Return to Lovecraft Middle School — Book #3: Teacher’s Pest

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Teacher's Pest Cover

Dark plans are once again being made in the shadows of Lovecraft Middle School. Author Charles Gilman has just released Book #3 in his new young reader series, Tales From Lovecraft Middle School. The latest book, Teacher’s Pest, returns readers once again to the dangerous halls of the strangest middle school in America.

Book #1, Professor Gargoyle, introduced us to eleven-year-old Robert Arthur and his two newest friends, Glenn and Karina, as they uncovered sinister plots taking place at their school. And Book #2, The Slither Sisters, proved that the the evil forces lurking in the shadows aren’t sitting still. Just as Book #1 provided a cliffhanger, so did Book #2… introducing a new class president who has a nasty little secret.

And that little secret, revealed in Teacher’s Pest, involves bugs. Lots of bugs. The school is infested with them. The administration thinks it’s all related to the Janitors’ strike, but Robert and his friends no better. And when a valued team member goes missing while investigating the destination of all these bugs, readers will discover just how far the team will go to perform a rescue… and it’s not for the squeamish!

As I read these books, I’m continually amazed at how author Charles Gilman can inject the right balance of dread and horror without going overboard for the primary audience’s age group. With this third book, readers are given more background into the major characters’ backgrounds, and a few more secrets are revealed that will keep fans coming back for more. (I think we as adults may sometimes forget that it is possible to create well-developed characters in stories for young readers. The pagecount may be shorter, but that just means readers are getting a tighter story.)

Teacher’s Pest comes in at 170 pages, and with the dozen or so illustrations, young readers are going to find an entertaining mystery that offers up plenty of danger and real suspense. And they can continue the fun by visiting the series’ official website, lovecraftmiddleschool.com, and digging around for some hidden fun and secrets.

As with the first two books, Teacher’s Pest comes with a lenticular cover that is sure to give some folks a shiver… especially those who are squeamish when it comes to bugs. And young readers shouldn’t worry about Robert and his friends… Book #4, Substitute Creature, is on its way later in 2013.

Substitute Creature Cover

Note: I’d like to thank Quirk Books for sending me a review copy. They know I’m enjoying this series, and I’d like to think that HPL would break into a grin as well reading these tales.
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(Excerpted summaries of Lovecraft Middle School Books #1 and #2 from previous two reviews)

Book #1: Professor Gargoyle

Professor Gargoyle Cover

The Lovecraft universe is not often considered a safe one for young readers. While H.P. himself was careful in his language and left much of the horror to the imagination of the reader, there’s still some pretty intense subject matter within his stories. I was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft’s volume of work in eighth grade — a librarian noticed I’d finished the entire science fiction section (Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury were heavily featured) and suggested I check out the horror section. While Stephen King’s work was just coming out and wasn’t apparently approved by the school board for middle school, someone had (properly, IMO) approved of good ol’ H.P. and his tales of Elder Gods, shapeless horrors, and ancient evils that rested beneath the ocean. I absorbed it completely, often late at night when the parents were asleep. Even recognizing it as fiction, I had some sleepless nights with a few of those tales! But it was awesome stuff, and I grew up with a solid fascination and respect for this man’s imagination and story-telling skills.

Most authors that attempt to write their own novels or short stories in the Lovecraft universe tend to either mimic H.P.’s style of writing or push the subject matter to a limit that is probably considered unsafe for younger readers. Harsh language, graphic violence, and subject matter are sure to guarantee that these new stories never find their way into the libraries of younger kids.

I can’t say whether or not introducing H.P. Lovecraft to a younger audience these days is right or wrong. Every parent, teacher, and librarian probably has his or her own opinion on the appropriate age to introduce the man’s collection, but up to now, there hasn’t really been any method for testing the waters. Some children would probably love the stories… others might need a brighter night-light for a few weeks.

That’s why I was so happy to hear about Gilman’s new series, Tales from Lovecraft Middle School. It has all the hints and trappings of H.P.’s world, with a slight bit of danger, a good dosage of strange and peculiar monsters, and a great setting! We’ve all had a weird teacher during our years in school, so every young reader can totally identify with the first book in the series, Professor Gargoyle.

