Slight Frights and Daring Scares: Nine Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers

October is here, and with it come ghosts, goblins, witches, and monsters. Today we’re looking at a few of this year’s spooky reads for middle grades – books with slight frights that won’t give you nightmares.

sgirllockedThe Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books, September 2018
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The cover and title of this story make it seem far scarier than it is in reality. Narration shifts between Jules, whose family has just moved into an abandoned house, and the “Girl,” Lily, whose family lived in the house decades ago. Both girls are curious about each other, and of their respective time periods, and their friendship might be just what Lily needs to find her final resting place. This is gentle ghost story, for readers want to ease into the season.

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The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby
Candlewick Press, July 2018
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Less a ghost story, and more historical fiction featuring supernatural characters, The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery’s scariest features are the German soldiers and the threat of a bombing looming over the action of the tale. In London during World War II, young ghost Flossie Birdwhistle is in charge of keeping the cemetery’s buried souls at rest, but a mysterious soldier – also a ghost – draws Flossie into England’s war efforts. Readers who prefer their ghosts to act with integrity and honor will find it easy to support Flossie and her ghostly friends.

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City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Scholastic Press, August 2018
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In this first novel of a new supernatural fantasy series, Schwab creates a world similar to ours: a reality TV show featuring two “ghost hunters” travels to Scotland to film their pilot episode. They are faking it: though the “Inspectres,” as they call themselves, truly believe in and want to see ghosts, they just don’t. Their daughter, Cass, does – and has even befriended the ghost who saved her from a near-death experience several years ago. The ghosts of Scotland aren’t nearly as friendly, and it will take another young “In-betweener” to help Cass realize her full powers as someone who can cross the Veil. There’s plenty of good versus evil in this ghost-hunting adventure, with humor and heart to balance out the action.

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The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
Chronicle Books, August 2018
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Lee and Felix Vickery are twins, but the only thing they do together is travel to town on Halloween, the one night that Death allows. For the rest of the year, they go about their lives in Poplar Wood, on opposite sides of their house, as the Agreement states. Felix helps his father, who is an apprentice to Death, and Lee does the same for his mother, who is Memory’s apprentice. It’s not the best life, but they make it work – until the daughter of Passion’s apprentice is killed, and Gretchen Whipple, the mayor’s daughter, and sworn enemy of the Vickerys, decides to get to the bottom of a feud that has controlled the lives – and deaths – of everyone in their small town for years. Lee, Felix, and Gretchen form a friendship as strange as their living arrangements to set things right. Poetic descriptions give this book a contemplative feel, though the action ensures it’s never bogged down in too much detail.

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Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan
Walker Books, February 2018
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This first book in an forthcoming trilogy creates a world where witches live across an invisible border and live by a set of ancient rules. Mup, her mam, and her brother cross this border to save her her dad after he is kidnapped by the creator of these rules – her grandmother. Reminiscent of other fantastical journeys taken by young women to rescue those they love and get back home, Begone the Raggedy Witches gives its readers characters to care for and a magical world to explore. The villains are just cruel enough to resent, but good witches abound as well, and Mup’s fight becomes more than just a rescue mission – she must save Witches Borough itself from her grandmother’s control.

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Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster, September 2018
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Nia Winters likes vampires. AJ likes Nia, but since he isn’t a vampire, he can’t seem to catch her attention – until he decides to become a vampire himself. Then he realizes it’s not that Nia likes vampires – she slays them. Suddenly his great idea could be the death of him, if he can’t convince Nia it was all a ploy, and that a real vampire of Spoons Middle School is still out there. This graphic novel is more silly than scary, with all of its parodying of other well-known vampire tales. The illustrations add a level of fun, and the relationships between AJ and his sister and AJ and his friends are sweet with plenty of goodnatured needling. For readers who would rather laugh at monsters than be terrified by them, Fake Blood will satisfy.

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The Cryptid Catcher by Lija Fisher
Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2018
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Clivo Wren is only taking up the family business when he becomes a cryptid hunter at age 13, after his father’s death, but he may have taken on more than he knows how to handle. After all, he just found out cryptids really do exist – is he really ready to track and catalog them? Humanity as we know it may be on the line if Clivo isn’t up for the task of finding the rumored “immortal” cryptid, so with the help of several trustworthy friends, and a few more less-than-trustworthy colleagues, he sets out to catch whatever cryptids he can. Teenagers with plenty of dry humor and monster-hunting lore make this a delightful read that’s less scare and more dare.

