Chris Priestley is a master of the horror genre for children and his latest for Barrington Stoke, Freeze, is a story that is perfect for young readers who enjoy reading books that teeter just over the edge from exciting and unsettling to down right scary.
When her alarm clock wakes Maya she gets ready for the day ahead and is suddenly aware of an intense sense of foreboding. However her day starts like any other, meeting up with her three best friends and entering the school library. A new supply teacher asks Maya and her classmates to write winter-themed creepy stories and they come up with some brilliantly spooky ideas. As Maya listens to the others reading their stories aloud she finds herself becoming part of the events they recount, experiencing the unsettling events as though they are real. When a mysterious new girl stands up to read her tale reality and story merge in a chilling manner.
The blending of the familiar and the sinister is particularly effective in this selection of stories within a story. The setting in a school feels secure and normal to young readers and gradually the sense of foreboding, the tension and the discomfort is increased as the stories become steadily more dark and scary. Chris Priestley writes with an understanding of the fear generated by that blurring of reality and imagination, the dreams that can become nightmares all too easily and takes his readers carefully towards and across that boundary between exciting and scary.
The story writing session starts with a brainstorm of ideas during which the children suggest many of the recognisable elements of winter spooky stories: sinister snowman and dangerous frozen rivers, frost, floods and, the almost inevitable mention of creepy puppets, included whatever the season. The stories created by the children weave together some of these ideas and incorporate historical stories told to act as a warning of danger, folk tale and urban myths, all of them featuring four children.
The author also plays on that uncomfortable feeling of ‘Did I dream it or did it really happen?’ The sharing of the experiences by the four friends magnifies the feeling of involvement. Chris Priestley’s dark and brooding illustrations hint at the fear to come before it arrives in the text and this increases as the story progresses. The build up to the climax is so well done that when I finished reading this I went straight back to the beginning and I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Freeze would be an excellent story to read on dark autumn evenings, Halloween or in the depths of winter. I can imagine it working well in school classrooms as a book to read aloud and also as a story writing prompt or for art ideas. A deliciously spooky story and thanks to Barrington Stoke this is presented in a super readable style making it accessible to a wide range of readers.
I should like to thank the publishers for my review copy. Freeze was published on 2nd September and you can find out more and order a copy on the Barrington Stoke website.