Spooky Authors Branch Out

We spooky authors don’t always write spooky books! My next book is decidedly different: Carry Me Home features twelve-year-old Lulu whose family lives in their car (Simon & Schuster, August 24). Things go from bad to worse when Lulu’s dad disappears, leaving her to care for herself and her sister without letting anyone know that they are homeless and abandoned.

You can find out more at www.janetsfox.com.

I’ve interviewed some fellow spookies – Samantha Clark, and Victoria Piontek – about their new “non-spooky” titles.

1. Before we start on the “break-away from spooky”, please remind readers of your spooky titles.

Sam: Thank you, Janet! THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST is my spooky book. The story is about a boy who wakes up on a mysterious beach with no memory of who he is or how he got there. All he knows is that this can’t possibly be his home, so when he sees a light shining over a wall of trees, he decides to gather up his courage and follow it. Along his journey, he must face all his biggest fears to gain his memories back and find his home. Those fears are where the spooky comes in, because the Boy is all alone in a strange place and he’s scared of a lot. There are spooky sounds, spooky magic, and like the book’s title suggests, a Beast lurking around. Veeery spooooky.

Victoria: My spooky book is THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY. The story is about Sparrow, a girl struggling to come to terms with her mama’s death. Sparrow doesn’t have many friends. Some kids believe her house near the swamp is haunted. Others think there’s something “unusual” about her. But Sparrow’s not lonely — she has a best friend who’s always with her. He sits with Sparrow on her porch swing. He makes her smile by playing pranks in church. Yet Sparrow is the only one who can see him . . . because the Boy is a ghost. So when her mama passes away, Sparrow doesn’t give up hope. After all, if the Boy can linger after death, then surely Mama can return as well. But the Boy has a secret of his own, one that Sparrow needs to uncover before the ghost will lead her to Mama. To solve the mystery, Sparrow joins forces with some unlikely allies — Maeve and Johnny, siblings from a family of town outcasts –and Elena, a visiting child fortune-teller. 

2. Tell us about your upcoming “non-spooky” book: title, publisher, date, and a brief synopsis.

Sam: I actually have two non-spooky books coming out next. Just like THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, ARROW is published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and comes out on June 22, 2021. It’s not so spooky, but it has some parts that are scary in a different way. It’s about a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference called Arrow who’s the only human living inside a hidden rainforest. He was raised by the Guardian Tree, which uses the earth’s magic to keep the forest hidden from those who have sought to exploit and kill it. But now the magic veil is deteriorating and the forest is dying. Humans from the outside world find a way in, escaping their brutal world. Their arrival sets off a chain of events that leave Arrow with a devastating choice: be accepted by his own kind or fight to save the forest that is his home.

A week later, on June 29, 2021, I’ve got another non-spooky book coming out, HOLLYWOOD, which is book two of the AMERICAN HORSE TALES series from Penguin Workshop. In this book, 12-year-old Juniper loves to help her father train their horses for movies and TV shows. When her horse best friend Able gets the chance to audition for Juniper’s favorite TV show, Castle McAvoy, Juniper sneaks into the trailer so she can make sure he gets the part. Against her dad’s wishes, Juniper accidentally gets both Able and herself hired for Castle McAvoy, and while this is a huge dream come true, Juniper quickly learns that getting your dreams is harder than she had thought.

Victoria: My “non-spooky” book, BETTER WITH BUTTER (Scholastic Press), comes out on July 20, 2021.

BETTER WITH BUTTER is about twelve-year-old Marvel, a girl who is afraid of absolutely everything — amusement park rides, food poisoning, earthquakes, and that big island of plastic floating through the ocean. She also obsesses about smaller worries like making friends, getting called on by the teacher, and walking home alone.

Her parents and the school therapist call her worries an anxiety disorder, but Marvel calls them armor. If something can happen, it will. She needs to be prepared.

But when Marvel stumbles on a group of older kids teasing a baby goat that has mysteriously shown up on the soccer field, she momentarily forgets to be afraid and rescues the frightened animal.

Only Butter isn’t any old goat. She’s a fainting goat. When Butter feels panic, she freezes up and falls over. Marvel knows exactly how Butter feels and precisely what Butter needs–her.

Soon, the two are inseparable, and Butter thrives under Marvel’s support. But Butter also helps Marvel. Everything is better with Butter by her side, and Marvel starts to imagine a life in which she doesn’t have to be so afraid . . . until she’s told she might have to give up Butter forever. 

3. What was the inspiration for this new book?

Sam: A few different things inspired me to write ARROW. First a boy with one hand who lived in a tree popped into my head. I didn’t know what his story was until I had to listen to trees getting ripped down in my neighborhood to build more gas stations when we already have a lot. I was born in Guyana and went into the Amazon was I was very little, so rainforests have always been close to my heart. The more I got to know Arrow and his Guardian Tree, I realized that they were trying to save not only their home, but all the forests of the world.

Just like Juniper and Able, I auditioned for the AMERICAN HORSE TALES series. Penguin Workshop was starting this new series of books about girls and their horses and I pitched them the story for HOLLYWOOD. They loved it and hired me to write the whole thing. It was my first contemporary story with no magical elements, and while I love to write spooky stories and magical stories, it was fun to try something different.

Victoria: There were two inspirations for this book. The first was my experiences with generalized anxiety and raising a child with anxiety. The second was my childhood experiences with animals.

Growing up, animals were a big part of my life. Both my parents are gentle people who love to rescue broken things and nurse them back to health. There have been dogs, horses, squirrels, birds, pigs, and a very special goat.

