This is a review of a children’s series, so childless adults or those who do not have an overdeveloped sense of nostalgia for children’s literature may feel free to look away.
For those of you that are still here, let me refer you to what is perhaps the most enjoyable children’s book series ever, of all time. The Bunnicula series is named for a vampire bunny who relieves vegetables of their juices, leaving them white and withered, a mystery to the owners of the refrigerators they formerly inhabited. The books are narrated by a large sheepdog named Harold, who enjoys many dog-like activities such as lying by the fire, chewing on running shoes, and eating snacks meant for humans, including chocolate cupcakes (NOTE: do not feed your dog chocolate cupcakes. It will die). Harold’s companion Chester is an uncommonly intelligent housecat, who reads philosophy and classical literature in his spare time, and whose early brush with Edgar Allen Poe has given him an unhealthy obsession with mystery. Harold and Chester live with the Monroes, a typical suburban family made up of a college professor father, a lawyer mother, and two rambunctious sons.
In Bunnicula, the first book of the series, Harold and Chester’s relatively idyllic existence is threatened by newcomer Bunnicula, a rabbit found abandoned in a revival movie theatre that just happened to be playing Dracula when he was found by the Monroe family. At Bunnicula’s entry to the household, white vegetables start showing up, sucked dry of their juices and pigment (best not to think about the biological implications, here). Chester leads the reluctant Harold on a maniacal quest to catch Bunnicula at his own game, and alert the Monroe family to his dastardly deeds. The results are mixed, but the sheer fun of the journey can’t be overstated. Harold is an endearingly reliable narrator, and the beleaguered relationship between him and Chester is reason alone to pick up the series for any kids of your acquaintance. Bunnicula was written by James Howe and his wife Deborah, and after her early death, James continued the series on his own.
Howliday Inn is the follow up to Bunnicula, and my personal favorite of the series. To be honest, I was always much more interested in Harold and Chester’s dynamics than the vampire bunny convention, even as a kid. Bunnicula doesn’t speak, much less make jokes, which made him much less interesting to childhood me (and adult me, for that matter). Howliday Inn dispatches with Bunnicula and the Monroe family, setting its plot at Chateau Bow-Wow, a kennel cutesily marketed as the Waldorf-Astoria for house-pets. Chateau Bow-Wow turns out to be much more along the lines of an Econo Lodge off the freeway, as Harold and Chester find out when they stay there while the Monroe family is on vacation. Replete with a sinister doctor, two incompetent staff hands, and a cast of fellow guests that range from a lunatic cat, a dachshund couple who may or may not be werewolves, and a love triangle made up of an English bulldog and two poodles: one French, and the other a Southern Belle. Howliday Inn is an old-school murder mystery. As the pets staying at the Chateau Bow-Wow disappear one by one, it puts on in mind as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, except funnier. As usual, Chester leads the crime-solving endeavor, until unthinkable disaster strikes and Harold is forced to take a reluctant leading role.
The Celery Stalks at Midnight reintroduces the titular Bunnicula, as the tiny vampire rabbit goes missing, leaving a string of whitened, dried up vegetables on his trail. This book marks the introduction of Howie, newest member of the Monroe family, a somewhat dimwitted dachshund with a propensity to howl. The Celery Stalks At Midnight was the first book I ever read of the series. It was loaned to me by my old babysitter, Heather Allison, and I was immediately hooked. Besides the first three, there are four other books in the Bunnicula series: Nighty Nightmare, A Return to Howliday Inn, Bunnicula Strikes Again! and Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow (why yes, that is another reference to Edgar Allan Poe). All are witty and wildly enjoyable, and a great choice for either a) reading to your kids, especially if you’ve already mowed through all the Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and J.K. Rowling, and b) reading yourself, in a fit of nostalgia, while Hurricane Sandy rages through your backyard (I’m way too much of a wimp for most scary books, so it was that or Sherlock Holmes).
I bought these for my nephew’s sixth birthday this year and “read them to him,” by which I mean I read him a chapter and then, after he fell asleep, sneaked them out of his room and devoured them all in one go. I highly recommend you do the same.
Recommended for: bored parents and their brainy children.
Read when: the electricity has just gone out during a thunderstorm.
Listen with: rain, wind, and the occasional burst of thunder.