All Hallow’s Read (Day 5) – Fortunately, The Milk

FortunatelyMilk_USJacketToday’s All Hallow’s Read recommendation is for the younger folks in your life, or maybe for the ones who are still young at heart. Give them something to read while they inhale sugar, and run around like loud, crazy hooligans. Or you could just give the book to a kid.

As you know, All Hallow’s Read is the brainchild of Neil Gaiman, the man who suggests that we all give each other books this Halloween, to go along with the always important candy and zombie teeth. In his honour, this is a book suggestion to spread the joy, and the terror, to those too young for books like Nightwhere. (This includes me.)

FortunatelyMilk_UKFortunately, The Milk is the latest book by Mr. Gaiman himself, just released in September. The US version (which I have) is illustrated amazingly, frantically and a bit creepily by Skottie Young, whereas the UK version (which I will pay someone to smuggle overseas for me) contains the beautifully detailed and somewhat more traditional illustrations of Chris Riddell. Gaiman has described this book as his silliest book ever, which he wrote for dads, and in which dads get to do all of the really cool things that they normally get to do on a daily basis. Gaiman has said that this is partly to make up for the oblivious father in The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

Now I can hear you thinking, “But Kendra, that book doesn’t sound scary at ALL”. But you’re wrong! It is absolutely terrifying. It starts off tragically, with 2 children facing the prospect of breakfast with nothing to put on cereal except orange juice. Their mother has abandoned them to go to a conference, and now they can’t even enjoy their Toastios. Heroically, Dad volunteers to go down to the shop on the corner to get milk. After an agonizing wait, Dad finally returns home, and begins the story of his dangerous and harrowing quest.

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “And I did indeed say a brief hello to Mister Ronson from over the road, who was buying a paper. I walked out of the corner shop, and heard something odd that seemed to be coming from above me. It was a noise like this: thummthumm. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.” “Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”

Now, if you’re not scared yet, then you are a far braver soul than most, but just wait! That is only the beginning of Dad’s tale… before he opens the spaceship door, and lets the space-time continuum in. What then? Captured by pirates! Rescued by a time-travelling stegosaurus in a balloon! Captured by jungle dwelling people who plan to sacrifice him to the volcano god, Spold! Ponies, piranhas, aliens, and wumpires! And through it all, that crucial question: Can Dad hold on to the milk, and bring it safely back to his hungry children?

So if you think that a child in your life can handle that kind of excitement and terror, then I strongly suggest that you give them Fortunately, The Milk this Halloween. And then you should probably read it too, to prepare yourself to soothe them when they wake from their nightmares of Toastios drowning in orange juice. Just make sure there is plenty of milk in the fridge for breakfast.

Click-Clack The Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman

Happy Hallowe’en!

It’s also All Hallows’ Read, a festival that Neil Gaiman thought up 2 years ago, which proposes that on Hallowe’en, or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books.  In the spirit of such a fun literary holiday, and also in an effort to suck up to my beloved Gaiman by doing everything he tells me to, I have listened to my very first audio book.

I know, I know.  Some people LOVE audio books; they save time, and they’re portable, and blah blah blah.  But they’ve just never been my thing.  I like to feel and smell and see the words, even as they paint a picture in my mind.  It took me ages to come around to e-books, and even then it was only to allow more room in my suitcase for shoes when I travel.  But my main problem with audio books is the voices.  If the narrator has a particular way of speaking (i.e. annoying), or a strange accent, or even if they just have too much POW! BANG! SLAM! during the exciting parts, it completely distracts me from the story.

All that being said, if anyone could have made me listen to (read?) an audio book, it was Neil Gaiman.  He is my absolute favourite author, whether it be novels, graphic novels, short stories or kids books. So, when Neil announced on his blog that he had teamed up with Audible to release a new, unpublished short story, (for free!), I was willing to give it a shot.  Especially considering it’s also narrated by Neil Gaiman, so I can’t be mad about the voice.  As an added incentive, Audible will donate $1 for every download through Halloween to the education charity DonorsChoose.

