“Hide and Don’t Seek” is a Halloween goody bag full of treats – and not a few tricks – that will appeal to any young reader with an appetite for thrills ‘n chills. Author Annica Mrose Rissi, formerly of Deer Isle, knows full well that for most middle-school-aged children, nothing is too creepy, too scary or too flat-out gross. With some notable exceptions, the 20 short scary stories and poems in this collection are artfully concocted and as quickly and easily consumed as a bag of candy corn (and yes, since you asked, I am going to flog this tortured Halloween-candy-metaphor to death). There’s no razor-in-an-apple here, but parents should be warned that this collection of stories is certain to be a gateway drug to Stephen King.

The stories include a tiny gem called “You’re It,” consisting entirely of a text message conversation between two unknown characters that commences, “Who’s this?” To which the answer is: “Your worst nightmare.” In a mere 300 or so words it manages to be just as scary as the famous “phone call coming from inside the house” horror movie scene.

Of the longer stories, three stand out. “Two Wishes” embodies the wisdom of the saying, Be careful what you wish for. In it, a girl wishes to be able to fly. But instead of growing feathery angel wings, she becomes an insect. And when her beloved twin brother wishes for the same fate in order to keep her company, the fate he meets is precisely what would have happened if Rod Serling had written the O. Henry story “Gift of the Magi.”

Even creepier, “Beatrice” is about a girl of that name who gets her dream present, a Looks Like Me Doll. The doll is a lifelike robot who wants to be Beatrice as much as Beatrice wants to have a look-alike toy companion. What happens after the doll convinces Beatrice to swap clothes is so artfully done and gave me such heebee jeebies I had to put the book down. This is a full-on, Twilight Zone-worthy story.

But the most ambitious, nuanced and successful of the short stories is one called “The Boy and the Crow.” This one is a parable that asks more of the reader than a simple ghost story. It concerns a boy who is delighted to have been selected to have a crow as an amanuensis who makes life easy for him by bringing him treats he hasn’t earned and smoothing the way for him in everything he does. Neither his sister nor his best friend is lucky enough to have been chosen to have a crow. The story grows more and more ominous as the benefits of being included in the crow-crony world become inseparable from the need to first exclude and then persecute those who aren’t part of the chosen crowd. It ends with the boy growing feathers and joining the “murder” of crows. The parallels to white privilege, racism, and the bully/fascist mentality are all the scarier for being so real.

There are a few failures in the “Hide and Don’t Seek” offerings, almost all of them poems. This is not because their subject matter doesn’t work (it does) but because too often they neither rhyme nor scan, and to my simple way of thinking, a rhyming poem should both rhyme and scan. Unless you’re a rapper or T. S. Eliot, you have to do better than rhyming children with hidden, or brothers with shudder. Sorry.

But that should not stop readers from enjoying the other goodies in this collection, any more than a few disappointing apples and boxes of raisins would stop anyone from devouring all the other sugary goodness of their Halloween candy haul.

Amy MacDonald is a children’s book author and freelance writer living in Vinalhaven. She may be reached at [email protected]

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