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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Picture Book Review: A Halloween Scare by Eric James

I'm thrilled to share my review of Eric James' custom Halloween picture book today..

A Halloween Scare in the Carolinas
by Eric James
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

A fun and funny Halloween romp for children and parents alike!
It's Halloween night, and creatures and critters from near and far are starting to gather outside the front door. And now here comes a whole army of monsters, on broomsticks, buses, and bikes, all clamoring in the darkness. What is it they want? Are they coming for you?
This humorous, creative story is the perfect Halloween adventure for children and parents to share.

Eric James’ picture book, A Halloween Scare, is a truly unique and spectacular reading experience. As Eric’s website states, A Halloween Scare is “A funny, spooky children’s book with a an uplifting and empowering ending, set in a world your child already knows”. A Halloween Scare comes in 29 different versions, covering 29 different locations throughout the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Each different location books is slightly altered to include sights, places, buildings, cities, etc in that specific location, both within the text and pictures.

I received, for review, A Halloween Scare in the Carolinas and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! This is seriously one of the cutest, funniest, most clever, and entertaining little Halloween books I’ve ever read. Told in lyrical, amusing rhymes, A Halloween Scare is utterly delightful and adorable. James creates such a fun and spooktastic story that is appropriate for even the littlest readers. Here is an example of the wonderfully whimsical verse and how it’s been altered to fit the specific location:

The creepies were crawly, the crazies were crazed,
The zombies from Charleston had eyes that were glazed.
The ogres from Asheville were ugly as sin,
With big bulging noses and warts on their chin.

Marina Le Ray’s illustrations are fantastic! Bright and eye-catching and full of so many funny, silly pictures, each page will charm and entertain little readers. And like the altered text, the illustrations depict well known places, sights, sports teams, etc around its specific location. I had so much fun flipping through the book and discovering each little nod to the Carolinas.

My Final Thoughts: A Halloween Scare is about as perfect as picture books get! With its clever and customized story, fantastical text, and spellbinding illustrations this is one book your little readers will want to read again and again. I can’t recommend it enough!


-You find out more about this customized picture book, see more illustrations, and find buy links HERE
-You can see which locations are available and which cities, sights, symbols, etc are featured in each book HERE

Watch the full animated UK version of this book below!

Eric James lives in the South of England, with his beautiful family. He’s a children’s author, word tickler and champion asparagus thrower. His first book, a rhyming story about Halloween is out now (first published in August 2014). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Chum by Adam Glendon Sidwell

I'm pleased to share my review for Chum, a new middle-grade adventure that releases today...

by Adam Glendon Sidwell
Future House Publishing

Thirteen-year-old Levi Middleworth insists he's got a Destiny, even if half the internet's tried to bully it out of him with a viral video. When a Hollywood executive in a trim green suit invites Levi to star on a reality TV show aboard a hi-tech pirate ship, Levi thinks his Destiny's finally come a knockin' a bit of fame is exactly what he needs to finally make some friends his eighth grade year. But almost as soon as they set sail, the games aboard the ship turn savage, and he and his new bud Holly must do everything they can to find themselves some Chums little round-headed autonomous toys since failing to do so means getting thrown to the sharks. With the help of Levi's long-lost television hero and a tech-savvy pirate crew, Levi has to rethink his quest for fame in an attempt to save himself, his fellow contestants, and every human being on the beach from a feeding frenzy of grisly proportions.


Last year, Adam Glendon Sidwell charmed me with his imaginative and superb middle-grade debut, Evertaster, so I was super excited to dive into his new middle-grade adventure, Chum. And, while I found Chum creative and entertaining, it didn’t wow me as much as I hoped it would.

Thirteen year old Levi believes he’s meant for stardom and greatness...but ends up the star of an unfortunate and embarrassing viral video. But when Levi is invited to participate in a new reality show aboard a pirate ship, he’s convinced his destiny is within reach. The contestants aboard the ship soon learn that they must find CHUMS, little autonomous toys, everyday in order to stay in the game. And the game is BRUTAL! Contestants quickly turn on one another and resort to violence and trickery to stay in the game.  Levi soon learns that nothing is as it seems aboard the ship and the truth could lead to a bloody frenzy of an end.

