Angie Sage, creator of the magnificently magical world of Septimus Heap, book 5 of which was just published, has also authored a series for younger readers. The Araminta Spookie books are perfect for the reader who wants something a little different from the usual Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones. Araminta is brilliant, brave and has a different bedroom for every day of the week! She's not afraid to turn on her Fiendish Stare when necessary and she is a pro at throwing together a kit for any emergency - be it secret passage ways, ambushes, or werewolf trapping.
Araminta, or Minty as her Uncle Drac calls her, lives in Spookie House with her uncle and her Aunt Tabby (Tabitha). Her parents,who were last seen hunting vampires in Transylvania, disappeared when she was young. In My Haunted House, the first book in the series, Araminta is shocked into action when Aunt Tabby, exhausted from taking care of a big old house with a boiler that keeps breaking down, declares that she is putting it up for sale. Araminta loves Spookie House, even Sir Horace, the rusty old suit of armor that keeps getting in her way, and begins to cook up a scheme to keep it from being sold. In the process of plotting and putting Sir Horace back together, Araminta finds a key and a note that leads her to a secret passage and a part of Spookie House she has never visited. With the help of Edmund, former page to Sir Horace and now ghost of Spookie House, Araminta finds the secret balcony that will be the perfect place from which to carry out her plans to ambush prospective buyers.
Edmund the timid ghost is about as spooky and supernatural as My Haunted House gets and the gore factor is even lower. While Araminta does dump the sludge that has accumulated in her goldfish Brian's bowl since his escape many months back onto the head of a realtor, there is none blood, guts or scabby zombie flesh as found in Tommy Donbavand's new Scream Street series written at the same reading level. However, both series do share a great sense of humor. Araminta Spookie is very imaginative when it comes to planning an ambush and her kit can include anything from a box of balloons to a bag of spiders and strawberry Jell-O. Wanda Wizzard, the daughter of prospective buyers who eventually end up sharing the house with Minty, Aunt Tabby and Uncle Drac, also serves as a bit of comic relief. She oinks when she laughs, can turn orange juice blue and is always happy to share a bag of cheese and onion chips from Araminta's Secret Passage Kit. The addition of the Wizzard family to Spookie House makes for some great stories in books 2 - 5 in which Araminta and Wanda plan a surprise 500th birthday party for Sir Horace, search for kidnapped frogs, spy on her cousin Max and eat pizza for the first time every while her aunt and uncle are out of town.
The illustrations for the book by artist Jimmy Pickering are sort of a combination of a 1950s cheery crispness with a Nightmare Before Christmas gothic darkness and are perfectly suited to the text. With vampires and werewolves now taking up so much space on the shelves of the bookstore as well as in our cultural consciousness, trickle-down to kids reading at a second grade level is inevitable. As a parent, if you are comfortable with your child reading fantasy based books, Araminta Spookie is a gentle, thoughtful entertaining place to start. Although there are ghosts, vampires and werewolves in the books, the suspense is light and the actual activities of these supernatural creatures is described in age appropriate ways. There is no great battle between good and evil as seen in fantasy writing at higher reading levels. Instead, Araminta's challenges, while played out in a haunted house, are much more along the lines of those that young children experience in every day life - aversion to change, anxiety over separation from caregivers when they travel, conflicts with friends and siblings and a desire to be independent. On top of all this, Angie Sage adds her imagination and sense of creative detail to what otherwise could have easily been a watered down rehashing of The Addams Family or The Munsters.