A werewolf, a cockatoucan, a giant snake, a blotall these belong in the Museum of Unnatural History, the storefront for the 826DC nonprofit organization. Of course these unnatural creatures exist only in fiction, the kind of creative writing supported by 826DC and beloved of superstar writer Neil Gaiman, who curates this volume with the help of Maria Dahvana Headley. Sixteen short stories by sixteen authors, from old to brand-new, beloved to awaiting-discovery, each assured to raise hairs, produce chuckles, or both. Gaiman introduces each story with an author bio and/or story anecdote; clearly some of these stories are beloved standards for him while others are exciting new introductions, giving a personable air to this delightfully creepy and playful book. Some tales are newly produced for this volume, and some are decades old; the breadth of topic and style makes for fascinating reading. Likewise some authors may be very familiar to seasoned readers (Peter S. Beagle, Samuel R. Delany, Diana Wynne Jones) while others are more recent standouts (Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Okorafor) or recently-minted (E. Lily Yu). A couple of the stories strain the definition of "short story," changing the book's pacing in a way sticklers may find disagreeable. Unnatural Creatures is a chameleonic anthology with something for everyone to love and someone for every reader to discover. Reviewer: Lisa Martincik
Gaiman gathers 16 stories featuring magical beasts and monsters--dangerous ones, mostly--as a benefit volume for a creative writing program, 826 DC. The Newbery winner contributes his name and selection duties, a short preface, quick introductions to the tales and a previously published short--an homage to R.A. Lafferty featuring a captured phoenix and a jaded group of epicures--to the project. Other entries, all but three of which are reprints, range from Frank R. Stockton's "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" and other older classics to Peter S. Beagle's eerily elegant "Come Lady Death," Avram Davidson's chilling closet fantasy "Or All the Seas with Oysters," a Chrestomanci tale from Diana Wynne Jones and artfully discomfiting contributions from younger writers (including the co-editor). Each opens with a small, dark, fine-grained image of a creature or partial figure that sets an appropriately ominous tone for what follows. Light on new material but solid choices overall--recommended for daylight reading only. (author bios) (Short stories. 10-14)
In this striking anthology of 16 stories of strange and incredible creatures (most previously published), Gaiman and Headley have included several classic tales, such as Frank R. Stockton’s delightful “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” (1885), which concerns the unlikely friendship between a monster and a minister; Saki’s mordant werewolf tale “Gabriel-Ernest” (1909); and Anthony Boucher’s astonishingly silly “The Compleat Werewolf” (1942). There are also fine stories from such major contemporary fantasy writers as Peter S. Beagle, Samuel Delany, Diana Wynne Jones, and Gaiman himself. Particularly pleasurable are the stories by newer writers, such as Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Smile on the Face,” which demonstrates the benefits of channeling one’s inner hamadryad; E. Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” an animal fable with a sting in its tale; and Nnedi Okorafor’s original story “Ozioma the Wicked,” which concerns “a nasty little girl whose pure heart had turned black,” but who nonetheless saves her village from a monstrous snake. Teens with a yen for the fantastic would be hard pressed to find a better place to start. The collection benefits literacy nonprofit 826DC. Ages 13–up. (May)
In true Gaiman fashion, these stories are macabre, subversive, and just a little bit sinister. His fans will eat this up—ravenously.
Gr 9 Up—The 16 short stories in this anthology contain accounts of delightfully fantastical creatures, ranging from the familiar (werewolves, mermaids, griffins, and unicorns) to the chillingly mysterious (an ever-expanding, flesh-eating blob; a strange bird that spurs unpredictable changes to its surroundings; and even Death herself). Classic science fiction and fantasy authors Anthony Boucher, Frank R. Stockton, Peter S. Beagle, E. Nesbit, and Diana Wynne Jones are represented, as are contemporary authors such as Nnedi Okorafor, E. Lily Yu, and Gaiman himself. From the first page, Gaiman appeals to a sense of imagination, prefacing each story with a brief personal commentary, causing readers to stop and ponder questions they never knew they had. Who would a griffin eat? What does a phoenix taste like? What happens when you question an invisible dragon? Why are there always too many coat hangers? All of these questions, and more, are answered here. Some of the stories are silly, some heartbreaking, and some profound, but all are guaranteed to make readers' hair stand on end.—Liz Overberg, Darlington Middle School, Rome, GA