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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing 2021 releases by members of our Spooky Middle Grade team! These books may not all be ‘spooky,’ but they’re sure to thrill middle grade readers everywhere.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Mad Max meets Jungle Book + Fern Gully. Arrow, 12, has grown up the only human in a magical hidden rainforest. As the magic depletes and other humans from the arid outside world find the forest, Arrow must decide between being accepted by his kind or protecting his home.
(Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, June 22, 2021)
Illustrator: Justin Hernandez
My main character…Arrow was born with a limb difference, has been brought up by the Guardian Tree of the forest, and has a best friend who’s a monkey called Curly.
My favorite scene to write was…I can’t choose! Maybe the opening scene, which hasn’t changed much since the first draft. Or maybe the scene when Petari, one of the children from the outside world, meets the Guardian Tree for the first time.
One surprising thing about me is…I went into the Amazon and met some of the Amerindians living in the rainforest when I was 10, and it’s an experience I’ve never forgotten.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: 12-year-old Juniper will give anything to be a stunt horserider on her favorite show, Castle McAvoy. So when her horse Able gets to audition, she tries out too. But when she gets her dream, she quickly wants more, even though it could cost her everything. 2nd book in the series.
(Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, June 29, 2021)
Illustrator: Kelley McMorris
My main character…Juniper has big dreams and is determined to make them come true, loves apple doughnuts, and her best friend is her horse, Able.
My favorite scene to write was…I think the opening scene when Juniper and her horse Able are having fun in their field slaying a giant dragon … which just happens to be the exact shape and size of the elm tree.
One surprising thing about me is…I used to manage a magazine covering the movie industry and got to go to movie sets and premieres. It was fun.
Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and the forthcoming ARROW (June 22, 2021), both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD coming from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House on June 29, 2021. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com. Follow her on Twitter @samclarkwrites, Instagram @samanthamclarkbooks, Facebook at SamanthaMClarkAuthor, and Pinterest at SamClarkWrites.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: A girl with anxiety disorder finds an unlikely friend — and emotional support animal — in the form of an adorable fainting goat.
(Scholastic, July 20, 2021)
My main character…Marvel 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, 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.
My favorite scene to write was…the rescue scene because it’s a life-changing moment for Marvel. Not only does she surprise herself by being brave, but she also meets Butter. I couldn’t wait to get Marvel and Butter together so they could begin their friendship journey.
One surprising thing about me is…I also suffer from generalized anxiety.
Victoria Piontek is the author of The Spirit of Cattail County, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year and a Sequoyah Children’s Masterlist selection. As a kid, she was lucky to have a menagerie of pets, including a goat that liked to follow her to the school bus each morning. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking with her gigantic fluffy dog. Better with Butter is her second novel.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Quinn and Mike reunite once again in an attempt to save their friend Lex from a soul-collecting Ghost-Mother, now living across the street.
(Amulet, August 31, 2021)
Cover artist: Gilles Ketting
My main character Quinn is…sassy and driven. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s always up for an adventure – especially when the truth is at stake.
My favorite scene to write was…the epilogue. (What can I say, I love endings!)
One surprising thing about me is…that I don’t believe in ghosts! I love to read, write, and watch things about them, but I’m still waiting for one to show itself to me.
Lorien Lawrence is a writer and middle school English teacher from Connecticut. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found hunting ghosts with her family.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: LONG LOST is a story-within-a-ghost-story about siblings, strange libraries, small town secrets, and a book that might not exist.
My main character… is eleven-year-old Fiona Crane, a future archeologist (or historian, whichever turns out to be more interesting). Her family has just moved to the little town of Lost Lake so that Fiona’s big sister Arden can be closer to her figure skating club in the Boston suburbs, forcing Fiona to leave her home and friends behind.
Angry and alone, Fiona heads to Lost Lake’s library, which is housed in a former mansion that belonged to a wealthy local family. While browsing in the mystery section, she starts to read a book that has some striking parallels to her new hometown. But when she returns to the library to find the book again, it has vanished. There’s no trace of it anywhere, not even online. And the librarians insist that it never existed at all.
But Fiona knows what she saw. And the deeper she digs, the more clues she finds that tie Lost Lake to the mystery in the book. Soon Fiona is sure that its story, about a girl who vanished from her own little town a century ago, is all true.
