LS 5663 Free Choice

Swaim, Jessica. Scarum Fair. Illustrated by Carol Ashley. Pennsylvania, Wordsong. 2010. ISBN 9781590785904

For children (and adults) who like the creepy, macabre, or just like the scare of Halloween (or for kids who like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas), Scarum Fair is a creepy delight.

While probably not a good idea for six-year-olds, this book easily appeals to elementary aged children as well as their older counterparts.  To begin with, many of the titles or themes are something that a child would be aware of, if not familiar with.  For example, while children may have actually experienced a teacup ride (likely with mixed results as to the level of fun), young children would likely be less aware of what a tattoo artist is, though they likely know someone with tattoos.

Most of Swaim’s poems rhyme, which is helpful considering some of the words she uses may not fall into every young child’s vocabulary.  This collection can be used for more than just Halloween though.  There are several poems, such as “Dr. Crunch,” that can be used as science poems and “Mummy Wrap” could easily lead into a lesson about the Egyptian mummies.  As wonderfully creepy as Swaim’s poems are, Ashley’s illustrations enhance them.  Many of the non-human creepy beings have no eyes, but rather black eye sockets.  The reoccurring images, I-Scream and the giant green hand, create a visual trail through the book.

While the collection doesn’t technically tell a story, the first poem has the reader entering the Fair and the last has the reader attempting to leave.

Spotlight Poem

Coffin Race by Jessica Swaim

There’s no need to have a license.
There’s no need to be alive.
The competition’s stiff tonight,
’cause dead folks love to drive!

You’ll see expensive models
plus some long-forgotten makes.
Reclining seats are optional,
but not a soul needs brakes.

The racetrack spirals downward
to the finish, and no wonder:
the winner gets a floral wreath
and parking six feet under.

This is a great example of the tongue-in-cheek humor that would appeal to teen readers.  While younger readers might get the “six feet under” reference, they are likely to miss the play on “stiff” and “long-forgotten makes.”  It’s not only a play on racing in general, but in a soapbox car race in particular.  Teens may want to turn their favorite sport (or activity as “Deadbeats” shows) into something for the undead.  Would horse racing include nightmares with goblin jockeys?  Would ghosts do ballet?  Can zombies play football without their limbs falling off?  The younger kids could make their own model coffin racecars (perhaps modified rubberband racers).  As a side note, it would probably be best to do coffin racecars specifically around Halloween when the parent’s expect the macabre, unless they know in advance.


Cybil Award 2010 finalist


Booklist- “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”

Kraus, Daniel. Booklist. Accessed via CLCD at

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