Jennifer was bouncy and funny and followed me to the school bus every morning. At the end of the day, she’d be waiting for me. I don’t know how she knew when the bus would drop me off, but she was always there. Her faithful greetings made each day better. I’ve always wanted to write a story about a goat and the power of friendship between humans and animals. BETTER WITH BUTTER is that story! 

4. How does it feel to have a book coming that isn’t spooky?

Sam: It’s good and bad. I LOVE spooky stories, so I kind of wish these books had some spooky parts in them. But it’s also fun to have some different types of stories coming out. I also hope these will reach different readers and maybe those readers will want to branch out into my spooky story too.

Victoria: It’s fun to have a contemporary book coming out because it reaches different readers. However, like THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY, BETTER WITH BUTTER is a very personal story, so it feels the same in many ways.  

5. Do you have another spooky – or non-spooky – book in the wings? Tell!!

Sam: I do have some more books coming out in 2022! I can’t talk about them yet, but I can tell you they’re magical and fun. I also have a few very spooky stories that I’m working on and I hope they’ll be coming out in the future to scare more readers. Bwah ha ha…

Victoria: I have one of each. However, both are in the early stages at the moment, so I don’t have much to share yet. Keeping my fingers crossed, I’ll be able to say more soon!

6. Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Sam: My website is SamanthaMClark.com, and I’ve got lots of extra goodies on there for readers, parents and teachers. In fact, I’ve also got Thank You Gifts for anyone who preorders ARROW, including a tree that will be planted for EVERY preordered copy. You can find out more and register your preorder for gifts and a new tree planted at https://www.samanthamclark.com/arrow/ 

Victoria: On Instagram and Twitter @victoriapiontek or on my website at www.victoriapiontek.com, where I have teacher resources and information on how to get some adorable pre-order swag for BETTER WITH BUTTER.

Love Letters to Our Favorite Libraries

Like a lot of writers, I grew up in libraries.

The public library in my little Midwestern hometown was a cramped single-story brick building wedged between the police station and a busy downtown alley—but to me, it was a wonderland. I spent hours huddled in its narrow aisles, reading and scribbling away…and sometimes playing Oregon Trail on its single computer. I thought anything could be found in that tiny library. Any story. Any fact. Any truth.

The library in my new MG mystery/ghost story Long Lost is nothing like the one in my hometown. Instead of a squat office building, it’s a vast Victorian mansion, donated to the town by a long-dead local heiress. It was inspired in part by the old public library in Portage, Wisconsin, where the home of Pulitzer-winning author Zona Gale (1873 – 1938) was deeded to the city to serve as its library after her death. I never got to visit that spot myself—the Portage Public Library moved to a much larger/less unique location in 1995—but a few years ago, I heard it described by a local librarian who grew up in the area, and that idea wove itself into a story I was already constructing. Librarians: Giving us the info we need when we don’t even know we need it!

The Zona Gale House/Portage Free Library

Whether it’s housed in a strip mall or a mansion, pretty much every writer I know has a library (or two or three) that is extra special to them—a library that helped shape them, or that inspires them, or that gives them shelter and community and all the amazing free reading material any bookworm could ask for.

So here are a few of Spooky MG’s love notes to our libraries.   

Janet Fox (ARTIFACT HUNTERS, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE)

I grew up in a small midwestern town with a wonderful library. My grandmother would come to visit once or twice a year. She was totally deaf from the age of twelve, and a voracious reader – she especially loved mysteries, but romances, dramas, historical novels – she read anything and everything. And she read fast. My mom would have to go back to the library for a new selection every couple of days when Grandma visited, and she had to be careful not to check out the books Grandma already had read, so Mom developed a strategy: she put a tiny set of initials, “KES”, in pencil, on the back inside end paper, up in the corner, in books Grandma read. I wonder whether there are still any old KES books in that library today.
-Janet Fox

Cynthia Reeg (FROM THE GRAVE, INTO THE SHADOWLANDS)

Libraries saved my life—or at least expanded my world in ways that would never have been possible otherwise. As a child I was enthralled with reading and stories, but I lived in a small rural community without even a school library. I first envisioned heaven when I was in fourth grade and we moved to a town with a public library. I couldn’t believe the abundance of books—all free for the taking. That began my library love and support. The love would continue through my life as I pursued a graduate degree in Library Science and went on to work in both public and school libraries. I took great pleasure in sharing books and information with students, helping them to love the wonder awaiting them within a library.

Cynthia at story time, with a bunch of new library-lovers

David Neilsen (DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM, BEYOND THE DOORS)

My local library, Warner Library, serves two villages: Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Therefore, Halloween is our big holiday. For a few years, we created an indoor 18-hole mini golf course. It was a one-day affair, all the holes were created by volunteers, and it raised a ton of money for the library.

Our library is more than a library, it is a focal point of the community. Events like this, as well as a murder mystery I put together, help give it a life outside of the normal uses. But it is central to our community. I recall during Hurricane Sandy when everybody lost power. The library had power, and people came from all over to plug in and charge their phones or computers. You’d walk into the reading room and there were people on the floor. It really served as a lifeline during that time.

Halloween Mini Golf

Kim Ventrella (BONE HOLLOW, SKELETON TREE, THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM)

Before becoming a full-time author, I worked in public libraries for ten years. For people who haven’t visited their local library in a while, it’s easy to forget what a vital role libraries play in community life. Libraries provide computer access, training and a world of information to customers who otherwise can’t afford it. They offer rich literacy and STEAM-focused programs for children, in a time when the arts are being cut from school budgets. Libraries host job fairs and free health screenings. They provide a meeting space for community groups. Many find unique ways to support local artists, writers and entrepreneurs. Plus, customers frequently get the chance to see librarians in costume.

