Scarum Fair

Book Reviews

Scarum Fair.
Swaim, Jessica (author). Illustrated by Carol Ashley.
Oct. 2010. 32p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong, hardcover, $17.95 (9781590785904). Grades 2-4. 811.

REVIEW. First published October 21, 2010 (Booklist Online).

There’s something about the singsong nature of rhyming poetry—the assurance of that inevitable final-line shock—that makes it an ideal delivery method for the spooky. In this macabre little exercise, a group of children (themselves rather scary, with their dark-ringed eyes making them look sleepless or haunted) enters Scarum Fair, where various monsters, sinister forces, and hybrid creatures sell their wares and operate games of skill. A giant green hand points out the various routes: “Or flip a coin / to help you choose. / Heads or tails, / you’re bound to lose.” There are the expected vampires and mummies and occasional groaners (“I-Scream”), but this is a mostly fresh take, offering up decomposing bands, mad tattoo artists, haunted teacup rides, and more. Ashley’s acrylics-and-graphite art provides plenty of creepy touches, from the confusing, Seussian road signs to stuff that gleefully defies explanation (the egg incubator from one poem is, weirdly enough, mounted atop someone’s head). Books of poetry are usually episodic, so bonus points for all the repeat characters referenced in both the text and illustrations.

— Daniel Kraus

Horn Book Guide:
Swaim, Jessica Scarum Fair
   32 pp. Boyds/Wordsong 2010. ISBN 978-1-59078-590-4
(3) K-3 Illustrated by Carol Ashley.

The titular carnival is a house of horrors. Tattoos come to life, devil’s food cake is aptly named, and the teacup ride is more like a tempest. Tricky double meanings and surprising yet inevitable punch lines make these well-metered poems even more enjoyable than the “Scary-Go-Round.” Illustrations use just enough light to show that this is a place of both fun and fear.


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