She just needs to find out how that story ends.
My favorite scene to write was…Ooh, everything in Lost Lake’s library. (It’s basically my dream library.) The book-within-a-book parts were all delightful too, because I got to use the old-fashioned voice of so many of my favorite classic novels. It was like getting to put on a Victorian costume and then take it off again. And all the sections involving the Searcher—a mysterious cloaked figure that lurks in the woods around Lost Lake—were creepily fun.
One surprising thing about me is…Like my main character, Fiona, I was OBSESSED with certain historical eras as a kid—especially ancient Egypt. I taught myself to write in Egyptian hieroglyphs (again, just like Fiona), and I can still write my name phonetically, even though I’ve forgotten a lot of the other letters. It was very handy for writing secret messages.
Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors and its sequel, A Storm of Wishes, the MG mystery Digging Up Danger, and the MG novel Long Lost, forthcoming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in May 2021, as well asthe YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews, was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Junior Library Guild Selection, and received the 2010 CYBILS Award for fantasy/science fiction. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.
By the author of 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Book The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, a sweeping, emotional middle grade historical novel about a twelve-year-old boy who leaves his family in Cuba to immigrate to the U.S. by himself, based on the author’s family history.
(Macmillan, September 21, 2021)
Cover artist: Geneva Bowers
My main character…is based on my father. It was an honor to be able to portray his wit, bravery, and compassion.
My favorite scene to write was…when Cumba and his friends prank their Catholic school teacher. I love writing mischievous characters doing silly things.
One surprising thing about me is…I have a graduate degree in linguistics and I’m obsessed with languages. That might not be surprising… I’m pretty much an open-book, for an introvert.
Adrianna Cuevas is the author of The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez and Cuba in My Pocket. She is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and son. When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, she is writing her next middle grade novel.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Two sisters struggle to keep their father’s disappearance a secret in this tender middle grade novel that’s perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Poignant and heartwarming.
(Simon & Schuster, August 24, 2021)
Jacket illustration is by Henry Cole, and the cover design is by Lizzy Bromley.
My main character, Lulu, twelve, wakes up in their Suburban – their current home – to discover her father has gone missing. She must take care of her younger sister Serena while keeping the fact that they are without parents, and living in a car, a secret. Lulu loves to sing, and discovers that she loves acting, but how can she have fun when life is so full of worry?
My favorite scene to write was the scene in the Carnegie Library tower, when Lulu is trying to make a thousand paper cranes to make her wishes come true.
One surprising thing about me is that I, too, love to sing, and once upon a time, sang with a rock band. It didn’t last long, which is probably a very good thing.
Janet Fox is an author, mom, outdoor enthusiast, and former teacher. She’s been to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible, and had a brief fling with rock stardom. Her novels are written for children and young adults but have won her fans of all ages. Her newest middle grade novel, CARRY ME HOME, is out from Simon & Schuster in August 2021, and she has more books in the pipeline. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE (Viking 2016), which received a whole bunch of stars and the lovely Crystal Kite Award, is a gothic middle grade historical fairy tale set in Scotland, and is followed by a sequel, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS (Viking 2020). She lives in Bozeman, Montana and is repped by Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find out more at www.janetsfox.com.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Thirteen ordinary kids. Thirteen ordinary towns. Danger lurks around every corner! Even the most ordinary things hide the most menacing secrets.
(Holiday House, August 31, 2021)
My main characters…have no idea what’s coming for them! The poor things.
My favorite scene to write was…about a haunted microwave oven. No . . . wait . . . it was about a spooky ice cream cone! Or no! It was about a terrifying substitute teacher! or a snowman who refused to melt! . . . Oh, it’s just too hard to choose.
One surprising thing about me is…that I’m an English professor who’s taught a semester-long class on superheroes.
Josh Allen checks under his bed before switching off the light each night. During the day, he teaches creative writing and literature at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He’s the author of OUT TO GET YOU, a Junior Library Guild selection published by Holiday House in September 2019, and the upcoming ONLY IF YOU DARE. Learn more at joshallenwriter.com.
Would you like to support the Spooky Middle Grade team? This support helps us continue to offer free virtual visits to schools across the country. If so, head over to our Bookshop page. Every purchase helps us keep these amazing visits free for schools.
