By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Witch holds kids captive in creepy but sweet fantasy tale.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Steeped in references to classic children's tales, creepy and otherwise (Hansel and Gretel, the Arabian Nights), as well as classic horror movies (e.g., Night of the Living Dead). A bit of Arabic and Middle Eastern culture as Yasmin remembers happy times with her late "sito" (a term for "grandma" in Arabic). Much of the plot involves writing and storytelling and the issues and skills involved, from interior logic to writer's block.
Strong messages of courage, friendship, teamwork, determination. Also a love of home and family. Acts of kindness pay off.
Positive Role Models
Struggling with being called a weirdo at school because he likes monsters and creepy stuff, Alex is highly relatable in his most vulnerable moments, which makes his moments of courage, connection, triumph all the sweeter. Yasmin has been captive for so long and seen so many kids disappear that she refuses to be friends with Alex at first, though the two eventually become a great team. Several of the now-vanished kids offered the right help at the right time.
Violence & Scariness
For some readers, the most harrowing part of the story will be scenes where Alex thinks about his parents discovering he's gone, and when he wakes briefly and thinks he's home. Premise of being held captive, knowing other kids have also been there and never been seen again is scary. Constant threat that the witch will do something terrible as well. And you'll never get home. But there's more subtle violence underlying this story, whose events are set in motion when Alex is branded a freak by his teachers and classmates because he covered his notebook with monster stickers.
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Alex is frequently on the receiving end of name-calling, including "weirdo," "freak," and "loser."
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Products & Purchases
Occasional references to actual commercial products and works of art -- e.g., Froot Loops, Night of the Living Dead.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Nightbooks by J.A. White (The Thickety) is a creepy tale with elements of the Brothers Grimm and the Arabian Nights, in which a boy is held captive by a witch in a magical apartment and forced to tell stories every night to stay alive. Between the creepiness of the situation and the relatable description of young Alex's feelings as he thinks of his mom discovering him gone, this tale may be too much for sensitive souls, but the rewards are huge: a thrilling plot, with strong messages of self-acceptance, being who you are, being a good friend, and problem-solving -- as well as quite a few short, creepy stories and much discussion of the writer's craft and how to make storytelling work for you.
Where to Read
Based on 3 parent reviews
Good, but Not PG at all
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What's the Story?
Alex, who loves monsters and creepy stuff, hates being called a weirdo, so in the dead of night he goes to burn his NIGHTBOOKS, in which he's been writing his own scary tales, so that he can be a normal person. Unfortunately, he's taken captive -- in a magic apartment in his building in New York City -- by a witch, who makes it pretty clear that he's never going home. However, she needs a storyteller to appease whatever it is that's trying to destroy the building, so some of those scary tales come in handy. Meanwhile, Alex finds another kid being held captive, along with evidence that there used to be lots more. What happened to them?
Is It Any Good?
Author J.A. White is in top form in this tale of a horror-loving kid who's captured by a witch in modern-day New York City and forced to tell scary stories. Nightbooks isn't for everyone, especially more sensitive readers, but it's full of rewards, from lots of useful information for budding writers to strong messages of friendship and self-acceptance, as its relatable characters face numerous perils.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about stories that use elements from other stories (like "Hansel and Gretel" here) to create something new. Do you think this approach works well in Nightbooks? What elements do you recognize from other stories?
Have you ever been stuck in a bad situation you didn't think you'd ever escape? What happened?
If someone you knew plastered stickers of monsters all over his notebook, would you think he was weird or cool?
- Author: J.A. White
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
- Publication date: July 24, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 15, 2019
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