 “‘What kind of story would you like me to tell you?’ ‘Well,’ he said, thoughtfully, ‘I don’t think it should be too scary, because then when I go up to bed, I will just be thinking about monsters the whole time. But if it isn’t just a little bit scary, then I won’t be interested. And you make up scary stories, don’t you?'” So begins this sweet, witty, deceptive little tale from master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Lock the doors, turn off the lights, and enjoy. (Audible)

As mentioned, this is a short story, which Neil read at the George Mason Award evening, and it will be published in a forthcoming anthology.  The whole thing is only about 12 minutes long, and starts off with a brief introduction about All Hallows’ Read and the charitable donations.  Around the 2 minute mark, we get into the story, which is being told from the point of view of a guy taking care of his girlfriend’s little brother.  The boy requests a bedtime story, one that’s just the right amount of scary, while they walk through the big, old, and very dark house.  The boy specifically asks for a story about Click-Clack the Rattle Bag, because those are the best kinds of stories, and “Click-Clacks are the best monsters ever”.  They’re even scarier than vampires.

As always, Gaiman does an excellent job of setting up the story, and detailing the surroundings in a way that put a vivid picture in your head.  The use of the first person narration, as well as the language and phrasing used by the little boy, manage to inject you into the conversation.  There are a bare minimum of sound effects here, but they are used wisely to mimic a creaky old house.  The story is obviously a more family-friendly kind of scary, but the description of what Click-Clacks “do to people” is icky enough to give kids pause.

All in all, this is a great little story, and a perfect Hallowe’en treat (to go with the mountain of candy I am currently devouring).  I am intrigued by how different it is to hear a story, as opposed to reading it; it was kinda like listening to a spooky story being told around a campfire.

So, in the words of Neil Gaiman: “Go to www.Audible.com/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the US or the rest of the world except the UK and www.Audible.co.uk/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the UK/Commonwealth. And then download the story. As I may have told you already, it’s free — absolutely, utterly, perfectly free.

Feature: The Youth of Today – The Horror Girl Who Owns My Soul

It’s hard to imagine, when you’re a new father, what exactly to expect from your children as they grow. Your responsibilities are easy: feed it; clothe it; make sure it doesn’t stick any part of itself into anything dangerous (electrical sockets, lion’s mouths, inter-dimensional portals, etc); and teach them to live and learn as a functioning member of society. The idea is to get them going on a good path, kick their ass back onto that path a few times, give up and let them choose their own path, and then support them through whatever it is they want to do.

Easy.

Now, my wife and I had our first kid when I was a young pup – all of 23 years old. At that youthful point in my life, the point where I hadn’t admitted that my body hated me and I hadn’t started groaning when bending over to reach something, I’d amassed a highly impressive collection of exploitation, giallo, slaughter, slasher, stalker, and scary movies – a collection I’ve since heavily culled for various reasons. Our first child, an incredible, ginger-haired little girl, was a day-sleeper – a true child of the night who thrived on midnight and 2am bursts of energy and babbling. And this… this should have been my first hint of what she had in store for me.

Now, seven years later, we’ve been through her self-labelled “horror girl” status, the writing of a short story called “Vampixie”, the utterance of “braaaaaaaaiiiiiiins” at around a year old, and long night movie marathons that would impress even the most ardent of horror fanatics. She covered herself in marker because “I have tattoos like DADDY!”, threw ‘the goat’ in public on a regular basis, made vampire fangs out of french-fries (still does), and a flurry of other interesting, horror-centric things.

This is a child who can pick Vincent Price out of a line-up, knows that Bela Lugosi was the Universal Vampire, called out Christopher Lee as Dracula when watching Lord of the Rings for the first time, and argued with Greg Lamberson about the necessity of having poppy seeds on a hotdog bun over lunch.

She’s also the kid who sat up with me, for almost 3 years, watching horror films, listening to horror themed punk rock, and was generally steeped in the genre while the rest of the world slept.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when she took an interest in the macabre and brought it with her wherever she went.

My kid, my horror-kid, is one of the strongest, most intelligent women in the horror genre that any of us will ever know. When I think of “Women in Horror”, I never count her, or the untold amount of other “horror kids”, out of the game.

They’re the future.

They are the women who will carry the torch.

They are the ladies who will solidify, intellectualize, and express the fury that hell hath no fury akin to, even without being scorned.

And this one… this one is mine.

Her passion, like that of mine and her mother, is literature. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the written word is rivaled by no one, and sated by virtually nothing. This is a girl who, at 6 years old, completed the entire Spiderwick Chronicles series. She’s devoured much of the seven Harry Potter books, and eradicated the entirety of the Percy Jackson series, along with the tie-in novels, to date.

