Scary School, by Derek the Ghost

Scary School, by Derek the Ghost, illustrated by Scott M. Fisher (HarperCollins, 2011, upper elementary/middle grade, 256 pages)

Derek is not your usual school boy narrator, and Scary School, as its name suggests, isn't your typical intitution of learning.

"Last year when I was just eleven years old," [he explains], "I died in science class. On of Mr. Acidbath's experiments went horribly wrong (more about that later), but things like that happen all the time at Scary School, so nobody made a big fuss about it. right after class they simply wheeled out my charred corpse, ad the next class walked in without so much as blink. Scary School is a very strange place." (pp xii-xiii).

But Derek doesn't let death stop his development as a writer. He is determined to document all the very strange and scary things that happen at his school...and so he does, in a primarily episodic way.

There are, for instance, the teachers and staff--a collection of magically monstrous beings who make learning special, if you survive. Like Ms. Fang, an 850-year-old vampire, who only ate 12 kids last year, and Dr. Dragonbreath, whose track record for death is higher than that of any other teacher--it's almost impossible not to break his class rules, and rule-breakers don't walk out of class alive. And the students are a fascinatingly eclectic mix of the fantastic and the ordinary humans. The picture at the right, from the Scary School website, shows the nurse's office....

Derek is a somewhat distant narrator, providing a framing device more than being a complete character in his own right, and to a large extent the book is a series of vignettes, with the chapters focusing on different characters and events. Some narrative continuity is provided by the arrival of a new student- Charles "New Kid" Nukid, and his struggles to make sense of his new environment, and by the headmistresses excitement over the school's chance to host the annual Ghoul Games. If her students do well, her experiment of allowing humans into a scary school will be deemed a success...if they do badly, they die.

Despite all the deaths, it's light-hearted and silly fun, the sort of book that may well make a nine (or so) year old laugh out loud. Any kid who is drawn to the cover will love the book! And though I myself prefer more character-centered narrative, I can see this working very well for slower readers, who won't have to worry about loosing the thread of the story.

Scary School #2--Monsters on the March, comes out this June!

(disclaimer: review copy received from the author)

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