* Prices may differ from that shown
'Terror in Cubicle Four' is the first of a series which contains 10 books ( to my knowledge) by author B. Strange. The series is called 'Too Ghoul for School', and is the adventures of a group of students at St. Sebastian's School, and the ghosts who live in the sewers and underground caverns beneath the school. It seems St. Sebastian's was built over a plague pit. Most of the ghost would prefer to spend eternity in peace and quiet. A noisy school over their heads doesn't suit them at all. At least one ghost, the ghost of a young boy named William Scroggins sees the intruders differently though. He is sent above as a spy, but seems to very much enjoy mixing with young people. Going to school is real privilege he never enjoyed in life - and I think he will feature in many of the books to come.
The main characters are three year 7 boys. James is the new kid, whose family has been forced to move after his father was laid off work. Alexander is the smart headmasters son, and Lenny the likable misfit with a love for any kind of animal. The boys are the natural targets of bullies, but the bully certainly gets his comeuppance in this book. The boys are likable, believable characters, and I believe many children of this age will be able to easily relate to the boys.
The ghosts are determined to frighten the humans away, using tricks such as sending horrid slime erupting from the toilets, and even a decomposed arm from a plague victim. There are some illustrations in this book, and this is shown as a rather moldy limb with bits of flesh falling off. It is in remarkably good condition for being over 650 years old. It's a shame the pictures are black and white as colour would have made this a bit more gruesome. The children however, are determined to keep the school open, and decide to scare the ghosts away instead. They decide to use Lenny's pet sewer rat, which he has found injured and nursed back to health, with a few special effects courtesy of the girls, and convince the ghosts the plague has returned. This book is obviously just the first round as the two groups square off for possession of St Sebastian's.
My son ( age 7) read this book easily on his own before choosing it as a bedtime story for me to read. This book is on the same general reading level as Horrid Henry, and I suspect will appeal very much to the same set of children. It relies heavily on toilet humour, and jokes involving the boys slagging each other a bit. My son especially liked a part where the boys tease another boy after one of the girls uses her make up for special effects on the rat. Alexander teases his friend James ( who has a terrible crush on Stacey Carmichael); "you'll have him snogging the rat if he thinks he can get a taste of Stacey Carmichael's lipstick". This may not seem especially amusing to an adult, but to a seven year old boy, this stuff is hilarious. He also very much enjoyed what happens to the school bully, and I expect most children will find this entertaining.
My son is very much into his graphic novels and comic books now, and I'm afraid any of the paperback books take second place now compared to his comics. Still graphic novels are terribly expensive, and I can only afford a small number, very slowly building his collection up, so he must rely on other books as well to keep from reading the same things over and over. At only £1.79 delivered for a used book from Amazon, these books are an easy way to keep his book shelf stocked and add a bit of variety to his reading. It may not be his favourite book, but he has enjoyed it enough to ask to hear it after reading it himself, and he was doing quite a bit of laughing when listening to this. When ordering new books, his first choice was of course graphic novels, but when I said he could have one cheap paperback as well he chose book two in this series. Of course he would have rather had yet another graphic novel, but there simply are not any in the same price range, and I also feel it best to keep reading materials as varied as possible.
I found the stories passable, but in all honesty, I'd rather read Horrid Henry, and I much prefer books like Young James Bond. I really can not see any adult choosing to read these unless they are reading them out loud to a child. Of course this is not great literature, but it does provide easy light reading with a childish sense of humour for children. I believe the most important thing as far as reading is just that children read as often as possible. Nothing builds reading skills like simply enjoying a book, and this is an inexpensive and entertaining book for young readers. This also brought on more questions about the bubonic plague, so we looked this up online, and I think he has learned just a little bit of history from this.
I would note that while this book features ghosts as main characters - this is in no way a horror book. There is absolutely nothing to frighten children. It is comedy. But in spite of being primarily jokes and laughs, this does address some real issues , such as bullying, and it does have some depth as far as the developing friendships of the children, and even considering the feelings of others.
I think this book has a rather limited age span. My three year old doesn't take a great deal of interest in it, and I can't really see the non toilet jokes and interactions between the children as appealing much to a child under 6. As far as reading level, I believe age 6 would be the minimum age to read this alone for most children as well. I also don't see the basic toilet humour and jokes this is based on appealing to children much older than 9, but I could be wrong. I would think older children would want a more realistic story with a more detailed plot. I expect this will appeal more to boys than girls as well, but that is a generalisation. I'm sure some girls would find it hilarious, but while I would have read it as a child - I would read anything - it would never have been my first choice. Ideally I would say this best suits boys from ages 6 -9.
I've debated a bit on what rating to give this. I don't feel it fair to deduct stars because I didn't find the story very interesting - it wasn't intended for adults. Nor do I think it fair to deduct stars for the fact that its just can't measure up to a graphic novel. The only fair comparison really would be to other paperback of this sort. My son does prefer Horrid Henry overall for a quick easy read, but he quite likes this for something different. I probably would not be buying these books if we had a good local library, but as we do not, I really feel the need to find enough inexpensive titles that he can always find something to read that hasn't been re read over and over too many times. I can easily add one or two of these to my monthly book shopping and keep a bit of variety in story time. The final deciding factor on which rating to give this was my son's laughter. I feel that anything that brought him so much laughter at such a low price desrves the full five stars.