Adam Glendon Sidwell is definitely a creative and enthralling storyteller, who infuses a great deal of imagination and humor in his stories. And Chum is no exception. Chum’s premise is wildly original and innovative, both action-packed and funny. There’s a lot I enjoyed about this unique middle-grade adventure. The reality show theatrics are amusing, while the pirate-ship-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean makes for a thrilling setting. The idea of contestants competing to find Chums and having to do ANYTHING to do so, is really fun and makes for an entertaining time aboard the ship. However, the overall execution felt a bit jumbled and disjointed. There are many twists and turns and, while pretty cool, they often left the story feeling too rushed and busy and, perhaps even too unbelievable or outlandish for even middle-grade readers to believe.

Sidwell fills Chum with a quirky, eclectic cast of characters. Levi and his new friend Holly are relatable, endearing young characters, who make for a hero and heroine young readers will want to root for. The other contestants are just as amusingly over-the-top and larger than life you’d expect reality show contestants to be. I only wish more time was spent on character development and getting to know these intriguing people.

There is one thing in Chum that I personally found hard to swallow and that’s all the shark hate. In the story, sharks are made out to be these evil, killing machines and, while this makes sense within the story and makes for a pretty thrilling ending, as someone whose favorite animal is the Great White and who thinks sharks are the most amazing creatures alive, this made my shark loving heart hurt :( Of course, this is totally a personal thing and I can definitely see younger readers enjoying this aspect of Chum.

My Final Thoughts: Overall, Chum could use with some story tightening and more development, however I did find it to be greatly enjoyable and full of fantastic imagination. I think its target audience will be charmed by its quirky premise, laugh-out-loud moments, thrilling action, and likable hero.


In between books, Adam Glendon Sidwell uses the power of computers to make monsters, robots and zombies come to life for blockbuster movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong, Transformers and Tron. After spending countless hours in front of a keyboard meticulously adjusting tentacles, calibrating hydraulics, and brushing monkey fur, he is delighted at the prospect of modifying his creations with the flick of a few deftly placed adjectives. He's been eating food since age 7, so feels very qualified to write this book. He once showed a famous movie star where the bathroom was. Adam currently lives in Los Angeles, where he can't wait to fall into the sea.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review and Giveaway: Worst Witch Series by Jill Murphy

I'm super thrilled to be reviewing, spotlighting, and giving away Jill Murphy's beloved Worst Witch Series today! I want to thank Candlewick Press for copies of the new, reissued editions, with fab new covers, of this series and for providing the set of books for the giveaway...

Catch up on Mildred Hubble’s magical adventures at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches with these reissued editions featuring energetic new covers.

The Worst Witch #1
Candlewick Press

Mildred Hubble is starting her first year at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches — and making a mess of it! She can’t ride her broomstick without crashing, she’s always getting her spells mixed up, and worst of all, the teacher’s pet, Ethel, has just become her sworn enemy.

The Worst Witch Strikes Again (#2)
Candlewick Press

Mildred is back in trouble thanks to the new girl, Enid Nightshade, who isn’t as well behaved as she appears. The more Mildred tries to stay out of trouble, the more she finds herself in horrible situations. What can the disaster-prone worst witch do?

A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch #3
Candlewick Press

Mildred gets off to a good start in her second year at Miss Cackle’s Academy, but her sworn enemy, Ethel Hallow, is plotting misfortune, setting Mildred up for a very bad spell, indeed.

The Worst Witch All at Sea #4
Candlewick Press

Mildred Hubble is distraught. On her first day back at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, her beloved but useless cat, Tabby, is banished to the kitchen to catch the mice. Mildred's class is going to spend a week by the sea. She can't possibly go without Tabby So she hides him away--but trying to keep him hidden from Miss Hardbroom leads Mildred from one disaster to another, and soon she really is all at sea.

The Worst Witch Saves the Day #5
Candlewick Press

Mildred is starting her third year at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches with high hopes of improving her klutzy record. But that’s before a curling-iron catastrophe leads her to experiment with a hair-growing potion with hair-raising results. And it’s before she raises the ire of Miss Granite, the odd new teacher who doesn’t seem to act like a teacher at all. Could she be an imposter? And is there anything in Mildred’s bag of tricks that can save the school if her hunch is right?

