The Curse of the Were-Hyena
Author: Bruce Hale
Published July 5th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Summary: What do you do when your favorite teacher starts turning into a were-hyena?
a) Flee in terror?
b) Try to cure him?
c) Bring him carrion snacks?
Mr. Chu, the coolest teacher ever, has developed some very unusual habits, like laughing hysterically for no reason, sniffing people’s homework, and chasing chickens. When best friends Carlos and Benny decide to find out what’s happening to him, they get caught up in some moonlight madness. And it looks like just the beginning of the weirdness that has arrived in the town of Monterrosa. . . . This first entry in a silly, sassy, and suspenseful new series will leave readers howling with laughter.
About the Author: Edgar-nominated author Bruce Hale is passionate about inspiring reluctant readers to read. He has written or illustrated more than 35 seriously funny books for children, including the popular School for S.P.I.E.S. and Chet Gecko Mysteries series; as well as picture books such as Clark the Shark, Snoring Beauty, and Big Bad Baby. An actor and a Fulbright Scholar in Storytelling, Bruce is in demand as a speaker, having presented at conferences, universities, and schools around the world. Bruce’s book The Malted Falcon was an Edgar Award Finalist and Murder, My Tweet won the Little D Award for Humor Writing. He lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife and dog.
Review: There are so many kids who are going to love this new series! It immediately reminded me a bit of the Bailey School Kids series because it does such a good job being funny and scary (but not TOO scary; just enough), so this series is going to be a wonderful ladder between Bailey School and Goosebumps. I also really liked the easy inclusion of a diverse cast of characters. This will help a wide variety of readers to see themselves in one of the characters.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to a good Halloween or full moon read aloud and definitely a classroom library addition, The Curse of the Were-Hyena would be a good cross-curricular read because of the projects Mr. Chu has his students do as well as the interesting look into African art. First, Mr. Chu assigns an oral report on “Something that Makes me Crazy.” This would be a fun tie in to the book, and it would be a good public speaking opportunity. There is also mention of a social studies project which seems to be about traditions of cultures from around the world. These two things in addition to the African art (and even the moon cycle and comics) help the book tie into different subjects. Lasly, Hale’s use of imagery throughout the book makes for a perfect reading or writing mentor text.
Discussion Questions: What clues were there that Mr. Chu was a were-hyena and not a werewolf?; Predict as you read about who you think the alpha were-hyena is. Were you right? What clues did you miss?; Benny and Carlos went about solving the mystery in a quite dangerous way. How would you have done it?
Flagged Passages: “As I reached for my final item, the mauled tennis show, Mr. Chu surprised me. He peeled back his lips and growled–a serious growl, like a Doberman giving one last warning before taking off your arm. His eyes rolled upward, showing only the whites, which totally creeped me out.
All the little hairs on my body stood straight up. It felt like someone had dumped a six-gallon Slushie down my back.” (p. 6)
Author’s Guest Post!: I asked Bruce his formula for writing creepy books for kids, and he shared these secrets with us!
“Scaring kids for fun and profit”
When my wife and I were sharing the movies from childhood that really creeped us out, I couldn’t wait to show her The Omega Man, a movie that gave me nightmares when I was young. “This’ll knock your socks off,” I told her. When we watched it, however, we both burst out laughing at the cheesy special effects and stilted dialog. (To be honest, her movie, Monkey Shines, was no 28 Days Later either.)
That got me thinking. Tastes change. What scares kids can be quite different from what scares adults. And when it comes to writing creepy tales for the younger set, it’s good to bear three things in mind.
It’s the antici…pation
Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “There’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Writing scary stuff for kids isn’t just about piling on the startling scares; it’s largely about setting up expectations. That’s where true suspense lies. For example, if a kid is walking down a dark street and suddenly a monster pops out, that’s a surprise. Suspenseful? Not so much.
However, if everyone tells your young hero that something has been making neighborhood pets disappear, and that they’ve heard strange growls outside at night, that sets up an expectation. Then, when she’s forced to take a nighttime walk, it will be fraught with the terrors of her imagination. Every twig that snaps, every shadow that looms becomes a threat. And after all that anticipation, when the monster finally shows, the suspense goes off the charts.
Hold the murder
A dash of violence is fine, if it stays on the cartoony side. But when writing for middle-graders, it’s best to stay away from explicit murder and bloodshed. Kids that age can’t handle it. Or if you must get gory, see if you can keep most of the bloodletting offstage. Even the Goosebumps books, which were spooky to the max, didn’t feature any onstage murder.
Of course, just because nobody’s getting killed doesn’t mean you can’t make things scary. Close calls, chases, betrayals and so forth will keep the fear factor going just fine. And your readers won’t miss the murder.
Find the safety in scariness
When I was a kid, I reveled in scary movies—heck, I even had a shelf-full of hand painted classic monsters like Wolf-Man and The Mummy. But I liked the movies best when they weren’t too scary. It’s the same thing for young readers today. There’s a limit to how much actual, pulse-pounding terror is appropriate for 8-12 year-olds.
That’s why, when I wrote The Curse of the Were-Hyena, I deliberately sought a balance between humor and chills. By leavening the scariness with jokes, I made it less threatening. Of course, the trick is to find that happy balance. Make it too jokey, and the creepiness is lost. Make it too scary, and your readers hide under the covers.
If you manage to pull off all three of these things, you just might have crafted a scary tale that keeps young readers glued to your pages. Whether they roll their eyes when they re-read it as adults is another matter entirely.
Read This If You Loved: Goosebumps (series) by RL Stine, Bailey School Kids (series) by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey
The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena Howling Good Giveaway!
Ten winners will receive a copy of Bruce Hale’s The Curse of the Were-Hyena. Four Grand Prize winners will receive The Curse of the Were-Hyena plus an advance reading copy of the second book in the series, Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! And as a bonus, Grand Prize winners will also get a signed photo of Bruce Hale disguised as a were-wolf! Click here to enter.
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for hosting the tour and providing a copy for review!!**