We’re still months away from Halloween, but the spookiness never ends at Spooky Middle Grade Books, and this August is no exception. Three of our Spooky MG authors have wonderful new spooky MG books coming out this month and I’ve interviewed the authors today.
Aug. 16: THIS APPEARING HOUSE by Ally Malinenko. Ally Malinenko is also the author of several poetry collections as well as the middle grade book GHOST GIRL from Katherine Tegen Books. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and you can learn more at allymalinenko.com.
Aug. 23: DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND by Fleur Bradley. Fleur Bradley is also the author of the award-winning mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/Penguin Random House). Her story The Perfect Alibi appeared in Mystery Writers of America’s middle-grade anthology Super Puzzletastic Mysteries, edited by Chris Grabenstein (HarperCollins). Fleur regularly does (virtual) school visits, as well as librarian and educator conference talks on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado Springs with her family, and entirely too many rescue animals. Find out more about Fleur on her website: www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
Aug. 30: UNMASKED (FRIGHT WATCH 3) by Lorien Lawrence. Lorien Lawrence is a writer and middle school English teacher from Connecticut. She has creative writing degrees from Wheaton College and Bath Spa University. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found hunting ghosts with her family.
(In slightly less spooky new releases, my new chapter book series, GEMSTONE DRAGONS, launches this month too! The first two books arriving Aug. 2 aren’t too spooky, but book 3, coming out Dec. 27 is, proving that even December is spooky!)
Now let’s hear from these great authors about their August spooky MG books:
Samantha: Tell us about your new book.
Ally Malinenko: This Appearing House is the story about a girl, Jac, on the cusp of her 5 year anniversary of a cancer diagnosis, who discovers a House at the end of the street that is more than what it seems. When some neighborhood challenge her and her best friend Hazel they get trapped in the House and as they move from one terrifying room to the other they come to understand that the House has a personal connection to Jac. And the only way out is through.
Fleur Bradley: Daybreak on Raven Island is an Alcatraz-inspired scary middle-grade. When three kids miss the ferry after a field trip to Raven Island, they have to solve the mystery of a decades-old prison escape and a current murder mystery, all while outrunning some very scary ghosts (and a flock of ravens). The short answer: it’s Alfred Hitchcock for kids.
Lorien Lawrence: UNMASKED is set in the Fright Watch universe, but it features a new main character. Her name is Marion, and she’s a monster-maker/budding special effects artist. On Halloween night, she creates a sea creature mask that accidentally possessed her crush. Despite her social anxiety, she must go to the school dance to stop her monster/crush from wreaking further havoc on her classmates.
Samantha: What inspired this story?
Ally: I was diagnosed with cancer 8 years ago but more than talking about cancer I wanted to talk about trauma. This Appearing House is a book that exists to help kids navigate the trauma – and the last few years have certainly been that. The word cancer is in the book only a few times because I wanted every kid who has been through something to see themselves in Jac. I wanted them to see that it’s okay to be angry at an unfair world and that just because this thing happened to them, didn’t mean that they were broken. Jac’s art teacher teaches her about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery using gold to seal the cracks. In this tradition the broken item is not repaired, it is remade. And just like that pottery kids who have been through trauma, have been remade. I want them to see their cracks lit with gold.
Fleur: After Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which is lightly spooky, I wanted to write a scarier book. Taking Alcatraz as a jumping-off point, I created my own island, with an abandoned prison, a lighthouse, a morgue, and a cemetery. It was fun to push the paranormal element for this book and imagine what might’ve happened to the prisoners who escaped Alcatraz. What if they made it off?
Lorien: I’m OBSESSED with special effects and the art of monster making. I’ve always wanted to dive into that world (but I’m not remotely artistic!)
Samantha: Let’s talk about setting. Each of you have created fun and spooky settings for your stories. What inspired them and why did you choose these settings for your stories?
Ally: The Haunted House is usually a metaphor for a diseased mind, but in my book it is a metaphor for a diseased body. When the House first appears Jac thinks she is hallucinating – a sign that her cancer has returned. To prove that it is real she has to physically go into the House. I liked toying with that notion. In so many Haunted House stories I’m always wondering why the people don’t leave. But for Jac, she can’t. She had to go in to prove she was okay and now she has to go through it to survive.
Fleur: Alcatraz has such a wealth of stories, I really wanted to have some fun exploring the what-if questions. But then creating the fictional Raven Island, modeled after Alcatraz, gave me room to do what I want as a writer. It was a lot of fun.
