Strange but (Un)True | Myths, Mysteries & Urban Legends Series Nonfiction

Eight new series explore the weird worlds of Bigfoot, Kraken, mermaids, and more. 


What is it about the odd and otherworldly? The strange and surreal? Mythical and magical monsters? Eerie beings and bizarre, inexplicable events have kept audiences captivated across time and geography for centuries—proving that people, despite differences in cultures and locations, have always been alike. Where there’s a great story, they want to read, hear, and share it. Savvy publishers, attuned to wide-eyed students’ interests, have brought forth exciting new series that highlight weird and wonderful topics, including ghastly ghosts, dreadful dragons, horrible hauntings, and much more. Students bewitched by legendary creatures and unexplained happenings will be enthralled by these books, some of which update old tales or approach their subjects with tongue-in-cheek humor. Maybe they’ll figure out the answers; there isn’t a ghost of a chance they won’t keep reading and learn a thing or two!



Beauty and the Beast: A Story About Trust. adapted by Meredith Rusu. illus. by ­Alejandro O’Kif. ISBN 9780531231876.
––––. The Emperor’s New Clothes: A Story About Honesty. adapted by Meredith Rusu. illus. by Carles Arbat. ISBN 9780531231906.
––––. Red Riding Hood: A Story About Bravery. adapted by Meredith Rusu illus. by Sònia González. ISBN 9780531231883.
––––. The Three Little Pigs: A Story About Patience. adapted by Meredith Rusu. illus. by Beth Hughes. ISBN 9780531231890.
ea vol: 32p. (Tales to Grow By). Scholastic/Children’s Pr. Feb. 2020. Tr. $26.
PreS-Gr 2 –Each retelling highlights a personality trait—patience, honesty, bravery, trust. The essential outlines of the stories remain intact with some updates: Red Riding Hood wears a hooded red sweater; her grandmother dons slacks. This tale also depicts characters with diverse skin tones. In The Three Little Pigs, the eldest pig is a techie. Some of the prose is syrupy. Critical thinking questions appear on most pages in each book and break up the narrative flow. Students must explore their feelings and personal experiences to respond. Some questions are irrelevant and require only yes or no answers. Back matter features two useful sections: “To Read Together” includes questions and answers for students; guidelines for parents and educators offer instruction on developing the trait described in the book. VERDICT Mediocre literary quality. Better suited to schools than public libraries. Recommend limited purchase. Best: The Emperor’s New Clothes.


Besel, Jen. Bigfoot. ISBN 9781623101756.
––––. Haunted Places. ISBN 9781623101770.
––––. The Loch Ness Monster. ISBN 9781623101794.
Storm, Marysa. Aliens. ISBN 9781623101749.
––––. The Bermuda Triangle. ISBN 9781623101787.
––––. Ghosts. ISBN 9781623101763.
ea vol: 24p. (A Little Bit Spooky). Black Rabbit/Bolt Jr. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.95.
K-Gr 3 –Basic information is shared in this well-written, interesting series. The writing is simple and smooth. The covers and interior art are dramatic, sometimes scary, and each volume opens in an intriguing manner. Infographics in each title include size comparisons (height, length, weight); percentages of believers and nonbelievers in various phenomena; and labeled maps displaying locations of creature sightings. Alternative explanations are provided, exposing readers to different viewpoints. “FACT” sidebars appear throughout volumes; “What do you think?” questions stimulate critical thinking and decision-making skills. “Bonus Facts” at the conclusion of each title offer additional relevant trivia. VERDICT Recommended for school and public libraries. Ghosts and Haunted Places seem redundant. Strongest: Aliens and The Bermuda Triangle. Have students refer to texts to support discussions about which creatures or phenomena are real or not and why they think so.


Gish, Ashley. Dragons. ISBN 9781640262171.
––––. Leprechauns. ISBN 9781640262188.
––––. Mermaids. ISBN 9781640262195.
––––. Unicorns. ISBN 9781640262201.
––––. Vampires. ISBN 9781640262218.
––––. Werewolves. ISBN 9781640262225.
ea vol: 24p. (Amazing Mysteries). Creative Company/Creative Education. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.95.
Gr 1 Up –This well-written, fact-filled series provides satisfying information about the appearance, behaviors, skills, and historical or cultural origins of the creatures, as well as how long stories about them have been told. Cultural variations on the stories (different names or powers) are included. As needed, word origins and definitions from international languages are provided. A brief story concludes each title; the publisher indicates it derives from folklore, but no sources are cited. The series is attractively designed. The cover and inside artworks are striking. Interior illustrations—photos, historical paintings, drawings, etchings, etc.—are accompanied by informative captions. Occasional sidebars appear in the form of captioned spot illustrations. VERDICT These creatures appeal to the target audience, and the information will tantalize this age group. Recommended for schools and public collections. Werewolves may frighten the youngest children. Ask students which creatures are their favorites. Which would they like to meet and why?


