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Friday, Nov. 8, 2002

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Short and Scary!," "Notso Hotso"


"Short and Scary!" Louise Cooper, Oxford University Press; 2002; 96 pp.

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If you didn't get your share of thrills this Halloween, here's a collection of very short, scary stories to spook you. The tales aren't terrifying in a gut-wrenching, fangs-dripping-blood way. There's no gore and little violence, but these incredibly brief stories play upon all your fears and leave you prickling with a faint sense of unease.

This is the perfect read-aloud book -- all the tales are two pages long. They start out normally enough, but then they twist and turn their way swiftly toward a startling end. They're full of creepy things: stairs that only go down and not up; monsters that shuffle under the bed; people who turn out to be ghosts, vampires, or worse; and a hiding place that's so good nobody can find you, ever.

What makes these scary stories such a lively read? For one, the narrator is often unreliable, misjudging the situation and giving us a lopsided picture of what's happening. At other times, he misleads us on purpose. We begin to see his point of view and believe him, then BAM! -- the ending shocks us by overturning everything.

Secondly, the tales never get oppressively frightening. They're laced with humor. It's not the laugh-out-loud kind, though -- it's infinitely more wicked. Often you'll find yourself feeling sorry for some of the foolish characters that mire themselves in unfortunate predicaments -- while laughing at them at the same time.

My favorites were "Monsters," in which little Pete takes his brother's advice on how to get rid of the mysterious creatures beneath his bed; "Do You Believe in Fairies?" where the fairies get up to more than a little mischief; "The Storm," a confounding tale of a poisonous downpour with a real shocker at the end; and "Who's There?" a fantastic little story, with a surprising sign off, that's only seven lines long. You'll simply love the seven "Sticky Ending" poems -- each of them about some poor fellow and how he comes to a horrible end.

You'll probably notice that a few of the stories start out sounding familiar -- the wolf who ate Red Riding Hood's grandmother; the poor young man who goes on a perilous mission to rescue a beautiful princess; the king who turns everything he touches to gold. But just when you find yourself thinking, "Oh, I know what happens next," the story veers off in a bizarre new direction.

Here's a clutch of wildly imaginative tales to shiver about and retell to all your friends. This little book will lure you into the darkest alleys of your imagination . . . and leave you there.

For children 7-12 years. Available at online bookstores. If you enjoy reading "Short and Scary!" why not try Maggie Pearson's "Short and Shocking!" next?

"Notso Hotso," Anne F,. Puffin Books; 2002; 90 pp.

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It's a dog's life for Anthony.

For starters, he is a dog, the family pooch. But to make things worse, nobody understands him -- neither his mistress nor her spoiled brat of a son, and certainly not the neighborhood cats and dogs. Worst of all, he's got an itch.

It starts with a little scratch-scratch in one tiny corner, then another itsy-bitsy patch starts calling for attention, soon he's scratching sideways, up and down, every which way. Before he knows it, poor Anthony is all aflame. It doesn't help that everyone thinks Anthony is being a mangy mutt who won't keep his nasty personal habits to himself.

His mistress-of-many-names -- Lady Houseproud, Kitchen Queen, Miss Shed-on-My-Rugs-and-I'll-Kill-You -- carts him off to the vet. But Anthony finds himself in worse hands now. Dr. Massingpole, better known as Butcher Massingpole, Cruella Massingpole and Maniac Massingpole, finds the answer to Anthony's itch in a tub of glutinous yellow cream . . . and a razor. It's easier to rub ointment into a dog when he has no fur on him, but has anyone asked the dog what he has to say about this? Minus his hair, Anthony looks like the world's smallest lion -- with the body of a huge, plucked, four-legged chicken and a mane of the only fur that escaped Massingpole's zealous razor. Looking like a pathetic excuse for a dog won't do wonders for his street cred, so Anthony decides to do a canine imitation of the Lion King: Anthony learns to rooaaaarrrrrr!

You'll be roaring, too -- with laughter -- as Anthony scares the daylights out of his neighbors and comes to terms with his embarrassing condition. For a dog with so little hair, he's got plenty of attitude. He gives the cheeky cat next door a trillion-volt shock that she'll feel for the rest of her nine lives; makes the street dogs turn tail and run; and tolerates, only barely, the barking-mad humans who call themselves his family.

This is a witty, sardonic dog's take on a dog's life. It's about improvising when you're trapped in a tough situation and being able to see the humor of it -- eventually. If you have pets, this will teach you to treat them with more respect. After all, it's not easy being a canine -- being shooed out the house, fed leftovers and reprimanded for being a mutt -- especially when you're twice as intelligent as your human owners. And when you have the itch, it's absolutely notso hotso.

For children 6 years and up. Available at online bookstores.

E-mail Payal Kapadia about this fortnightly column or about the Education page in general at payal@japantimes.co.jp


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