Fuse #8

Friday, February 17, 2006

Review of the Day: Scary

Remove the letters "R", "V", "I", and one "E" from the word "REVIEW" and what do you have? "EW". Which describes today's book to a tee. This is a gross one, no question, but I stand by my decision to enjoy it. Many will not be so bold (and I can hardly blame them).

When I was a kid the only publication I ever had a subscription to was "Owl Magazine". Throughout the years the details of the title have blurred in my mind, but one particular issue stands out clear-as-crystal down to the minutest of details. The issue was about gross and true facts. Things like dust mites and the tiny wriggling worms that live in the dirt underneath your fingernails. Needless to say, I loved that title and did everything in my power to compile a list of gross facts for my own use (though I've long since forgotten what that use was going to be exactly). Since this was in an era long before the Internet (gather round me children and let granny put her teeth in to tell you of that wild and ancient time) my list was never completed and there has been a hole in my life ever since. A hole that has only now, at the grand old age of twenty-seven, been filled with the publication of, "Scary: A Book of Horrible Things For Kids". Allow me to point out that this is not a book for everyone. It is a collection of the dark, the gross, the really gross, and the I-can't-believe-they-are-telling-kids-about-this type stuff. Looking at it in my old age, I am appalled. Looking at it with the knowledge that as a kid I would have adored it, I am elated.

Six sordid section divide the book into different areas of awfulness. The first section, "Things That Creep and Crawl" looks at spiders, komodo dragons, and other hungry denizens of the world. "Things That Feed On You" gets into the parasites that feed off of human beings as a whole. "Things That Go Crunch In the Night" is a haphazard thrown-together section of historical figures, most of whom are mythical. "Places Where Shadows Grow" gets into those stories the Sci-Fi Channel likes to mention in ghostly documentaries around the Halloween holiday season. "The Things We've Done", is another pseudo-historical heading, but it inclines slightly more towards facts and less towards fancy. Finally, "Imagine This...If You Dare" is a series of suppositions including, amongst other things, spontaneous human combustion. It's hard to tell exactly why Herrera has decided to place some info in one section rather than another, but this isn't exactly the kind of text your kids will turn to for science papers anyway. It's just dark and silly reading.

I got the wrong idea about this book when the first page I turned to while idly flipping through was the section on the candiru. Not only is this the number one MOST horrific section in the book but when you read it you're convinced that it's fiction that even the gaudiest of horror movies might eschew. It doesn't help that Herrera smudges his facts a bit. Now parents, if you want to know whether or not this book is appropriate for you little darlings, the candiru section is a pretty good litmus test of disgust. The book says that the creature is attracted to urine and enters the human body from the most disgusting orifices available. Yeah, I know. It gets worse, but I'll let you figure that out for yourself. Without going into the gruesome details (and for this book, that's saying something) I will say that the illustration accompanying the story gives an incredibly unrealistic idea of how exactly the candiru enters the body. It's actually much more disgusting than Herrera would have you believe. Whether you think that's a good or a bad thing is entirely up to you.

Note that the title is, "Scary: A Book of Horrible Things For Kids" and not "Scary: A Book of Horrible and True Things For Kids". There's an important distinction there. Much of what this book has to proffer is indeed true. Some is not. The aforementioned candiru section is misleading. There are also long sections about various myths (not urban legends, interestingly enough) that never actually occurred. One of these is the Sawney Beane tale, which anyone will tell you ain't true in the least. Why not stick to the Donner Party or something with a historical backing to it? Also, Herrera sometimes fails to mention disgusting factoids that might be of particular interest. His komodo dragon section, for example, never brings up the fact that if a dragon bites you, you'll die just from the bacteria in their mouths. They don't have to eat you right there and then! You'll already be dead meat.

And by the way, can I offer up a pitiable complaint here? There has been a gross omission. Or, to be more precise, an omission of the gross. On page 29 we see various creepy crawlies under a huge human eye. One even goes so far as to cling to an eyelash. But is the text about my favorite critter of them all, the eyelash mite? No. Instead we get treated to a brief bit of text that talks about too amoeba, dust mites, and ticks. Where the heck is my eyelash mite section?!?!? Grrrr.

Look, kids like the gross and off-color. You know what book series still gets requests in the library all the time? That old chestnut, "Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz. "Scary" probably took a tip or two from that classic collection of macabre. It's illustrations are far more stylized than Stephen Gammell's cadre of horrors, but since we're dealing with real-life ickyness, it fits. Some children (as the reviews for this book attest) will not enjoy it. Don't buy it for a kid if you know that they'd much rather read an "American Girl" book. But for those kids enamored of the "ugh", this is definitely the way to go.


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