Poet Eve Merriam and Caldecott Honor artist Lane Smith have mastered creepy. In 1987, they first created the award-winning Halloween ABC, and this deliciously sinister collection of poems and paintings has been redesigned by Molly Leach, digitally corrected, "spooked up," and rereleased as Spooky ABC. Smith first completed the project as a wordless picture book, depicting the 26 letters of the alphabet and their Halloweenish symbols... C for cat, for example. When Macmillan decided the book needed powerful words to accompany the dramatic paintings, they signed on poet Eve Merriam. In the bookmaking process, some of Merriam's choices for poem subjects trumped Smith's original illustrations--"vampire" became "viper," "yeti" became "yeast," "tree" became "trap," and "cat" became "crawler." "Invisible" disappeared into "icicle." At the end of this 2002 edition is a fascinating recap of "the awful truth behind the making of Spooky ABC" as well as a glimpse at Smith's wonderful "lost" paintings.
"A is for apple" sounds friendly enough, until you see the creepy claw that holds the fruit above the flames and the words, "Delicious, / malicious; / one bite and / you're dead." B is for bat, as you might suspect, C is for crawler, D for demon... X for xylophone ("bones to clang / bones to bang"), Y for yeast ("rise rise / seethe spread / fuss fume / foam spume"), Z is for zero ("Nothing but hollow / holes for eyes"). The poems, from A to Z, are often chilling, and do not shy away from the darkest corners of human fears. They are also brilliant and rhythmic, as shown in "Mask:" "Guises, disguises, / all kinds of surprises: / A peasant's a king, / a king's a knave, / a knave's a donkey, / a donkey's a slave" or in "Nightmare:" "Nay nay nay / never get away / writhing writhing / in woe woe woe / too late to tell/ friend from foe." Smith's paintings are gorgeous, moody, dark, but not without whimsy. Together, this creative team has produced a macabre masterpiece to be treasured every Halloween or full moon. (Ages 8 and older, not for the faint of heart!) --Karin Snelson