The Worst Witch to the Rescue #6
Candlewick Press

Lovable but accident-prone Mildred Hubble is possibly the worst witch ever to go to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. She always tries her best, but her spells never seem to go right. In her latest adventure, Mildred is set up for disaster by her arch-nemesis, Ethel Hallow. Ethel steals Mildred’s summer project and her enchanted tortoise, Einstein, and Mildred must brave a broomstick flight through a violent thunderstorm to rescue him. But will she ever get back into Miss Hardbroom’s good graces? Since 1974, millions of readers have enjoyed Mildred’s exploits, and now she’s back to cast her spell on a new generation of readers.

It has been a very long time since I’ve read Jill Murphy’s beloved middle-grade Worst Witch series, so when given the opportunity to do a re-read I jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad I did! I devoured these little books one right after the other and had a splendid few hours full of magical mischief, mayhem, and mirth!

Books one through six in the Worst Witch series, follow Mildred Hubble from her first to third year at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Sweet, well-meaning Mildred tries to be a good witch, but chaos and trouble follow her wherever she goes. Quite frankly, she’s the worst witch in the school. But, luckily for readers, with chaos and trouble comes a lot of thrills, chills, and fun fun fun!

Jill Murphy’s series is well-beloved for a reason: it’s splendiferious in so many ways! Full of captivating magic, colorful imagination, laugh-out-loud premises, fantastical whimsy, fun world-building, and unforgettable characters, the Worst Witch books are middle-grade perfection. Jill Murphy’s storytelling simply sparkles and she creates a wonderful, pitch-perfect voice throughout the series.

In The Worst Witch (Worst Witch #1), readers are introduced to young Mildred Hubble and Miss Cackle’s Academy. In this first book, readers will find mean girls turned into pigs, cursed broomsticks, literal scaredy cats, and evil witches. In the Worst Witch Strikes Again (Worst Witch #2), Mildred finds herself in charge of a new amusing student who may just be more trouble than Mildred, chasing a monkey, and the surprising star of Miss Cackle’s birthday celebration. In A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch (Worst Witch #3), Mildred’s worst enemy turns her into a frog and Mildred finds herself on a desperate journey to save not only herself, but an enchanted wizard as well. In the Worst Witch All At Sea (Worst Witch #4), Mildred finds herself on a dismal week-long holiday with a furry little secret. In The Worst Witch Saves the Day (Worst Witch #5), Mildred has a very odd new teacher and a bad potion makes Mildred’s hair grow grow grow. In the Worst Witch to the Rescue (Worst Witch #6), Mildred’s best ever holiday project is stolen by her worst enemy and she finds herself on a dangerous rescue mission.

Whether Mildred is turning her enemy into a pig or being turned into a frog herself, crashing her broomstick or pulling off a death-defying rescue mission, accidentally turning invisible or creating one of kind spells, she does it all with style and amusing flair! The magical and fantastical elements in this series will dazzle, the humor will induce giggles, the silly fun will entertain, and the bigger than big heart will put a smile on readers’ faces. Mildred Hubble is an absolutely endearing and charming young character that will stay with readers for a lifetime. Jill Murphy fills Mildred’s world with a wonderfully quirky and eclectic cast of characters, from Mildred’s fun BFF’s Maude and Enid, to mean girl Ethel, frightening Ms. Hardbroom, cheery Miss Cackle, and Mildred’s fraidy cat Tabby.

And once you or the young readers in your life finish reading about Mildred's witchy adventures, I highly recommend checking out the television series based on the series (and from which all these gifs came from). It is A LOT of fun to watch!

My Final Thoughts: The Worst Witch series has a little bit of something for every reader, whether you’re looking for silly antics, imaginative fantasy, laugh-out-loud funnies, or magical excitement, and are especially great for younger middle-grade readers not quite ready to tackle the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books. And these re-issued editions, with bright updated covers and charming illustrations, are perfect for introducing a whole new generation to this beloved series!


Jill Murphy is a London-born English children's author, best known for The Worst Witch series and the Large Family picture books. She has been described as "one of the most engaging writers and illustrators for children in the land."

Win a Worst Witch Series Set 
(books 1-6)
Candlewick Press has awesomely offered up one set of paperback copies of the new editions of books 1-6 in this series, for one winner.
-US/CAN only
-ends 10/31/14
-must be 13+ to enter
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes in the mail
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