One of my personal favorite spooky activities is to consult an oracle deck, especially when I’m feeling indecisive or confused about a situation.
I decided to create a deck of oracle cards based on books by our Spooky MG authors that you can use for guidance! (For entertainment purposes only).
Simply print the sheets out (preferably on a thicker card stock) and cut along the lines to create your very own deck of 25 spooky cards!
For best results, consult the cards in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. If you’d like, light a candle or incense to add some atmosphere! Take several deep breaths and try to clear your mind of any thoughts. When you feel ready, gently shuffle the cards as you ponder a question you might have. Even if you don’t have a specific question the cards will give you a topic to reflect upon.
Draw a card and consult this guide for its meaning:
RESILIENCE: You may feel stuck but this is the time to push forward! Trust your inner spirit and know that you can face anything life throws at you.
LOGIC: Sometimes our imaginations can get carried away. Try to bring yourself back to the facts and look at things objectively. Ask for a second opinion or clarification if needed.
SECRETS: What secrets are you keeping close to your chest? Would it feel better to share them with a trusted person? Why do you keep your secrets? Is it from loyalty or fear?
POWER: Recognize your own power. Take up space. Let yourself be heard! This card may also appear when you are feeling oppressed by something or someone. Acknowledge your strengths!
DOORWAYS: Opportunities could be heading your way. Keep your eyes open for new challenges that could lead to good rewards. Don’t be afraid to try new things!
GIFTS: Everyone has inner gifts. What are yours? See this card as an opportunity to express gratitude for the gifts in your life.
DECISIONS: This card will often appear when you are at a crossroads or need to make an important choice. Sometimes it can be paralyzing, but trust your intuition!
ILLUSIONS: Be wary of people and situations who might be trying to deceive you. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut. Things aren’t always as they seem.
MISCHIEF: This card is about bending the rules. It invites you to “play hooky” from your responsibilities and do something fun for yourself. It could also mean that someone is trying to push your buttons deliberately, so watch out!
ADVENTURE: When this card comes up, there’s a good chance you’ll have an opportunity to travel or try something new and exciting. Or, if things have been too routine, this card can nudge you to break out of your comfort zone and be more spontaneous!
CURIOSITY: It’s healthy to be curious and ask questions. Don’t always accept things at face value. This card encourages you to explore and dive deeper into the situation at hand.
MYSTERY: This card can show up when you feel lost or confused. But, like any good mystery, there will be clues you can follow. This can be a reminder to be more observant and to listen more intently.
CHALLENGES: You might see this card when you are going through a difficult time. This card encourages you to learn from the obstacles in our path. What can we gain from our conflicts?
FAMILY: This card reminds you to connect with the people closest to you. It may show up when you’ve been too busy to focus on family, and is a gentle reminder to reassess your priorites.
HUMOR: Try to think of the last time you laughed so hard you cried. If it’s been too long to recall, this card is a reminder to invite more laughter and joy into your life. Watch a funny show or allow yourself to act silly!
HISTORY: Sometimes the past comes back to teach us. Sometimes we still need to heal from old memories or experiences. This card encourages you to face your past to give you the tools you need to move forward.
FEAR: What are you most afraid of? How is this holding you back from things you want to achieve? Sometimes fear can be healthy. It can keep us safe. But sometimes it can prevent us from taking necessary risks.
COMPETITION: If this card shows up, you may be trying to prove something. Or jealously could be involved. Competition can be a good thing – it can give us drive and inspire others. But try not to get too wrapped up in always being number one.
ANXIETY: In these times, it’s normal to feel anxious. But this card invites you to take a closer look at the things that are giving you stress. Sometimes we just need to talk to someone to make it better. It’s ok to ask for help.
COURAGE: This card reminds you of how brave you can be. Courage doesn’t mean being unafraid. It means pushing forward despite your fears. Courage also has many forms. For some people, it can be as simple as speaking up.
CONTROL: When this card shows up, you may be feeling a loss of control in your life. Sometimes it’s ok to let go and not manage every detail. It’s also ok to set boundaries with other people who are trying to control you.
GRIEF: Sadness and loss are a part of life. This card can show up when you are mourning something, whether it be a person, a pet, or even a lost opportunity. It’s ok to take the time you need to process your grief and heal from it.
FRIENDSHIP: This card reminds us to lean on our friends and to trust others to help you. Sometimes it shows up when you’re feeling lonely, and it’s a reminder to reach out to those who care. It’s also a nudge to stop being reclusive and to get out more!
RESPONSIBILITY: This card can show up when you feel overburdened or stressed. How can you delegate tasks or ask for help and support? This card may be a reminder to be more organized or take time for self-care.
MAGIC: This card can indicate that a surprise is on its way. It’s about the unexpected, the serendipitous, and the strange! Life is full of twists and turns. Embrace it!