Lorien: The fictional town of South Haven is based on my Connecticut hometown. It’s VERY New England, very spooky, loaded with urban legends and folklore. It’s a very “kids on bikes” type of town, and I wanted that to translate in my books.
Samantha: How much are you like your main character? Or if you’re more like another character in your book, which one?
Ally: I think every character I write is a little bit like me. With Jac, she bottles things up and when confronted has trouble talking about things and I think that is very much something that I do. She’s a secret keeper because of her trauma. She doesn’t want anyone to know what she has been through because she’s worried it will be all that they can see then. But once she learns to face what happens she realizes she’s more than that and that other people know it.
Fleur: I’m probably most like Noah in Daybreak on Raven Island. He’s afraid of a lot of things, and doesn’t like breaking the rules. I wish I was more like Marvin in the book: he just jumps right into adventure…
Lorien: I’m a lot like Marion in UNMASKED. She is creative and has an anxiety disorder – something I grew up with. And like me, she uses her art as an outlet and a way to express herself. When I feel my anxiety spiking, I write. When Marion feels her anxiety spiking, she creates monsters. My other protagonist in STITCHERS and COLLECTORS – Quinn – was very confident, which is not at all how I was as a kid.
Samantha: Many spooky books delve into deeper themes, like grief, anger and healing. What are some of the themes you explored in your book and why?
Ally: As I mentioned before it’s definitely about trauma but it’s also about grief and anger. Jac is angry. She’s angry that she went through this terrible ordeal. She’s angry that she’ll always worry that it will come back – that at any moment her life could be rerouted. She spends a lot of time worried she’s going to die young and navigating grieving what she has already lost. But in the end, it is Hope and Healing that gets her through.
Fleur: Daybreak on Raven Island is my pandemic book: I wrote and edited it during Covid lockdown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was exploring the theme of loneliness. Each of the three kids in the book carry a secret around, something that bothers them but they’re too afraid to share. I hope that kid readers will feel a little braver in sharing anything they’re struggling with. It’s no good to be alone with your worries and problems.
Lorien: The first two books in FRIGHT WATCH deal with grief: I had just lost my father when I started the series, and Quinn loses her dad at the beginning of STITCHERS. In UNMASKED, the focus shifts to mental health. Anxiety and depression were a part of my adolescence (and anxiety still is), so I wanted to write about a character who also experiences those things.
Samantha: Why do you love writing spooky/horror stories for kids?
Ally: I loved horror books as a kid – even though I was a definite scaredy cat! I love writing horror cause horror does something no other writing, except maybe comedy, can do which is to elicit a physical response in a reader. I love that challenge. But I also love that horror teaches kids how to slay the real life monsters when they show up. I believe it’s important for kids to navigate fear in a way that feels safe. Horror books are Safe Scary. It knows that kids will last the night.
Fleur: Horror is so fun, and I love combining it with mystery. It’s great to explore those things you’re afraid of and shine a (flash)light on them. Horror shows kids that the monsters are either not that scary, or that they can be slayed.
Lorien: Because horror is electric! You HAVE to read through to the end. And it’s way more hopeful than people give it credit for. We see kids being brave and conquering their deepest, darkest fears (both internally and externally).
Samantha: When you were growing up, what was your favorite spooky book?
Ally: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was definitely my most read. Those illustrations alone would give me nightmares! But I also loved Mary Downing Hanh’s Wait Till Helen Comes.
Fleur: I didn’t read a lot of horror until I was an adult, I’m sad to say… It’s fun now to catch up and discover horror for kids. There are so many great books being published!
Lorien: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK hooked me in kindergarten. (I know – probably too young, but hey, it was the 80s!)
Samantha: What’s your current favorite modern spooky book by someone other than the authors in this interview, because we know they’re all brilliant? 🙂
Ally: I recently read The Clackity by Lora Senf and loved it. It’s a great story with so much heart (the best kind of horror) and just the right amount of frights.
Fleur: I’m such a fan of Dan Poblocki’s books. He has a new book out in August, Tales to Keep You Up at Night, which I can’t wait to read.
Lorien: Any and all from our Spooky Middle Grade group (and I’m NOT just saying that!) I also adore Daka Hermon’s HiDE AND SEEKER and I am impatiently awaiting her next middle grade horror book.
Samantha: What wonderful answers!