Can you find Kim? Hint: She’s playing Lord Licorice…

Lisa Schmid (OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST)

Growing up, I moved around quite a bit, so I was always the new kid in town. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I could always count on a library as a safe harbor. So when I started getting tagged in posts from friends who had spotted OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST at my local library, I was positively giddy. It didn’t take long before I jumped in my car and raced to Folsom Library to take this picture. Pure joy! 

Seven Spooky Summer Scares

By David Neilsen

Here at SpookyMG, we pride ourselves on saying that Spooky is Year Round. That means that while we adore Halloween (and as I live in Sleepy Hollow Country, Halloween is my own personal Christmas), there is no need to wait until October to read a spooky tale.

In that spirit (pun intended), I thought I’d list a few of the things about the warm, sunny season of Summer which we are about to enter that truly terrify me.

Seven Spooky Summer Scares:

HEAT: Hot things bother me. I am not a huge fan. Of course, I’m even less of a fan of cold things, so there ya go. But really hot things–like walking barefoot on the pavement while being followed by a three-headed monster, or standing still in the sunlight for hours afraid to move because of the gruesome slime creation that is only attracted to movement, or the sunburn that peels off your back and then transforms into an evil doppelganger made of your own burnt flesh–just freak me out.

INSECTS: They tend to come out in the Spring, but don’t go away until the chill of Winter freezes their little wings or feet or other appendages. I hate it when a swarm of these things buzz about my head, desperately trying to suck out my blood or gnaw on my flesh, one little itty-bitty bite at a time. You know that story about the kid who set his soda down on the wall, and when he picked it up and drank it, it felt lumpy, and then when he poured it out it was littered with ants? That was me. Honest-to-God. 12 years old. I have never recovered.

THE END OF SCHOOL: This terrifies me because the end of school means CHILDREN. Specifically, EVIL CHILDREN with nothing to do, so they hunt the neighbors, or hide out in creepy garages trying to raise the dead. Bored children are, perhaps, one of the true evils in the world. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly you notice that you are surrounded by about six of the little devils (they always hunt in packs) and you just know they’re looking for a human sacrifice.

THE ICE CREAM TRUCK: Don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream. It’s the trucks that frighten me. They slowly inch down the street playing the slightly-warped music that acts as a siren call to evil children (see above). Who drives these trucks? What are they really selling? They have a hypnotic effect over the younguns, and even some adults are often caught with a wistful, teary-eyed look on their face when that music enters their ears. And that’s just weird because nobody actually has any fond memories of an ice cream truck. We are simply drawn in by the IDEA of the ice cream truck. It’s mind control, plain and simple as a hammer to the forebrain. Evil mind control.

THE BEACH: Sand gets everywhere. And the things that live in the sand get everywhere. And they come out when you least expect them and crawl over your face and infest your body with spores. Other beach evils include: sharks, boating accidents, jet skis, crabs, poisonous sea anemonies, and kids playing frisbee, because they are always terrible and that frisbee becomes a spinning circle of death in their hands. A spinning circle of death that is coming for you.

VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES: What? You don’t equate ventriloquist dummies with Summer? You should. They live for the season when their shiny bodies can almost seem real on a late summer evening when the light hits them just right and they are walking toward you and telling you to stay calm, that everything’s going to be fine, that you have a new master. And their eyes are always open. They are always looking at you. Judging you. Imagining various sharp implements sticking out of you. You see, they really just want to shove their hand inside your body. Fair is fair, right?

SLIP ‘N’ SLIDES: There was this kid in my neighborhood who went on a Slip ‘N’ Slide and broke his knee. AND HE DIDN’T HIT ANYTHING. He just slid down the slippery, wet plastic and when he reached the bottom, his knee was broken. The next week, another kid slid down it and came up with massive rug burns on both shins. His legs were red for days. And yet just a couple of days later, that Slip ‘N’ Slide was out again, waiting for the next victim. Thing is, nobody knew whose it was. It didn’t actually seem to belong to anybody. It was just the neighborhood Slip ‘N’ Slide. And it had it out for the kids.

These are just a few of the fight-worthy things about Summer. I’m sure you can come up with a dozen more. Because Spooky is Forever.

Have a good Summer.

Op-Ed From a Black Kitty

I think we need to have a talk. I have a few major grievances.

There’s a lot—I mean a LOT—of fake news out there about black cats. We get a seriously bum rap. Especially around Halloween. That’s the day for treats and dressing up, not for hating on all us black kitties. Who doesn’t like treats? I get plenty. And who doesn’t like to dress up on occasion? I do it myself when the mood strikes.

Dressing Up For Halloween

Let’s start with my biggest pet peeve. Black cats mean bad luck.

Absolutely bogus. For starters, everyone knows you make your own luck. You don’t need a black cat to do that for you. So don’t put your pessimistic attitude on me. Having a little trouble winning at Poker? Not my fault! Be a better card player.  

Here’s another doozy. Some people claim we black kitties are familiars for witches, and that we can change into a human shape and spy on people for witches or demons. Complete rubbish. Humans are boring. Why would I ever want to shapeshift into one? The only time I change my shape is when I need to sit in a pot. That’s. It.

If I Fits, I Sits

Another common misconception: We hate water. Apparently it burns us, or turns us into a red, gooey blob. Well, I’ve got news. We can have as many baths as we want and not melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Next question.

