Aunt Morbelia and the Screaming Skulls

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Pocket Books, Nov 1, 1992 - Juvenile Fiction - 134 pages
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The peaceful life of a boy with dyslexia is interrupted when his great-aunt, who has a morbid fascination with ghosts and death omens, moves in.

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ISBN 0671747843 - Whatever you expect from this book when you look at the cover, forget about it. The depiction of an old lady who looks a little crazy with skulls all over the place almost belittles the story inside.
Todd has two parents, a dog, a crazy cat, a great group of friends... and dyslexia. Into this mix, he is told, is coming his father's great-aunt Morbelia. Todd's parents laugh over her superstitious ways, which makes Todd more than a little nervous about her arrival. This isn't helped by the fact that even his parents don't really seem to want her there. The family is welcoming and polite, but it is difficult for everyone to fit Morbelia into the family's life.
Morbelia is sad over the death of her sister - she wears black all the time, has an almost endless list of things that are bad omens, doesn't like Todd's cat OR the cat's name (Banshee) and isn't really thrilled about packing up her old life to start a new one, either. Especially since she's aware that she is, in a way, intruding. On the other hand, she's a great baker, a huge help to Todd in dealing with his learning disability and everyone (except Todd) seems to love hearing her scary stories. How the family learns to accept one another, to communicate openly and honestly, and to consider each other's feelings is superbly done - but do they learn these lessons in time? Or will Morbelia leave, believing that she is still unwanted?
I enjoyed the times that Morbelia got creative in helping Todd to learn things that he had trouble learning in more traditional ways. It was appropriate and in the background, but it was also nice that Todd's friend Rocky should slowly "become" a girl - they're 11 and it's about the right time for her to begin to spend time with other girls. More than that, I was really and truly shocked by how well Carris handled the end of the story: Todd becoming more sensitive to her age and much more aware of her feelings, and Morbelia herself helping him to do that, was a stunningly adult resolution of a book that had, to that point, seemed like just another kids' book.
More than almost any other book I've read in a long time, Aunt Morbelia is a realistic, touching story about growing up. Kids will read it for other reasons, but I think adults will find it makes them tear up a little when Todd and Morbelia connect at the end. A pleasant surprise in a fun, generally light tale.
- AnnaLovesBooks


The Terrible News
Aunt Morbelia Arrives
The Wail of the Banshee

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About the author (1992)

Carris is a former English teacher.

Doug Cushman was born in Springfield, Ohio and moved to Connecticut with his family when he was 15 years old. Cushman attended a private art school in Connecticut called the Paier School of Art. While in high school he created comic books, selling them to his classmates for a nickel a piece. He also drew a comic strip for the school newspaper. Since 1978 he has illustrated over 80 children's books, 14 of which he wrote himself. Aunt Eater Loves a Mystery is a Reading Rainbow book. Other awards include a notable trade book honor from the National Council of Teachers of English for King Karfu, a nomination for the 1998 Garden State Children's Book award for Aunt Eater's Mystery Christmas and the 1996 Rebuen Award for Magazine and Book Illustration sponsored by the National Cartoonists Society for King Karfu.

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