24 October 2013

The Very Scary Almanac

The Very Scary Almanac is Spooky Good Fun
By Kristin Battestella

I picked up the 1993 Random House paperback The Very Scary Almanac by Eric Elfman for a quarter at the thrift shop and quickly jumped in to the 80 pages of quirky, encyclopedia-esque, swift styled entries and anecdotes categorized by monster, fright, and bizarrity. Though The Very Scary Almanac is too light for an adult’s spooky starter kit thanks to the easy, breezy manner and layman basics, this speedy read is perfect for tweens with short attention spans. A few big words and the heavy, juicy, scary, and morbid information provided keep the tone upscale for the budding creepy youth, yet the chuckle at the end of each paragraph makes for a fun classroom reading or discussion. Aside blocks with extra wit and tidbits further accent the macabre or the wink along with the bemusing black and white sketch illustrations by Will Suckow.

Despite cute sub headings and itemizing such as “Creepy Culture,” “Freaky Phenomena,” and “Horrible Humans,” some of the information included in The Very Scary Almanac feels random or out of place. We begin with vampires, ghosts, and werewolves but somehow end with UFOs and crop circles. It’s as if Elfman and co. are trying to toss in every iota possible to extend the year round, reading anytime, or long lasting check list appeal of The Very Scary Almanac when the manuscript could have honed in a lot deeper on the scarier, less well known, or more frightful topics.  Twenty years later, several subjects also feel too stereotypical or even erroneous. The “Friend or Foe” segment on witches presents all the historical clich├ęs – and though this back story is important to the super young who may have somehow never heard about witch trials and alleged broomsticks and black cats, only a few rebuttal sentences clarify the current real world religious aspects and paganism definitions. Quoted sources and other referenced materials in The Very Scary Almanac do help the reader seek out further information, but extensive ‘See Also’ sections to end each chapter might have helped broaden the facts and ensured that go to beginner reference longevity. Thankfully, the literature, film, and calendar lists included are charming as well as informative – as are the final sections on deadly animals, spiders, snakes, fears, and phobias.  

The Very Scary Almanac does end somewhat abruptly, however. After a fun introduction, the book feels cut short with only a one page index in conclusion and no bibliography. This is a little rough around the edges and certainly simplistic to the wise, literate paranormal person of any age, for sure. Fortunately, the material here is not dismissive but safe for potentially weird youths or scary loving but protective parents and teachers. Read and discuss it around the proverbial Halloween bonfire or highlight your favorite quips and have an amusing, informative, spooky good time with The Very Scary Almanac.

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