Bath Time

Afraid of sunlight, you say? Nope. I’m rather fond of going out in the sunlight. Unlike vampires, a little morning sun never hurt a single black kitty.

Sunbathing

Okay, admittedly, sometimes black kitties like to howl at the moon like werewolves. But that doesn’t make us wicked. Far from it. We’re just extremely in touch with our moon phases. Nothing wrong with that.

Singing the Song of My Catfolk

Oh, and just because we have black fur doesn’t mean we aren’t completely photogenic. I mean, just take a look at this side profile. Can you say KITTY GORGEOUS?

Beauty Shot

The negative attitude about black cats exhausts me.

Fed. Up.

National Black Cat Appreciation Day is August 17, 2021. Adopt yourself a black kitty, snuggle it, give it plenty treats, and above all, appreciate it. We might just bring you a little good luck.

Oh, and adopting a blind kitty won’t hurt anything either.

#BlindCatsRock

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Ophelia McLelland is the author of numerous best-selling books on superstition and lore, most of which are out of print (but still hugely popular in places you’ve never been). A spiritualist and medium to the cat realm, she is a professional piano player and an advocate for the blind cat community. A resident of Oklahoma, Ophelia lives with her cat sister, Millie, her dog sister, Sophie, and three human pets, one of which writes spooky, adventurous middle-grade novels that aren’t very popular. Follow her on Instagram: @opheliakittycat

Adventures in Book Design

By Lorien Lawrence

Today I’m welcoming Jade Rector to the Spooky Middle Grade blog! Jade is an illustrator and book designer-extraordinaire who JUST SO HAPPENED to design my upcoming Fright Watch book: The Collectors.

Ever wonder what it takes to make a book cover sparkle from the shelves? Let’s get into it!

Jade Rector

LORIEN:  Hi Jade! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I can’t wait to learn more about the artistic side of publishing. Speaking of, would you mind introducing yourself? Can you also give a little background about your job? What does a typical day at Abrams look like?

JADE:  Of course – Hi, Lorien! Thanks so much for reaching out, this is such a blast. My name is Jade Rector – I’m a queer illustrator living in Chicago, Illinois. I’m currently a Junior Designer over at Abrams Kids. I started as a Design Assistant in 2019, and I’ve loved every second! I work in a variety of our imprints and on many different book formats, but I have a particular fondness for picture books and middle grade, especially when it’s funny or scary. A typical day at Abrams for me involves a lot of meetings, emails, communication with my team – and, of course, a ton of design!

LORIEN: Wow, it sounds like your day job involves more teamwork than I realized! Speaking of teamwork, how do you and your team come up with concepts and ideas? I mean, when it comes to fonts, colors, word placement, symbols – ohmygosh! There are so many options! How on earth do you choose?

JADE: Oh, what a great question. My favorite thing about publishing is the intrinsic collaboration, it’s such a team sport. The initial choices are always tough, absolutely, but it’s very fun to jump into a new project and try new designs! Everything starts with our close collaboration with the editorial team, as they let us into the world of the books we’re working on (Emily Daluga and I have had the most fun chatting about the cover of THE COLLECTORS!!!). After designers ascertain the mood, work with illustrators, and puzzle together the content, many folks in the publishing group have a chance to take a peek and voice their thoughts. Every department has important opinions and it’s an ongoing conversation – ultimately, we are all doing our best to make sure each book succeeds as best it can, which is really great.

LORIEN: Do you have a favorite type of cover? A style that makes you stop in a bookstore and ogle?

JADE: Ooooh, absolutely! When I’m shopping for myself and I’m in the picture book section, I always float towards styles like that of Jon Klassen, Christian Robinson, Julie Morstad, Carson Ellis….I am a big fan of soft, multimedia collage. As for novels, I’ll pick up any horror and humor with illustrative covers, especially if it’s decked out in neon inks or gold foil. Fun effects and great illustration are the way to my heart!

LORIEN: OK, this is why get along: you had me at NEON and FOIL. 😉

Let’s chat about inspiration. I’m probably at least a decade older than you, but when I was a kid, video rental stores were a thing. One of the reasons I got into horror was because I used to walk up and down the aisles looking at all the rad covers. Is there a cover of a book (or movie) that you saw as a kid that made a lasting impression?

JADE: HAH, we’ve intersected there! I miss video rental stores every day. I’m from a small town outside of Chicago, and some of our local spots lasted well into the mid-2010’s. Streaming is convenient, but I miss wandering the aisles, too. (As a side note, this is such a fun question – I’ve been googling movie covers for an hour!)

The cover of THE RING still haunts me in the best way, and I love the cover of MEMENTO. INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE was totally foundational, too…Hilariously, the most lasting impression was probably the entire CHILD’S PLAY series, albeit negative. I hate that puppet!!!

LORIEN: I’m with you: I HATE ALL PUPPETS! Not just Chucky – any kind of puppet. OK, now I’m thinking about puppets, so maybe we should change the subject!

It needs to be stated on record that you’re an amazing artist in your own right (and EVERYONE reading this post should check out Jade’s website and follow her on Instagram @jadearector PRONTO!) How would you describe your artistic style?

JADE: Oh, thank you so much for the kind words!! I would describe my work as bright, friendly, goofy… and occasionally a little bloody. I love drawing cute and fashionable kids with their pets, but I also end up drawing many, many vampires. Humor is one of my goals with the majority of my illustration, particularly when it’s narrative, so I think that’s a leading factor as well.

LORIEN: LOVE that you draw vampires! There can never be enough vampires, as far as I’m concerned.