But it’s the knowledge that this child is in love with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe that sends my heart a-flutter.

When our son (the second child) was a baby, the eldest and I started reading one Poe poem per night for the month of October. She was probably on the older side of 3 or just turning 4 at the time. We would sit in her bed at night, and she would point out titles she was most interested in. Of course, she wanted to read the longest ones, but I always had a different design on the evening’s reading. We hit a staggering amount of poems that year, sometimes reading two or three a night, with her favorites being Spirits of the Dead, The City in the Sea, The Sleeper, The Haunted Palace, The Conqueror Worm, and Lenore.

I cannot tell you how much this child laughed as I suffered through The Bells, though. Even a few nights ago, 3 or so years after that reading – mind you, she still finds the power to laugh maniacally about it. She can’t remember where she put her hair tie three seconds ago, but she remembers watching me suffer through…

 “To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells

Bells, bells, bells -

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells”

…for four lengthy verses.

You can bet this was a favorite, and assuredly became a nightly request which was accompanied by maddening giggles.

It goes without saying that, in the lonesome nights of October, we saved The Raven for last. On Hallowe’en night we Trick-or-Treated in a violently pleasant manner – tickling, growling, and generally sharing the spirit of the season with family and friends as only our immediate family possibly could. We cavorted up and down the streets, jumped in the car, hit other neighbourhoods, and reaped our rewards for waiting patiently through yet another 364 days of the non-Hallowe’en, hum-drum year. When we retired for the evening, she could barely contain her excitement for the fact that we were about to read one of Poe’s most famous works. Personally, I wouldn’t have traded that moment for anything in the world. But alas, as the laws of Murphy take effect at any magical moment, by the 12th or 13th verse… she was asleep. I continued to read the story to her sleeping form, tucked her in, and went about my business with a contented smile on my face that is still there every time I think about that moment.

As a dedicated child of the macabre, she’s chosen to memorize Annabel Lee for a personal project/memorization practice. When prompted to memorize any poem she wanted, my kid went straight to Poe.

And that warms my cold, black heart.

So, all of you Big Bad Daddies out there, this one is for you more than it is for the ladies. Stand up and stand damned tall. Show the people celebrating this month’s festivities that we hold the hands of dragon slaying princesses, and guide the future of horror across the street to get that damned ball we told them to keep in the yard. Tell the kind folks who think a lady’s place in the world is behind the man-on-a-mission, that your daughter could probably out-think, out-gross, and out-crazy them in a heartbeat… and look a whole helluva lot prettier while doing it.

‘Cause these little ladies are the future of horror-to-come, and they’re gonna own your soul just like this one owns mine.

As a special treat, little miss horror-kid has memorized and recorded herself reading Annabel Lee, for y’all to enjoy.

Have a listen here, and remember that Women in Horror Month isn’t just about the actresses, authors, artists, and ladies in the spotlight. It’s about the little girl who begs you to bring her to cons, can’t wait till she’s old enough to read your novels, and yearns for the late-night double-bill viewings of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Bride.

She’s your little princess, that much is true… but her vision of all things strange is the makings of a voice that could very well revolutionize the genre in more ways than we could ever believe.

Nurture those voices. And help them become the mistresses of the macabre that they so truly deserve to be. Celebrate the little Women of Horror.

And yeah… that almost made me cry.

C.

Holiday Horror for Kids – Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins

You know…we’re not biased.  We love scary books for any and all holidays.  If there’s a spooky Easter story out there, you can bet you’ll be hearing about it next spring.  If horror reigns anywhere for Mother’s Day, we’ll find it.  If Valentines Day gets scary, or Thanksgiving yields a tale of turkey terror, we will have front row seats.  Count on it.

Where were we going with this?

Oh yeah – it’s Hanukkah right now, which makes it the perfect time to break out this charming picture book!

Hershel, a traveller, walks into a village on the first night of Hanukkah expecting to find a celebration, but the village is dark and quiet.  Goblins haunt the old synagogue and stop all attempts to celebrate the holiday, making the villagers’ lives miserable in the process.  Hershel decides he must help.  Even when he’s told that to stop the goblins he must stay in the old haunted synagogue for eight nights, he’s undaunted.  He must manage to light the Hanukkah candles each night despite the goblins, and on the eighth night the king of the goblins must light them himself.  Nobody expects him to make it back out, but off he goes anyway.  Using his quick wits and cleverness, he manages to outsmart the goblins in a variety of creative ways and get the candles lit each of the first seven nights.  But how will he survive when the powerful goblin king appears on the eighth night, and how could he possibly manage to get the Hanukkah-hating creature to light the candles himself?  Grab a copy and find out how Hershel saves the holiday.

