Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scary School Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): You think your school's scary? Get a load of these teachers:
"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"
Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch
The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost
Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A frighteningly funny read for 8-12. One of the most hilarious and enjoyable books I've ever read.

Dearly Departed, 
We are gathered here today to discuss Scary School by Derek the Ghost AKA Derek Taylor Kent. I want to start this review with something that happened to me yesterday in the bookshop where I work. A man came in asking for something for his nine year old daughter to read. She loved The Witches by Roald Dahl (a very fine choice) but was having trouble finding something that was both dark and hilarious. Everything I showed him she’d either read (Philip Ardagh, Andy Griffiths) or wasn’t interested (Lemony Snicket). Eventually he walked away with Mysterious Benedict Society, but deep down I wasn’t really happy. I knew there was a book out there that would have been even better for her, but for the life of me I couldn’t think what.

Today, I sat down and read Scary School. I meant to spread it out over a couple of sessions, but I loved it so much that I put all my other work aside and finished it in one go. Spinechilldren, this book is hilarious. And terrifying. It is hilariously terrifying. And it is the perfect book for that nine year old girl. The next time I see her dad come in to the store, I am going to corner him and shove this in his face while shrieking incoherently about how awesome this book is. For the meantime, however, I hope I can coherently explain to you exactly why I loved this.

Scary School had me at hello, and the hello in question comes from Derek the Ghost, the book’s narrator, who reads your mind and compliments you on what an excellent name you have. He then goes on to introduce you to Scary School, where students die with alarming regularity (though this is okay, because they’ll usually be brought back to life as either a vampire or a zombie). Normally it’s the teachers doing the killing, from the lovely Ms Fang (who hardly ever kills any of her students) to the draconian Dr Dragonbreath, who ate almost an entire class on the first day.

And so we start to learn about the various comings and goings of the school as they prepare for the Ghoul Games, something akin to the Olympics for Scary kids and humans alike. Scary School reads more like a collection of short stories with constant callbacks and callforwards that help to weave all of the stories together into a complete novel. It’s a similar format to stories like Nanny Piggins by RA Spratt and Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger, two other favourites of mine, and I feel like in Scary School it works even better. When a new character or situation is mentioned, it will often be followed by ‘but more on that later’ which really made me want to keep reading to find out.

While I did adore the gory bits (which, delightfully, weren’t sanitised for the sake of the adults who might be reading over shoulders) it was the funny parts that stood out for me, and what will ultimately make this a huge hit for the 8-12 market, boys and girls. The humour ranges from wordplay to black comedy to wonderfully inventive back stories (ever wonder how Jason got his hockey mask and chainsaw?). If it had me waking my partner up at 6am this morning so I could tell him my favourite parts (the three Rachels – Rachael, Raychel and Frank, which is pronounced ‘Rachel’) it’s definitely going to get the intended audience excited.

Scary School has been out since June last year, so if you haven't snapped it up yet, what's wrong with you? And if I'm already preaching to the converted, Scary School 2: Monsters on the March comes out 26 June. To find out more, check out

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