Have you ever thought about making your own graphic novel?

JADE: Eep, yes! I would love to create a graphic novel about queer ghosts/vampires/aliens/etc, etc, etc eventually. It is a lot of work, but I hope that it’s eventually in the cards. Back in 2018 I put together a short comic titled GOTH RULES (again – very silly), and the amount of work even in that was unbelievable…but ugh, so fun, and so worth it to have that graphic flexibility with the narrative!

Lorien: I can’t imagine how much work goes into all that! But I love your style – I’d be so up for a Jade Rector graphic novel down the line!

I’m sure having a job in publishing takes up a lot of your creative energy (in a good way!) How did you get into publishing?

JADE: I got my BFA in Illustration (with a minor in education) at Columbia College Chicago. I’d originally intended to go into animation, but in my junior year I took a course called Culture in Young Children’s Literature with Katie Paciga, and it totally changed my path. I applied for internships at a variety of publishers and ended up interning with Candlewick Press – such a game changer! Before the end of my senior year I applied to more publishers, including Abrams – my professor Elio had worked with Abrams before and got in touch with his editor….and here we are! I started as a Design Assistant right after graduation. I am so grateful for the support of my school and community, and so thrilled to be in publishing now. Making books is truly the dream!

LORIEN: Are there any trends in book design that you’re loving right now? And are there any that you are ready to say goodbye to?

JADE: Oh, my heart…I love the bold neons, crazy shapes, and doodle explosions that are so in right now. I am VERY excited to say goodbye to extreme minimalism – I love a great pop of color and fun!

LORIEN: I’m totally with you on saying goodbye to minimalist covers. Bring on the color!!

OK, ready for the spooky-themed rapid round? Favorite Halloween candy?

JADE: Kitkats, black licorice, and root beer barrels!

LORIEN: Favorite monster?

JADE: Vampires – all of them – are my ride-or-die!

LORIEN: Favorite scary movie?

JADE: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is my absolute favorite!

LORIEN: And finally: Do you believe in ghosts???

JADE: What a great question. I’d say 50/50 – I want to believe!!!!

LORIEN: Wow, Jade, this was a blast. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

JADE: Lorien, thank YOU! I had so much fun going through these questions – it was my pleasure!

Follow Jade on Instagram at @jadearector and visit her website: http://www.jaderector.com

Bone Tree by Jenna Lehne

Today I’m welcoming Jenna Lehne to the Spooky Middle Grade blog. Her debut middle grade novel, BONE TREE, releases today! Let’s take a look at that gorgeous cover with artwork by Uliana Babenko.

Kim: First things first, can you describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less?

Jenna: When Elsie’s best friend dies, she uses an ancient tree with resurrection powers to bring him back, angering a spirit in the process. When she discovers the tree is powered by tortured souls, she has to choose between keeping her BFF or freeing the ghosts. 

Kim: Ooh, intriguing! Now for the real challenge. Can you finish these sentence starters?

My main character wants…

Her best friend back and her life back to normal…the way it was before Roman got sick.


My favorite scene to write was… 

I think the final scene is my favourite. I don’t want to spoil it, but I’m a sucker for a great goodbye scene. It was really cathartic to get to write out my own goodbye to Elsie, Roman, and the Bone Tree and still have it be a part of the story.


The hardest scene to write was…

When Elsie wakes up to the phone ringing in the middle of the night, announcing that Roman had died. The whole chapter was like carving my worst memories out of my head and putting them on paper. 


I hope readers will…

Enjoy the story. I’d love it if it creeped them out, be stoked if they cried haha, but really I just want BONE TREE to be something they finish reading with a smile on their face.


Spooky stories can…

Open up new genres to reluctant readers. Ghosts freaked you out? You should try dragons next!


One surprising thing about me is…

I never wear matching socks and I love freeze-dried candy.

Kim: Love it! If you have more questions for Jenna, I’m doing a live interview with her TONIGHT on my Facebook page. If you miss the live recording, don’t worry. You can always watch later at https://www.facebook.com/kimventrella.


Kim: Jenna’s debut novel BONE TREE is available now! Pick it up wherever books are sold.

ABOUT JENNA LEHNE

Jenna Lehne is a tea-sipping, horror-loving mom of two boys and a cat named Lemons. They live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, though unfortunately not in an igloo. Jenna is a former Pitch Wars mentor, contributor on the blog MidnightSocietyTales.com, and her middle grade debut, BONE TREE, is out April 2021 from Blue Bronco Books.

Beasties in Spooky Middle Grade

As a spooky MG author, I read a lot of spooky MG books, and one of my favorite things is meeting new wonderfully creepy and creative beasts. Spooky books have all kinds of villains, and they generally feed some fear of the main character. In fact, the Beast in my own book, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, is directly from the Boy’s biggest fears.

Here are some of the beasts I love from spooky MG books:

The Howler from TWIST by Sarah Cannon

In TWIST, something has made Neha’s drawings literally come alive on the page. At first it’s cute and fun, until some beasts invade her sketchbook. When the characters escape to the real world, the beasts want to come too. TWIST has a number of beasties, but the big bad is The Howler, the biggest, baddest, most terrifying beast to come out of Neha’s friend Eli’s imagination. My imagination can conjure up some pretty scary monsters, so I can imagine The Howler is scary!