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Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First Second Books, April 2018
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Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon, Mrs. White, and plenty of hunting gadgets, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Hand drawn illustrations bring the monsters and Scarlett to life and help to build intensity as she escapes each dangerous situation.

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Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2018
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For having a rather tame cover (though it gets creepier the closer you look), this story is shockingly scary. A field trip to a local farm turns terrifying as the bus breaks down on the way back to school and the bus driver smilingly says, “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Eleven-year old Ollie and two of her classmates are the only ones who take the driver’s advice, choosing to try their luck in the surrounding forest. They aren’t sure if they’ve made the right choice, or who (or what) exactly is coming for them, but they’ll soon find out. Excellent pacing and well-timed cliffhangers, along with a smart and courageous heroine make this a treat for brave readers.

Valuable Reminders: A Review of The Dollar Kids

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The Dollar Kids
Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrations by Ryan Andrews
Candlewick (August, 2018)
Ages 10-14

When his family wins the chance to buy a house for just $1, twelve-year-old Lowen sees it as a chance to hit the reset button — Mum can open her own restaurant, Dad can follow his dream of working in a clinic in an underserved community, his brother Clem can finally be the star athlete, and his sister Anneth — well, she’ll need convincing. And sensitive, artistic Lowen can work through his grief over the death of a friend and guilt over believing he caused it. But moving to a small town isn’t easy on any of them, leading everyone to question whether the Dollar House program was such a good idea after all. Dubbed the “Dollar Kids” by hostile new neighbors skeptical of the program and “whether it’s a help or drain on the town” (p. 328), Lowen and the other new kids in town struggle to make a place for themselves, rehab houses, and rebuild community.

The idea of home, be it a building, a community, a family, or a feeling creates a strong backbone for this plot, helping to pull the reader through the slightly slow start to the one year the book covers. By mid-book, the pace picks up in both action and time (the progress noted with each new chapter). While slightly awkward, the change of pacing mirrors the changes Lowen experiences as he processes his grief and settles into life in Millville. Scenes from Lowen’s comic book drawing layer in additional elements of his grieving process, questions of faith, and ultimately his healing.

Diversity (of age, gender, and cultures) among the characters in this story provide a varied range of coping mechanisms for dealing with uncertainty, insecurity, and change by both the new families settling in and Millville residents dealing with the decline of their small, but proud town. The inclusion of parents and other community members as active players in the story is a refreshing change from books that often leave you wondering “What happened to all the adults?” and provides a subtle reminder that communities need all types of diversity to thrive.

Summer STEM Reads

In honor of National Summer Learning Day here’s a roundup of some new STEM based fiction and picture books guaranteed to spark interest in a deeper dive into their subjects.

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Crash! Boom!

Crash Boom: A Math Tale – Robie H Harris, illustrated by Chris Chatterton (Candlewick, 2018)

Elephant wants to stack his blocks as tall as, well, an elephant. He’ll count, stack, evaluate, and build his way to success. With introductory concepts in math, problem-solving, construction, and good old-fashioned perseverance this a great tale for future engineers.

 

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The Jamie Drake Equation

The Jamie Drake Equation – Christopher Edge
(Delacorte Press, June 2018)
Jamie Drake knows that each of his family members are like stars, keeping each other in orbit. He’s worked out the equation, and especially with his dad 400 kilometers away on the International Space Station, Jamie needs to make sure everyone and everything is in the right place to keep the Drake family intact. Christopher Edge brings math and science to life in this middle grade novel, giving them heart without sacrificing the integrity of the very real formulas and equations that make space travel possible. A bonus “The Science of The Jamie Drake Equation” chapter goes into more detail about the real-life science in the story, making this an easy tie-in to a solar system or space travel unit.

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Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters – Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
(First Second, March 2018)
Hopper, Eni, and Josh are back in the 5th installment of the Secret Coders series, which picks up where Robots & Repeats left off: continuing their battle against the evil Dr. One-Zero as he  tries to control their town with his “Green Pop” potion. Luckily, they have Professor Bee and their coding skills to help them. Gene Luen Yang (National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) and Mike Holmes continue to entertain with their fun characters and comic-style illustrations. Readers interested in basic coding and logic puzzles will want to start this series at the beginning, since both the plot and the concepts build off previous books!