Here at Spooky Middle Grade, we’re always saying that spooky books aren’t just for Halloween—they’re good all year round. And to prove it, here’s a list of some spooky books coming out this spring and summer that we can’t wait to read:
THE BEAST AND THE BETHANY BOOK 2: REVENGE OF THE BEAST written by Jack Meggit-Phillips and illustrated by Isabelle Follath In this second book in the series that’s described as Lemony Snicket meets Roald Dahl, prankster Bethany tries to turn over a new leaf, but gets thwarted in the funniest and most spooky ways at every turn. Out MARCH 22 from Aladdin
STORM written by Nicola Skinner Doll Bones meets Lemony Snicket in this middle-grade adventure about a girl who, after she dies in a freak natural disaster that wipes out her whole town, must navigate her temper even when she’s a ghost. Out MARCH 29 from HarperCollins
WITCHLINGSwritten by Claribel A. Ortega This new book from the New York Times best-selling author features 12-year-old Seven Salazar, who, after being put in a coven for witches with little power, must fulfill an impossible task to gain her full power and become the witch she always knew she could be… or be turned into a toad, forever. Out APRIL 5 from Scholastic
FREDDIE VS. THE FAMILY CURSE written by Tracy Badua In this fun and spooky middle-grade adventure, Filipino-American Freddie Ruiz finds a family heirloom that he thinks will break his family’s curse, until he discovers that his cranky great-granduncle Ramon is trapped in the heirloom and the evil spirits responsible for his death have returned with a vengeance. Now Freddie and his cousin Sharkey have 13 days to break the curse, or join Ramon in an untimely afterlife. Out MAY 3 from Clarion Books
WILDSEED WITCH written by Marti Dumas This MG contemporary fantasy tells the story of how social-media-loving tween Hasani’s summer plans of building a makeup YouTube channel are drastically changed when she’s sent to Les Belles Demoiselles, a literal charm school that teaches generations of old-money witch families to harness their magic. Out MAY 10 from Amulet Books
LET THE MONSTER OUT written by Chad Lucas A mix of Stranger Things and The Parker Inheritance, this story is about Bones Malone, who feels like an outsider as one of the only Black kids in his new small town. But when things in his town start getting weird, Bones and his friend Kyle Specks find a mysterious scientist’s journal and have to push through their fear to find some answers. Out MAY 17 from Amulet Books
THE CLACKITY written by Lora Senf This eerie spooky MG is reminiscent of Doll Bones and about a girl who must enter a world of ghosts, witches and monsters to play a deadly game if she’s going to rescue her aunt. Out JUNE 28 from Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Plus these spooky MG books are coming out on paperback:
ROOT MAGIC written by Eden Royce Out APRIL 5 from Walden Pond Press
Is there anything better than a cover reveal for a new MG, especially when it’s a spooky series you LOVE?? We feel so honored to share with you the cover for Heidi Lang and Kato Bartowski’s next installment in the WHISPERING PINES series, this one entitled RECKONING. It is due out on September 6th, 2022.
But first! We at Spooky Middle Grade always have a few burning questions that must be answered…
1. Tell us about this new book! What spooky things can new readers and fans of the Whispering Pines series expect?
Up until now we’ve had almost two separate storylines: Rae knows there are extraterrestrials because she’s seen photographic proof. More, she’s sure that’s the reason her father was abducted. And she’s seen a spaceship hidden deep below Whispering Pines. Also in the town? A super creepy alternate dimension—the Other Place—full of a strange bruise-like glow and tentacled, flesh-eating monsters. Caden thinks he knows why the Other Place was created. But he doesn’t know the truth.
There’s a surprising connection between Rae’s extraterrestrials and Caden’s supernatural gifts. The truth is out there…and readers can expect to find it in this book. At least, some of it. 😉 We think a lot of fans will be happy to start getting some answers to the bigger questions, even if they might not be the answers they were expecting.
2. Where did you draw your inspiration from for this book? How is the collaboration process when you’re starting a new book?
Our whole series has really been inspired by The X-Files, and the idea behind their monster of the week mixed with the alien conspiracy episodes. We wanted to structure Whispering Pines in a similar way: there’s an overarching bigger story for the series, and then a monster to tackle in each book that’s somehow related to that overall thread.
This third book was a tricky one to write since we had so many storylines from the first two books to juggle, and we knew we needed to start showing how they all wove together. We did A Lot of phone calls where we just brainstormed, outlined, and got a little sick of talking to each other. But as things started to come together, we were really excited about where this series was heading.
3. Any fun facts or oddities that came up as you wrote? Were there moments where you were spooked?
While book one led to a treasure trove of supernatural information (we read all about Tarot readings, how to do a Seance, reading auras, etc.) and book two brought us to more terrifying bug facts than any one person should ever know, this book was more about building on those facts we’d already learned.
And we always try to scare each other when we write. We figure if we can do that, then we’ll hopefully scare our readers, too. There are a couple of deliciously creepy scenes in this book—monster chase scenes, a possession or two, the occasional jump scare—that did leave us with that chilled sensation. We’re excited to see what our readers think of them.
Here is the cover:
I think we can all agree this cover is amazing…! Credit goes to designer Tiara Landiorio, and artist is Xavier Collette.
Here is the book description:
Eyeless horrors. Giant, flesh-eating bugs. Despite everything Whispering Pines has thrown at her, Rae has never given up searching for her missing father. But when she discovers a surprising connection between his disappearance and Green On!, the shady alternative energy company that runs her town, she’ll be forced to confront a monster more dangerous than anything she’s ever faced before.
Meanwhile, now that Caden’s vindictive older brother is gone, it’s up to him to uphold the family business and ensure that the evil in the Other Place never breaks free. But when a mangled body is discovered in his backyard, he realizes that he can’t protect Whispering Pines from the monstrous creatures of the Other Place—because they’re already here.
The only way for both Caden and Rae to save the people of Whispering Pines is to embark on a mission deep into the heart of the Other Place. There, Caden will have to come to terms with the truth of his family’s legacy and learn how to harness his full power.
If he fails, all the horrors of the Other Place will descend on Whispering Pines, and that’s a threat that the town—and the world—cannot survive.
Doesn’t this sound amazing…? You can pre-order the book here.
If you’re new to the series, why not start at the beginning and read Whispering Pines 1 and 2 first…?
“What books should I read to help me become a better writer?”