Our Spooky middle grade pal Lindsay Currie has an upcoming release. WHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS is coming September 14th, 2021 from Sourcebooks Young Readers.
Here’s a synopsis to whet your appetite!
Welcome to the decrepit Woodmoor Manor…where something in the woods is always watching. From the author of Scritch Scratch comes a chilling middle grade story about a creepy mansion and sinister creatures in the woods.
All Ginny Anderson wants from her summer is to relax. But when Ginny’s father—a respected restoration expert in Chicago—surprises the family with a month-long trip to Michigan, everything changes. They aren’t staying in a hotel like most families would. No, they’re staying in a mansion. A twenty-six room, century-old building surrounded by dense forest. Woodmoor Manor.
Locals claim the surrounding woods are inhabited by mutated creatures that escaped a mad scientist over a hundred years ago. And some say campers routinely disappear never to be seen again.
When the creaky floors and shadowy corners of the mansion seem to take on a life of their own, Ginny uncovers the wildest mystery of all: there’s more than one legend roaming Saugatuck, Michigan, and they definitely aren’t after campers.
They’re after her.
This sounds creepily delicious, and isn’t this cover amazing?? Preorder now!
Lindsay Currie is the author of spooky middle grade novels. While she’s never experienced anything truly paranormal, Lindsay enjoys researching her city’s forgotten history and learning about the events that shaped the many ghost legends in Chicago. When she’s not reading or writing a mystery novel of her own, Lindsay can generally be found taking long walks with her family, chilling with one of her three dogs, or searching the graveyard for her next antagonist.
Today I’m thrilled to reveal the GORGEOUSLY CREEPY cover of Whispering Pines: Infestation, the second book in the Whispering Pines series by sisters Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski. But first, let’s learn more about the book!
MORE ABOUT INFESTATION:
Caden’s brother Aiden is many things: clever, powerful, vindictive. Unforgiving. And now, he’s also mysteriously free from the hellish dimensional prison that Caden had trapped him in. Caden is sure that Aiden is out for revenge, but since his parents refuse to see the danger when it comes to his brother, he’ll have to find a way to survive on his own.
Meanwhile, Rae, freed from the threat of the eye-snatching, monstrous Unseeing, has once again turned all her focus toward finding her missing father. She believes the town’s shady alternative energy company, Green On!, might have the information she seeks, so she joins their internship program to get answers. Unfortunately this means sacrificing her friendship with Caden, who wants nothing to do with Green On! or anyone associated with it.
When a special assignment from Rae’s internship leads her to uncover an infestation of giant, flesh-eating centipedes that may be alien in nature, she needs to convince Caden to help her get rid of them. The two friends must learn to work together again, because this time, it’s not just Whispering Pines’ fate that hangs in the balance, but the world’s.
INFESTATION is set for publication: September 14th, 2021
Without further ado…
Here’s the beautiful cover with artwork by Xavier Collette!!!
Love it! And Heidi and Kati also answered a few questions about the book!
KIM: What’s the story behind the cover art? Did you work with the artist or ask for changes?
KATI: We actually had a different illustrator for this book than for our first book, so he had to try to match the characters from the original. But no, we did not ask for any changes or anything. I loved the cover as soon as I saw it.
HEIDI: Ditto. The illustrator for this cover is Xavier Collette, and he did an amazing job. I’m also really happy with it.
KIM: What’s your favorite part of the cover?
KATI: I love the huge centipede right behind our characters, and the hint at all the others in the background. Check out all those glowing eyes!
HEIDI: I also love that Vivienne gets a spot on this cover, too. And I like how the characters look so fully dimensional, like they’re about to sprint off the page. It makes me think of an animated TV show.
KIM: What can readers expect in book 2? Do you recommend reading this book alone with the lights out?
KATI: Book 2 will definitely have more of creepy Aiden, plus bugs…huge, man-eating alien bugs. As far as reading it with the lights out, of course! Is there any other way to read this kind of story? 😉
HEIDI: And expect more suspicious activity on the part of the alternative energy company that basically owns the town of Whispering Pines. Also readers will finally learn the secret behind Vivienne and her mysteriously-oversized backpack.
KIM: This series delves into some pretty creepy topics. Do you believe in the paranormal or supernatural? What drew you to these topics?
KATI: I do believe in the paranormal, and I have always loved reading a good ghost tale, or a book that keeps me up in the night.
