Children’s books round-up: Scares and laughs that go bump in the night

A lonely Pooka, an invasion of evil teddy bears and a witch from the Louisiana swamp all feature for Halloween

With the Pooka who is as furry and friendly-looking as a teddy, Shona Shirley Macdonald demystifies the idea of monsters for the skittish young reader

With the Pooka who is as furry and friendly-looking as a teddy, Shona Shirley Macdonald demystifies the idea of monsters for the skittish young reader

 

Halloween is almost upon us, setting the scene for the release of spooky tales for readers of all ages. For the youngest of thrill-seekers, Shona Shirley Macdonald’s The Pooka Party (O’Brien Press, €12.99, 3+) turns the Irish legend of the shapeshifting pooka into a creature not unlike ourselves. The Pooka may like “fixing things, making soup, painting, singing, gardening and dancing (all at the same time)”, but it is just as vulnerable to loneliness as any little girl or boy. When the Pooka decides to throw a party to make some friends, it is the one who ends up being surprised. Featuring cake-stealing goblins, a grumpy moon, sparkly soup, and a Pooka who is as furry and friendly-looking as a teddy, Macdonald demystifies the idea of monsters for the skittish young reader, while a predominant palette of purple and blue offers a visual feast, including some of the most gorgeous and gruesome looking cupcakes you will ever see.

In Night of the Living Ted (Little Stripes, £5.99, 7+), Barry Hutchison turns the most iconic of childhood toys into something hilariously sinister. It is the day before Halloween, and, while Vernon would rather be getting his costume ready, he has been sent off to the shops with his step-sister Lisa Marie to buy their dad a birthday present. When they stumble into the Create-A-Ted workshop, they find the perfect cuddly toy for their father, and some seasonal soft toys for themselves too. As the sun sets ,however, the bears come to life, and before Lisa Marie and Vernon can say trick-or-treat, they find themselves defending their town from an evil army of bears.

What is their motivation for terrorising children? Justice for the way that “meatbags . . . chew on me, lie on me, poop on me”, as their leader puts it in a motivational speech

Hutchinson revels in the uncanniness of his central idea: “A pack of foot-high zombie bears shuffled along the pavement . . . A gang of vampire bears skipped along the road . . . A werewolf bear wandered this way and that . . . Above the street, the air was filled with ghost bears, witch bears and flying alien bears, zipping around, trying not to crash into each other.” And what is their motivation for terrorising children? Justice for the way that “meatbags . . . chew on me, lie on me, poop on me”, as their leader puts it in a motivational speech. The macabre madness, however, is underpinned by a realistic family drama, where the sibling rivalry in a newly-blended family is eventually defused by the necessity of cooperation (and the intervention of an Elvis-impersonating bear).

Humour is also the hook for Bianca Pitzorno’s uncanny comedy The Littlest Witch (Catnip, £5.99, 7+). Alfonso is due to inherit his great uncle’s millions, but only when he marries a witch. As he sets off to find one, Pitzorno introduces us to the Zeps, who are welcoming a new baby into their home. Sybilla is the seventh sister in this sprawling family, and she has some strange abilities: she can float in water, has no reflection, and appears to communicate with the family cat. Alfonso realises Sybilla is a witch before they do, but he doesn’t realise she is an infant.

The brisk characterisation and crisp humour are most reminiscent of Roald Dahl, while the scattered illustrations by Mark Beech distinctly echo Quentin Blake’s unique style, furthering the connection

There is a Shakespearean thrust to this gentle morality tale, but the brisk characterisation and crisp humour are most reminiscent of Roald Dahl, while the scattered illustrations by Mark Beech distinctly echo Quentin Blake’s unique style, furthering the connection. Pitzorno has published more than 50 books for children, but this is the first time her work has been made available to English-language readers. A second title, Lavinia and the Magic Ring, a poo-packed modern version of The Little Match Girl, would make a perfect Christmas complement to Pitzorno’s magical tale.

Jan Eldredge’s Witch Girl (Scholastic, £6.99, 10+) distinguishes itself by its setting, a Louisiana swamp that proves fertile breeding ground for all sorts of nefarious creatures, including shadow crouchers and bayou banshees. Its heroine is Evangeline Clement, the last in a line of distinguished “haunt huntresses”. Evangeline is more than capable of dealing with the dangerous challenges the monsters pose. Well, she thinks she is anyway, but calamity stalks her like one of the swamp’s many beasts.

Buoyed by the generational wisdom of her ghost-busting Gran, Evangeline travels to New Orleans to confront a new monster and some old truths that her family have been hiding. Will fate reveal her to be a “middling” rather than a magician? Eldredge keeps us in suspense until the very end. Eldredge writes with a lyrical flair that breathes spine-tingling life into the most fantastical of creatures. The result is a fully-realised world and a vividly-drawn heroine, from the tip of her grubby head to the point of her silver-toed shoes.

The Witch is just one of the baddies featured in Inside The Villains (Gecko Press, £11.99, 3+) by Clotilde Perrin , a stunning pop-up book with a wickedly original concept. Here, Perrin lets the familiar fairy-tale miscreants introduce themselves, their passions and their appetites. What’s that underneath the boastful Wolf’s glossy fur coat? Why it’s granny’s nightgown! And this demure-looking Witch has frilly knickers and an armoury of potions and poisons under her cape. Perrin misses a trick by presenting us with standard versions of the stories that gave these villains to us, instead of rewriting them from their wicked perspective. Even so, this is a book with lots of physical attractions, and an inspirational concept that will have your children reaching for their fairytales with an altogether different set of expectations.

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