As a creative writing professor, this is one of the most common questions I get asked at the end of semesters, when classes are winding down and students are facing the prospect of developing as writers on their own—without a professor and a class curriculum to guide them.
So, over the years, I’ve kept a list of favorite “craft books”—books that have been instrumental in developing my writing skills. These are books I tell my students every aspiring writer should read. And, to flesh out my list, I’ve asked the spooky middle grade authors to chime in, to suggest books they’d recommend for those looking to sharpen their writing talents. So, here is our not-at-all-comprehensive list of must-read books for aspiring writers:
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French.
There’s been some big news in the realm of creepy middle grade books lately, and we here at Spooky MG are absolutely over the (full) moon about it.
Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror and dark fantasy literature. The list of Stoker winners is crammed with legends: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Victor LaValle, Caitlin R. Kiernan. And the award statuette—a gothic, gargoyle-bedecked house, with the winner’s name engraved behind its opening front door—has to be the coolest anywhere in the book world.
Stoker Award categories have included novel, screenplay, graphic novel, short and long fiction, and young adult novel, among others. Now, beginning with the 2022 publishing year, the HWA is establishing a middle grade category for the Bram Stoker Awards (YESSSS!!!!).
Spooky Middle Grade chatted with Becky Spratford, current Secretary of the Horror Writers Association, about the news.
Jacqueline West/Spooky MG: Hello, Becky! Thanks so much for joining us at Spooky MG, and extra thanks for all you do to promote horror for readers of all ages!
So, to get things started: Why has the HWA decided to add a middle grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards now? How did this change come about?
Becky Spratford, HWA: The discussions about adding a Middle Grade category have been going on informally for a handful of years. It all began in earnest when the Horror Writers Association presented R.L. Stine with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony.
Around the same time, the HWA’s Library committee began their work to promote Horror to kids through public libraries. The HWA Library committee, for which I am a co-chair, administers the Dennis Etchison Young Writers Scholarship http://horrorscholarships.com/dennis-etchison-young-writers-scholarship/ to one teen writer each year, and last year we had a record number of applicants. We also award up to five Young Adults Write Now endowments of $250 each to libraries who offer programming to teen writers of horror. In past years, we did not even receive five applicants, but again, last year we awarded all five and interest this year is already strong.
In 2019 we also launched Summer Scares, a national reading program (which I co-chair) where librarians recommend three titles each in the categories of Adult, YA, and Middle Grade Horror. We then use those titles and authors as a way to get more horror titles and programming into our libraries. The Middle Grade category has seen the largest uptick in interest with authors and library workers.
The HWA’s overall goal is to both support horror professionals and promote the genre. Adding the Middle Grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards slate accomplishes both of these things. Middle Grade Horror is strong. The books are excellent and varied and there is a whole generation of readers growing up with these awesome books. The Board was unanimous in extending the The Bram Stoker Award to Middle Grade Horror Fiction as a way to honor the excellent work in this category as we do for adult and teen horror fiction.
This is such great news – and R. L. Stine paves the way for creepy MG lit once again! Perfect.
When will the category be officially put in place? What books will be eligible?
The category begins with all middle grade horror titles published in the 2022 calendar year and will continue every year going forward. Any novel intended for the age group of 8-13 year-olds with a word length beginning at 25,000 words is eligible in a given calendar year. We will be awarding the Bram Stoker Award for the Best Middle Grade Novel (published in 2022) at StokerCon 2023.
What can middle grade authors do if they’d like their books to be considered for the award?
All authors or editors of eligible works are welcomed to submit their own work for consideration by the jury.
Beginning around April, the portal for authors or publishers to self-submit will open on the Bram Stoker Awards website here: https://www.thebramstokerawards.com/submissions/ . You do not need to be a member of the HWA to submit. There is also a recommendation portal for all HWA members to submit titles to be considered in any Bram Stoker Award category. You must be a member to submit an official recommendation, and you cannot submit your own work.
Once those submissions are complete, how are finalists and winners selected?
The Bram Stoker Awards process for every category is the same and it is very clearly laid out here: https://horror.org/awards/rules_current.pdf. However, for the short version, the Bram Stoker Awards use a hybrid system of a closed jury for each category who review the submitted titles and submit a ranked list combined with the recommendation portal mentioned in the previous answer. This allows the general membership to also have a say.
A long list of 10 titles in each category are presented to Active and Lifetime members who can vote for up to 5 in the first round. That vote creates the official “Bram Stoker Nominee” list of 5 titles in each category. Then the Active and Lifetime members can each vote for 1 per category.
Having the HWA support MG horror in this way means so much to those of us who read, write, and love spooky MG fiction.Big thanks to the whole organization.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Summer Scares Reading Program, another way the HWA is reaching out to MG and YA horror fans?
The Summer Scares Reading Program began in 2019 and is an official HWA initiative. It is presented in partnership with United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Booklist Summer Scares provides libraries and schools with an annual list of recommended horror titles for adult, young adult (teen), and middle grade readers. It introduces readers and librarians to new authors and helps start conversations extending beyond the books from each list and promote reading for years to come.
Selected authors agree to make themselves available to libraries (free of charge) in order to promote their titles and Horror in general.
Our committee is made up of 5 librarians and an annual rotating author spokesperson. In the past we have had Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham Jones, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and this year for 2022 we welcome Alma Katsu.
Along with the vetted list of titles, the Summer Scares program and committee also provide a program guide courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. This guide is free and contains a page for each title containing a summary of the book, read-alike titles, programming ideas, and book discussion questions– really everything a library would need to feature and promote the books.
What else is the HWA doing to support young horror readers and writers?
