Patricia Polacco, . . Philomel, $16.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-399-24034-8

Polacco (Betty Doll) mines the theme of children nourished by unexpected friendship, tosses in a little light horror and comes up with over-the-top hilarity. Sara and Seth befriend the Graves family, the strange new neighbors who've purchased the local haunted house. When Mrs. Graves (who looks like something out of Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein) joins the Garden Club, the greenery withers around her and her baby Venus flytrap attacks the baked goods. Mr. Graves, an inventor, attempts to placate the townspeople with the offer of a sure-fire hair restorative, but that's a failure, too; its active ingredient, derived from cats, makes the village elders who take the restorative behave in a most peculiar fashion ("Mr. Pitkimple darted under a porch carpet and batted at the ankles of his wife"). The couple's social lives seem doomed—until the celebrity host of a home-decorating show announces that he "adores" their house: "I have never seen such terrifying décor... ever!" Polacco's pencil-and-watercolor illustrations teem with big-hatted, gasping ladies, the creeping arms of horrible plants, fuzzy spiders and inventions run amok. While the text is lengthy and at times discursive, there are enough giggles here to please most readers. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)