Tuesday, October 01, 2013

British Books

I occasionally have my concerns about the British as a people. They are apparently obsessed by murder mysteries and horror books, if we can gauge this by what comes to our shores from theirs, and they have no compunction about killing off major characters in either with little warning. That said, they seem to have a really good knack for writing horror that translates well to middle grade students; I'm still bummed that Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends series was not selected for US distribution. This series by Andrew Hammond would be wildly popular in the US.

The Gallows Curse (CRYPT, #1)Hammond, Andrew. C.R.Y.P.T.: The Gallow's Curse
2011, London: Headline 
Copy received from the publisher

Jamie Goode did not murder his mother, but no one believes him that ghosts did. His father has the money and influence to get him off, and fund the Covert Response Youth Paranormal Team, a division of MI5. The purpose of this is twofold: to give Jamie a  new identity (Jud)and place to hide, as well as funding research to try to solve paranormal crimes. London is currently beset by an incredibly gorey and violent wave of these crimes-- an entire subway car is attacked by maggots and ghostly men with the mark of the gallows around their necks kill everyone in unimaginably bloody ways. When a woman is attacked and sucked into a wall at Greyfriars, C.R.Y.P.T. is brought in. When the minister at a local church is attacked, Jud, along with fellow investigator Bex, uncovers a clue to the rash of violence. They are able to determine a path as well as a cause, and tie it in with the multimillion dollar hotel that Mr. Zakias is building. Zakias is as crooked as they come, and has a politician and some of the police force on his side. His project, however, has released violent, vicious ghosts, and unless he can be stopped, all of London is in danger.
Strengths: The gore. Maggots erupting from the skeletal gaping maws of long-dead murders' ghosts. This is what many of my readers ask for. Luckily, all the gore is ghost induced. I have my standards. As long as it's not gore perpetrated by humans (And this is where Colfer crossed the line in The Reluctant Assassin), I'm better with it. I did like the MI5 division, and the historical tie in was awesome.
Weaknesses: The gore. Only available in paperback. I didn't particularly care for Jud; the character development across the board was lacking. That said, none of my students ever come and ask for books with excellent character development, although they frequently ask for gory books! This is probably difficult to obtain in the U.S.

Then there is British goofiness. My children, for reasons I will never understand, are completely fluent in Monty Python. I'm sure if we had reliable television service and cable, they would all be fans of Doctor Who.  So we get the Roald Dahl type of humor. There is some, however, that doesn't translate well in the US. (A Boy, A Bear and a Boat, anyone?)

Cover image for Fortunately, the milkGaiman, Neil. Fortunately, the Milk
3 September 2013, HarperCollins

In this slim but nicely illustrated volume, we meet a family whose mother has gone on a business trip and whose father is trying mightily to feed everyone and get them to lessons on time. When they run out of milk in the morning, however, the father goes to the corner market to get some, but comes home with a tall tale of being abducted by aliens, confronting wumpires, and other things that seems highly unprobable but are amusing to the children. And, fortunately, the milk was saved.
Strengths: This would make a fun read aloud as an introduction to a tall tale unit.
Weaknesses: A bit too goofy and young for my students to pick up willingly on their own.


  1. A boy a bear and a boat was supposed to be funny? I thought it was existentialism for eight year olds.

  2. First, Jennifer, that was a funny comment! Second, your students aren't asking for great character development?? Ha!