Besides the Scholarship and Endowments and Summer Scares, we added a high school intern this year. She has been working with our Volunteer Coordinator and her teacher to assist us. We have been able to introduce her to authors, have had her work on blog posts and virtual events. We would love to add more young interns going forward.
And just in general, the work we do reaching out to public libraries to encourage them to add horror titles and present horror programming through the Summer Scares reading program and our sponsors like Booklist and Book Riot who also create content to support middle grade horror reads. We have seen an increase in participation by libraries at the middle grade level every single year. Many libraries have let us know that Summer Scares and our librarian-vetted content has allowed them to advocate for more horror for their grade school patrons without fear of reproach for it being “too scary,” despite the fact that we all know they love spooky and scary reads.
YES. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Speaking of loving spooky and scary reads: What books do you think of as the classics of MG horror? Do you have any personal favorites?
As I mentioned above, there are not enough superlatives for the work of R.L. Stine, but I tend to credit Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark story collections for stoking the horror flame of many a middle grade reader, going back to myself [mid 40s] but still today. I volunteer at my local school library 2x a month and it is still a huge favorite.
In 2020, the HWA released Don’t Turn Out The Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry. This anthology has a diverse and vibrant table of contents featuring modern middle grade horror.
[Jacqueline/Spooky MG note: Hey, we know this one! Spooky MG’s very own Kim Ventrella has a terrifying story in this collection. Find out more here: https://bookshop.org/shop/spookymg]
Becky Spratford, cont: My work with Summer Scares has solidified for me that we are in a golden age of middle grade horror right now. We consider title from the last ten years by living authors for Summer Scares and each year, Middle Grade is always a favorite of the committee come selection time. Clearly, the time to include Middle Grade Horror in the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards process is NOW.
Hear, hear to all that.
Thank you to Becky Spratford and the Horror Writers Association, and thank you to all of you who read, write, and love spooky middle grade lit.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, horror-filled 2022!
Becky Spratford [MLIS] is a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up. She trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. She is under contract to provide content for EBSCO’s NoveList database and writes reviews for Booklist and a horror review column for Library Journal. Becky is a 20-year locally elected Library Trustee [still serving] and a Board member for the Reaching Across Illinois Library System. Known for her work with horror readers, Becky is the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Third Edition [ALA Editions, 2021]. She is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and currently serves as the Association’s Secretary and organizer of their annual Librarians’ Day. You can follow Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.
Jacqueline West of Spooky Middle Grade is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Award Honor Book The Collectors, and the YA horror novel Last Things. Her latest book is the MG mystery/ghost story Long Lost [Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2021], which was both an Indie Next List and Junior Library Guild selection. Find her at jacquelinewest.com or on Twitter @JacquelineMWest.
The Spooky Middle Grade authors love visiting schools and sharing a love of writing and reading. We visited over fifty classrooms in October alone, sharing writing tips and answering student questions. Our virtual Q&As take place year-round and give us the opportunity to share a love of stories with students all over the country. So to wrap up 2021, I reached out to some fellow #SpookyMG authors and asked them to share their #1 tips for young writers.
Find them all below, and if you would like to schedule a live #SpookyMG visit for your students in grades 3-8, head over to our scheduling form for more info!
It takes patience to be an author. You think up your concept, you outline, you write, you edit, and edit some more…
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that this thing you made up actually becomes a book..!
And then the cover arrives, and it starts to feel real.
I’m so proud of my next spooky middle-grade, Daybreak on Raven Island. You can pre-order it at the links HERE!!
It’s out in August of 2022; here is the story:
From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.
Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be making his directorial debut with the horror movie that he’s writing; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make friends at this new school.
But when the three of them miss the one and only ferry of the day that would take them home, they’re forced to spend the night on Raven Island and need each other now more than ever. With the help of a motley ghost hunting crew, they’ll have outrun a flock of ravens and a creepy caretaker, to uncover a killer and expose the age-old secrets of the island…all before daybreak.
Sounds cool, right? What’s even better is the cover:
Spooky is as spooky does, and let me tell you . . . Spooky has been brimstone busy here in the Crypt!
Join me as I explore some of our spooky crew’s latest book releases! So arm yourself with some ghoulish gel, an illuminating lantern, and a protective shield (a couch throw pillow will do), and let’s begin . . .
ONLY IF YOU DARE is a collection of 13 short stories in which danger lurks around every doorway, but not always where you’d expect! Think of a mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. And more!
*A snowman that refuses to melt . . . ooh, how creepy?!!
GHOST GIRL is the story of Zee, her best friend Elijah and her bully turned buddy Nellie who have to team up to save their town. Zee always loved ghost stories, she just never expected to be living one.
A TOUCH OF RUCKUS – Tennie can detect memories in objects, keeping the peace in her chaotic family. But when her new friend Fox hands her an antique watch, Tennie’s touch releases an angry spirit. It knows secrets about her family, but Tennie must be brave enough to listen and speak up for herself.
*Could anything sound more creepy than The Ladies in White?
ARROW, a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference, is the only human living inside a magically hidden rainforest. When the forest is threatened by humans in the arid world outside, Arrow must learn who to trust so he can save his home.
Author Samantha M. Clark – Website | Twitter | Instagram
*Who doesn’t love a magical rainforest?!
CHARACTER BRAINS 🧠
Why will middle grade readers relate to your main character(s)?
Josh Allen – Because my main characters are ordinary kids in ordinary situations who suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves having to deal with horror, maybe on the walk home from school or in a substitute teacher’s life science class or even in their own living room. What kid hasn’t had a day like that?ONLY IF YOU DARE
*Ordinary kiddos can experience situations of horror while in class. I’m sure they will relate!