HEIDI: In book one, our character Rae explains that her dad taught her you can’t prove a negative, so there are no limits on possibility. This is how I feel, that anything is possible. That belief coupled with a very active imagination has been good for writing horror, but bad for those moments when I have to be alone in the dark.
KATI: When we were kids we watched shows like The X-Files together. Heidi was always more into them than I was, but when we began writing books together, I started thinking that a middle grade X-Files would be really fun to write.
HEIDI: Kati suggested the idea, and I was really excited to partner with her on it. Any strong emotion makes for great story fodder, if you can translate it into a plot on the page. And since I’m actually quite terrified of all things supernatural, I felt like this would be a series I could really get into writing.
Yes, I love TheX-Files! I still rewatch it to this day 🙂
KIM: How would you describe Rae and Caden? What makes them the perfect team?
KATI: Rae is someone who throws herself into finding what she needs to find, whereas Caden is the type who likes to hold back, and not rush into anything without a plan. This makes it so their abilities complement each other.
HEIDI: They are also both very independent thinkers, which, coupled with certain mysterious life events in both of their pasts, has taught them to be careful in who they trust. Caden is a total loner at the start of this series, and Rae is someone who knows what it feels like to be the one on the outside. Both of them are looking for a friend, someone who really “gets” them, but until they find each other neither of them realize that’s what they’re missing.
Fun fact about book 2:
KATI: The idea of large alien bugs came from a dream I had. In my dream the creatures were more worm-like than the bugs in this story, but they, too, started off small before becoming huge. And they also enjoyed feasting on people…
HEIDI: Initially when we started writing this I wanted our bugs to look more like praying mantises than worms, but we changed them to giant centipedes when a couple of our early readers said they thought that would be the creepiest. All those legs. <shudder>
KATI: I was always in favor of the centipede look, personally. Oh, and even though the bugs in our story are made-up, there really were bugs like them back around the Permian Period called Anthropleura.
HEIDI: Which leads to our next fun fact: apparently Kati knows a lot of really disturbing things about bugs. Before writing this book together I had no idea. Frankly, it’s a little concerning. ;D
What’s scarier, ghosts or aliens?:
KATI: Ghosts! Aliens are creepy, but I assume they’ll pick someone else to experiment on over me, whereas ghosts I don’t think will be so choosy.
HEIDI: I spent an entire summer when I was twelve convinced I was going to be abducted (thanks a lot, X-Files!) so I have to go with aliens on this one.
Favorite writing snack:
KATI: Anything with chocolate.
Favorite spooky read:
KATI: Eek! So many to choose from! The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy was a nicely creepy YA, and Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh for MG…but there are so many other great ones that I love, too.
HEIDI: Yeah, I don’t know if I can pick one favorite either. I really loved your Bone Hollow, with its perfect combination of spooky and heartfelt. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is another favorite. And I’m currently reading Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker and so far I am really enjoying it.
KIM: Awww, shucks. Thanks for the shout-out, Heidi!!!
Favorite quote from the book (if you can share):
HEIDI: It’s a little long, but we both loved writing this passage here:
The tunnel opened up into a large cavern. Stalactites dripped down from the ceiling, some so long their points almost brushed the ground, while towering stalagmites thrust up to meet them like giant broken teeth. And in between, the bones and half-decayed bodies of at least a dozen animals littered the floor.
It smelled awful—rotting flesh and damp earth and, underneath that, a strange acrid scent like fermented gasoline. Rae tried breathing shallowly as she stepped into the cavern, carefully avoiding a carcass. She swept her beam around.
It caught on something hanging from the ceiling. A large, yellowy something, throbbing and pulsing like an infected wound. A giant egg sac, Rae realized, tangled around a lanky boy, his eyes half closed, his red hair gleaming in her headlamp.
Rae stared at him for so long that at first she didn’t notice all the giant centipedes crawling down from the ceiling and along the walls, moving rapidly toward her.
From Whispering Pines: Infestation
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters. Heidi is afraid of all things that go bump in the night but watches shows like The X-Files and Stranger Things anyhow. Kati enjoys reading about serial killers and the apocalypse but secretly sleeps with a night-light. They believe that the best way to conquer fear is to share it with as many people as possible, so between the two of them, they love creating stories full of all the things that scare them most. They are the coauthors of the Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy. Find out more at https://heidiandkatibooks.com/.
