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.
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.
November 2nd is set apart on our National calendar to celebrate authors and all that encompasses. Think about it. We all have read something that has been published and written by someone else. Whether for school, work, or play, we’ve all read the written word. And yes, some of us have been fortunate enough to have our own words read by others.
So we thought it appropriate to honor some of our very own author inspirations, those who’ve helped us learn or reflect on ourselves, and escape the every day through the words they’ve written and the stories they’ve shared. Here’s a few of our spooky authors sharing some of their favorites.
I tend to look fondly on authors who gave me enjoyable female characters in fantasy when I was a kid…representation has improved so much that it can be hard to believe how sparse strong girl characters were in fantasy in the 70s and 80s! Works that pop out for me include the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts…and I know people will quibble with Jane Drew from Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, but I loved her. I also devoured fairy and folktales of all sorts, because they’re so rich with symbolism, and because they can be both terrible and beautiful at the same time.
I’m going to “vote” for Kathi Appelt, partly because she was so generous to me early on in my career, and mainly because her Newbery Honor book The Underneath became my model for the kind of books I want to write.
Recently, I’ve been inspired by Frances Hardinge, author of CUCKOO SONG, as well as many other beautiful books for young readers. Her books push the boundaries of imagination in ways that feel like a challenge. Every book contains a certain proportion of familiar and strange elements, usually tending toward the familiar. But Hardinge tackles truly strange concepts with both emotion and dexterity. Another recent inspiration is Akwaeke Emezi, author of PET. This novel manages to be utterly down-to-earth and soaringly surreal at the same time, while playing with language and exploring universal questions in ways that feel personal. The mixture of realism and magic reminds me of my favorite author in college, Sony Lab’ou Tansi.
There are lots of authors that I love for their books, but there are some true standouts because I love their books AND they’re amazing people who give to others selflessly. I was so inspired by the way Laurie Halse Anderson seemed to experiment with words in WINTER GIRLS and it made me realize that I could push boundaries too. Then I met Laurie and realized she’s as generous with her heart as she is with her craft. I felt the same way with Kathi Appelt, whose work and advice both directly impacted THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST. Read Bethany Hegedus’ words in GRANDFATHER GANDHI or RISE, to name just a couple of her books, and you see that she’s got a caring soul. But she’s also always been a cushion for me in my own writing career, lifting me up. And Cynthia Leitich Smith and Lesa Cline-Ransome are the same. Their works are brilliant, but outside of that, they go out of their way to be open, transparent and supportive to writers who are coming up behind them. These are only a handful of the authors who have inspired me and continue to inspire me every day. I hope to carry on their legacy and be the same kind of supportive author to other writers around me.
Growing up, I moved around a lot. As a result, I didn’t have lasting friendships, so books became my constant companions. I wanted to write a story that might help someone else get through a difficult time. So many authors gave that gift to me. I wanted to pay it forward.
I love, love, love The Chronicles of Narnia. To this day, I read the series at least once a year. It’s like getting a hug from an old friend. I’ve also read all of the Oz books, starting with, of course, The Wizard of Oz. I am a massive fan of Roald Dahl. Danny, The Champion of The World, was my favorite. But I think the book that resonated with me the most was The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It was about the daughter of a migrant worker. I related to her hopes, fears, and dreams on so many levels.
My first thought whenever asked about authors that have inspired me is always Jane Austen. To think of the ‘age’ in which she wrote, where women were thought less in society, astounds me and has given courage to pursue my own stories. More modern inspirational authors for me would be Kate Dicamillo, author of THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, Alice Hoffman, author of NIGHTBIRD, and Katherine Applegate, author of WISHTREE. These woman are strong and resourceful, creating characters that tug at the heartstrings and stay with readers for years to come. Whether magic of the heart or tangible magic, they write carefully crafted worlds, journeying readers to places within themselves they didn’t know existed.
Authors have been inspiring hearts and minds for centuries. Whether through fiction or nonfiction, their ability to challenge our thinking often has caused humanity to step out of its comfort zone, to reflect on more than what can be seen. They make us seek the truth hidden beneath the psyche and root out evil in its place. Their words give us the courage to self-reflect, to grow, and to change, making the world a better place than when we first arrived here. But, through their devotion to storytelling, they also share the most intimate places of themselves with us. Finding strength, courage, and drive in their journeys is an exercise we can use in every aspect of our lives.
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” ~ William Wordsworth
Our entire spookymg author crew wishes the spookiest of Thank yous to all those explorers of the written word and to all those yet to come.