Ally Malinenko – Zee is courageous and loyal and brave. But she is also impulsive and that gets her in trouble sometimes. But most of all she’s not afraid to speak her mind. That’s my favorite thing about her.GHOST GIRL
*She sounds like a wonderful character.
Ash Van Otterloo – If you’ve ever felt invisible in your family or at school, or like you’ll never be brave enough to speak up for yourself, you and Tennie have so much in common! A TOUCH OF RUCKUS
*Oh, this is a great relatable characteristic.
Janet Fox – Lulu tries so hard to keep herself and her sister safe when their dad disappears – Lulu is a smart, determined kid – but it’s rough going when you live in a car.CARRY ME HOME
*Lulu’s situation will move young hearts . . . and older ones, too.
Jacqueline West – My main character, eleven-year-old Fiona Crane, is planning to become an archeologist or historian someday – whichever turns out to be more interesting. She’s curious and clever and stubborn and shy, and she has just been forced to leave all her friends behind and move to the tiny town of Lost Lake, so that her big sister Arden can be closer to her figure skating coach in the Boston suburbs. Thanks to Arden’s skating and her parents’ demanding jobs, Fiona’s wishes often come last. Anyone who has ever moved to a new home, or who has felt overlooked or odd or out-of-place, will connect with her, I hope.LONG LOST
*You had me at archeologist or historian. I’m sure you’ll have many young readers at that point, too.
Lorien Lawrence – The main character, Quinn, is curious and determined, and even though she’s smart, she makes a LOT of mistakes along the way. Hopefully MG readers can relate to some of her strengths AND flaws!FRIGHT WATCH: THE COLLECTORS
*Sounds like a great balance that readers can see themselves in.
Samantha M. Clark – Arrow might have grown up the only human in the rainforest, but he has a best friend (a monkey called Curly) and likes to play games, just like middle grade readers. But also, Arrow has to learn who to trust, and that can be hard for anyone. Sometimes people act like your friend but then they do something bad and it’s hurtful. When Arrow first meets the humans from the outside world, it’s like when a middle grade reader is starting a new school or just moved to a new neighborhood. Arrow wants to be friends with all the humans he meets, but some people have bad intentions. He has to learn who his true friends are.ARROW
*Arrow is a wonderful character. (Psst…I read the book!)
WRITER’S ALLEY 🖊️
What is the most intriguing and/or challenging part of your story or, for Josh, collection of stories?
Josh Allen – The most challenging part, for me as a writer, was writing thirteen different stories that were distinct. Like, you can only write so many stories about monsters that want to kill you or eat you. At some point, you’ve got to mix it up.ONLY IF YOU DARE
*Thirteen stories in one book that are all different. Sounds challenging to me.
Ally Malinenko – The most intriguing part of writing Ghost Girl was getting a steady build of dread and fear in the narrative. I wanted things to slowly get worse until everything was then really bad. The most challenging was the emotional scene at the end between Elijah and Zee when she thinks she’s lost him. GHOST GIRL
Aw, getting to the character’s emotional innards is always tough.
Ash Van Otterloo – I really like how both Tennie and Fox have fascinating secrets they’re afraid to share with anyone, and how trust builds between them while they’re chasing ghosts! They’re tender enough to challenge each other, and I love that vibe. A TOUCH OF RUCKUS
Janet Fox – It wasn’t hard to keep the tension up in a story about living without proper clothing, shelter, food, money. The hard part was making the story positive and hopeful, and I think it is. CARRY ME HOME
*Oh, I’m sure that was difficult.
Jacqueline West – In the strange old library in her new town, Fiona discovers a mystery novel called THE LOST ONE. The more she reads, the more she notices that the settings within the book seem to match specific places in her town…and soon she starts to wonder if the story within THE LOST ONE might be true. Writing that story-within-a-story, and interweaving it with Fiona’s own life, was one of the biggest challenges for me as a writer (and one of the most fun parts, too).LONG LOST
*This story-within-a-story is fascinating to me! I’m sure readers will love it.
Lorien Lawrence – Most intriguing part? The Ladies in White of course! 😉 What ARE they? And what do they want stuff Lex? Readers will have to solve the mystery along with Quinn and Mike.FRIGHT WATCH: THE COLLECTORS
*The Ladies in White sounds so creepy!
Samantha M. Clark – I had to do a lot of research for this book, about rainforests all over the world and soil, and trees, and plants, and the relationships between animals and trees as well as humans and trees, plus about what it’s like to live with a limb difference. It was challenging to know what to put into the story, but it was so much fun to learn. ARROW
*Learning about the relationship between animals and trees sounds so interesting!
SEEKING PREY 🐺
If (your book) was in a grocery store, what three items would top its list to buy?
Josh Allen – Hmm. Definitely not oatmeal or ice cream or hot chocolate, and if you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book.ONLY IF YOU DARE
*Ah . . . I see what you’re doing here. Sneaky . . .
Ally Malinenko – A flashlight for sure, snacks for when you’re lost in the woods, and a compass, if they have those in grocery stores! GHOST GIRL
Ash Van Otterloo – Pizza spices, marshmallows, and hot chocolate! A TOUCH OF RUCKUS
*That’s a very intriguing trio!
Janet Fox – Shampoo (Lulu can’t afford it, so she has to use hand soap), bread (because you can get by with it if you’ve got nothing else), a newspaper (because that’s how Lulu figures out what happened.) CARRY ME HOME
Jacqueline West – Ice cream, strawberries, andbatteries for a nightlight.LONG LOST
Lorien Lawrence – If The Collectors was in the grocery store, it would buy the biggest bag of gummy bears, a flashlight, extra batteries, and shoelaces.FRIGHT WATCH: THE COLLECTORS
*YES! Gummy bears.🧸
Samantha M. Clark – Organic soil, dye-free mulch and any old, rotting vegetables they might be planning to throw out (they make good compost to feed trees and plants).ARROW
*This is a great survival fact!
