From fanged vampires to voracious werewolves, a variety of ghoulish characters stalk the pages of children’s books. These strange, mysterious creatures have an enduring appeal and our fascination with them never seems to wane. Even very young readers love to feel their pulses race as they eagerly read about the mayhem a monster will create. With Halloween approaching, readers of all ages can experience that heart-beating excitement with a number of books that take a fresh look at two mythic monsters: Count Dracula and Frankenstein.
Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (Chronicle Books, $8.95) by Keith Graves – Ages 5 to 9, and Frankenstein Takes the Cake (Harcourt Books, $20.95) by Adam Rex—Ages 4-8
Nineteenth-century writer Mary Shelley introduced readers to the chilling story of Frankenstein, a monster who was pieced together from various human parts by a mad scientist. The eerie image of Frankenstein was further imprinted into our cultural imagination through the commanding movie portrayal of the monster by Boris Karloff.
Frankenstein’s loneliness still appeals to readers and contemporary authors draw on this mythic story, creating new works that are sometimes chilling and sometimes playful.
Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance is perfect for kids who love to squeal in horror at squeamish sights. In the story, Frank decides to go dancing to fulfill a longtime dream. However, when you are put together with flimsy stitches, it can be especially difficult to get down on the dance floor. This doesn’t stop Frank from having a good time though, even as the audience watches in horror as he falls apart piece by piece. Nevertheless, Frank doesn’t mind as he boogies the night away like he’s always dreamed of doing. This story will have kids laughing at the sight of Frankenstein dancing with pure joy even as his feet fall off.
Frankenstein Takes the Cake is a creative cross between a storybook, a comic book and a magazine. Its short vignettes and zany sidebars make readers feel like they are attending a wacky variety show.
The book revolves around the wedding of Frankenstein, who keeps making blunders. Interspersed throughout the story are fun little features, such as the blog of the Headless Horseman, an ad from the Wicked Witch of the West who suggests losing weight with a bucket of water and others that introduce readers to some of the best known monsters. The book uses sophisticated humour that relies on our monster knowledge therefore younger children may not get some of the jokes. On the other hand, parents reading the book with their children may get even more laughs than their kids do!
A Taste for Red (Clarion Books, $21.95) by Lewis Harris – Ages 9 to 12 and Vunce Upon a Time (Chronicle Books, $18.95) by J. Otto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian – Ages 4 to 7.
Most cultures have some form of vampire in their folklore. Because of Bram Stoker’s story of Count Dracula, our culture has been mainly influenced by the Eastern Europe version of vampires — the ones who can only be repelled by garlic, crosses and silver bullets. In recent years, however, vampires have taken other forms. One just has to look at the recent success of the Twilight series and the taboo love between vampire Edward and awkward teen Bella to see how vampires still fascinate us. In fact, the popularity of the series has reignited an interest in vampires and ushered in a slew of new stories about these creatures.
The teenage vampire story A Taste for Red begins as a satire but quickly turns into a fast-paced thriller that will have readers flying through its pages. The novel features Stephanie, a young teen who rebels against her parents’ decision to move to a new town by insisting that she is a vampire. Stephanie only responds to the name Svetlana, eats red food and sleeps under her bed. But when three girls from her school disappear, Stephanie investigates and soon finds her true calling as a vampire slayer rather than a vampire. The author cleverly weaves some of the trials and tribulations of entering adolescence with the vampire storyline and addresses the ever present need for teens to assert their independence and find their identity, which sometimes can be found in unexpected places and friendships.
In the storybook Vunce Upon a Time (photo above), readers are introduced to a quirky little vampire named Dagmar. In atypical vampire fashion, he is a pacifist and a vegetarian! But there is one thing that Dagmar loves above all else: candy. When he learns about a human tradition where children in costumes get free candy, he is compelled to take part in Halloween. The only problem is getting his hands on a costume. After much thought, he concocts a costume in the shape of a large clove of garlic that frightens his parents and sadly gets eaten by moths. So he decides to show up as himself and soon realizes he didn’t need a costume after all. The book’s vibrant illustrations give children plenty to examine on each page and the simple, yet amusing storyline reminds readers to accept people’s differences and perspectives