The Tule Vieja of THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ by Adrianna Cuevas

In this Pura Belpré Honor Book, Nestor has just moved to his latest new town, this time living with his abuela. Nestor has the unique talent of being able to talk and understand animals, and he quickly discovers that animals all over this neighborhood are going missing because a tule vieja is terrorizing his town. Shapeshifters can be really scary because you never know what’s the actual monster, and that’s one of the things that’s so spooky about Adrianna Cuevas’ tule vieja. In the book’s author’s note, Adrianna talks about how she changed the legendary tule vieja for this story. The original is scary, but her’s is terrifying.

The Jumbies of THE JUMBIES series by Tracey Baptiste

Having grown up in the Caribbean, I love reading books set there. Tracey Baptiste grew up in Trinidad and uses the island and its folklore for this fantastic spooky series. It features Corinne La Mer, who claims she’s not afraid of anything—which quickly lets us know she’s going to have to face something scary! Sure enough, she does: The Jumbies. When the evil jumbie Severine wants to take over the island for all the jumbies, Corinne must learn ancient magic to stop Severine and save her home.

The Zombie Outlaws of the LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES series by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

What’s worse than a horde of angry outlaws? A horde of angry zombie outlaws! That’s exactly what young Keech Blackwood has to deal with in the LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES series, starting with Bad Whiskey Nelson (love that name!). Set in the Old West, these books have a new twist on the zombie apocalypse, and it’s so so scary.

The Cuddle Bunnies of NIGHT OF THE LIVING CUDDLE BUNNIES by Jonathan Rosen

I know what you’re thinking: Cuddly bunnies are not beasts…but these are! In NIGHT OF THE LIVING CUDDLE BUNNIES, the hottest new Christmas toy is coming alive and terrorizing the town of Gravesend. Soon Devin Dexter and his cousin Tommy are on the trail to save their town from the mob of bunnies and the warlock controlling them. It’s hilarious and scary all rolled into one.

There are plenty more fantastic beasts in spooky middle grade books. What are you favorites?

Spooky Poetry in Middle Grade Books

Well hello, all you spooky readers! It feels like forever since I’ve chatted with you here in our #SpookyMG Crypt. And, yes. I have missed you.

*taps jagged fingernails*

So today, I’m bringing you a special treat! 🍬 In celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21st), I thought it would be fun to spotlight middle grade books, authors, or segments within MG stories that utilize poetry. I even have some examples from our very own authors.

Adding poetry in the form of a structured poem, song lyrics, scattered thoughts of a character, or even a spell from a favored wizard (Harry Potter) to a novel can do a many things.

Take Shel Silverstein use of poetry. He created quite the visual with this one. (Not to mention, I’ll be looking behind my back all day, now.)

When singing songs of scariness. 
Of bloodiness and hairyness, 
I feel obligated at this moment to remind you 
Of the most ferocious beast of all: 
Three thousand pounds and nine feet tall —
The Glurpy Slurpy Skakagall — 
Who’s standing right behind you. 

THE WORST – NIGHT, NIGHT KIDS

And then there’s THE GIVING TREE, which has been widely debated as an example of the sacrifice of parenthood or the way NOT to parent a child. Nonetheless, the use of structure throughout the story is brilliant. The staggering of sentences and thoughts, reactions from either the boy or the tree draw readers attention. It’s almost as if Shel was clapping his hands or pointing with his finger to say ‘Here, pay attention to this.’ The prose stops abruptly at places, yet subtly at others. The flow and placement of the poetry lends strength to the mood and tone as well. Here’s just a brief excerpt:

Can you give me a house ?’
‘ I have no house,’ said the tree.
‘The forest is my house,
but you may cut off my branches and build a house.
Then you will be happy.’

And so the boy cut off her branches,
and carried them away to build his house.
And the tree was happy.

I chose this segment for the limited about of words used and for the emotions it conjures. The break used between the lines is a perfect pause for the reader to ponder the word ‘happy’ and then be stunned by the word ‘cut’ in the next line – one word that causes pleasure, one word that causes pain.

Of course, I also must mention Edgar Allan Poe and his use of subtle yet eerie language. Here’s an example from the end of his poem ALONE.

From every depth of good and ill

  The mystery which binds me still:

  From the torrent, or the fountain,

  From the red cliff of the mountain,

  From the sun that round me rolled

  In its autumn tint of gold,

  From the lightning in the sky

  As it passed me flying by,

  From the thunder and the storm,

  And the cloud that took the form

  (When the rest of Heaven was blue)

  Of a demon in my view.

ALONE

Even without the first parts of this poem, you can see how he uses each line to draw the reader deeper into the imagery and mood he’s creating. And then WHAM! he hits you with the last line.

Poetry can . . .

  • bring a sudden or a subtle change to the flow of the story
  • introduce internal thoughts of a character in an unusual way
  • capture imagery in ways that urge readers to use their own imagination
  • be used with illustrations or graphics (IMHO, I love it when a book does this!)
  • be a great way to sprinkle clues or foreshadowing (I also love this one.)
  • shed light on specific details the author wants the reader to pay close attention to
  • create a diversion for the reader – opposite of the above point.
  • move the plot along more quickly or slow it down
  • set, increase, or change the mood and tone of a scene or plot point
  • deliver details of the world or setting in a fun way

And we could go on and on . . .

Or maybe just show a few examples of these using our very own authors!

If you have or have found additional ways adding poetry to spooky MG books can strengthen the story, leave it in the comments below! We’d love to hear.

Thank you for reading and chatting up spooky middle grade books with me!

Sheri☠️

A Student Survey on Scary Stories

This past month I did an informal survey of about one hundred MG students (6th and 7th graders/upper MG) to discover their opinions on spooky stories. The results, while not scientific or extensive, were interesting and informative, especially when I compared the results to our list of Spooky MG Authors’ titles. I hope teachers, librarians, and authors serving these students will also find this information helpful.

