Fisher, Sam. Scare Scape
February 24th 2015 by Scholastic Press (first published July 1st 2013)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
Morton, James and Melissa move from their bright apartment in the city to a creepy old house in a town where their British born father can work in a planetarium. The move seems to be motivated by their mother's recent death, but this is only mentioned briefly. Morton is a huge fan of the Scare Scape comics, although his brother is no longer interested in them. After they break a lawn mower on a creepy statue of a garden gnome and make wishes on it, things start to happen. Melissa gets a huge closet filled with clothes, and Morton's Scare Scape toys start to come to life. He wanted them to be more realistic-- not start terrorizing the neighborhood! Things happen at a frenetic pace, and it's tough to keep on top of the flesh-eating slugs and zombie twins. The siblings are helped by Morton's new friend Robbie, and Melissa's new friend Wendy, and they need all the help they can get when James turns into a Snarf and requires rotting food to eat. Living in the house of Scare Scape author John King turns out to be quite challenging, and not as much fun as Morton would have thought! Can the siblings manage the magic so that their new home isn't destroyed by creatures such as the zombie twins?
It's rare to see a book where the siblings are portrayed as having a close but occasionally troublesome relationship, so it was great to see Morton, James and Melissa interact. The situation with their mother's death could use some more explanation, but the way the children are dealing with it is realistic. Morton is sad that James doesn't share his interests anymore, and Melissa is a bit irritated that James seems to be getting along well with HER new friend, Wendy. The father is busy, but present, cooking horrible dinners and making sure the children are okay. Supportive family is missing in so many middle grade books, so I appreciated that.
It is also hard to find books with monsters, and I've had a lot of students asking for them. The illustrated "monster deck" illustrating and describing the attributes of the various creatures will be a big hit with readers who wish that they could get their hands on John King's Scare Scape comics!
The book has a fair amount of action with great details like James the Snarf belching yellow smog and King Crab spiders chasing students. I liked the mystery of what happened to John King, but I wish that this portion of the story would have been tightened up a little bit. There is a lot going on, and readers who like monsters are generally a bit more interested in the antics of zombie twins rather than the motivation of creepy authors.
For readers who liked Lorey's Monster Academy or R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books, Scare Scape is a natural choice, and I can even see recommending this to readers who like family tales like The Penderwicks but want something creepy and more exciting.
Fisher, Sam. The Midnight Door (Scare Scape #2)
March 31st 2015 by Scholastic Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there
Just when Morton thinks that all of his Scare Scape toys are no longer going to attack him and his siblings, the town is beset by hordes of two-headed mutant rodents! Hoping that this is just a Halloween occurrence, Morton keeps an eye on the situation, but also has to deal with his father's long hours and bad cooking, his friend Robbie joining a punk rock band with Nolan and the bully Brad, and Mrs. Smedley, who is "babysitting" the children at their father's request. Things start to get even weirder when another boy in school, Derek, has a toy advertised at the back of the Scare Scape comics that starts actually working-- a working antigravity laser can cause some big problems when used at school! How did the objects from John King's creepy comics start coming to life again? When Nolan goes missing and Brad is turned into a Snarf, Morton reopens his investigation into John King's life and work. He finds some documents in the house, but suspects that others may have been sold... and may have fallen into the wrong hands. Bit by bit, the full terror of the Scare Scape world is revealed, but there are still many questions surroundings John King's life and work.
While some of the questions from the first book are answered, there are even more questions introduced, so I strongly suspect there might be another book in the series. As in the first book, there are fantastic scenes with various monsters, a great illustrated center section with monster descriptions, and intriguing mysteries about Morton's predicament. There's even a Scare Scape comic at the end of the book, which is a great addition! I just wish the explanations about King's activities were described a little more clearly and briefly.
Robbie's interest in the band, and Morton's feelings of abandonment are so true to the middle school experience. Brad is described as a "bully", but his actions are never very stereotypical, which was a relief, and both he and Nolan end up being more interesting than I thought they would be. Melissa has some clever moments, but the character that I found most fascinating was Mrs. Smedley. I thought that she would turn out to be some sort of monster fighter, but she hasn't... yet! I loved the description of her "Mrs. Smedley's hands were buttery soft and she smelled ever so slightly of violets." (From ARC) She bakes cookies and scones, and it would be awesome if she also ended up fighting monsters!
Middle grade readers enjoy scary books because it takes their mind off of the drama going on around them on a daily basis. Flesh-eating Coackroaches, Ten-eyed Salamanders, and Shark Hounds certainly will make fans of horror fiction (such as Dan Poblocki's books) feel much more relaxed about any upcoming algebra tests!