I absolutely loved Book 1 of No Place For Monsters, and Merritt really outdid himself on Book 2.
We join Levi and Kat in early March, and life has returned to normal at least until snowmen start popping up all over town.
In this installment, we get to see more family dimensions as the kids are growing up and trying to find their place. Levi is still an over-protective big brother, driving Twila crazy. To counter their “close” relationship, School of Phantoms highlights the opposite kind of family. Donte, by all outward accounts, hates his little brother Jordan and tells him that he makes Donte look bad because Jordan likes bugs, has a big heart and just wants to help. Obviously, Twila and Jordan hit it off and soon realize they have a lot in common.
A snowstorm traps all the students, faculty, and staff in the school, and the fun begins.
Kat is still the true explorer, forging ahead in her pursuit of all things unusual. Twila and Jordan use each other’s strengths to the team’s advantage. After the team is separated, Donte is faced with every big brother’s nightmare–accepting that they deeply love their younger sibling no matter how “annoying” they can be. But the stars of the book, for me, are Mrs. Padilla (their 6th-grade teacher) and Mr. Chuck (the sci-fi, conspiracy-loving custodian who has some of the best lines in the book).
In one scene, when the group is fighting against the Boojum (again), they are faced with answering questions–answer correctly or become part of the harvest. Mrs. Padilla rises to the occasion (as do the kids) to challenge the status-quo in learning. It’s not about what a “watered-down textbook” says is the right answer; it’s about learning how to ask the right question and understand that little is so absolute.
The illustrations relay so much of the character’s emotions that they tug at your heartstrings, especially when Levi realizes something about his teacher that he will never be able to explain or make her understand. Her story makes him realize how very different his life would be if they had not defeated the Boojum in Book 1.
Mr. Chuck reminds me so much of Louis from the Wayside School series that he makes me laugh in each of his scenes. I was waiting for someone to mention Dr. Who and laughed aloud when he said it. For a bit of a spoiler (without being a real spoiler), the Boojum King’s helpers in this installment are the love children of Dr. Who’s Snowmen and the Weeping Angels (with a little Stephen King/horror icons homage thrown in by the illustrator).
School of Phantoms is an amazing follow-up to a great book, and I can’t wait for another installment.