The students who participated were 6th graders from a charter school in Harlem, New York and 7th graders from a public school in Connecticut. When asked if they liked reading scary stories, over 80% said “Yes!” That’s pretty impressive. As a former school librarian, I think it would be difficult—if not impossible—to find another subject area with such appeal to a wide variety of readers. 

40% said they liked the stories totally scary, while close to 34% liked their creepy stories mixed with humor. 

As for subjects of interest in scary stories, HAUNTED HOUSES ranked at the top. Some examples of this topic by Spooky MG Authors include

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

Beyond the Doors by David Neilsen. 

HUMOR was a close second, behind haunted houses. Spooky MG Authors often combine humor and horror in their tales, such as

Twist by Sarah Canon

Hello, Future Me by Kim Ventrilla

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies by Jonathan Rosen.

Other subjects of interest students identified were:

ZOMBIES  

Legends of Lost Causes by Brad McLelland and Louis Slyvester

MURDER/MYSTERIES

The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn.

GHOSTS

The Spirit of Cattail County by Victoria Piontek

Ollie Oxley and the Ghost by Lisa Schmid.

ROMANCE (as in teen crushes)

The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts

Into the Shadowlands by Cynthia Reeg. 

GRAPHIC NOVELS were also popular with students. An example of an excellent spooky graphic novel is Anya’s  Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Another is Rania Telegmeier’s award-winning Ghosts.

Although not graphic novels, some deliciously creepy–and lavishly illustrated–books are the Warren the 13th series by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle.

One student expounded on how totally unnerving realistic scary stories are. “Reading about something that could really happen to me freaks me out.” In our own Spooky MG Authors, we have examples of these creepy stories.

In Out To Get You, Josh Allen presents short stories with familiar settings but scary outcomes.

Fictionalized historic hauntings in the Virginia coal country are featured in Angie Smibert’s Ghosts of Ordinary Objects

Additional contemporary titles mentioned by the survey students were the ever-popular GOOSEBUMPS by R.L. Stine and for slightly more mature readers, FRIDAY NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S by Scott Cawthon.

Another favorite theme mentioned by the survey responders were spooky stories woven around MYTHS.

Examples of these from our Spooky MG Authors include

Motley Education by S.A. Larsen

The Total Eclipse of Nester Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas.

Specific favorites cited by students in the survey were CORALINE by Neil Gamon

DOLL BONES by Holly Black

THE THIEF OF ALWAYS by Clive Barker

A TALE DARK AND GRIM by Adam Gidwitz

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK by Alvin Schwartz.

But one of the most surprising subjects of interest (to me anyway and one that seems largely lacking from current titles) are scary SPORTS themed stories. I can see where this would be a popular combination for a number of student readers. 

Trapped In A Video Game by Dustin & Jesse Brady was the closest title for this combo category that I could find. If you’re familiar with any other of these creepy sport stories, I’d love to discover more. For authors, this may be a story mishmash to explore when drafting new chilling tales.

One final note that my mini-study of scary MG stories quickly revealed was the endless variety. While I’ve listed the various subjects mentioned by the MG survey readers, along with related titles, I must note that each title could easily be placed under more than one subject. Chilling tales are often a surprising combination of subjects and styles.

It seems that no matter which dark corner you peek into, MG readers enjoy scary stories. And luckily, there are a wide variety of chilling tales to creep into.

Happy reading—but I’d suggest keeping the lights on!

A Good Luck Tale

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. To celebrate, the spooky middle-grade authors are sharing how a wee bit of luck helped pave their path to publication.

Lisa Schmid

A few years ago, I had given up on Ollie Oxley and The Ghost and decided to move on to a new project. But as luck would have it, at the last minute, I decided to participate in the Twitter pitch party #kidpit. To my good fortune, Carlisa Cramer with Jolly Fish Press liked my pitch, and the rest is history. It was my lucky day.

Cynthia Reeg 

In the summer of 2005, I attended the Highlights Foundation weeklong Chautauqua Workshop and had the opportunity to have then Highlights editor, Marileta Robinson, look over my very first MG fantasy, THE SLIGHTLY TANGLED TALES OF JIM-BO BAXTER. I was at a bit of a low spot in my writing career at that point. She encouraged me to keep working on my story. I did and I submitted it to our regional SCBWI contest that fall. I was amazed when I won the Ellen Dolan Mentorship Award for 2006. I spent the next year polishing TANGLED TALES with my wonderful mentor, Vicki Erwin. We even had time to start revising my new MG fantasy, FROM THE GRAVE, which eventually lead me to joining the lovely Spooky MG Authors. Vicki continues to mentor me—and five other authors, as part of a great group of talented authors called the Polished Pens. That’s the thing with writing children’s literature—I’ve found such great support and camaraderie all along the way. Lucky for me!

Tania del Rio 

Warren the 13th may sound unlucky, but it’s all thanks to a stroke of good luck that it was able to be published.

Usually you write a manuscript and query agents who will hopefully sell your book to a publisher. In my case, Warren the 13th was just an idea that was created by the illustrator Will Staehle back when we went to art school together many years ago. He designed the character and concept, and I wrote an early draft of Warren’s story. It was a fun concept but we were both preoccupied with our respective majors (graphic design and animation), so we never did anything with Warren at that time.

