I caught Gitty Daneshvari at the Little, Brown booth between sessions at ALA 2009 and she signed a copy of School of Fear for me. She was very friendly!
Imagine your worst fear. Madeleine, Theodore, Lulu, and Garrison's fears go deeper: they each have a phobia. Maddie is afraid of bugs. She lives covered in nets and bug spray. She insists that rooms be fumigated before she will enter. Theo is afraid of dying. So afraid, in fact, that he has created an elaborate system for his family to check in and prove that they're not dead. Lulu is claustrophobic. She won't even use an elevator. Garrison is afraid of deep water. He is an athlete, but will not swim. Their fears are so deep that they have affected the way the children live their lives. In order to help relieve them of their phobias, the children are sent to the School of Fear for the summer. This uber-secretive institution is run by the eccentric Mrs. Wellington from an exceptionally secluded location. What exactly happens at the school is anyone's guess. However, it is understood that the children will be sequestered for the summer and will be helped to overcome their fears.
Upon arrival, it becomes clear to the children that School of Fear is not an ordinary institution. It is held in Mrs. Wellington's home which is decorated in a 50's motif (original, not retro) and includes the "Fearnasium," a place for the children to work out their fears. Mrs. Wellington, a former beauty queen, imagines the children as contestants and puts them through a hilarious and ridiculous form of pageant training. The children wonder, however, just how this will help cure them of their phobias. Mrs. Wellington has an elaborate plan to help the children. Can she carry it out? As they story unfolds, along with the groundskeeper and cook Schmidty, the lawyer Munchauser, and Mrs. Wellington's bulldog Macaroni, the children realize that they will never forget their summer at the School of Fear.
When I first received this book from Little, Brown as a "Galley of the Week," I was taken by the cover. I'll be the first to admit that I am attracted to book covers. There has been a lot of buzz about this lately (Justine Larbalestier's post, John Green's post, a challenge found via A Chair, a Fire Place, and a Tea Cozy at Color Online) and I admit that I have a habit of snapping pictures of book covers (wherever I see them) so I can go to my trusty computer and find out what the book is "really about." The cover, as well as the art throughout the book, really does depict the feel of the book itself, which I like.
I also loved the language. There are several places throughout the book where I wanted to write notes because I wanted to remember how things were described or stated. My friend Kristin felt the same way, writing about it in an e-mail to me, " . . . there would be a line that was so pitch-perfect! There was one about how Mrs W. was never so alert and so insane as when she talked about pageantry that was priceless."
Finally, I learned about Casu Frazigu (a.k.a. maggot cheese) which I had never heard of before. Thank you, enlightening children's books, you may help me win a trivia game one day!
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari will be published September 1, 2009.