To celebrate, we wanted to heard from Adrianna about this wonderful honor. You can also read more about the book in this interview.
Congratulations, Adrianna! How are you feeling? Has it sunk in yet?
I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet. I watched the awards announcements, screaming and cheering for my author friends. When my book popped up on the screen, I was still completely surprised, even though I knew it was going to be there. It didn’t seem real.
Tell us about that moment you found out your book had been honored.
I was notified on Saturday. They had to call me four times because I have a phobia of talking on the phone and kept ignoring their calls. I was out for a walk in my neighborhood when we finally connected. I’m fairly certain my neighbors are now concerned for my well-being since I sobbed all the way back to my house.
If your neighbors had known, they would’ve been sobbing along with you! When you were a kid, did you dream of this moment?
I loved writing and telling stories growing up but being an author didn’t seem like a real job so it wasn’t something I dreamed of. So being a Pura Belpré Honor author was even farther out of the realm of possibility for me.
I would advise them to tell the stories that make them happy, that make them laugh, and that are just bursting through their fingers to be put down on paper. Don’t worry about what other people are writing or what you think others want to read. Tell the story you want to tell. I wasn’t sure anyone would connect with my farting talking animals but now I can say I’m the author of AWARD-WINNING fart jokes. So you never know what might happen when you tell the stories you want to tell.
This is the BEST advice! And we all need more farting talking animals in our lives.
Let’s face it: 2020 hasn’t been a very fun year. But we here at Spooky Middle Grade believe better times are coming, and we’re ready to open 2021 with a new slate of goals and pledges. We recently asked ourselves what Writerly Resolutions for the New Year we’d like to tackle, and while accumulating our list, we also received resolutions from a couple of New York Times-bestselling authors of adventurous (and sometimes spooky) tales for kids.
“My new year’s resolution is all about self-care and balance. I have a propensity for binge writing, so things can get off-kilter when I’m working on a project. This year, I want to make sure I take regular breaks for proper meals (no more coffee only breakfasts) and to squeeze in a run or yoga.”
“I’ve got two new middle-grade novels coming out in 2021, which will keep me very busy. So my main resolution for next year is to maintain good balance between work and life. Plus, I’d like to make the time to read lots of wonderful new spooky books.”
“My resolution is to learn to draft in longhand so that I never have to touch my computer again.”
Kim Ventrella, Author of The Secret Life of Sam and Hello, Future Me:
“This upcoming year is all about balance. No more frantic binge-writing sessions followed by periods of hibernation. I’m using the Forest app to build consistent periods of focus into every day, for both writing, reading and other activities. I’m already finding this process much better for my mental health. It’s stunning how much you can accomplishment in a simple 25-minute focus session. And this more balanced, incremental approach is helping me avoid the main downfall of my old process, i.e. those long stretches of recovery when I wasn’t writing. Like most writers, I’m generally a happier person when I’m working. This way, I experience the joy of writing all the time, just not in such huge, intense doses.”
“I’m not the best resolution-maker (and I’m really bad at keeping them), but in 2021 I’m committed to writing the middle-grade novel I’ve had in my heart and head for more than fifteen years. It’s a project I’ve struggled with for a long time because I haven’t been able to find the right “doorway” into its unique and haunting world. But now I think I have that doorway (as well as a ton of notes, and a pretty thorough outline), and I feel ready to tackle it. I’m also going to take more long walks through the woods and tell my stepdaughter more ridiculous Dad jokes.”
Lisa Schmid, Author of Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold:
“I am typically not a New Years’ resolution kind of a gal, but after the crazy year we’ve just experienced, I am ready to throw down. My 2021 resolution is to complete my second middle-grade novel by the end of the summer. And now that I have put that out to the universe, I better make it happen. Bring it on 2021!”
S.A. Larsen, Author of Motley Education and Marked Beauty:
“I plan to work on two short story writing sessions a month to hone my craft and technique skills, and to let ideas flow. You know, exercise that writing muscle.”💪
Finish this Covid novel — no, it’s not about Covid, but I never would’ve written it without all that extra time last spring — by the end of January. Start something new . . . but I don’t know what. That will require brainstorming or perhaps just daydreaming. Exercise every day, because that helps me write. Get that vaccine so I can keep on writing.