BOOK GUTS 🕮
Why do you enjoy writing stories with spooky elements?
Josh Allen – Spooky stories are good for us! They teach us to be brave and to navigate our fears in healthy ways so that when we encounter scary things in real life, we’re ready to deal with them. Spooky stories are like “Bravery Practice.” Also, spooky stories are fun!ONLY IF YOU DARE
*Teaching us to be brave . . . Yes!
Ally Malinenko – They were my favorite stories growing up. Also, kids need scary books. They already know the world is scary. These books help them navigate their fears in a safe way. We need to trust kids more.GHOST GIRL
*Finding help to navigate scary stuff of the real world in spooky books is a comforting thought.
Ash Van Otterloo – Fear is something everyone relates to, and it can be a really powerful motivator! People who love their comfort zone are suddenly ready to try new things when they’re chased by zombies or werewolves. A TOUCH OF RUCKUS
*Fear as a motivator definitely can work, especially while being chased by zombies.
Janet Fox – As a kid, I was terrified of the dark and of monsters. I want to conquer that fear, and writing about what scares you is a great way of lifting the curtain and letting in the light. CARRY ME HOME
*Yes! Letting the light in is the way to strike out the darkness and see it with clarity.
Jacqueline West – Two reasons: Because I’ve always been drawn to dark, mysterious, and creepy things (I think they’re fascinating), and because I’m a total chicken. Writing scary stories lets me play with all of my many fears.LONG LOST
*Writing spooky stories to explore your own fears is pretty cool. And brave!
Lorien Lawrence – Spooky stories have the BEST energy – they’re electric! They can teach us to be brave in the face of monsters. What’s cooler than that??FRIGHT WATCH: THE COLLECTORS
*Not much, in my opinion.😊
Samantha M. Clark – I love writing scenes with lots of tension, and spooky stories have LOTS of tension. My first novel for middle-grade readers, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, has more spooky elements than ARROW does, but ARROW has lots of tension, and those scenes were great fun to write. ARROW
*The more spooky tension the better.
Young, inquiring student minds want to know – What are you afraid of?
Josh Allen – Honestly, I’m afraid that something bad will happen to people I love and I won’t be able to stop it.
*Aw . . . 💘
That’s pretty heavy, I know, so on a lighter note, I’ll say this: I’m not too fond of snakes. ONLY IF YOU DARE
Ally Malinenko – Loads of things. But my top two are someone breaking into my home and the ocean. It’s full of monsters and their poop. No thank you. GHOST GIRL
Ash Van Otterloo – Clowns, especially very cheerful ones! Also heights. Even steep hills without trees are enough to make my knees wobble! A TOUCH OF RUCKUS
*So there with you! 🤡
Janet Fox – Heights. I have absolutely awful acrophobia. I go completely numb, which is not good when driving over a mountain pass and you lose all sensation in your arms and legs. (Maybe I should write about it…) CARRY ME HOME
*Good one. So don’t do heights. We don’t want you going completely numb. That would be bad.🚫
Jacqueline West – SO MANY THINGS. The dark. Deep water. Being alone in the woods at night. Windowless basements. Having to talk on the phone. Driving in strange cities. Any fish larger than a hotdog bun. I could go on.LONG LOST
*Windowless basements . . . Ooh, this is a good one. All sorts of creepy possibilities. 🪟
Lorien Lawrence – After years of teasing my brother about his fear of alligators, I realized that he’s right: alligators are TERRIFYING!! I mean, they are huge, yet they can go really fast and hide really well. That’s the scariest type of villain! FRIGHT WATCH: THE COLLECTORS
*Ooh . . . gators. #Chomp 🐊
Samantha M. Clark – I’m actually afraid of lots of things, and sometimes I put them in my books so I can pretend I’m not afraid of them. I’m afraid of spiders (although I’m getting less afraid of the little teeny tiny ones), frogs jumping on me, heights, cramped spaces, drowning. I try to stay on the ground, in the shallows and away from jumping insects.ARROW
*‘K, creepy thingys with eight legs . . . I’m racing you to the door!🚪
Well, there you have it, folks! A few new #spookymg releases to add to your book list. Thank you for joining us, and please leave a comment below. Ask questions about the author’s answers, share with us spooky books you’ve read that have helped you, or simply share you thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!
One of my favorite spooky reads of the year is CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS by Kaela Rivera. It blends Latinx mythology and folklore with a heartwarming story about a young girl who must risk everything to save her sister from the terrifying El Sombrerón.
Author Kaela Rivera was kind enough to answer some of my most burning questions about her fantastic book.
TANIA: Hi Kaela! One of the things I loved most about reading CECE was recognizing some spooky and familiar characters from Latinx folklore like El Cucuy and La Llororna! Could you talk a bit about the research and inspiration that went into your rich worldbuilding of Cece’s world?
KAELA: Sure thing! For inspiration, I leaned heavily into the stories my abuelo told me about growing up in Mexico when he was a kid and preteen. For research, I used the Mexican Beastiary by David Bowles, researched heavily on the internet (which led to a lot of weird, obscure findings about geology and maps of quarries that are barely even talked about in the book), and some of my own ideas, of course, to put spins on traditional stories.
