The Bookworm: Hair raising but no hair touching, please

Terri Schlichenmeyer


  • By Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
  • c. 2018, Putnam
  • $27, $36 Canada; 497 pages

It was just a little scratch. You wouldn’t have even noticed it, except for the blood – and there was a lot of that. A surprising amount, in fact, for such a small scuff on the side of your wrist, the end of your finger, the top of your thigh, or, as in the new novel, “Dracul” by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker, your neck.

He could hear the thing breathing.

“Dracul” by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.

It was a raspy sound, half-howl, part-groan, and Bram Stoker was running out of items he could bless to keep the creature from the room where he sat. He watched the door, fearing he would lose the battle before daybreak.

As he waited, Stoker remembered …

He’d been born a sickly child and had been confined to his bed in an attic room for much of his first decade of life. It was a time of famine in Dublin and he might’ve even died were it not for his father’s job, which allowed for care, a decent home, ample food, and a governess for the Stoker children.  

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Nanny Ellen Crone was stern, but loving, and the children adored her though she came and went as she pleased, which vexed Stoker’s mother. As Stoker remembered, Nanny Ellen saved his life during a particularly bad bout with his illness, but he couldn’t exactly recall how she’d done it. Not long after that, and a childishly impulsive chase through a bog (or was it a nightmare?), Ellen disappeared.

"Dracul" authors J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker

Didn’t she?  Many years later, Stoker’s sister thought she saw Ellen in Paris. His oldest brother thought he’d seen her in Clontarf. It was her but not her, looking as though she was still a girl.

Ellen would have been middle-aged by then, so how could that be? And why did Stoker still have wounds on his wrist that tormented him when he thought of her and the night she saved his life?

He thought about those things, as a beast or wraith or something scratched at his door …

Before you crack the cover of “Dracul,” make sure you have enough light bulbs. You’re going to want to use them to make your house nice and bright and safe because this may not be the most innovative premise for a novel, but it’s one of the scariest.

Gone from the classic tale is its original sense of distance; here, authors Dacre Stoker (a great-grandnephew of the real Bram) and J.D. Barker put Bram Stoker directly into a tale that dives, neck-first, into horror with hinted end-notes of truth. That’s excellent and it ratchets up the fright-factor, though it’s tempered when we’re asked to believe Stoker-as-seven-year-old is more intelligent and articulate than any mid-nineteenth-century adult might be.

But never mind. Stay, as this gothic novel with undertones of modernism gently draws you into a snarling sense of doom until you’re fully snared in a lock-the-doors, turn-on-the-lights scare-session. Stay, as you’ll race-read to get past the goose-bumpiest fright, heart galloping, hoping that the locks hold.

Stay, as “Dracul” leaves you scratching for air.

“Don’t Touch My Hair!”

  • By Sharee Miller
  • c. 2018, Little, Brown and Company
  • $17.99, $23.49 Canada; 40 pages

May I have that, please? That’s what you say when you want something, and people are impressed by your manners. You’re a kid who never just takes, you always ask first because you want the same kind of manners back. But in the new book “Don’t Touch My Hair!” by Sharee Miller, you might have to ask for them, too.

Aria loved her hair. She loved it because it was bouncy and curly, dark and soft. She loved it because it grew “up toward the sun like a flower,” and because she could do a whole bunch of different things with it, depending on her mood.

"Don't Touch My Hair!" by Sharee Miller

Problem was, everybody else loved her hair, too. And they all wanted to touch it.

Aria knew that people were trying to be nice. They were just curious because they didn’t have hair as bouncy-soft as hers. But nobody ever asked permission before touching, and that was a big problem!

She tried to hide, but they found her on land. She pretended to be a mermaid but even the ocean’s creatures wanted to touch her hair. The jungle was no better, and someone very large was waiting for her when she hid “in the tallest castle tower.” Not even a trip to the moon helped Aria – even moony creatures were fascinated by fluffy hair! And when she did finally find a spot with no reaching hands, it was a lonely place.

That wouldn’t work at all, so Aria just went home, hoping she could ignore the problem. She covered her hair with the hood of a sweat shirt but people still wiggled their fingers. Aria was at the end of her rope, and she let go.

More:The Bookworm: Blood-filled journey; tales of gore

She yelled and she screamed and she shook her arms. She stomped and she shouted. And finally, Aria stood up for herself, nicely. Because sometimes, “nicely” gets you what you want.

No. It’s such a simple word: two letters, one sound, one unambiguous meaning. It can be pretty powerful when used in the right situation, and in “Don’t Touch My Hair!” your child will learn that it’s a perfectly good word to say.

And yet, learning to use “No,” isn’t all your child will get here: this book also conveys deep appreciation for one’s assets, which is doubly important at a time when African American girls may struggle with curly-hair issues. Author Sharee Miller gives her little heroine total pride in her “soft and bouncy” locks, and that’s contagious. It almost hurts, later on, when Aria physically hides herself.

But back to that word: no. Through an over-the-top tale, Miller goes on to show that the desire not to be touched casually is a normal wish with a simple solution that won’t chase away friends. The empowerment to put that solution to work is in here, too.

For a child who dislikes handsy people, that’s a game-charger that promotes firm self-preservation, “nicely,” but with the right touch of sass. The 4-to-8-year-old kid who needs “Don’t Touch My Hair!”… shouldn’t she have that?

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.