Come, step into a new world where ghosts are part of normal, everyday society. Yes, you heard that correctly.
This is the world author Dianne Salerni has created in her latest #spookymg release ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS.
It’s 1898 in New York City and ghosts exist among humans.
When an unusual spirit takes up residence at their aunt’s house, thirteen-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt and her cousin Alice are suspicious. The girls don’t get along, but they know something is not right. This ghost is more than a pesky nuisance. The authorities claim he’s safe to be around, even as his mischievous behavior grows stranger and more menacing. Could their aunt and her unborn child be in danger?
Meanwhile, Eleanor and Alice discover a vengeful ghost in the house where Alice was born and her mother died. Is someone else haunting the family? Introverted Eleanor and unruly Alice develop an unlikely friendship as they explore the family’s dark, complicated history.
A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION
Let’s give Dianne our spookiest welcome!
*Whoos & clanking of old bones fills the air*
It’s great to see you, again, Dianne. Congratulations on your new release ELEANOR, ALICE, AND THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS! The story has loads of spookiness to it. Did you set out to write a spooky book?
Yes, the ghosts came before the historical fiction in this case. First I developed the premise of a world where ghosts were real and categorized into Friendlies, Unawares, and Vengefuls, and I knew I would be writing about a mis-categorized ghost. The decision to set the book in 1898 and center it on the Roosevelt family came later.
The world you created is definitely unique and sure to capture readers curiosity. Shifting gears a little, share with our readers a bit about your main characters, Eleanor and Alice, and how the challenges in the story worked these two together.
Eleanor and Alice both suffered from a real or perceived lack of parental affection. Eleanor was an orphan, living with an oppressive grandmother. When her mother was alive, she put Eleanor down for her plain appearance and introverted manner – criticisms that haunted Eleanor throughout her adolescence. Alice’s mother died shortly after her birth, and thereafter, Alice felt out of place in a family composed of an acerbic step-mother, five step-siblings, and a distant father. The girls dealt with the resulting insecurities in different ways. Eleanor tried to blend in with the wall paper. Alice blew up tree stumps. They didn’t have much in common – except for their love for their precious Aunt Bye.
What five words best describes Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts?
Famous family, secrets, and specters!
Spectors – YES, please.
Share one fun fact about this book.
Based on real family correspondence, Alice had a dim view of her cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her joke was that his initials, F.D,. stood for Feather Duster, because she considered him an intellectual lightweight.
My original intention was to write the character of Franklin with this in mind, but Franklin refused to conform to Alice’s derision. In the end, I presented Franklin the way his character wanted to behave, and never mind the unkind Feather Duster comment!
Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
No spoilers, but my favorite scene is when a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt sets out to rescue his female cousins Eleanor and Alice, but the girls end up rescuing him.
Stories with ghostly elements are popular with young readers. What makes this ghost story unique?
In my book, ghosts are common and treated like a pest infestation. If a ghost erupts in your home, you summon a professional diagnostician to determine what type of haunting you have (Friendly, Unaware, or Vengeful) and whether you can live with it – or whether you have to flee for your life.
I really like this concept!
You’ve packed some wonderful historical elements into the story. How much research did you have to do and how did you sort through what to include and what to leave out?
I read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography and books on the childhood of Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt. I found the perfect place to begin the story: the very real banishment of Alice from her Washington D.C. home for misbehavior, which resulted in her being sent to her aunt in NYC right before the beginning of the Spanish-American War. What did I leave out? Several Roosevelt cousins were cut from the story during edits because there were too many!
For Our Teaching Authors🏫🍎🎒
You write for both young adult and middle grade audiences. What is your favorite part about writing middle grade?
My favorite part of writing middle grade versus young adult is the lack of angst in my protagonists. It’s not that they don’t have problems. But somehow, middle grade protagonists expect life to get better, even after making mistakes, while YA protags tend to look at every mistake as the end of their lives (at least their social lives).
What can young readers gain by reading books with spooky elements?
I’ll paraphrase a Tweet by author Hannah Kates (@HannahKates1): Horror is important because it’s all about survival. MG horror reminds young readers that they CAN triumph over darkness.
That is a super important truth for them to learn. What books were most memorable to you as a child or middle schooler? Why do you believe they stuck with you?