TANIA: A big theme in CECE is familia. Both the ties to the family you were born into as well as the family you create as you become more independent. In your book Cece decides to train to become a bruja so she can rescue her sister from El Sombrerón. This independence leads to some rifts between her relationship with her parents, as well as the discovery of a new family with the criaturas she befriends along the way. Were you a lot like Cece when you were her age and what does familia mean to you?
KAELA: Honestly, Cece is who I want to be when I grow up. As a kid, I definitely had big feelings like Cece and didn’t feel safe expressing them. I often doubted my value, just like she does, and felt unsafe. But Cece chooses to stay vulnerable and kind—while fighting for what’s right. She doesn’t sacrifice one for the other. That’s what I want to do, and who I feel I can be, but it’s a journey to get there I could gush about my little emotionally intelligent girl all day, haha, so I’ll wrap it up there!
Familia, to me, is the building block of life. It’s the first protective community you’re given, the first one you’re a part of, the first place where you’re meant to flourish and grow and develop. I believe whole-heartedly in that ideal. And that’s also why it’s so painful and frightening when a familia doesn’t live up to that ideal. People’s choices can turn the most precious, sacred, safe place in life into a frightening, unsafe place—which is so opposite to its proper nature.
In CECE, I wanted to explore and address how that can feel for children—getting a mixture of love and protection, as well as apathy or even hostility. Every familia, like every person, comes with good and bad. It’s about what you choose to grow and foster, and as Cece chooses her friends and to embrace her strengths and good qualities, so her familia will have to learn to choose where they stand as well. I’m excited about exploring that more in the sequel. More on that later!
TANIA:Your book is one of the spookiest books I’ve read this year, especially when Cece ventures into the world of brujas and criaturas! Why do you think it’s important that kids read about scary things?
KAELA: Haha thank you! I find scary kids’ books important because, honestly, kids go through scary things. I think scary stories can help address the fear kids carry around and don’t know what to do with. It shows them that everyone faces horrors. And perhaps most importantly to me, it shows them that, when they are afraid and surrounded by frightening things, action can be taken, dragons can be slayed, and hope still lives. Because of the sheer power of contrast, I think scary stories actually help emphasize joy, hope, courage, and goodness. And that’s an empowering thing, at the end of the day.
TANIA:In addition to folkloric scary things like brujas and criaturas, you also touch on some real-life fears surrounding alcoholism and abduction/non-consent. I thought you handled these very skillfully for a middle-grade audience. Can you speak a bit more on your experiences and challenges in writing for young readers in general? What led you to writing middle-grade as opposed to YA or adult?
KAELA: This is kind of a funny story, despite the heaviness of the topic. So originally, CECE was a YA novel! I hesitated when my publisher said they wanted to buy it—but as an MG book. At its core, CECE’s themes very much center on abuse as well as kindness (to speak to that necessity of contrast I mentioned earlier), and I didn’t want to lose that. But after a discussion with my editor, they were supportive of me retaining those themes while stepping back some of the more—ahem, gory—details. I’d always wanted to write MG, though, so I just got to do it sooner than I’d expected!
And honestly, I’m glad. I think that CECE addresses a lot of things I needed to hear when I was that age—about how life is frightening and painful, just as it is beautiful and hopeful. That’s probably my favorite thing about writing middle-grade generally, actually. For some reason, there’s more room to let those both live together in the same space—heartbreak and healing, joy and pain, magic and fear—in MG than in older audience spaces, or that’s been my experience. And I love the wholeness of that.
TANIA: If you could pick one criatura to be your own personal companion, who would you pick and why?
KAELA: I wish I could pick any of CECE’s main crew—Coyote, Little Lion, Kit Fox, and Ocelot—because I love them all in their many different ways! But if I have to pick, I’d probably want Coyote to be my companion. Is it because I have a big soft spot for him because it took so long to nail down his character, or because he’s powerful, or because he’s willing to fight his inner demons to have your back? Probably all of that and more.
TANIA: I’m so excited to hear there will be a sequel to CECE. What can you tell us about it now?
KAELA: Oooooh, me too! Thank you! Well, first off, it’ll be out Fall 2022. So soon! And all of this is technically subject to change, but just to whet your appetite a bit . . . . In CECE 2 (official title pending), I’ll be taking readers into Devil’s Alley for a heist, revealing more about Juana’s time there, and delving into the long-forgotten secrets of the curanderas with Cece! Plus, you may even get to meet Tía Catrina in person.
You might be able to tell that I’m just, you know, a tad excited for readers to see how much worldbuilding and adventure is coming next! Ahem. Just a little.
TANIA:Anything else you’d like to share with our spooky readers? Where can they connect with you online?
KAELA: Well, CECE will also have a third book (Fall 2023)! I’ve emphasized the sequel mainly, but I’m also excited for the third one to wrap up this main adventure in Cece’s world.
Besides that, you can get more updates on the sequel and third book if you subscribe to my newsletter (sign up on the home page of my website, kaelarivera.com)! I also run giveaways and offer free perks through my newsletter, so it’s not a bad place to hang out. Otherwise, you can find me on Instagram or Twitter!
TANIA: Thank you so much, Kaela! I hope all our Spooky Middle Grade readers check out your wonderful series!
Spooky Middle Grade (a.k.a., The Spookies): Today we are so excited to feature the wonderful Anica Mrose Rissi, author of numerous, fabulous books — from picture books to chapter books to YA thrillers, you name it! We could spend all day talking about Anica’s incredible Anna, Bananachapter book series, or her amazing picture books, but today we’re particularly excited to talk about Anica’s upcoming spooky short story collection for middle-graders, Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories.