Kory Merritt is an amazing author and illustrator with a creatively creepy book–NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS–that released last month, just in time for Halloween. We are so excited to host him on our spooky blog and learn more about his art and his writing.
What inspired you to write NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. As a kid, my favorite book characters were always the creatures–Gollum from The Hobbit, the sea-rats from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. Even as an adult, I still love reading books with strange and imaginative monsters: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Thee Jumbies series by Tracey Baptiste, numerous classics by legends like Stephen King and Tananarive Due. Now more than ever, it’s fun to escape to monster land.
So when my amazing agent, Dan, suggests I try writing and illustrating a spooky story, I was thrilled. I actually, originally wrote and illustrated a version of No Place for Monsters back in 2011, when I was an art teacher, and posted it on a comics syndicate website called GoComics. My agent suggested I take the basic concept of a memory-snatching monster and remake it as a middle-grade book.
Your previous MG title is The DreadfulFate of Jonathan York. Why do you like to write spooky stories?
I do my own illustrations (I’ve illustrated more books than I’ve written) and I love drawing toothy, creepy characters. So it’s fun to build stories around the creatures in my notebooks.
What interesting things did you discover while working on your latest story?
My awesome editor and agent both convinced me to trim down the prose narrative and let the pictures tell the story when possible. There’s still test, but I think the writing and pictures work in tandem.
How did you transition from comics to MG stories? And how long dose it take you to create such a lavishly illustrated story?Please tell us how the process of mixing the story and illustrations comes together.
I broke into MG as an illustrator for a comic book/graphic novel series based on the online game Poptropica. I think No Place for Monsters could be considered a graphic novel even though there is a prose text, since there are many places where the pictures take over the narrative. It was an easy transition.
It took several months of rough drafts and talks with my agent before he accepted it and sold it. Then it took about four months to illustrate a fully inked draft of No Place for Monsters (summer and fall 2018), and then several more months for edits and revisions with my editor.
What books are you reading now or plan to read next?
Right now, I’m reading The Last Last-Day-of Summer by Lamar Gilese. It’s a zany romp that reminds me how creative great MG books can be. I also started listening to audiobooks last year (I can listen and illustrate at the same time, which is nice). I’m listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and the new audio-drama of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (which is one of the few Neil Gaiman books I’d never read before).
Who do you feel was the biggest influence on your becoming an author and illustrator?
I mean, of course my parents–both classroom teachers, both encouraged a lot of reading and exploration and creative pursuit. As for professional writers . . . tough one. Going to have to say the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Love his books. As for illustrator . . . Bill Peet, Bill Watterson, and Brian Selznick (who was kind enough to give me a quote). Also Gina Pfleegor, who I used to teach with, and who is one of the most talented artists/illustrators I’ve ever met.
How have you adjusted your marketing/promotional plans with the pandemic?
I’m being very careful and social-distancing, so that means no in-person festivals or visits. I’m about to start virtual visits with classrooms. I used to be a public school K-6 art teacher, so I have plenty of classroom experience. Some of the visits are workshops: Students write stories, and I try to illustrate parts of them. It’s fun, and since I don’t have to travel, I don’t have to postpone illustration work.
Can you share anything about a new story you’re working on?
I’m doing another book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Fall 2021. It’s a follow-up to No Place for Monsters, with some of the same characters, and plenty of new creatures. It’s set in a haunted school. As a former art teacher, I find the school setting easy to write about. Much of it is told through “found footage”–illustrations seen through the view of cameras and phones. Sort of like an illustrated Blair Witch Project. It’s experimental. Hope it works!
What is your advice to aspiring authors and illustrators?
Read, write, and draw as much as possible! Read lots of books: prose books, books with lots of pictures, books with no pictures. Books by a wide variety of authors. Books outside your comfort zone. Write and draw and try to get things published locally. You’ll write and draw stuff that will be embarrassing in a few years, but hopefully you’ll have developed and honed your style. And have fun! You should love writing and drawing even if only a few people see it. If it’s a chore, or if you only want to write/draw for money . . . Well, that’s not a good sign. It could be years, or never, before you make any substantial money. Have a day job or a “Plan B.” Having a great career in a creative field can always be your end goal, but it’s very difficult to get there, so writing and drawing and making up stories should be fulfilling and fun no matter what stage you’re at.
Thanks so much, Kory, for sharing your thoughts and insights! I’m sure everyone will enjoy your entertaining monster stories! Please, keep them coming. 🙂