I polished off all the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys by third grade, so I moved on to adult mysteries. My favorite authors were Agatha Christie, Virginia Coffman, Mary Stewart, and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Two books that really impacted me were We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart because they were my first encounters with unreliable narrators. My love for mystery and all things gothic started with these books.
As a former teacher and a parent, how would you encourage reluctant readers to pick up books to read?
In my experience, reluctant readers haven’t found the right thing to read. Maybe you’ve been suggesting fiction when they prefer non-fiction. Maybe they need an introduction to graphic novels or a genre they’ve never encountered before. My recommendation to parents and teachers is to reach outside your own comfort zone and offer things you don’t read yourself.
Some Spooky & The Future🔮
Seeing how you’re visiting our spooky crypt, I must ask: have you ever had a ghostly encounter?
Only one! As part of a “ghost hunting” class, I participated in a field trip to a supposedly haunted house with the goal capturing EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena). I’m a big skeptic, so it felt very silly, standing around a dark room with our recording devices piled in the center of the floor, asking questions of thin air. We heard nothing and saw nothing, just as I expected. However, when I went home and listened to my recording, I got a quite a shock. Nine minutes into the recording, our instructor asked, “Do you have any secrets to tell?” And a voice clearly whispers, “Boo!” When I went to class the next week, it was unsettling to learn that this voice did not appear on any other recording. Only mine, the one skeptic in the room!
Lastly, do you have any more projects in the works you’d like to share?
Yes! Jadie in Five Dimensions will launch from Holiday House in the fall of 2021. It’s a twisty, multi-dimensional sci-fi adventure in which our 3-dimensional universe exists inside a larger 4-dimensional universe, the way Russian dolls nest together.
Now, I already know about this because Dianne and I have chatted about this project before, but I’m still trembling with the same excitement. I can’t wait for this one!
Jadie Martin, an abandoned infant, was rescued from certain death by benevolent beings from the fourth dimension and placed with a loving adoptive family. At age 13, Jadie acts as an Agent for the four-dimensional Overseers, performing missions calculated to guide her world toward a brighter future.
But when Jadie switches assignments with another Agent, she discovers her origin story is a lie. Her birth family has suffered multiple tragedies engineered from 4-space, including the loss of their baby girl. Now doubting her benefactors, Jadie anonymously observes her long-lost family. Why are they important? What are the true intentions of the Overseers? And what will huge, all-powerful four-dimensional beings do to a small rebellious girl when they realize she’s interfering with their plans?
Thank you so much for sharing Eleanor and Alice’s adventure with us! Make sure to sign your name on our crypt walls, leaving your spookiness with us.
Psst . . . Readers, I’ve read this book. It’s so unique! I’d totally recommend it for middle grade readers, for teachers to use in class, and for all those who appreciate books with spooky elements.
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of middle grade and YA novels, including Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, The Eighth DaySeries, The Caged Graves, and We Hear the Dead. Her seventh book, Jadie in Five Dimensions, will release in the fall of 2021. Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.
Enter for your chance to WIN a Signed copy of ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS by Dianne Salerni! Winner announced December 22nd via Twitter, Facebook, & Rafflecopter widget.
The spookiest of luck to you all!
We like to keep things spooky over here on the blog, but with Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it’d be nice to ask a few of my fellow spooky authors what they’re most grateful for this particularly scary year! Here’s what they have to say:
Sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot to be thankful for in 2020, but I’m thankful for books! SO many amazing stories came out this year, and I’m thankful for the chance to share them with my students.
-Lorien Lawrence, author of THE STITCHERS.
I’m thankful for my super supportive husband and family and my awesome local writers’ group and the amazing Spooky MG Authors!
-Cynthia Reeg, author of the Monster or Die series
I’m truly thankful that my son, who had Covid, has recovered. I’m thankful for all the hard work of first responders and medical staff in these difficult times. I’m thankful for the amazing work of scientists who have made medical miracles these past months. I’m grateful for the teachers and librarians who are struggling with these conditions and doing their very best, as they always do. I’m thankful for all of you, my friends, who have helped me from afar as we weather these storms together. And I’ll be truly thankful to see you all again in person.
