My love for horror culture began as early as my Sesame Street years. I always made it a point to stay tuned after the ‘Street’ to watch the sometimes-spooky adventures of Doctor Who. As I grew older, kiddie-targeted horror films like Monster Squad, The Gate, Watcher in the Woods and Gremlins perfectly served my need for a good scare. When it came to reading, I could always turn to a good Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine book. Though I did sneak around and discover Jason, Freddy, and Stephen King at a way-too-young age, when my mom caught me, I still had many age-appropriate options in all mediums to fall back on.

Today’s kids may not have the same type of kid-targeted scare flicks, nor can I imagine the same Gremlins licensing program in place today, but there is plenty of printed material to provide a friendly fright. While surfing one of my favorite fanboy magazines, I chanced upon a new all-ages graphic novel that immediately piqued my interest. Released late last year, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (Arcana Studios, $14.95) introduces the renowned horror writer to a new audience.

Lovecraft Front Cover
Howard and his huggable pet

When it comes to the horror and phantasmagoric images that often make up the storylines, much of it traces back to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, or H.P. Lovecraft as he is often known. Most prolific in the early 1900’s, Lovecraft is known for his fantasy and science fiction-infused horror, described as “weird fiction” at the time. Usually centering on a protagonist trying to hold fast to his sanity while coming to terms with earth-shattering “cosmic horror,” his novels were also built around his own complicated fictional alien lore called the Cthulhu Mythos. His short stories and novellas were often referred to as paranoid, grim and sometimes xenophobic.

This is all heady, complicated stuff that is anything but kid-friendly. However, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom from Bruce Brown, with art by Renzo Podesta, brings Lovecraft to an all-ages audience. While the book does not talk down to them, it also does not require them to contemplate humanity’s place in the universe. The story itself uses the actual H.P. Lovecraft as the center of the story, focusing on a six-year-old protagonist named Howard Lovecraft. The story also employs some actual biographical facts, including his father’s commitment to a sanitarium. In this novel, Howard’s mother gives him an old book supposedly written by his institutionalized dad. When Howard reads the book, he accidently opens up a hole to another world. There, young Howard is forced to battle evil monstrosities and save the Frozen Kingdom, alongside his new pal, the giant creature he affectionately calls Spot.

Author Bruce Brown shows respect for his young audience from page one, choosing a quote from Edgar Allen Poe to set the tone for the novel and to let readers know he isn’t talking down to them. Podesta’s art also shows the same type of dark sophistication seen in some of the adult horror comics, while not being too graphic to scare off young readers. There is nothing they haven’t seen in the stylized worlds of a Harry Potter film, with the main character given a softer look I would describe as manga-meets-Secret of Kells. The “Lovecraftian” world of hidden tomes, secret universes and monstrous beings also exists in Brown’s book, yet the hopeless dread is scaled back. And where a real Lovecraft story may be solely focused on the protagonist’s intellectual journey into madness, this novel focuses more on the adventurous aspects, something that is easier to grasp for a younger crowd. Humor wasn’t exactly one of Lovecraft’s trademarks, but ‘Frozen Kingdom’ also adds this in, having some fun with the eccentricities of the monstrous creations.

This book is the type of stuff I would have gravitated to as a youth, yet was often hard to find. I also recommend this novel for the vocabulary challenges. No, it won’t send kids running to the dictionary/Wikipedia every two seconds, but Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom doesn’t shy away from “big people” words. Finally, for genre-loving parents like myself, this is a great way to get your tween/teen interested in the works of a classic writer while showing them that horror didn’t start with twinkling vampires and sexy werewolves. Bruce Brown is hoping to turn the story of the young ‘Howard Lovecraft’ into a trilogy, if sales permit. We hope you will go grab a copy so we can make it happen!

Purchase your copy now and/or read a few sample pages on the official site.

Sample Artwork
Howard gets his surprise tome

Sample Frame
Howard meets Spot

The last time I got out the list format was when I pitched 5 Reasons Gustafer Yellowgold is the Coolest (or Hottest) Kids Concept. With my introduction to Clementown, I feel the need to passionately get on the soapbox once again and drive the point home about this amazingly talented and unabashedly hip music group.

Like many kids’ music projects, Clementown was brought to life when founding members and real-life couple Kate Lynch and Chris Beaty decided to stop complaining about kids’ music and make their own. Kate Lynch already had experience as a commercial vocalist, musician, dancer and creative movement teacher and Chris Beaty was an Academy Award winning composer. They had fallen in love with Calef Brown’s colorful and wholly offbeat book of poems and illustrations called Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, so they took their band name from his poem “Clementown.”

Clementown
The crazy kids of Clementown

The Calef Brown tie-in was taken a step further when the band decided their first kid-centric project would be Polkabats and Octopus Slacks − The Music!. This 2009 release is comprised of 28 musical interpretations of the marvelously nonsensical poems and folk-art in Calef Brown’s ‘Polkabats’ book and its follow-up “Dutch Sneakers and Fleakeepers.”

Clementown’s first album has since gone on to find critical acclaim and a loyal following in their Minneapolis hometown and the kindie music market. And, Calef Brown himself is quite impressed. “I was just blown away,” said Brown in the Minneapolis’ Southwest Journal. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect that: having every song like a gem, so different from the next.”

You need to take a day trip to this weird and wonderful little town. Here are my Top 5 Reasons To Visit Clementown:

1. Genre-hopping madness

I have never heard a band, regardless of the target age demographic, skip around genres so much and do it so well. Clementown seamlessly switches its musical sound for each of the 28 songs on Polkabats and Octopus Slacks − The Music! to best represent each of Brown’s poems. Just a few examples include Blaxploitation-style soul, low-fi rock, call-and-response blues, buzzy-garage rock, sunny Brit-pop, beat-driven electro, cool jazz, carnival instrumentation and surf music. Their vocal styles and instrumentations faultlessly adapt to each genre making it a fun musical journey for adults and children alike.