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The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret – Trudi Trueit (National Geographic, 2018)

Cruz Coronado and his classmates will travel the world using science, exploration and conservation practices while training to be the next generation of National Geographic Explorers. All the while trying to evade a secret society that may be the cause of his mother’s mysterious death. The series (launching in September) will be supported by a digital extension (available now on the National Geographic Kids site) with games, videos, and “truth behind” content revealing the science behind the story.

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The Mortification of Fovea Munson

The Mortification of Fovea Munson – Mary Winn Heider (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

Fovea Munson is NOT interested in dead bodies! But spending the summer working in her parents’ cadaver lab is not helping convince her classmates she is NOT gross. While this sweet and funny story isn’t based in fact (have you ever met a partially-frozen, singing head?), there is just enough medical science to get the curious doing their own research into dissection and maybe even medical school.

ALA Recap (a bit behind schedule)

I’m back from a lovely extended visit to the Gulf Coast, first to ALA Annual in New Orleans then some vacation time in the Florida Panhandle! Amazing and rejuvenating all the way around.

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I promised a quick recap when I returned, so here are some of the highlights:

The Opening Session with Michelle Obama was awesome! She was warm, funny, and inspired a great conversation about work/life balance and the importance of building a supportive community for yourself. Excited for her upcoming memoir Becoming (Penguin, 2018) to hit stores in November.michelle-obama.jpg

 

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I was this close (HA!) to Jason Reynolds.

Had an amazing morning at the Coretta Scott King book awards breakfast. The award and honor book winners were as eloquent as expected, but surprised me with their humility and respect for their readers. I was also fortunate to find myself at a table full of smart and resourceful women who reminded me why I love librarians so much!

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I was convinced (without much arm-twisting) to abandon my plans for a couple hours to attend a screening of The Public (which will come out this fall) and a Q & A with the movie’s writer/director/star Emilio Estevez and Ryan Dowd, author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness (ALA, 2018). The movie was both heartwarming and heartbreaking– I highly recommend!

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Was so lucky to be invited to lunch with M.T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin to discuss their new book The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick, 2018). Eugene and Tobin were smart and charming, and lunch was delicious— I couldn’t ask for more! The book is next up on my to-be-read list and with its elfin historian and goblin archivist promises to be as delightful as lunch!

And no New Orleans recap would be complete without a restaurant recommendation, so if you find yourself near the NOLA convention center, might I suggest:milkshake

  • Cochon Butcher—The roast beef sandwich was perfect and marinated brussels sprouts—WOW!
  • Auction House Market—This entire place is cool, but I highly recommend the vegan mint and brownie milkshake at Mac & Moon, it’s extra cool (and sweet)!

 

 

 

Pride Month 2018 Reads

Pride Month is here, and with it new LGBTQ+ books for all audiences. This is only a sampling – visit us to see the entire selection and more!

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Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love, Candlewick Press

When Juliàn sees three beautiful mermaids on the subway, he is both in love and encouraged to embrace his true mermaid self. Will Abuela appreciate his transformation? Filled with evocative and whimsical illustrations, Julian is a Mermaid is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of non-conforming self-expression.

 

doing it by hannah witton

Doing It – Hannah Witton, Sourcebooks/Fire

There is a chapter specifically devoted to LGBTQ+ sex education in this nonfiction resource. Since the author is a straight cis woman, she rightfully invites several own voice contributors to write each section. Sex and gender are defined, followed by profiles on being transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, queer, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Witton then discusses coming out and ways to be a good ally (starting with acknowledging privilege).

 

girl made of stars by ashley herring blake

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Owen and Mara are twins, with an unbreakable bond. It was Owen who unquestioningly accepted Mara’s coming out as bisexual to their family, and Owen who consoled Mara after she broke up with her best friend and first girlfriend, Charlie. Then Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, accuses him of raping her and lines are drawn. Mara is torn between believing her friend or her brother, while also missing Charlie. With focus on consent, victim shaming, and the insidiousness of rape culture, Girl Made of Stars has emotional and timely relevance.

