Allison's Book Bag

Scary School by Derek Taylor Kent

Posted on: January 7, 2012

Scary School is about the most unusual school (next to Hogwarts of course) that you’ll likely encounter. At the school’s front entrance is a large, dark moat without any visible way to cross. If you attempt to swim, like new kid Charles did, a giant and slimy tentacle might shoot out the murky water and wrap itself around you. Should you survive, you next might encounter the hall monitor Mr. Spider Eyes who, yes, has that name for a reason. Where most people have just two eyes, he has one hundred tiny eyes. And, if you’re lucky (which you have been if you’ve made it to your first class alive), you’ll have Ms. Fang as your teacher. But don’t worry, she’s only eaten twelve of her students. In contrast, the other fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Dragonbreath, ate his entire class on the first day. This might sound gruesome, but is instead wacky and weird thanks to some adept crafting by the author.  But more about that later.

If you were to open up Scary School to the table of contents, you would find a listing of twenty-three chapters. You’ll also soon see that the chapters average around ten to fifteen pages. The print is of a bigger size too. All these things make Scary School feel like a chapter book. As you start to delve into each chapter, however, you’ll realize something else. The introduction is about our narrator Derek, the first chapter is about our presumed hero Charles, but the second chapter is about Mrs. Fang, the third is about Nurse Hairymoles, and so the cast grows. If you read far enough, you’ll discover that the lives of all of these characters do truly connect. Still, reading chapter-length stories about each of the fifteen plus characters sometimes makes Scary School feel like a short story collection. But more about that after the next paragraph.

Now about that author…. He’s a ghost. Derek the Ghost is an eleven-year-old ghost who haunts the classrooms and hallways of Scary School, writing down all the spine-tingling often hilarious things that go on there. Or is the author really Derek Taylor Kent, a “first-time ghost whisperer” with whom Derek the Ghost communicates?

So as I was saying, I was initially put off a little by the many “short stories” about the many, many characters. I was also taken aback by the sudden change in perspective in the first chapter. One minute Derek the Ghost is telling us: “It’s not often that a new kid arrives at Scary School, but when one does…..” The next minute, we’re reading Charles’ thoughts:  “How am I supposed to swim across?” Up until now, I thought we were inside Derek’s head only and so this new viewpoint threw me. As did the chapter about Petunia, because it’s so sad that it feels creepy instead of wacky. Over all though, Scary School is one hilarious book. Where else are you going to find a tyrannosaurus dressed in a blue dress? In what other school can you get in trouble for wearing the school uniform, because no student had ever worn it before and so none of the teachers knew what it looked like and so they assumed that not wearing the uniform was the school uniform. Sound illogical? You bet! But it makes for a wickedly insane and hilarious book. But more about that later.

Let’s talk for a moment about the violence in the book. First off, there’s the explanation offered by our ghost narrator: “You’re probably thinking this book isn’t going to be wholesome at all. Well, don’t worry; just because a kid dies at Scary School, it doesn’t mean that he or she will stay dead.” Second, as that quote should have proven, Scary School is so tongue-in-cheek that no kid will ever take it serious and so neither should adults. One of the funniest (and most violent) chapters is about the aforementioned Mr. Dragonbreath. His name doesn’t just describe his breath. He’s also a nine-foot dragon who never smiles but makes clear that his teeth are for one thing: eating fresh meat. At the start of the new kid’s year at school, Mr. Dragonbreath announces that all the class has to do to survive is follow five simple rules. Then he proceeds to do a song-and-dance with them, where he reads a rule, a student breaks it, and he excuses them just this one time. He follows up by telling them to read the final rule, which he merely points to: “Rule Number Five: This is the forbidden rule. No student is allowed to read this rule.” Ah, we had such hopes that his class would survive. Actually, two of them do, but you’ll need to read chapter six to learn their secret.

Now let’s return to the humor. I need to let you know that there’s a point to Scary School than one laugh after another. True, the crazy situations tend to predominate. That’s why when I first read about the real reason bugs fly off Petunia, I felt disturbed instead of sad. Yet eventually I grew used to the idea that Scary School also had some lessons to share. I appreciated the bittersweet story of puck-scarred Jason—who, yes, is a fun play on his movie counterpart and has a hockey mask to prove it. I also loved every chapter about the Ghoul Games.

As for what happens in all of these stories, you’ll have to check them out for yourself. There will be no “more about that later,” an often used phrase in the book. It refers to adventures to happen in future chapters or even books. You see, Derek Taylor Kent is a smart writer who knows what is popular with a younger audience and what carrots to tantalize them with. At the same time, he well remembers what it felt like to be the new kid, to be eleven, and to see school as something to survive. And so there are tender moments mixed in with the ghoulish ones, which should heighten the appeal of Scary School even to adults.  Basically, everyone will be happy to know that there will be more books. But more on that in my interview with Kent.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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