Events + Programs

VeryHungryCaterpillarToday is The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day | @greenbeanreads has the scoop  #VHCday @penguinkids  #kidlit http://ow.ly/kf4c30a56ed 

Educators: @Scholastic #SummerReading Challenge is a chance to win 500 books for your #school to encourage #reading http://ow.ly/I3KM30a589o 

New @scbwi #literacy initiative Books For Readers gets books into hands of kids + teens http://ow.ly/RGXc30a11Ue  @leewind @CynLeitichSmith

A toast to the end of @readergirlz Not so needed now to connect teen girls + authors but still loved http://ow.ly/6WqZ30a0Z1g  @lorieanngrover

Book drive for elementary school of robotics team champs told to "go back to Mexico" via @haleshannon  #STEM #kidlit https://t.co/2HlMtcASjh

Growing Bookworms

TheWildRobotCrossing #Literacy Thresholds: Tips for When Kids Are “Stuck” #Reading the Same Things — Julie Hakim Azzam @HornBook http://ow.ly/CvzJ30aadGd 

#Road2Reading Challenge: Navigating Chapter Books: What #Readers Need to Know @alybee930 http://ow.ly/vjDi30a7CpC  w/ #BookList

Chapter book Challenges: @CarrieGelson shares roadblocks + needed skills to help kids make the leap to chapter books https://t.co/QmvXLp9vNr

Toy “Sleepovers” at the #Library Boost Kids’ #Reading Skills, Says New Study | Linda Rodgers @sljournal https://t.co/A1H79eUcP5

Growth Mindset

AWrinkleInTimeYoung Adult (+ middle grade) Novels That Model a #GrowthMindset | @edutopia via  @tashrow http://ow.ly/cPgC30a13MA  #YA #AWrinkleInTime 

Schools and Libraries

Canadian #teacher wins $1M #GlobalTeachingPrize for work in Inuit community in northern Quebec http://ow.ly/8SSX30a59Dl  @CBCRadioCanada

If goal is to increase #reading scores, cutting #librarians + media specialists are steps in the wrong direction https://t.co/BYPIP7Pby6

Three Rules for a Fabulous #SummerReading Program from a #MiddleSchool teacher #librarian @sljournal  http://ow.ly/Uk7b30a7NCE  | Offer choice

ChildDevelopmentAsking children to accomplish tasks (e.g. writing) before they’re developmentally ready leads to failure! @raepica1 https://t.co/hd65kkMiIB

Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class - movement breaks help attitude + #learning http://ow.ly/BS0W30aa99o  Donna De La Cruz @nytimes

Assigned #Reading often Fails where #ChoiceReading Soars | @3TeachersTalk on problems w/ whole-class novels https://t.co/reqDp647Gi

STEM

Growing movement uses knitting + crocheting to teach #mathematical thought + interest girls in #STEM http://ow.ly/J1mS30a7D6i  @brightreads

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Horizon: Scott Westerfeld

Book: Horizon
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Pages: 256
Age Range: 9-12

HorizonHorizon is the first of a new seven-book series from Scholastic. Scott Westerfeld wrote this one, and outlined all seven of the books, but other authors will be writing the remaining books (starting with Jennifer Nielsen writing Book 2). You can read Scott Westerfeld's announcement about the series here. Horizon is middle grade science fiction, intriguing enough that I certainly think that middle schoolers will also want to take a look. I read it in two quick sittings, finding it to be like the television series Lost, but aimed at kids. 

Eight kids are the only survivors of a plane crash. Although their flight was passing over the arctic, they find themselves in a jungle full of strange animals and phenomena. Four of the kids are engineers from Brooklyn, a robotics team on their way to a contest in Japan. After the crash they meet up with two young Japanese sisters returning home from boarding school, a Japanese-American teen also returning home, and a rather bossy Alpha male named Caleb. They have to learn to work together, while focusing on both basic survival and trying to understand what's happened. Their survival is clearly not random - they were somehow chosen by an electrical force that rejected everyone else on the plane. 

Things I enjoyed about Horizon:

  • The kids' application of engineering principles to understand things. They also find a device that disrupts basic physical principles, like gravity. This is a book that puts the science in science fiction, something particularly welcome (as far as I'm concerned) in a book for middle grade audiences. 
  • The multicultural cast. The kids from Brooklyn appear to include Hispanic and African American backgrounds. The Japanese girls don't even speak English, and end up teaching the American kids a few Japanese words along the way. 
  • The complex and intriguing setting. There are sentient vines, birds that attack humans, and other odd phenomena. 
  • The pacing of the story. Westerfeld keeps the kids in crisis, frequently separated, and often in peril. Middle grade readers will keep turning the pages to understand what happens next. 

My main quibble about the book as it stands was that I thought that the characterization could have been a bit deeper. I had trouble keeping defining characteristics of some of the characters in my head. But perhaps this is a deliberate way to allow more scope to the future authors of the series. There's definitely a videogame/movie feel to the book - it's clearly not meant to be a character study. [There's some sort of online game, apparently, but I haven't checked that out.]

As part of a seven-book series, Horizon naturally leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I think it will leave young readers eager to read the next book. I've personally not found in the past that series with different authors for different books tend to hold up for me, but I am interested to at least check out the second book. [See also Ms. Yingling's take on Horizon, she is weary of the 7 book series.]  

Science and survival, with a multicultural slant, aimed at middle grade readers. Libraries, at least those not put off by a longer series, will definitely want to give Horizon a look. Recommended for science fiction (and Lost) fans. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).