Abdo, Kenny. Area 51. ISBN 9781532129339.
––––. Cryptids. ISBN 9781532129346.
––––. Ghosts. ISBN 9781532129377.
––––. Lost Lands. ISBN 9781532129353.
––––. Men in Black. ISBN 9781532129360.
––––. Witches. ISBN 9781532129384.
ea vol: 24p. (Guidebooks to the Unexplained). ABDO/Fly!. Dec. 2019. Tr. $27.07. pap. $7.95.
Gr 2-5 –Fans of strange phenomena may often find that information about their interests is hard to unearth. While this series is generally well written, a few titles have text that reads as sentence fragments. Each volume is organized as a “guidebook” or “secret file.” An introduction outlines the specific topic. “Classification” provides more information; “Declassified” adds details; “In Media” explains where the topic appeared in TV, news, movies, books, video games, or comics. Good-quality photos and illustrations are atmospheric. Cryptids includes a colorful spread of creatures from around the world. In the back matter, students can access additional information via the publisher’s link and a QR code. VERDICT Recommended for school and large public library collections. Students may write about or discuss why some people dismiss inexplicable events and beings. Alternatively, students may select topics for “real, not real” debates. Best, weightiest titles: Lost Lands and Witches.


Atwood, Megan. The Greenbrier Ghost: A Ghost Convicts Her Killer. ISBN 9781543573398.
––––. Popper the Poltergeist: The First Haunting Shown on TV. ISBN 9781543573428.
Peterson, Megan Cooley. The Brown Lady: The Ghost of Raynham Hall. ISBN 9781543573404.
––––. The Flying Dutchman: The Doomed Ghost Ship. ISBN 9781543573381.
ea vol: 32p. (Real-Life Ghost Stories). Capstone. Jan. 2020. Tr. $28.65. pap. $7.95.
Gr 3-5 –This serviceable, well-written series presents tantalizing, dramatic accounts of odd phenomena that happened to real people. Each volume opens in an intriguing manner. Accounts are based on “evidence” supplied by victims and eyewitnesses, but there are no definitive answers. In some books, other versions of the stories or similar types of occurrences are given, including versions from different cultures. High-quality photos, historical illustrations, and paintings with informative captions lend atmosphere; some “framed” photos have a vintage look. “Fact” sidebars provide extra information. “Skeptic’s Note” sidebars offer alternative viewpoints. Additional sidebars, with extra background information, appear occasionally. VERDICT A good, nonjudgmental series that respects readers’ intelligence. In pro-con debates, students can discuss which cases are true or not. What facts support their opinions? Alternatively, in journalism or creative writing units, students can do “interviews” with “eyewitnesses” to the incidents. Strongest titles: The Greenbrier Ghost and Popper the Poltergeist.

Loh-Hagan, Virginia. Bigfoot vs. Krampus. ISBN 9781534159341.
––––. Dragons vs. Griffins. ISBN 9781534159334.
––––. Kraken vs. Hydra. ISBN 9781534159389.
––––. Medusa vs. Hel. ISBN 9781534159327.
––––. Trolls vs. Fairies. ISBN 9781534159365.
––––. Vampires vs. Werewolves. ISBN 9781534159310.
––––. Witches vs. Genies. ISBN 9781534159358.
––––. Zombies vs. Aliens. ISBN 9781534159372.
ea vol: 32p. (Battle Royale: Lethal Warriors). Cherry Lake/45th Parallel. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.93. pap. $14.21.
Gr 2 Up –This tersely written, dramatically illustrated series rewards readers who savor the idea of frightening creatures duking it out. Introductory pages explore opponents’ characteristics, mythical or folkloric origins, powers, strengths, and weaknesses. The section “Choose Your Battleground” identifies three locations (sea, land, or mountains) and explains how fighters would fare in each; a “Weapons” sidebar is included. “Fight On!” follows, accompanied by a “Food for Battle” sidebar describing combatants’ stealthy strategies. “And the Victor Is…” sums up the conflict. Highlights: “Top Champion” discusses similar beings in myths from various cultures. “Consider This!” includes a list of critical thinking questions. VERDICT Fearsome warriors (some female) have strong appeal, especially for striving readers. Nonessential but recommended where wanted for school and public library collections. In journalism or creative writing units, teachers and educators could have students conduct “ringside interviews” or “play-by-play announcing.” Artistic students could create posters promoting the battles.