Before we get started, let’s check out that nerve-jangling cover illustrated by Carolina Godina:
The Spookies: Welcome, Anica! What a beautiful, haunting cover! We’re so very happy you could join the Spooky Crew today! Could you kick us off with a little bit of backstory about your upcoming collection? How did the story ideas come to you (i.e., all at once, or slowly but surely)? Give us the scoop!
AMR: Boo! Thanks for having me.
I’m joining you today from my childhood home on an island off the coast of Maine (this is Stephen King country: the movie Pet Sematary was filmed nearby), which is also where I wrote most of the twenty spooky stories—some funny, some spine-tingling, some hide-under-the-covers scary—found in Hide and Don’t Seek. Just over my shoulder, there’s a shadow box in which three crocheted dolls are trapped (my mother’s idea of good wall art). Their faces are pressed to the glass, their arms are spread wide, and their eyes never blink. Is it any wonder I was inspired to write spooky stories here?
Two summers ago, I wrote the collection’s opening story, about a game of hide-and-seek that never ends, to amuse myself and my nieces. It was a fun way to procrastinate from the work I was supposed to be doing, so I wrote another, and another. I completed thirteen scary stories that summer in a thrilling creative whirlwind, and read them aloud to any friends who would listen (an important step in my revision process). After my editor at HarperCollins/Quill Tree, Rosemary Brosnan, bought the collection, I added seven more scary stories, playing with not only fears but also formats: One story is told entirely through text messages, another through letters sent home from camp. A few are in verse. One is the script of a play. There’s even a story narrated by a very good dog.
This book was a lot of fun to write!
The Spookies: You definitely know how to make readers bite their nails in suspense (*points to Anica’s YA thriller, Nobody Knows But You*). Did you find the process very different when writing spooky, suspenseful stories for middle-graders, versus writing for a YA audience? Did you find any similarities in the process?
AMR: In Nobody Knows But You, my YA novel about an intense friendship formed over a single summer at camp—a summer cut short by murder—the psychological suspense builds over the course of the whole book, so the pacing is pretty different. With Hide and Don’t Seek, part of the fun is that the stories are short (the longest has 2,350 words but the shortest has only 62), so I got to pack scares, suspense, chills, and surprises into every page. Both books have a dark sense of humor, but the humor in Hide and Don’t Seek is overall sillier and more playful than the humor in my books for older readers. Nobody Knows But You has some deeply cerebral moments, whereas Hide and Don’t Seek is designed to engage readers’ senses with scary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and corporeal feelings.
The Spookies: Have you come away with a particular favorite in the collection? If so, why is it your favorite? Does it give you more nightmares than all the rest?
AMR: “The Girl and the Crow” is the story I revised the most times, and it’s the one I find most terrifying—perhaps because, despite it featuring a talking crow, it feels very real to me. You can read it as a straight-up classically horrifying fairy tale, but I hope its underlying themes will spark thoughts and conversations about boundaries and consent, gender dynamics, and the danger of teaching girls they must always be “nice.” A corresponding story, “The Boy and the Crow,” expands the allegory and examines how patriarchal structures and systemic racism are toxic and harmful to even their beneficiaries. I’m proud of those stories. I hope they’ll make readers shudder and think.
The Spookies: Do you have any favorite creepy authors or books that you find especially inspiring or influential?
AMR: Oh, I was definitely inspired by my love for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its sequels. I haven’t revisited the series since childhood, but I remember its scariest moments—and the experience of reading them—vividly.
The Spookies: What monster, legend, piece of lore, or ghost tale scares you the most?
AMR: I can read almost anything but I’m a total scaredy-cat when it comes to watching horror—even horror lite. Friends tease me because I had to quit Buffy the Vampire Slayer after only one episode. It gave me too many nightmares!
The Spookies: If you had a single piece of advice to give an aspiring writer of spooky stories, what would it be?
AMR: Focus on the senses! What scary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations can you incorporate into your story to make it more evocative and memorable?
The Spookies: Okay, let’s do something a little more . . . adventurous. We’re going to give you a noun, and we want you to write a two-sentence horror story based on each. Are you up for the challenge?
AMR: Eeep! Okay.
The Spookies: Then let’s start with . . . GRAPE JELLY.
AMR: When I stuck my finger in the jelly jar, I expected a warm, sticky squish. I did not expect something inside the jar to reach out and poke me back.
The Spookies: Yikes! Good one! How about . . . PUPPY LEASH.
AMR: The other ghosts moan and rattle their chains, searching for justice and vengeance…but not Myrtle. She whistles and whistles all through the night, one hand clasped to the spot where her heart doesn’t beat, the other holding the leash of her poor lost pup.
The Spookies: Ooooh, excellent creepy vibe! Now let’s do . . . MOON BEAM.
AMR: “Don’t worry,” he said, pulling a soft quilt up to the boy’s chin. “The Murderbeast can only enter your room on a moon beam, and I’m certain we’ve closed those curtains tight.”
The Spookies: Okay, that one is the creepiest yet! Last but not least, how about a super tough one: ELEPHANT.
AMR: The ground shook and the beast roared. Slippy the Clown’s painted-on smile didn’t budge, but her eyes grew wide and her shoulders trembled as the World’s Tiniest Ballerina rushed past her, leaping toward the exit, and shouted, “That is not a normal elephant!”
The Spookies: Wow, you really were up to the challenge! Well done! (And after that Moon Beam story, we won’t be sleeping for days.) Thanks so much for your time, Anica! We’re stoked about the release of Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories, creeping into the world in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook on August 3, 2021!
AMR: Thanks, Spooky Middle Grade! I hope it scares you silly.
Don’t forget to preorder Anica’s collection here, add it to your Goodreads here, and be sure to check out her other amazing work while you’re at it!