Halloween may be a distant, sugary-hazed memory, but the children’s and YA line-up this month has a horrifying theme - from the creepy to the downright silly.
This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self.
Zombies! Run for your lives! Wait...not a zombie novel, you say? I’m confused!
Prejudices against some genre are often based on little-to-no reading within it and I confess I’m no exception - I tend to dismiss books described with any element of 'horror' (for my own reading, that is). That’s not because I've read lots of it, it's because I’m a wuss. The merest mention of blood, gore or zombies and I’ll get out my battered copy of Milly Molly Mandy and hide behind a curtain.
However, just about every review of Courtney Summers’ This Is Not A Test starts out with the reassurance that all the tension and fear in this novel has nothing to do with the zombies. Instead, it’s all about trauma and survival - as much about real domestic abuse as imagined zombie horror - and has been called a character-driven book.
So if you’re a horror fan, this might not be gory enough for you. But if you’re a scaredy-cat like me, it might just give you a bit more street-cred.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, New York socialite Evie and her uncle are in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer - if he doesn't catch her first.
Don't be put off by the giant size of this book, which could come in handy during an Zombie Apocalypse. It's very easy to get into.
From the start, Bray (Beauty Queens, Going Bovine) paints a vivid picture of the young and carefree living it up in 1920s New York. There's plenty going on plot-wise, an authentic feel to the language - including snarky one-liners - as well as a hint of romance and a creepy element that builds from the first chapter.
Ratburger by David Walliams
Things are not looking good for Zoe. Her stepmother is so lazy she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her. The school bully Tina Trotts makes her life a misery – by flobbing on her head. And now the evil Burt from Burt’s Burgers is after her pet rat!
This is another funny and fast-paced book from the British comedian who is often compared to Roald Dahl, with his pantomime-evil characters, tragic heroes and a look at the grimy side of life that swings between madcap hilarity and pathos.
If you're discovering Walliams for the first time, the box-set containing his first four novels has just been released. These are great books to read aloud to your children from around 6 or 7, suitable for independent reading from 8 and also for the slightly older, more reluctant readers if you're looking for an alternative to Diary Of A Wimpy Kid et al.
Warning: if you read this book, it may be some time before you can face a burger.
Truly Tan by Jen Storer
It′s official. Our whole family has moved to the country. The pets are disturbed and restless. My sisters are disturbed and restless - although that′s normal. What is not normal is a cursed fox and a haunted clubhouse. That is definitely unnormal.
Keen detective Tan thinks that moving to the countryside will be boring, but the family has no sooner spilled out of their jam-packed car before the four sisters have stumbled on a ghostly figure in a photograph. Joined by some new friends, they set out to solve the mystery.
This is a great mix of old-fashioned adventure in a modern, Australian setting. It has all of the qualities kids love in Enid Blyton's books but none of the sexist or other old-fashioned attitudes that might put some off.
Creepy but funny, with a good mix of action and dry-humoured Tan's keen interest in new words, it kept my 8 year old still and quiet for a few solid hours. Powerful stuff.
The Gobbledygook Is Eating A Book by Justine Clarke
Something is coming. Can you see? It snuffles and gruffles. What can it be? Look! Look! It's a Gobbledygook! It's ripping up pages and eating a book!
Eating books? Is there anything more horrifying? Oliver Jeffers gave us The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, and here's a sweeter, younger version of the same concept - the basic message being that it's preferable to read books than to eat them. All the booksellers and librarians in the world are nodding their heads vigorously at this point; parents, too.
I'm a sucker for a cloth-bound spine, and the illustrations by Tom Jellett are as usual really appealing (see My Dad Thinks He's Funny). You may know Justine Clarke better as "the Playschool lady".
Ruby Redshoes by Kate Knapp
Ruby Red Shoes lives in a colourful caravan with her grandmother. Ruby is gentle and kind and cares for all living things, including plants and trees, animals and people.
Here's a final antidote to the horror I've presented you with so far. Extremely pretty and delicate, but it's the detail in the text that wins me over. Ruby is a hare who is curious about the exquisite world in which she lives. Her grandmother is Babushka Galina Galushka (which literally translates as ‘Grandmother Calm Dumpling’ in Babushka’s native Russian). Ruby keeps chickens, who have developed a taste for croissants because Ruby has been teaching them French.
An offbeat, charming and beautifully escapist way to end November's round-up.
Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time. Her other title is 'Mum', or more accurately 'Muuuuuuuuum!'