 

picture us in the light by kelly loy gilbert

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney/Hyperion

With a scholarship to RISD and the loving support of his family, Danny has almost everything he needs in life. Except a future with his best friend, Harry, and an explanation for his parents’ secrets of the past. Unraveling the mystery of his family along with exploring his own feelings for Harry isn’t easy for Danny, and could disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve, but he is determined to know how his past will affect his future.

2018 Short Story Collections

In honor of Short Story Month, we’re featuring several new collections of stories in various forms – fiction, nonfiction, personal, biographical, historical, and more. Whether told in words, images, or both, short stories have the power to inspire, educate, and entertain in just a few pages. Whatever your fancy, there’s a collection for that!

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If you’re looking for love stories…
Meet Cute
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2018

With a tagline of “Some people are destined to meet,” this collection of 14 stories takes us to the beginnings of relationships, when love has potential and anything can happen. Experienced YA readers will recognize many of the contributing authors, who bring a diverse cast of characters and a variety of introductions – romantic, funny, tender, and whimsical – to the page.

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If you need a good dose of inspiration…
Hope Nation, edited by Rose Brock
Philomel Books, February 2018

Personal essays from 24 contemporary YA authors show that hope is an action – a decision we each make to hold our heads up in the face of opposition or defeat. Stories of childhood dedication and perseverance, moments of doubt overcome by conviction, and the belief that words have power combine in this collection to show there is strength in hope.

ssvoicesIf you’d like to hear about WWII from people who experienced it firsthand…
Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today
Candlewick Press, March 2018

This collection includes a variety of personal accounts of life before, during, and after World War II from 80 people who lived through it – as child evacuees, service men and women, prisoners of war, survivors of concentration camps and bombings, and resistance fighters. Their stories are presented as they were told to children of today through interviews, letters, and school visits alongside photographs and other historical images that were originally published in association with First News, a weekly newspaper for children.

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If you want to test run some fresh comics…
The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection: Volume One
Scholastic/David Fickling Books, March 2018

Eight artists are featured in this volume, each with unique styles and content. Readers can follow the adventures of Troy Trailblazer, Looshkin, “the maddest cat in the world,” Doug Slugman, P. I. and others. The comics included in this collection were originally published in The Phoenix, a weekly comic magazine for children.

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If feminist historical fiction is your thing…
The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood
Candlewick Press, March 2018

In stories that range in setting from Savannah, Georgia in 1838 to Los Angeles in 1923 to Boston in 1984, this collection of historical fiction by 12 different authors features characters who refuse to let society define them. They boldly claim their identities and pursue their dreams in defiance of the norms of their communities.

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If feminist historical nonfiction is your thing…
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu
First Second, March 2018

Over 30 historical figures are represented in this collection of “broad-stroke portraits” in both text and illustration. Bagieu pays homage to women from various walks of life, geographic settings, and periods of history with brief biographical comics and detailed drawings that invite readers in to each story.

A Chat with Chitra Soundar

Last night the Butler Children’s Literature Center was thrilled to host Indian born British author, Chitra Soundar, for a discussion about diversity in publishing, the writing process, and sharing stories with young people.

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In a presentation titled Diverse Yet Unique: Confessions of a Global Author, Chitra shared her background in publishing and the differences she has encountered with publishers in India, the United Kingdom, and the US markets; her efforts to promote diversity in the children’s book publishing; her writing process and how she builds and researchers her stories; and how she goes about developing connections with readers, other writers, and publishers alike. It was interesting, yet disheartening, to learn that the UK publishing industry struggles with diversity issues even more than we do here. But as we are seeing in the US, the UK is also experiencing a growing number of authors, librarians, and supporters lending their voices (and social media feeds) to the movement toward more diversity in content and diversity in authors. Chitra recognized We Need Diverse Books and the inspiration the organization has provided to create a similar UK group to spark conversation and change.

After her presentation, Chitra kindly answered our numerous questions, filling in details about why she loves working with young people, who she follows for diverse book resources, and how she moves from her long, long, long list of ideas to a finished product like the newly published You’re Safe With Me (Lantana, 2018). She also gave us a sneak peek at future books in the series (keep your eyes peeled—they look and sound wonderful!).

Soundar groupThanks to all that attended for your curiosity and thoughtful questions. It is always lovely to spend an evening in conversation with those that love children’s books like we do!

Feel free to stop by the Butler Center to see the new additions to our signed books collection or find Chitra Soundar on your own at www.chitrasoundar.com