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Review: Home Sweet Horror by James Preller

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales #1)
By James Preller
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Feiwel & Friends

ISBN: 9781250018878
Grades 3-5
In Stores

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Schuler Books | Your Library

Let’s face it – you don’t get more high interest than horror. There’s a subtle defiance in reading a book full of dark and disturbing things that, often, adults want to shield children from. Add to the mix the natural human desire to be creeped out, and the appeal is impossible to deny. So we all agree kids dig spooky, right? Then why aren’t there more options in this category? In the tradition of R.L. Stine, Home Sweet Horror (the first book in the Scary Tales series) arrives with all the thrills and chills you could ask for. And kids will be asking for more.

Eight-year-old Liam Finn has just moved to a new house with his older sister, father, and dog Doolin. Liam’s mother passed away 18 months ago, and Mr. Finn sees the move as a new start. Things don’t go according to plan.

From the first day, Liam heard noises. The groan of floorboards. The hiss of radiators. The clatter of wind pounding the shutters. CREAK and SCREECH, RASP and WHEEZE and BANG.

The house? Yeah, it’s haunted. And whatever spirits are there want the Finn family gone. After a game of Bloody Mary brings out the real thing, a message from an unexpected source saves the Finn family and brings a fiery end to the house.

The book pulls from a number of classic horror tropes (haunted house, messages from beyond the grave), tweaking them for this audience. While this may be the first time readers will have heard the story of, say, Bloody Mary, chances are good that it is not. This possible familiarity makes sense for the age group, lessening the shock somewhat for kids who are testing the waters of the genre.

Various fonts are used to highlight sounds and action words, adding a nice bit of visual interest, while the black and white illustrations add just the right amount of creepiness. On the scale of Stephen Gammell Scary Stories (10 on the spook scale) and Brett Helquist Scary Stories (2 on the spook scale) Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations fall somewhere in between. A nice match for the intended audience.

You can’t discuss this book without mentioning two other series: Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Preller’s series fits right in with this duo, and makes a perfect read-alike suggestion for kids who have already made their way through the collected works of Stine and Schwartz.

This is the sort of book that has the potential to cast a wider net than some. The subject matter has a way of bringing in readers of many different abilities.

A promising start to a series that will bring chills to the masses. And that’s exactly what they’re looking for.

Review copy from the publisher

Great Kid Books, The Nonfiction Detectives, Kid Lit Frenzy, and I are teaming up to review books on similar topics. We’re calling it Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. Today we’re talking Halloween.

Great Kid Books reviews Zombie Baseball Beatdown

Kid Lit Frenzy reviews The Day of the Dead/El Dia de los Muertos

The Nonfiction Detectives review The Salem Witch Trials

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.5 Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)


About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.