Happy Halloween, all! I don’t know about you guys, but in my house, today is one of our collective favorite days of the year and one of the only holidays for which we decorate extensively (the girl child started in August. No joke). Pumpkins and skeletons and bats galore around these parts, along with candy and costumes and fun with friends.
In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much Halloween and I’m sure many of you feel the same way, and so I give you Frightlopedia: An Encyclopedia of Everything Scary, Creepy, and Spine-Chilling, From Arachnids to Zombies by Julie Winterbottom (illustrated by Stefano Tambellini).
Granted, my family probably enjoys creepy stuff more than the average. Zombies, vampires, demon hordes… all topics discussed widely from the time our kids were very young (we bought The Very Hungry Zombie and Zombies Hate Stuff at our local zombie shop, House of the Dead for the boy when he was four. In our defense, we do live in the zombie capital of the United States). Of course, actual spiders and stink bugs are another matter entirely (no, I don’t get it either but as we all know, fear is one of the less rational of human emotions). The kids also enjoy middle grade fantasy novels, many of which feature the aforementioned and other “horror elements.”
Also popular are jokes and puns which refer to less savory body functions; their favorite bit of Rick Riordan’s newest book Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor thus far is the titular character’s mention of the fictional tenth realm “Thorfartenheim.” I’m not going to lie, I giggle every time it comes up as well. Yes, I’m thirty-eight years old, and yes, I’m still an afficionado of a good fart joke.
A book that combines our love of the macabre and things that are gross? Score a perfect trifecta of imaginative, educational, and comedy gold.
Frightlopdia is broken down into entries of various sorts, including: factual, mythological, prank, and project, arranged in alphabetical order, which allows for nice variation when you’re flipping through. The text is extensive but not dense and the creep factor is kept in check for the younger ones by the images being either line sketches or black and white photos (spiders aren’t nearly as scary with the resolution turned down). Each entry is also tagged with a “Fright Meter” (a very benign severed finger) indicating how scary the entry is anticipated to be for the majority on a scale of 1 to 3. The meter helps parents and independent readers vet preemptively and decided which entires to read and which to skip based on personal preference and tolerance.
I also appreciate that, at no point does Frightlopdia admonish its readers not to be afraid of a given thing. I hate when people do that, especially to kids. People are afraid of what they’re afraid of and telling them not to be 1) doesn’t make them any less afraid nor 2) does it encourage them to discuss their fears openly. The entries do have insets that explain why spiders, or komodo dragons, or bees (to name a few) are useful and why you might want to consider liking, if not frolicking with them, and I’m a huge fan of the way this element was presented. Each educational entry is also punctuated with fun facts (a spiderweb that swallowed a building, the predicted winner of spider vs bat, types of ghosts, the fact the tikoloshe monster of South Africa only has one butt cheek, methods for escaping quicksand, and the ideas that rats laugh and can be trained to sniff for bombs among many others).
As to the gross factor: did you know komodo dragons swing the intestines of their prey above their heads before they eat them so as to spare them selves the ingestion of feces? I didn’t, but I do now. It’s an even better factoid than the venomous nature of male platapi (thanks, Wild Kratts). Also that wakes became traditional because, back in the dark days of “medical science,” people sometimes whiffed the death diagnosis and buried folks alive; the wake allowed the “deceased” time to regain consciousness.
A few of my favorite entires were: the etiology of the word “boo;” Lake Natron, which naturally contains a chemical capable of petrifying anything that comes into contact with the water; the menchineel or “death apple” tree and the sandbox tree, which has exploding fruit and shoots poisonous seeds 300 feet at 150 miles/hr (here’s the thing: I’m a toxicology nurse IRL); a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials; and the history of the zombie legend. I also greatly enjoyed the ghost stories from around the world.
The pranks are pretty phenomenal (she says as the one who will likely be helping the kids play them) and I think the kids are going to be big on “spider in a toilet” (hubs is deathly afraid of spiders but neither kid is unless surprised), evil scientist, and how to make fake blood (which may be used to target Gram). Other activities include instructions on writing a scary story and filling out a “scary things” bracket.
What scared me most? The “Island of the Dolls.” *shudder* But then, I’ve seen the doll carousel at the House on the Rock (of American Gods fame) so I’m predisposed to be terrified of dolls in general.
You will all be happy to know there is no entry on clowns.
Frightlopedia is a fantastic, fun book perfect for the season. Or, in our family, any season.
Go forth and SCARE!
Frightlopedia: An Encyclopedia of Everything Scary, Creepy, Spine-Chlling, From Arachnids to Zombies by Julie Winterbottom (Workman Publishing, 2016) is available now. Enjoy!
GeekMom was provided with a review copy of Frightlopedia free of charge.