Wednesday, August 10, 2011


By Stephen Krensky

(Lerner Publications, 2007)

Upfront admission: I have zero interest in the vampire craze in movies, television and books. Still, I checked out Stephen Krensky’s 48-page nonfiction book Vampires, genuinely curious to see how the subject is presented to young readers. (I would say this book is intended for students in grades four and five.)

The book starts out strongly, with a playful, informative writing style. Krensky notes, “A vampire peasant...might come back from the grave seeking revenge against a cruel nobleman....But what if, on the way to the nobleman’s castle, the new vampire ran into someone else, someone he didn’t even know? Well, he would probably stop for a little snack” (p. 8). There is no citation to any research to support this “fact” about vampire folklore, but it will amuse nonetheless.

Krensky refers to ancient depictions of vampires across different cultures before devoting the remainder of the book to vampire versions originating in Eastern Europe, finding their way into nineteenth century literature and then being popularized in movies and television. As he provides nutshell summaries of many movies, the book—you know the following phrase is irresistible—loses its bite. Krensky loses an understanding of the book’s target audience. I doubt young readers will care about the 1960s TV show “Dark Shadows” or even Stephen King’s 1975 book Salem’s Lot. A one-page chronology of vampires in film and television would suffice.

Other sections deserve more depth, including the aforementioned early references to vampires across cultures. Each rendition ought to have at least a full page. Children would be interested in learning more about vampire children known as dhampirs, a topic that gets only a three-sentence sidebar. As well, the real medical disorders lumped together as porphyria deserve more than the sidebar treatment. Here is a chance to chronicle how a real condition has been lumped with vampire folklore. Further, the single paragraph about Count von Count on “Sesame Street” could be expanded as a twist on the scarier vampires in entertainment. Same with the Bunnicula book series. Quotes from a “Sesame Street” producer and author James Howe would strengthen the research base for the book. While not as scary as many depictions, these references to vampires are more relatable to the book’s target audience than Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

It is also unfortunate that, just as the book loses its potency, a few glaring errors arise. A movie photo of George Hamilton in the 1979’s “Love at First Bite” is credited in a caption as being from the 1995 movie starring Leslie Nielsen, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It”. Moreover, on two consecutive pages (38 and 39), the text fails to carryover to the next page, unfortunate publishing oversights. These errors support a hunch that there was a desire to rush this book into the vampire-crazed publishing market.

As a nonfiction book, the high interest subject matter in Vampires may prove useful in showing how to use text features such as a table of contents, headings, captions, sidebars, a bibliography, internet links and an index.

I recommend that young readers suck up what they can from the first thirty pages and then move on to a book about werewolves, haunted houses or, so as not to alarm parents and teachers, a gentle book on butterflies. Best to keep the adults a little perplexed.

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