Fast forward many years later. Will and I were at a booth in Comic Con San Diego, selling Victorian inspired art, short stories, and goods for our company, The Bazaarium. A guy named Jason came by to check out our wares, and was a fan of our stuff. It turned out he was the publisher for Quirk Books and he invited us to pitch him on a book idea inspired by our spooky Gothic/Victorian aesthetic. We knew Warren the 13th would be perfect! So we dusted off the cobwebs off the old manuscript I wrote so many years ago and we pitched it along with Will’s fantastic illustrations. Next thing we knew, we had a new series under our belts!

I feel so lucky that we got to bring Warren into the world through a chance meeting. If we hadn’t met Jason, there’s a good chance Warren would still be left in a pile of old papers, forgotten.

Kim Ventrella

When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a “starving artist.” Those exact words. I have been so extraordinarily lucky to do what I love, exclusively, for the past three years. Has it been a financial struggle? Yes. Does it require some serious hustle? For sure. But the vast majority of people around the globe never get the opportunity to follow their passions in that way. And I should say that, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I love living on the cheap. That’s a huge part of how I can do this, as is my dog. No, she doesn’t bring home the bucks, but her adorable cuddly butt is worth way more than money.

Samantha Clark 

I got a lot of luck with my first book, although it could also be that I had put myself into the right place at the right time. As the new Regional Advisor of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, I helped to organize an annual conference. I had a team who helped me decide which speakers we should bring in, agents, editors, art directors, authors, etc. While I was an organizer, I also had the same dreams of the attendees: that I might connect with an agent or editor who liked my work. By lunch on the Saturday, I had heard from friends that they’d made promising connections with agents and editors, and that was thrilling, to have been a small part in making that connection. But I knew I wouldn’t be making a connection because I had researched the agents we had invited and I knew it was unlikely they’d be interested in my manuscript because of the types of books the represented. It felt bittersweet, sad for myself, but at the same time joyous for others—and I at least had the satisfaction of organizing a wonderful event that inspired so many people. But luck—or fate?—had other ideas.

On the Sunday, as I carried boxes of handouts into a room, one of the agents, Liza Pulitzer Voges, pulled me over and said she’d heard about my work from my author friend Donna Janell Bowman and would like to see it. Knowing Liza’s clients, I didn’t think she’d represent my work, but I thanked her and said I would send it. The rest of the conference went great, and on the Monday, I spent the morning with the art director we’d brought in, Laurent Linn from Simon & Schuster,  because we could only get him a late flight. I took him to our local indie bookstore, BookPeople, and introduced him to the children’s book buyer. Over a coffee, I told him about the manuscript I was working on. Then the conference was over and I thought no more about it.

Flash forward a month and I was not surprised to get a rejection from Liza Voges, but what did surprise me was she felt that, even though the book wasn’t right for her, it could be right for other agents. She recommended I submit to two mentioning her name. I thanked her and… did not send my work to the other agents. I didn’t see the point. My manuscript had been requested by lots of agents, and in some cases, had been sitting in their inboxes for over a year. After over 100 rejections, I had lost hope that one more agent submission would make a difference.

Three weeks later, I got copied on an email Liza Voges was sending to the agents she had recommended. She had told them about my work and both of them had asked to see my full manuscript. I was so grateful and shocked that Liza had gone that extra mile. And even though I was sure they’d reject me too, I didn’t want to let Liza down, so I immediately sent off the manuscripts. Three weeks later, I got an offer of representation from Rachel Orr, who’s still my agent today.

But that’s not all! Two years later, that manuscript sold to Sarah Jane Abbott at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. When it was talked about in a staff meeting, Laurent Linn recognized the story as the one we’d talked about over coffee in the BookPeople cafe two and a half years earlier. He quickly told them he wanted to work on the book. He did an amazing job, collaborating with illustrator Justin Hernandez to give THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST a gorgeous cover and interior, and they just collaborated again for my next novel, ARROW.

So from organizing a conference where I was sure I wasn’t making any connections that would move my career forward, I ended up getting an amazing agent and art director, and both were out of my hands. A lot of this was out of my hands: The chapter’s former Regional Advisor, Shelley Ann Jackson, had suggested we invite Liza Pulitzer Voges and Laurent Linn to speak at our conference.  Donna had mentioned my work to Liza, and Liza had recommended it to my agent. And in more luck, if Laurent had been able to get an earlier flight out after the conference, I might not have had coffee with him at BookPeople, and he might not have been my book’s art director.

I’m very grateful for the people who helped me make these connections, but I also think about all the rejections THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST had had before, rejections that had helped me learn and revise and make the manuscript better. So much luck  helped me make those connections, but one of the things I’m also grateful for, is that the luck came when THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST was ready, which was perhaps the luckiest part of all.

Janet Fox 

My lucky break came when I got a super-last-minute critique, due to a cancellation, at a conference I decided to attend a few days before it started, and that critique was with Alyssa Eisner Henkin, then an editor at S&S. I sent off my stuff in time for her to read it on the plane. At the conference I was disappointed when she announced she was leaving S&S – to become an agent. But………in my critique she gushed over my pages, saying she’d been wishing for the plane to fly faster, and she wanted to see the whole manuscript as soon as she was in her new office. Two months later, I became her first client, and she was my first agent, who sold my first novel to Penguin in a two-book deal.

Sheri Larsen

I crossed the luck of the Irish during my writing journey thus far a few times. The most memorable would be how I signed with my first agent. After months of querying, gaining requests but no offers of representation, I decided to submit to publishers on my own and I received seven offers of publication. I then recontacted a few agents and that’s how I signed with my first agent! Guess you could say I found the lucky backdoor.