Children’s Books: Scare Under the Bridge and Under the Ground

Retelling of a classic fairy tale and unsettling novel set in an ’80s seaside town are delightfully creepy additions to your Halloween mantel.

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With Halloween just a few days away, it’s time to highlight a couple of nicknames with deliciously creepy connotations.

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The three billy goats are rough
Novel by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by John Claassen
Orchard Books

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Sometimes it is helpful to judge a book by its cover. This one, drawn by Canadian John Claassen (now living in Los Angeles), promises a truly monstrous villain: that disgusting-looking dwarf, awake amidst the muck and muck under the bridge, ready to eat the innocent little goat.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff lives up to its cover.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff lives up to its cover. Scholastic photography

Inside, readers are treated to more Klassen’s art (my favorite image is that of a dwarf examining a lump of earwax on his dirty fingernails) and an equally impressive text written by Mac Barnett in Oakland, California, who takes pleasure in cooking a dwarf. He plots as he greets the little goats – and his two older brothers. “I love goats! Let me count the ways. / A goat’s rump in honey glaze. / Smoked goat, boiled goat, pot roast goat. / Goat smorgasbord! Goat smeared on toast! / Kale goat salad – catch kale. / Goat escargot. (That’s goats plus snails.) / On goats I will eat, and I will feed on goats. / Little goats, I will eat you!” But as anyone familiar with this traditional fairy tale knows, the little goats outsmart the dwarf and make it safely to the grassy hills . As do his brothers.

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Barnett’s text makes reading choppy aloud, and Claesen’s art is a treat for the eyes. Watch two more Barnett novels (titles and illustrators to be announced) in the Orchard Books series, an imprint of Scholastic. For ages four to eight (although I also tend to give a copy of this book to any adult chef or connoisseur).

The feeling of awe is addictive in Colin Milloy's The Stars Did Wander Darkling.
The feeling of awe is addictive in Colin Milloy’s The Stars Did Wander Darkling. Photo by HarperCollins

The stars don’t wander in the dark
Written by Colin Meloy
button + bray

The publisher, an imprint of HarperCollins, has designated this book appropriate for ages 8-12, but I tend to make it 10 and up since I’ll fall into the latter category for several decades, and I fascinated the story to the point that I read 329 pages in one sitting – which Something I haven’t done in a long time. Plus I will need to go back and re-read it, because the feeling of dread that the author created early on has stayed with me the whole time and is not completely resolved.

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Set in a coastal Oregon town in 1987, the film tells the story of 13-year-old Archie Commis and his friends, and the story of a hotel development that has stalled when cracks develop beneath the site and mysterious things begin to happen, as if something has been set off. . An old lady crosses Archie’s path, muttering “They should leave him hiding” and three men, strangers from the distant past with troll-like names (Lugg, Wart and Toff), begin to appear in town.

Milloy, a singer-songwriter with December advocates, demonstrated his storytelling abilities years ago, among other books, the bestseller Wildwood Chronicles. He outdoes himself with this new volume–an unsettling, perfect Halloween read.

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