Well hello, all you spooky readers! It feels like forever since I’ve chatted with you here in our #SpookyMG Crypt. And, yes. I have missed you.
*taps jagged fingernails*
So today, I’m bringing you a special treat! 🍬 In celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21st), I thought it would be fun to spotlight middle grade books, authors, or segments within MG stories that utilize poetry. I even have some examples from our very own authors.
Adding poetry in the form of a structured poem, song lyrics, scattered thoughts of a character, or even a spell from a favored wizard (Harry Potter) to a novel can do a many things.
Take Shel Silverstein use of poetry. He created quite the visual with this one. (Not to mention, I’ll be looking behind my back all day, now.)
When singing songs of scariness. Of bloodiness and hairyness, I feel obligated at this moment to remind you Of the most ferocious beast of all: Three thousand pounds and nine feet tall — The Glurpy Slurpy Skakagall — Who’s standing right behind you.
THE WORST – NIGHT, NIGHT KIDS
And then there’s THE GIVING TREE, which has been widely debated as an example of the sacrifice of parenthood or the way NOT to parent a child. Nonetheless, the use of structure throughout the story is brilliant. The staggering of sentences and thoughts, reactions from either the boy or the tree draw readers attention. It’s almost as if Shel was clapping his hands or pointing with his finger to say ‘Here, pay attention to this.’ The prose stops abruptly at places, yet subtly at others. The flow and placement of the poetry lends strength to the mood and tone as well. Here’s just a brief excerpt:
Can you give me a house ?’ ‘ I have no house,’ said the tree. ‘The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy.’
And so the boy cut off her branches, and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
I chose this segment for the limited about of words used and for the emotions it conjures. The break used between the lines is a perfect pause for the reader to ponder the word ‘happy’ and then be stunned by the word ‘cut’ in the next line – one word that causes pleasure, one word that causes pain.
Of course, I also must mention Edgar Allan Poe and his use of subtle yet eerie language. Here’s an example from the end of his poem ALONE.
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
Even without the first parts of this poem, you can see how he uses each line to draw the reader deeper into the imagery and mood he’s creating. And then WHAM! he hits you with the last line.
Poetry can . . .
bring a sudden or a subtle change to the flow of the story
introduce internal thoughts of a character in an unusual way
capture imagery in ways that urge readers to use their own imagination
be used with illustrations or graphics (IMHO, I love it when a book does this!)
be a great way to sprinkle clues or foreshadowing (I also love this one.)
shed light on specific details the author wants the reader to pay close attention to
create a diversion for the reader – opposite of the above point.
move the plot along more quickly or slow it down
set, increase, or change the mood and tone of a scene or plot point
deliver details of the world or setting in a fun way
And we could go on and on . . .
Or maybe just show a few examples of these using our very own authors!
If you have or have found additional ways adding poetry to spooky MG books can strengthen the story, leave it in the comments below! We’d love to hear.
Thank you for reading and chatting up spooky middle grade books with me!
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.
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Today I’m thrilled to chat with Tania del Rio, author of the Warren the 13th series! Her latest book, The Thirteen-Year Curse, releases today!!! You can also check out an interview with Tania on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/spookymiddlegrade/. Watch it live 3.24.2020 at 1 PDT or visit our page to view the recording.
Let’s dive right in. What should new readers know about the world of Warren the 13th?
The Warren the 13th series is about a hardworking boy who is the lone bellhop, fixer-upper, concierge, maid service, and manager of his family’s ancient hotel. He does it all, with no thanks to his lazy uncle and evil aunt, who may or may not be a witch. Warren starts off the series as a lonely boy who is trying to honor the memory of his dead father but through the course of his adventures he gains new friends—and enemies—and unlocks some surprising mysteries about his beloved hotel!
What should readers expect in this latest volume? Can you give us any scintillating details w/out spoilers?
It’s tough to say too much without spoiling anything, but I can say Warren’s adventures take him to uncharted territory upon the open seas. His beloved pet and best pal, Sketchy, is kidnapped and Warren must solve riddles and clues if he has any hope of rescuing his friend. Along the way he’ll contend with ornery pirates, sea witches, and circus clowns—not to mention an enormous beast known as The Great Eight!
What has been the best part of working on Warren the 13th?
I love the zany cast of characters and seeing where Warren’s adventures take him. Even though I work from a detailed outline, as I write new surprises often pop up and I find myself adding things in I’d never expect. Also, collaborating with Will Staehle, the designer and illustrator of the book, is a lot of fun.
Tell me more about the illustrator. You’re also known for your amazing illustrations, so how did that partnership work?
