You may know Greg Heffley from his Diary of a Wimpy Kid stories. Yeah, well Rowley Jefferson is Greg’s best friend. He’s a generally nice kid, even though he does make some kinda silly, nonsensical choices sometimes that end up landing Greg in hot water.
But this book isn’t really about Greg.
Believe it or not, Rowley likes to write and draw composition books full of stories, too. And this one is chock full of semi-spooky, kinda silly and sometimes nonsensically made-up tales that are all designed for a stormy night, a flashlight and a blanket tent.
You’ve got the tale of an airport scanner that turns people into living skeletons (which isn’t all that bad when you consider the savings on makeup and hair gel). And then there’s the story of The Stain, a lie that spreads to creepy proportions. The Human Head is all about a kid who was school friends with the Headless Horseman before that villain had even learned to ride a pony. And there are 11 more like those.
These sketched-out yarns may be a little odd and a tad spooky. And there may even be a lesson squeezed in here or there like a toothbrush dropped in a bag full of Halloween candy bars. But it’s all Rowley Jefferson’s brain on display. Some would say that is scary enough.
A fake funeral takes place in a local church and is led by a pastor. And a kid becomes “demon possessed” after watching a late night super-scary movie.
This being a collection of “Spooky Stories,” there are some supernatural elements portrayed here, such as a friend who comes back as a ghost; a kid whom some think is a vampire (but who’s only a bad biter); a mummy who fails to become a famous personality; a kid version of Victor Frankenstein who robs a graveyard; a family of werewolves; and a zombie and space alien invasion.
All of these tales are seen through the imagination of a 10-year-old story writer and sketched out in simple pencil drawings, and so they’re very fun, broad and sometimes very silly. That said, they still may be too edgy for parents concerned with spookily spectral and supernatural fare.
There are a number of parents and teachers represented in the stories. And they all try to support or help the young protagonists on hand. The only exceptions are in one story where some adult politicians make some poor decisions (as politicians are sometimes wont to do), and another tale where some family members ignore an elderly aunt. In a third story, a town full of adults collectively lie to teach a boy a badly needed lesson.
There is bad behavior here on the part of some of the kids, such as a prankster who’s always pranking those around him, a boy who lies, and a few others who disobey their parents. But all face a comeuppance by their story’s end. In fact, there are a number of lessons here. One story suggests that being just like everyone else isn’t as cool as it may seem. Another points out that lies come back to haunt you. Still another tale states that there’s a lot to be gained from having a relationship with elderly family members. And there are even subtle warnings about to much screen use and suggestions that you should be discerning in your media consumption.
There are no language issues. A boy uses an age-reducing makeup. And a school system, thinking they have a vampire in their school, offers containers of blood along with the chocolate milk at lunch. There’s some zombie violence depicted. But the undead are convinced to eat tofu brains before any human ones are consumed. An angry mummy uses his mummy powers to zap and destroy a city. And a sleeping elderly person is accidentally buried alive (before being rescued).
Nothing sexual. But several different boys have crushes on girls at school.
The supposed kid author of this story collection delivers some different variations to some classic monster and ghost stories. Do you think he was trying to make a point with some of these tales? What did you take away from the story “The Cellar?” What “scary” things were his parents hiding down there? What did you make of his reaction after they showed him?
How about “The Scanner” story? What do you think the people who were turned into skeletons took away from their experience? Does that apply to our real world? “The Stain” is another interesting take on a spooky idea. What do you think that was all about?
The closest real spiritual tale might be the story “The Demon.” What does it mean to be possessed? What did it mean in this story?
Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.
Author Jeff Kinney has once again created a hybrid graphic novel-like book aimed at young readers and fans of his “from the mind of a 10-year-old” writing style. Some of the stories have lessons that are easy to see and others are a bit odd and seemingly there just for their strange chuckle-worthiness. One thing Christian parents should note, however, is that a few of the tales (especially one called “The Demon”) could well push past their level of spiritual comfort in spite of the intended lessons that are obviously in the mix here.
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Review by Bob Hoose