-Janet Fox, author of THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS
I always said I would get published if I got a dog. Mostly, I was joking, but somehow I always pictured an author tapping away on some ancient typewriter with a loyal dog by their side. So I adopted a rescue dog, partly for writing, partly to help with my anxiety. And I’m here to tell you it worked! Dogs are the answer. Even though I ended up adopting the world’s most fearful dog, she not only helped me with my anxiety, but she also helped me open up emotionally, something that proved totally necessary for the craft of writing. So this year I’m grateful for my dog, and my advice to all aspiring writers out there is to get themselves an amazing rescue pet.
-Kim Ventrella, author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM
in addition to a so far healthy family and friends, I’m thankful for teaching and my students throughout this crazy year. They have kept me sane.
-Angie Smibert, author of the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects Series
I am thankful for my family, for lasting friendships, and for the heroic teachers, nurses, and doctors who face the frontline of this pandemic every day. I’m also grateful to our young readers for helping the world’s imagination stay alive and well.
-Brad McLelland, co-author of the Legends of the Lost Causes series
I’m grateful for my good health, and the health of my loved ones, and to have a job I love. I’m also grateful to be part of such a supportive and inspiring spooky community, and for all the librarians, teachers, parents, and readers who have ever picked up my books – you’re the reason I do what I do! And of course, last but not least, I’m grateful for my husband and two dogs who have been the best company to keep in quarantine!
-Tania del Rio, author of the Warren the 13th series
And of course, all of us at Spooky Middle Grade are grateful for YOU, our readers! What about you? Comment below to share what you’re most thankful for this year. We hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
I always love interviewing debut authors. I once heard Judy Blume say that she loves reading debut books because it’s the first time she gets to know a new voice, and I can’t agree more. It’s very exciting. So that’s why I’m excited to go behind the spooky scenes of the debut middle-grade novel SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. with the book’s author, Laura Stegman.
Laura is a Los Angeles-based author and arts publicist. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.
SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. tells the story of three kids who meet at a summer camp. When they hear mysterious calliope music coming from an abandoned warehouse, they sneak inside and discover that it bursts into a magical carnival. They meet a ghost called Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory.
Sounds spooky! SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. is out now from INtense Publications and a sequel is coming out in 2021.
What was your inspiration for this book?
By way of background, Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids finding their way to self-acceptance with the help of a ghost who haunts a magical carnival. It was inspired by my favorite middle grade book, The Diamond in the Window, whose 11-year-old main character was the same age as I when I read it. She had freckles, like me, and, she hated her freckles. So did I. But this character learned to accept her freckles — and herself. Not only was it one of the first times I recognized myself in a book, but it also made me feel like I wasn’t so alone. Decades later, this book still spoke to me so powerfully, which moved me to write Summer of L.U.C.K. I hope it will mean as much to readers today as The Diamond in the Window meant to me.
What’s the best part of writing about ghosts and ghostly carnivals?
Writing about ghosts exercises my creativity because there are no limits to what I can come up with. It’s fun to devise whatever wild, magical elements and rules I can imagine. And threading those elements through real-life lessons about friendship and perseverance was a thrill. For example, Summer of L.U.C.K.’s three kids struggle with speaking in some form or another – one stutters, one is just learning English, and the third simply stops talking. So when the ghost, who can’t rest until his family is reconciled, needs their help, he grants them power to communicate telepathically. As a result of helping the ghost and his family, the kids learn to find their voices. To create L.U.C.K.’s ghostly carnival, I started with memories of the amusement parks I visited with my family as a kid. Then, I built on those. Though L.U.C.K.’s rides and games don’t exist in real life, I wish they did!
Do you have any real life ghostly experiences?
Interesting question! The answer is, “Not really,” but I’ll tell you this. My Dad passed away in October. Even though he was very old, it was a bit sudden and unexpected. For the first week or so, I “chatted” with him via “Dear Dad” letters. Every night, I wrote to him about what was going on and how much I missed him. In one of the letters, I asked him for a sign. And a day or so later, as I was falling asleep, I got something that I’ve chosen to interpret as that sign. This “ghostly” process was really helpful in transitioning from my dad’s and my daily phone calls to saying goodbye.
What’s your best spooky writing advice?
Establish the rules for your readers so they’re very clear. Then let your imagination run wild!
Great advice! Find SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. at Bookshop.org, or buy from Children’s Book World for an autographed copy with an official bookmark.