Will and I have known each other since we were freshmen in art school, many years ago! We’ve had a lot of creative collaborations over the years, including creating a small press comic company, and editing a tutorial book on manga style art. Will originally conceived of the character of Warren in art school and shared the concept with me. I actually wrote the earliest draft of Warren’s story back in 2004! So it’s been a very long process bringing it to shelves. Even though I am also an illustrator, Will’s incredible design sense and his unique style is the only way Warren could ever be brought to life. My own art style just wouldn’t work for this project.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a new middle grade adventure that is best described as Latinx Sailor Moon meets Coco. It’s about three friends who end up in a darkened world populated by alebrijes, colorful and folkloric animals. The girls must band together to restore the sun and find their way home, before all is lost.
How can readers get in touch?
I can be reached on Twitter, @taniadelrio and Instagram, @taniadelrioauthor. I absolutely love hearing from my readers, so please visit me online!
Tania Del Rio is a professional comic book writer and artist who has spent the past 10 years writing and illustrating, primarily for a young audience. Her clients include Archie Comics, Dark Horse, and Marvel; she is best known for her work writing and drawing the 42-issue run of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She is also the author of the WARREN THE 13TH series published by Quirk Books. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her online at http://taniadelrio.blogspot.com/.
I’m always excited to take on the blank page when writing a post for Spooky Middle Grade. Let’s me stretch my creepiness a bit. Even more so when I get to share spooky goodness from one of our own crew. AND when I get to offer a bookish giveaway!
*Spooky Alert* Check us out on Twitter for a SCRITCH SCRATCH giveaway!
But first, here’s the cover to Lindsay’s upcoming release.
Releasing September 1, 2020 from Sourcebooks Young Readers!
For fans of Small Spaces comes a chilling ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.
Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.
Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.
Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late.
Yup, I am all EEK! over this cover. I love the taillights! So, let’s learn a little more about Lindsay’s book.
Hi Lindsay! *waves* I’m excited to share with our middle grade audience a few sneaky secrets about SCRITCH SCRATCH. Let’s begin with how you got the ideas for the world you created here.
Chicago has a lot of really ghostly history, so I love to set books here whenever possible. The idea for this specific book, though, came in pieces. I actually thought of the ghost first, then built the story around that! Seems a little backward, but it worked well in the end.
Did you learn any cool (or really spooky) information while researching to write this story?
I’m such a sucker for old Chicago history that yes, I find I discover something new with the research for every book! During my research phase for this book, I actually went on a ghost tour bus with my husband!
Okay, super cool.👻
It was in October, and we had a fabulous time experiencing the charged atmosphere of every spine-tingling stop! I have to admit, even though I’m done researching, I’d totally do one again. They’re a fun blend of history, mystery, and ghosts!
What would you say is your favorite part of the story?
Oooh, tough question. I’d have to say that my favorite part of SCRITCH SCRATCH isn’t a physical scene, but the personal journey my main character, Claire, is on throughout the book. Claire is like many of us – filled with ideas about the world we live in, but occasionally hesitant to explore notions that are unfamiliar or different. She’s really into science and that doesn’t offer a lot of gray areas when it comes to things like the paranormal. If she can’t see it, or prove that it exists, Claire doesn’t believe in it. But her father’s ghost tour and the ensuing trouble it causes her forces Claire to take a second look at her beliefs and consider that maybe, just maybe that gray area exists after all.
That said, I’d by lying if I didn’t say that the scary scenes are super fun, too. I worked hard with my editor, Annie Berger, to make sure we were really amping the fear factor up for those readers who love a good fright!
This definitely sounds frightful!
Can you share with us why you feel MG readers will relate to Claire’s journey?
Claire faces so many familiar challenges that I believe many readers will identify with her. For one, her best friend, Casley, seems to be moving on.
Aw, that’s a tough one.
She’s hanging out with someone else more, someone who wears makeup and is more mature than Claire thinks she is. I think we’ve all experienced that in life and it’s painful, not to mention confidence-shaking.
I can see that. Thank you for sharing some of SCRITCH SCRATCH with us. Can’t wait for its release!
READERS: I know a sneaky secret that Lindsay will reveal sometime during this week, so make sure to stay tuned to her Twitter feed and to ours! HINT: it’s handy-dandy & ghostly!
To learn more about SCRITCH SCRATCH and Lindsay, visit her WEBSITE. Want to make sure you get a copy of the book? Hop on over to Lindsay’s favorite Indie bookstore THE BOOK CELLAR and pre-order it so she can personalize it for you before they ship!
#SCRITCH SCRATCH Classroom Giveaway!
#Teachers, #Librarians, #Educators – hop on over to Twitter to enter for your chance to WIN a Classroom Bundle of signed bookmarks & book plates from Lindsay to celebrate SCRITCH SCRATCH’s upcoming release!
