November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tall Tales & Scary Monsters: Mythology | Series Made Simple Fall 2014

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SMS1411-BK-Myth“Cannibalism makes for interesting stories,” notes one of the authors below. So do, as this season’s select set of offerings demonstrates, accounts of encounters with ghosts and cryptids, the exploits of folk heroes, and visits to some of our planet’s eeriest places. Most dish up sharp hooks for unwary browsers but will also give serious students of tales and legends healthy slices of chewy history and mystery. Production values vary widely, but these titles all come with a piquant smorgasbord of deliciously atmospheric (sometimes revealing) illustrations and spoon out their subject matter with an eye to informing readers as well as leaving them entertained, spooked, or at least slightly weirded out.

Preschool to Grade 4

Bolte, Mari. Encountering Ghosts: Eyewitness Accounts. illus. by Kako. ISBN 9781491402450.

Kincade, Chris. Encountering Aliens: Eyewitness Accounts. illus. by Cristian Mallea. ISBN 9781491402443.

Krohn, Katherine. Encountering Bigfoot: Eyewitness Accounts. illus. by Michael Byers. ISBN 9781491402436.

Peterson, Megan Cooley. Encountering Chupacabra and Other Cryptids: Eyewitness Accounts. illus. by Matt Stevens. ISBN 9781491402429.

ea vol: 32p. (Eyewitness to the Unexplained). further reading. index. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $29.99.

Gr 3-5 –In comic book format, each of these volumes re-creates eight or nine reported encounters with aliens, spectral figures, or cryptids. Though done by different artists, the pictures have a uniformly rough, sketchy look throughout, and the page design is unusually busy and cluttered looking. Direct quotes from eyewitnesses, printed in a different color, are mixed in with the invented dialogue. However, series title notwithstanding, those quotes are not only rare, they add little, being mostly generic comments such as “Let’s get out of here!” or “Look, the doe’s skull is flattened.” Each incident ends with an invitation for readers to decide for themselves whether it actually happened, but no real evidence is presented either way; each volume even includes a cautionary note that eyewitness accounts “cannot be proven true or false.” Weak competition for the equivalent volumes in Jennifer Rivkin’s “Mysterious Monsters” (Rosen) series.

Braun, Eric. Johnny Appleseed Plants Trees Across the Land. illus. by Dustin Burkes-Larrañaga. ISBN 9781479554287.

––––. Pecos Bill Tames a Colossal Cyclone. illus. by Lisa K. Weber. ISBN 9781479554294.

Meister, Cari. Davy Crockett and the Great Mississippi Snag. illus. by Peter George. ISBN 9781479554317.

––––. John Henry vs. the Mighty Steam Drill. illus. by Victor Rivas. ISBN 9781479554300.

ea vol: 32p. (American Folk Legends). further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. Picture Window. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-5 –Sandwiched between historical notes that provide both general context and biographical details, these retold legends give four (male) folktale heroes a chance to strut their stuff. The tales, spun in mildly colloquial language (“Oh Lordy, was John Henry a mighty fine babe!”) are illustrated with equally mild cartoon caricatures and feature Davy Crockett wrestling a giant ’gator, Pecos Bill carving out the Grand Canyon atop a tornado, John Henry doing several good deeds before taking on that steam drill, and Johnny Appleseed rescuing injured animals as he makes his seed sowing rounds. Each volume concludes with boilerplate notes on tropes common to American folktales, a pair of Common Core–specific study questions, and a brief bibliography. Though other versions of these stories aren’t hard to find, the background material will give both general readers and folklore enthusiasts a broader perspective on the genre.

Ferut, Michael. Gettysburg. ISBN 9781600149955; ISBN 9781612119403.

––––. RMS Queen Mary. ISBN 9781600149962; ISBN 9781612119410.

––––. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. ISBN 9781600149979; ISBN 9781612119427.

––––. Winchester Mystery House. ISBN 9781600149986; ISBN 9781612119434.

ea vol: 24p. (The Scariest Places on Earth). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bellwether. 2014. lib. ed. $22.95. ebk. $22.95.

Gr 2-4 –Aimed at younger or less able readers than the same-named Gareth Stevens series (also reviewed in this issue) and with a different focus, this set’s third quartet (earlier volumes were published in 2013) takes intrepid students on quick tours of four American locales “said to be” haunted. Along with a short recap of each site’s history, the author tucks in references to weird noises and other supernatural manifestations reported by visitors and specifically names at least one putative specter—such as Jennie Wade, Gettysburg’s only civilian casualty, or New Orleans’ “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau. The illustrations, which are distorted photos featuring screaming mouths and blurred figures, have been passed through lurid color filters for additional atmosphere. Fine for recreational browsing; the closing bibliographies and online lists of websites will be more useful for assignments than the titles themselves.

