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.

A Sweet Story to Tackle a Tough Topic: A Review of The Remember Balloons

The Remember BalloonsThe Remember Balloons
Jessie Oliveros
Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Simon and Schuster, August 2018
Ages 5-9

James has a handful of colorful balloons, reminders of his most important days. His parents and grandfather have even more balloons. His dog has one! Each bright balloon holds a special memory—birthdays, weddings, fishing trips—a lifetime of extraordinary moments. As Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, Mom and Dad help James understand memory loss and how he can help keep Grandpa’s stories alive.

A gentle metaphor for aging, memory loss, and dementia to help young readers process what’s happening to a loved one. Oliveros doesn’t shy away from the anxiety, confusion, and anger in James’ reactions; validating those feelings in young and old alike. The black and white pencil drawings of this close-knit, mixed-race family provide an understated counterpoint to the vibrant balloons and the memories within. The subtly in both text and art work well together in handling such an emotional topic and put the focus on the joy of remembering shared experiences.

Do you READ LOCAL?

Sarah Aronson Do you shop at your local farmers market? Support local arts organizations? How about adding “Read local authors” to the list?

Join us on Thursday, Sept 20th when we host Evanston author Sarah Aronson for a chat about local authors and creative ways to incorporate their books into your programming.

Made in Illinois: New Books by Illinois Authors and How to Use Them in the Classroom (and Library)

When: Thursday, September 20th– program starts at 6:15pm

Where: Butler Children’s Literature Center– Crown Library Room 214

RSVP: By September 17th to butler@dom.edu

You can find out more about Sarah, her books, and her love of exclamation points at www.saraharonson.com

A Review of The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Just in time for the changing season and upcoming Halloween celebrations comes Lindsay Currie’s first book for middle grades.

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Tessa Woodward is less than thrilled about her family’s move from Florida to Chicago, and their house doesn’t seem to be too pleased either, based on the moving items, flickering lights, and eerie drawings appearing in Tessa’s sketchbook. When Tessa reveals to her classmates that her house is haunted on her first day at her new school, she is afraid her social life is over, but a group of unlikely friends decides to help Tessa solve the mystery of who used to live in her house – and who is making it difficult for the Woodwards to live there now.

Lindsay Currie’s in-depth research on the haunted settings and ghost stories featured in The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street shows in the details of this mystery, and makes for a satisfying read. Tessa is a smart, sensitive, and curious protagonist, and her relationship with her parents and younger brother is genuine. Readers will want to cheer her on as she works to solve her own problems, with the help of her peers, who are proud to explore their interests. The pacing adds to the spook-factor without being too dramatic and makes you want to keep reading (preferably with the lights on!).

Celebrate International Day of Peace With New Picture Books

The Butler Center is excited to share two new picture books to celebrate International Day of Peace today. Both feature song lyrics accompanied by vibrant illustrations, and both invite readers to spread their messages of world peace.

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Imagine by John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books 2017

Using John Lennon’s iconic song as the text, Imagine follows the journey of one pigeon as she shares tolerance and peace with her fellow birds. Jean Jullien’s illustrations highlight the pigeon’s travels from land to sea with bright colors and an emphasis on diversity and equality. We see her share olive branches, hoping others will join her “and the world will live as one.”

With a foreword from Yoko Ono Lennon and published in partnership with Amnesty International, Imagine makes a beautiful statement in support of peace and human rights.

 

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Salam Alaikum by Harris J, illustrated by Ward Jenkins, Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads, 2017

Harris J is a relative newcomer to the music world, but he also has a message of peace to share. His debut single, “Salam Alaikum,” is featured in this eponymous picture book, along with colorful illustrations from Ward Jenkins. Salam Alaikum, or Assalamu Alaikum, means “Peace be upon you” and is used by Muslims worldwide as a greeting. In Salam Alaikum, this message plays out in a chain of “pay it forward” actions. Readers with an eye for detail will enjoy tracing one act of kindness to the next as each character does their part to spread “peace on the Earth every day.”

 

Books We Love by Holly Black

by Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

The Butler Lecture 2017 will be held tomorrow, March 16th at 6pm. We are excited to welcome our featured lecturer, Holly Black, renowned children’s and teen author of many titles including, the Magisterium series, the Newbery Honor Book, Doll Bones, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. If you haven’t read anything by Holly Black, take a look at the ones we’ve highlighted below.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Little, Brown (2014)

In this chilling twist on vampire romance, seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up after an all-night party to a house full of corpses. To protect herself and the ones she loves, Tana, her irritating but charming ex-boyfriend, and a mysterious vampire boy set off on a quest for the last place Tana ever wanted to go, Coldtown. Although many teens dream of an eternal youth in the high-luxury prison, Tana doesn’t thirst for a life of blood and murder. Teen Readers craving a high-action, suspenseful story with a powerful, female lead will devour The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry (2013).

Ever since they were young, Zach, Poppy and Alice have been playing an imaginary game filled with the adventures of mermaids, pirates and thieves who are ruled by a bone-china doll they call the Queen.The three friends are in middle school now and their enthusiasm for the game suddenly comes to a stop when Zach puts an end to the game without a convincing explanation. Meanwhile, Poppy has been having dreams of the doll Queen and the ghost of a young child whose grave is empty. Poppy is compelled to find the ghost’s grave where the doll can be buried in place of the missing child and she convinces Zach and Alice to join her on the quest. Adventure, secrets, and strange occurrences will engage middle school readers.

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, Scholastic (2015).

In this Harry Potter meets Avatar the Last Airbender adventure, Callum Hunt dreads his first day at The Magisterium, a school for children with magical power. His attempts to flunk the entrance exam impress neither his future teachers nor his fellow classmates. Callum’s father warned him of the danger and certain death that awaits him at the school. However, unexpected friendships and mysteries to solve open Callum’s mind to a new world of enchantment and wonder. Perfect for the middle grade collection, The Iron Trial includes a diverse cast of characters and subverts tropes of fantasy.

April B3: Immigration Stories

These days, it’s more important than ever for us to share stories about immigration with the young readers we serve; both for the sake of immigrant kids in our communities, and to encourage understanding among others of these kids’ experiences.

Join us on April 5, 2017 in the Butler Center from 5:30-7:00 (books & snacks out at 5:30; discussion from 6-7) to discuss the following list of recently published books with an immigration theme, from picture books to children’s fiction to teen fiction. We’re focusing on fiction this time; we know there are lots of excellent informational books too. You may remember the Butler Center’s “Big Read” bibliography from last year; this month’s list complements the selections recommended there.

PICTURE BOOKS

CallingtheWaterDrum
Calling the Water Drum
by LaTisha Redding, illus. by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2016)

PieceofHome
A Piece of Home
by Jeri Watts, illus. by Hyewon Yum (Candlewick, 2016)

CHILDREN’S FICTION

LongPitchHome
A Long Pitch Home
by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2016)

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The Only Road
by Alexandra Diaz (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2016)

TEEN FICTION

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Girl Mans Up
by M-E Girard (HarperTeen, 2016)

Watched
Watched
by Marina Budhos (Random/Wendy Lamb, 2016)