For some reason I have lately been out of the loop when it comes to books published by Random House. I think this is because they've been rather noncommittal about putting the children's catalogues up on Edelweiss. As a result, I did not know about this upcoming title until the author, David Neilsen, contacted me to see if I wanted an ARC. I immediately said yes, because Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom sounded like a creepily fun book. And so it is.
The children of Hardscrabble street have used an old abandoned brick house as an imaginative play area for years. When it finally sells, they mourn the loss. Jerry, Gail, and Nancy inform the mysterious new owner of this when they meet him on his first day in town. After Dr. Fell moves in, he builds a large intricate playground that is the stuff of childhood dreams. All of the children in the neighborhood immediately begin to play on it. Soon children from other neighborhoods are coming too. The playground is constantly full of children who have the inevitable accidents. When this occurs, Dr. Fell swoops them up and fixes their injuries. The parents are as enamored of him as their children. Before long, the entire town is under his spell. Everyone except for Jerry, Gail, and Nancy who are somehow immune to Dr. Fell's winning ways and the only ones who realize something has gone very very wrong in their ideal little town.
Jerry and Gail are siblings. Nancy is Gail's best friend. Jerry is two years younger than the girls, but his mind is sharp and he is well able to keep up with them. Nancy is outspoken, courageous, and snarky. She puts up with Jerry because he's Gail's brother but rarely misses a chance to insult him. Gail is the quiet one who usually goes with the flow and does not like conflict or causing trouble. Together the three kids are a truly great team. They go to great lengths to protect each other from the spell Dr. Fell weaves. Their determination to save each other and their town strong. I liked how much they needed each other too. This is one of those books you find frequently in MG fantasy where the adults are (mostly) of no use and the children are the ones who get to save the day. These books are popular with kids because the love this concept. They want to be heroes and losing themselves in a story like this allows them to be. I think kids are going to particularly enjoy this one due to the way the danger manifests itself.
Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is a quick read with a fast paced plot. Nielsen does not waste his words and each one is put to good use. There are chapter endings that beg the reader to keep going and the sentence level writing is truly excellent. It has a perfect cadence and rhythm. This is a book that begs to be read aloud. I particularly enjoyed how well the novel balances creepy with humor. It is incredibly Dahl-esque in that way. There are lines that are laugh out loud funny and moments of spine tingling terror. It is the sort of terror most kids love, the kind that makes them feel afraid while knowing they are still safe. The humor helps with this. It is exactly the right sort of book to hand 3rd through 6th graders who enjoy such things.
I highly recommend this one. Teachers should keep it mind for an October read aloud. The cover and length of the book make it an easy sell to kids and it is one they won't be disappointed in. I can not wait to share it with my son because I know he will love it. I don't say that lightly about him. He is incredibly choosy about his books.
I read an ARC I received courtesy of the author. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is on sale August 9th from Crown Books for Young Readers.