London, Martha. Dragons. ISBN 9781532165740.
––––. Fairies. ISBN 9781532165757.
––––. Genies. ISBN 9781532165764.
––––. Giants. ISBN 9781532165771.
––––. Gnomes. ISBN 9781532165788.
––––. Mermaids. ISBN 9781532165795.
––––. Trolls. ISBN 9781532165801.
––––. Unicorns. ISBN 9781532165818.
ea vol: 32p. (Mythical Creatures (2)). ABDO/DiscoverRoo. Dec. 2019. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 2-5 –Well-written texts capture creatures’ characteristics, abilities, and powers; their historical, cultural, and legendary backgrounds are compared and contrasted. Each fact-filled volume opens with an appealing story. Impressive illustrations often demonstrate the creatures’ universality. Different cultures’ artwork may depict variations in creatures’ skin tones; maps show the global spread of stories or indicate where stories about certain creatures flourished. Special features include labeled QR codes and access to various learning tools. The “Making Connections” section (and a QR code) contains “Text-to-Self,” “Text-to-Text,” and “Text-to-World” questions. “Did You Know?” and other sidebars provide additional facts. An informative pictorial time line highlights occurrences of the creatures through time and cultures and depicts their appearances in art, literature, and popular media. VERDICT Recommended for schools and public libraries. In myths units, have students write, tell, or illustrate original stories about the creatures.


De La Rosa, Jeff. Bigfoot. ISBN 9780716641506.
––––. The Chupacabra. ISBN 9780716641520.
––––. The Loch Ness Monster. ISBN 9780716641551.
––––. Unicorns. ISBN 9780716641575.
King, Madeline. The Bunyip. ISBN 9780716641513.
––––. Fairies. ISBN 9780716641537.
––––. The Jersey Devil. ISBN 9780716641544.
––––. Mermaids. ISBN 9780716641568.
ea vol: 48p. (Abnormal Field Guides to Cryptic Creatures). World Book. Mar. 2020. Tr. $199.
Gr 4-6 –This well-written, entertaining, heavily pictorial spoof of typical field guides provides solid information and will keep kids reading. As with normal field guides, readers learn about creatures’ historical and legendary origins, characteristics, habitats/ranges, diets, what’s known about them; variations of stories from different countries; reported sightings, and more. Maps appear where needed. Descriptions include puns and some sophisticated vocabulary, but the books lack a glossary. “Classification” and/or “Status” sections discuss creatures’ veracity and scientists’ beliefs. Alternative possibilities suggest how creatures’ legends arose. Fun features mimicking genuine field guides include lists of “equipment” needed on “expeditions” and “Do’s and Don’ts.” Cartoonish artwork confirms the series’ comic approach. Numerous photos and historical and contemporary illustrations (some from other cultures) with informative captions demonstrate the books’ aim to present facts alongside humor. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries that serve cryptids fans. In creative writing units, educators can have students develop fanciful field guides for favorite creatures or comic book or movie characters.

Young and middle grade students will be rewarded with legendary reads in some fine series. The fact-filled, well-written “Mythical Creatures” (ABDO/DiscoverRoo) contains ­helpful aids and highlights frequently requested figures in libraries, including dragons, mermaids, and unicorns. “A Little Bit Spooky” (Black Rabbit/Bolt Jr.) is a good series about inexplicable creatures and events that helps develop visual literacy skills. “Real-Life Ghost Stories” (Capstone) is an atmospheric set for middle graders that respects readers’ intelligence, providing not only data about the featured phenomena but also alternate viewpoints so students can think critically. “Amazing Mysteries” (Creative Company/Creative Education) whets the youngest students’ appetites for mesmerizing creatures: dragons, leprechauns, mermaids, unicorns, vampires, and werewolves. “Abnormal Field Guides” (World Book) is an entertaining, clever send-up of guidebooks to the natural world and will not only instruct middle grade students about various cryptids but leave them chuckling.

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