Written by Carl Reiner, Illustrated by James Bennett
Little Brown and Company, 2003
Before we begin…I hope you’ll like this story, but if it gets too scary for you, just say, “Stop reading!” and I’ll stop, because I love you very much.
What made this author famous? Carl Reiner is an Emmy and Grammy winning comedian, actor, director, producer and writer who has been in show business for more than 60 years.
The man tells the story of when he was a boy and a mysterious man named John Neewollah moved in next door. The boy sees something fall out of one of his new neighbor’s moving boxes and when he picks it up, it’s a marble that looks like an eye. He goes to Mr. Neewollah’s house to return it, but sees something scary under a cloth in the basement. Taking a closer look through the window, he falls into the basement and Mr. Neewollah asks him what he’s doing there. The boy returns the marble and Mr. Neewollah takes him into his workshop, where there are lots more eye marbles. The lights go out and the boy sees red eyes glowing in the darkness. Then he sees a terrifying monster, who claims to have eaten his neighbor. The boy tries to run, but then the monster asks him to help with his zipper and he realizes that it’s his neighbor in a mask. They play around with the masks for a while and the boy takes one home to scare his parents.
Author Carl Reiner repeatedly checks in with the reader throughout the book to see if the story is too scary or if they’re willing to keep going. I can tell you that, as a particularly skittish kid, I probably would have bailed on this story, as it would have been too creepy for little scaredy-cat me. The younger version of my son would have loved it, although he likely would have claimed that the pictures were keeping him from sleeping. If you haven’t figured it out, the neighbor’s name, Neewollah, is Halloween backwards, which Mr. Reiner points out at the end of the book.
The illustrations, from James Bennett, really dial up the creepy factor in this story, giving the smiling Mr. Neewollah an appearance that somehow manages to be friendly yet with just the right touch of ‘possibly menacing’ to leave you unsettled from the first time you see him. There are lots of dark spaces in the illustrations, leaving a lot to the imagination. The mask picture, though, is really scary looking, even in the following pictures where Mr. Neewollah is pulling the mask off of his face. It might be a great book for helping nervous kids understand that things are usually not as scary as they seem, but I would caution parents to take a look at the pictures first and determine if they think it’s maybe too intense for their little ones.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that many things that seem scary are truly not dangerous at all.