cover image Mary McScary

Mary McScary

R.L. Stine, illus. by Marc Brown. Orchard, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-03856-9

This second collaboration between Stine and Brown, after The Little Shop of Monsters, turns on one of the oldest jokes: boys hate being kissed by girls. Mary McScary, who “has fun scaring dogs” and “likes to scare goldfish, too,” is primed to frighten her Cousin Harry. But sweet-natured Harry—he’s essentially Brown’s Arthur without the self-doubt—is so at home in the world that when Mary unleashes an angry gorilla, an asphyxiating snake, and a hungry hippo on him, he instantly establishes a relationship with all three creatures. It takes Mary’s weaponized kiss—proffered with the girliest of puckers—to send Harry fleeing in horror. Brown’s generous sense of scale plays up his pictures’ lush textures and bold palette, and few artists are his match when it comes to making good-heartedness a compelling character trait. But there’s no real tension: Mary is a one-dimensional brat (her last words are “I told you I was scary!”), and seeing the game-for-anything Harry bolt, even if a not-unreasonable reaction, feels stale. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)