Calef Brown's Books
Source material

2. A fitting homage to its source material

Calef Brown’s poetry books are truly one-of-kind experiences: a little bit Dr. Seuss, a little bit Shel Silverstien, but mostly his own original folk-art accompanied tales. In the hands of a lesser band, I can see his work being turned into cloying ditties with no appeal to anyone outside of a toddler demographic. But Clementown seem to truly understand Brown’s visions, and the music style they choose for each song perfectly aligns with the illustrations and words and feels spot-on. Like his actual poems, each song paints a little picture. Listen and you will hear stories of an octopus and his new bell-bottoms, a snowman who loves to dance, snails with a penchant for pudding, a surfer with a fear of water, a pirate who uses a carrot as a sword, a grandmother traveling the world with her magic guitar, and many more.

3. Produced for sophisticated tastes of adults and blossoming tastes of kids

As I hinted at above, this album’s production is not meant to appeal solely to the kiddies. Clementown’s production is of such high quality that adults are sure to get on board as well. The adult listener will recognize sounds from modern indie music, their college radio years, pop culture new and old, and some of their favorite current artists. Artists like Clementown may also help fine tune the musical ear of their young listeners, potentially creating a generation of kids who are less interested in factory-created pop.

4. A forwarding-thinking project

Clementown Album
Brown brought to life

Clementown is already talking about another collaboration with Brown, and they are also hoping to take the general concept further. After noticing her younger daughter following along to the album while reading Brown’s book, Kate Lynch started to consider how the book/album combination could be used as a literacy project. Plans are in the works for a non-profit organization where the band can start an initiative using “the thriving medium of music to promote the dying medium of books.” Already, Maia has many of the poems/songs memorized, and is now following along with the words in the book as she listens to the CD. She’s definitely starting to do some word recognition, all because of this book/CD. If we can throw in our 2 cents, we see an iPad app here!

5. Insanely fun live shows!

If you check out the videos below, it is clear these guys put on a great show. Between guitar-rocking costumed grandmothers to a dancing funky snowman to backing screens featuring Brown’s images, Clementown puts on a multimedia experience that matches the fun of their album. And the album doesn’t lose anything live, despite the complex production of each song. Best of all, Clementown knows how to get the kids up and dancing.

In review

I am quite surprised Clementown did not come across my radar earlier. I chanced upon them when hearing the Ladytron-esque adaptation of “Moon Reunion” on a kids’ music podcast and immediately sought out their album. I hope audiences and the press also continue to discover this progressive and exceptional project. And while I strongly recommend the Brown books, it is important to note that Clementown’s album does not have to be purchased with the book to enjoy it. These songs can exist alone as charming, unusual tunes kids will delight in.

Purchase the album now on CDBaby or iTunes.

Sample Calef Brown Art
Sample artwork from Calef Brown

Animated Video for “Ed”

Live Performance of “Funky Snowman”

Live Performance of “Bathtub Driver “

Disney and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Alice In Wonderland remake) are working together to bring Sleeping Beauty back to the tbig screen in a live action remake called Maleficent. This version tells the story from the evil queen’s point of view. (Hollywood Reporter)

Mr Pricklepants is the latest toy added to Toy Story 3 lineup. Pricklepants is a stuffed-animal hedgehog voiced by Timothy Dalton. (Toy News)

iMedia presents “5 digital companies to watch.” Extra interesting to me is new online multiplayer game “Glitch.” They describe it as a combination of World of Warcraft and Facebook. (iMedia)

Anime house Toei is making a push for full length, internationally-distributed films with a theatrical release. (ICv2)

Little Airplane Productions (The Wonder Pets!) is set to launch a series of 4-minute interstitials, Tobi!, that focus on teaching preschoolers tougher global issues. (License!)

The Federal Trade Commission is seeking input from the public to see if they should broaden regulations around children’s privacy online. (MediaPost)

Nickelodeon has unleashed a new wave of iPhone and iPod touch apps including A to Z with Moose & Zee and High School Cheerleader ($1.99). (License)

The wonderful Boston Children’s Music site has a great interview with Gustafer Yellowgold creator Morgan Taylor.

‘Liv Crayola’ is a new school supply line for teen girls. (ToyXplosion)

Beezus and Ramona are big-screen bound and the trailer is ready to view. (Kids Lit)

Fisher-Price has releases three new iPhone apps to support their brand including a Little People and See ‘n Say app. (Licensing.biz)

Fisher-Price: Little People Farm

I love the sound of this: PBS Kids Sprout and DECODE Enterprises have announced the exclusive U.S. launch of dirtgirlworld, the first green living series for preschoolers. (Licensing Blog)

Popeye is back! Former Marvel exec Avi Arad is make a 3-D Popeye for Sony. (ICv2)

Lucasfilm is said to be developing a Star Wars animated series aimed at preschoolers. Start ‘em young! (Animated Magazine)

According to analytics firm Flurry, 44% of apps currently being tested on the iPad are games. (MCV)

According to a Twitter tease from LeVar Burton, Reading Rainbow may be set to return. (Huffington Post)

Kid-friendly Web browser maker KidZui scores $4 million financing round. The company also lined up partnerships with Best Buy, Comcast and DreamWorks. (TechCrunch)

Have you voted in Zooglobble’s KidVid tournament?