We love a tale where the hero uses his brain to defeat the bad guys (not that there’s anything wrong with plain old butt-kicking), and this book is a great example.  Fun and even a little educational with a supernatural threat to overcome, this Caldecott Honor book is worth a read.  The illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman (A several-time Caldecott winner herself) are atmospheric and generally superb.  We love it.

Happy Hanukkah!

Holiday Horror for Kids – Santa Claws by Laura Leuck

Santa Claws tells the story of Mack and Zack, two monster brothers who are getting ready for Christmas.  This clever rhyming tale takes you on a hilarious voyage, revealing the toys Mack and Zack are looking forward to (including potion kits and vampire bats), describing Santa Claws in all his gruesome glory, and walking you through the grisly monster versions of all your favourite Christmas traditions.  From decorating to caroling to baking, these monsters do it all as they prepare for Santa Claws’ visit.  The story is fantastic and creative, and combined with Gris Grimly’s dark yet somehow adorable illustrations, it’s a real winner.

If anything could push this even higher in our good books, it’s the little details in the book design.  The inner covers are made up like old catalogue pages, featuring products like ‘Green Goo Fangpaste’ and companies such as “Marge’s Vampire Bats’.  The back of our hardcover copy sports a full-page ad for ‘Vampbell’s Garbage Soup’.  The gruesome cuteness adds a whole new layer of awesome to an already great read.

To put it ever so professionally, Santa Claws rocks our socks.  Buy this book.  Buy it now.  It’s rare to find great horror-themed Christmas stuff for kids, and this stunning book is definitely an essential volume for your personal library.  Little monster lovers will be clamoring to hear this every December for years to come!

Holiday Horror for Kids – The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

When one thinks of Clive Barker, a million different things may come to mind. He defined fantasy with Imajica and The Great and Secret Show. He seduced us with Galilee, and horrified us with his Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart. His movies have shown us scores of things we never would have otherwise seen. If you’re a fan, you’re no doubt already aware of The Thief of Always, a truly classic work of fantasy and horror for children.

Harvey Swick is bored. Fearing that the ‘cruel, slumbering beast February’ will swallow him whole, Harvey must look into himself to find out what it really is that he wants. All of his questions are answered with the arrival of a stranger named Rictus, who offers to take him away from all the boredom. Their destination is The Holiday House, where Harvey soon finds that every day spans all seasons and whatever he wishes for will come true. With Spring every morning, Summer every afternoon, Autumn and Halloween every evening, and Winter and Christmas every night, what more could any child want? Upon entering The Holiday House, Harvey finds two friends – Lulu and Wendell – to spend his days with in happiness. That is, until he finds that things aren’t entirely what they seem…and there may be no escape from The Holiday House.

A fantastic story, this young adult novel is essential reading for a burgeoning horror fan and anyone with a thirst for something truly unique. Come on back Wednesdays this month for more holiday horror for kids!

What Was I Scared Of?

Sometimes as you peruse your bookshelf, you know nothing but a classic will do.  And nothing in the picture book world is more classic than Dr. Seuss!  This lesser-known Suess is tons of fun and a perfect fit for little guys who like a bit of creepiness in their tall tales.  The new glow-in-the-dark edition is extra fun, too!

Walking in the woods one night, the main character of this wacky little volume spies ‘a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them’.  He’s normally not afraid of anything, but when he starts seeing these spooky empty pants moving about everywhere he goes he becomes terrified of them.  Finally one night he comes face-to-face with the pale green pants and starts screaming and yelling for help.  How will the pants react, and what will become of this unwanted encounter?

This is a cute story with a happy ‘don’t be afraid of something just because it’s different than you’ ending.  The illustrations are classic Seuss with a dark twist.  Almost everything but the main character and the pants is just black line drawing on a green background, lending the book an excellent spooky night-time feel.

Blend the whimsical rhyming genius of Dr. Seuss with a creepy mystery to get to the bottom of and what do you have?  A book that thrills our mini horror-fiends.  Worth a read!