Robert Arthur, 11 years old, has just been transferred to the new school because of a rezoning issue. While all his friends are left behind, Robert finds that the only student he knows in his new school is the bully, Glenn, that used to taunt him and extort funds. Another student, Carina, attempts to befriend Robert, but he’s too busy feeling sorry for himself. A strange trip to the high-tech library is the first event that has Robert suspecting the unusual aspects of the school — Robert gets lost in the library and discovers a hidden room above the library, complete with forbidding barred door and strange symbols. The arrival of the new science teacher, Professor Goyle, along with the disappearance of twin sisters and a strange tentacle-attack on Glenn have Robert on edge. Sinister things are happening, and no one other than Robert, Glenn, and Carina appear to notice!

What I think is most promising about the first book in the series is the toned-down nature of the horror. There’s no need for blood and guts, and Gilman carefully builds the tension by placing the kids in locales that are completely realistic AND dangerous — the library, a locker, a swimming pool — and dropping in traditional Lovecraft trappings — tentacles, strange chants, symbols on doors, and a dose of crazy, wild-eyed occultists.

While just about any kid with an interest in scary fiction will enjoy this book, I believe this series also has the potential to grab the interest of those kids that just don’t like to read. While the writing and storyline are enough to hold the attention of its readers, it’s got plenty of illustrations scattered throughout the book that help fill in those details such as that strange door or those tentacles pulling you in. And then, of course, there are the covers.

The lenticular covers are amazing! Rotate the book slowly, left to right, and the subject slowly morphs into a hideous monster. Professor Goyle looks perfectly normal, but slowly turn the cover… horns start to grow, skins begins to redden… and then he’s fully transformed! I cannot imagine any kid walking by these books in the store or library and not picking it up for a closer look!

Robert and his friends are a great little crew of investigators. Their unique personalities are developed well in the first book and I cannot wait to see how Gilman continues to flesh them out in follow-up books.

Lovecraft Middle School is a great new series — even without the Lovecraftian elements, the stories would easily stand on their own. But as an introduction to the themes and styles of writing in Lovecraft’s own stories, Gilman has created a nice bridge for a younger audience to cross over in their own good time to find the horror (and enjoyment) that is H.P. Lovecraft.

Book #2: The Slither Sisters

Slither Sisters Cover

I’ll be the first to admit that H.P. Lovecraft’s horror tales aren’t always the best fit for younger readers. While his tales mainly rely on the reader’s imagination to develop a picture of his lurking horrors, his prose style can be difficult to parse, even for experienced readers. I’m guessing that H.P.’s stories are probably not found in a lot of elementary schools, and even if they were, he’s an acquired taste. I didn’t discover him until the eighth grade, and even then many of his stories were a bit cryptic to me at that young age. Still, the universe he created is a unique one and has some great elements of horror… and for any young readers who are starting to enjoy a good spooky tale but who might not yet be ready for the full-fledged Lovecraft experience, there’s a new series of books that offer up a good bit of scare and creep without diving deep into the gore and shock that parents are probably wanting to avoid.

Book #1, Professor Gargoyle, offered up a nice cliffhanger for readers, and Book #2, The Slither Sisters, picks up right after the events of Book #1. Robert and his newest friends, ex-bully Glenn and mysterious Karina, once again find themselves in danger. Twin sisters, Sarah and Sylvia, just aren’t the same since their experiences in Book #1. They speak a strange language, take unusual dips in the school pool, and Sarah seems excessively driven to win the school election for class president. New and important characters are introduced in this new story — some are allies and some are not.

With Book #1, the school was linked to a sinister event that ended horribly for a scientist and his staff in a famous mansion. More details are brought to light regarding the incident in Book #2, and young readers are certain to pick up on the larger mystery that is unfolding. And, of course, The Slither Sisters ends with a surprising cliffhanger that I never saw coming — author Charles Gilman really knows how to properly scare the young readers without going over the top.

As with the previous book, The Slither Sisters comes with a lenticular cover that shows two twin girls at one angle. Turn the book’s cover left or right just a bit, and the title of the book soon becomes apparent — Robert and his friends soon discover that the Slither Sisters are not only strong and dangerous, but extremely devious. They have an agenda, and unfortunately it’s not their plans but someone (or something) else’s.

Book #1: Professor Gargoyle
Book #2: The Slither Sisters
Book #3: Teacher’s Pest
Book #4: Substitute Creature

 

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