Grades 5 & Up

Harasymiw, Roman. Devils Tower. ISBN 9781482411515.

Shea, Therese. The Bigfoot Trail. ISBN 9781482411416.

––––. The Dead Sea. ISBN 9781482411669.

Sisk, Maeve T. Mount Terror. ISBN 9781482411560.

Vail, Grace. Death Valley. ISBN 9781482411461.

Weingarten, Ethan. Transylvania. ISBN 9781482411614.

ea vol: 24p. (Scariest Places on Earth). further reading. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 5-8 –Readers who want to go for the gusto will find all they can handle in Transylvania’s account of Vlad Dracul’s bloody career (which is capped by a rousingly gruesome old image of skewered and decapitated corpses), but overall this series has more to offer armchair travelers than thrill-seekers. The tour of the 400-mile Bigfoot Trail, for instance, pauses at each natural area or preserve through which it goes to highlight distinctive flora and tangible hazards like bears and wolverines. Similarly, Death Valley, Mount Terror, and The Dead Sea offer glimpses of wildlife and history with only occasional mention of ghosts or dangerous terrain. Each volume includes at least one map along with a suite of color photographs depicting vistas, animals, prominent geological features and, for Transylvania, picturesque old castles. Most also feature a page of summary facts, and all conclude with an assurance that each locale is well worth a (cautious, well-prepared) visit. A mild alternative to Bearport’s ongoing “Scary Places” series.

Karst, Ken. Area 51. ISBN 9781608183999. LC 2013036073.

––––. Atlantis. ISBN 9781608184002. LC 2013036074.

––––. Bermuda Triangle. ISBN 9781608184019. LC 2013036075.

––––. Bigfoot. ISBN 9781608184026. LC 2013036076.

––––. Loch Ness Monster. ISBN 9781608184033. LC 2013036060.

ea vol: 48p. (Enduring Mysteries). bibliog. further reading. illus. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Creative Education. 2014. lib. ed. $24.95.

Gr 6-10 –With only the barest dashes of skepticism, these handsomely produced surveys present budding cryptozoologists and conspiracy theorists with rich arrays of historical anecdotes and encounters, supposed evidence, “scientific” explanations of varying plausibility, and tantalizing speculations. Thanks to the magic of photo manipulation and digital painting, along with the usual blurry photos and cryptic artifacts a more satisfactory admixture of perfectly clear and realistic new images of Nessie, UFOs, Bigfoot, aliens, shipwrecks, floods, and weird natural phenomena provide suitably thrilling illustrations. Karst goes beyond standard issue recaps—ensuring, for instance, that readers will come away from Atlantis knowing more than they did about Madame Blavatsky, as well as Mu and Lemuria, and also expanding his topics with references to, at best, tangentially relevant mysteries such as the fate of Amelia Earhart in Loch Ness Monster.

Rivkin, Jennifer. Searching for Bigfoot. ISBN 9781477771051.

––––. Searching for el Chupacabra. ISBN 9781477771136.

––––. Searching for the Loch Ness Monster. ISBN 9781477771013.

––––. Searching for the Wendigo. ISBN 9781477771174.

––––. Searching for the Yeti. ISBN 9781 477770979.

––––. Searching for UFOs. ISBN 9781 477771099.

ea vol: 32p. (Mysterious Monsters). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 4-6 –Characterized by well-balanced measures of skepticism and willingness to believe, these portraits of prominent cryptids offer a mix of tantalizing eyewitness accounts and legends, “evidence” either inscrutable or noted as proven bogus, and rousing, sometimes gruesome illustrations. Searching for the Yeti notes supposed evidence of the creature, such as sightings by Everest climbers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and photos of footprints taken by mountaineer Eric Shipton. The ravening beasts described and depicted in the volumes covering El Chupacabra (a creature “taking alarming eating habits to a whole new level.”) and the Wendigo (“Cannibalism makes for interesting stories.”) are particularly frightening and therefore likely to be a strong draw for young monster lovers. Searching for UFOs includes a juicy discussion of conspiracy theories, and elsewhere the author expands her major subjects to mentions of related creatures from kelpies to the (original) Jersey Devil and the supposed “Wendigo Psychosis.” This series overlaps but also extends John Hawkins’s Bigfoot and Other Monsters (PowerKids, 2012).


Bellwether’s “Scariest Places on Earth” heaps up tasty chills aplenty for younger armchair travelers. Older children will delight in sinking their teeth into Powerkids’ “Mysterious Monsters” and Creative Education’s “Enduring Mysteries”—and if some readers find much of the “evidence” for these elusive creatures and phenomena hard to swallow, that’s only healthy skepticism at work.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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