KIM: Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Janet Fox to the spooky blog to reveal the cover of her new book, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, a companion novel to her critically-acclaimed middle grade fantasy, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, coming August 2020! Welcome!
JANET: Thank you, Kim!
KIM: Before we reveal that gorgeous cover, tell us more about the fantasy world that you started in your award-winning book, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.
JANET: CHARMED CHILDREN is set early in World War 2, during the London blitz of fall 1940. Kat Bateson and her younger brother and sister are sent out of London to a “school” in a Scottish castle, Rookskill. But as it turns out, the school is run by someone who is not what she seems, and the castle is a nightmarish place of strange noises, dark hallways, and ghostly children. German spies, enigma machines, and ancient spooky magic all play a part. Practical Kat must uncover what’s going on – and discover her own power – before it’s too late.
KIM: What should readers of CHARMED CHILDREN expect from your latest book?
JANET: THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS is told from a new character’s point of view, a Czech Jewish boy named Isaac Wolf, who is sent abruptly from Prague to Scotland by his parents. This story again takes place in Rookskill, but it’s now 1942, and things in the castle have changed. Kat is still there with a small handful of the children who are now members of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit of MI 6, using their developing magical skills to help win the war. But Isaac is being chased for reasons he doesn’t understand, and he must enlist the help of his new friends and call on his internal strength to avoid a dreadful dark magical threat, while acquiring a skill and responsibility that will aid the SAIU.
KIM: Now it’s time for the big reveal…here it goes…drumroll please!
Wait for it.
KIM: What was your first response when you saw the cover created by the wonderful Jen Bricking? Can you give us any secrets about the illustration process?
JANET: I had very little to do with the process, but I’m delighted with the cover. It’s very different from the CHARMED CHILDREN cover, which is much more mysterious and sophisticated, but the ARTIFACT HUNTERS cover does create that magical aura, with four of the children and a number of mysterious artifacts, and an image of the antagonist – who is really creepy. I love how appealing it is – the brilliant colors, the spooky aspects, because it raises so many questions that I hope will spur readers to seek answers. I especially love how the kids look so much like I thought. I think it will attract a new group of readers to the series.
KIM: We meet several dastardly villains in THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS. What is your process for creating such deliciously evil souls?
JANET: Oh, thanks for that! I think the most important thing to know about a villain is that he or she truly believes they are the hero of the story. What they do is, by their account, right. It might be “right” because it satisfies a personal need, or it might be “right” because it speaks to a larger need, but the villain never would admit that they are doing what is “wrong”. I think this kind of nuance helps readers assess their own actions and the actions of others, and that adds a layer of complexity.
Plus, I really love writing creepy villains who send shivers up the spine.
KIM: What are three fun tidbits from THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS that readers may not be expecting?
JANET: They should look for the dragon, shapeshifting, and I’d love it if readers would discover all the magical artifacts that I reference – and send me their own ideas for magical artifacts. Their ideas might find a place in another book!
KIM: Thanks so much for stopping by Janet!
JANET: Thank you so much, Kim.
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 most recent novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, is a gothic middle grade fairy tale set in Scotland and has received a whole bunch of stars, and the lovely Crystal Kite Award. At the moment she’s sporting blue and pink stripes in her hair. She lives in Bozeman, Montana. Find out more at www.janetsfox.com
Today, I’m thrilled to welcome our very own S.A. Larsen to the blog! She is celebrating the release of a brand-new edition of her spooky middle grade novel, MOTLEY EDUCATION! Without further ado, let’s see that beautiful cover:
LOVE the purple streak in her hair! Okay, now it’s quiz time. I know, so soon. Can you pitch MOTLEY EDUCATION to me Twitter-style (i.e. in 280 characters or less)?
A misfit spirit tracker & her skittish BFF must elude one ornery school headmistress & brave beasts of Norse mythology to retrieve a relic vital to saving the spirit world, only to discover the true meaning of her quest has been inside her all along. #motleyeducation #mglit
What an awesome Twitter pitch! Now let’s learn a little more about the world of MOTLEY EDUCATION. Sheri, can you finish these sentence starters for me, pretty please?
My main character Ebony is…sweet at heart, feisty when cornered, and more courageous than she knows. Her favorite place is the Boneyard, the cemetery between her family’s house and Motley Junior High. It’s where she can be herself. She hangs out there with Fleishman and the only three ghosts she can see – Mayhem, Mischief, and Meandering. She loves them, but they are a constant reminder of how her spirit tracking skills don’t work as they should; her fellow students don’t let her forget it, either. She doesn’t walk around looking injured, though. Instead, she wears a tough exterior – fingerless gloves, miniskirt, tights with skulls on them, and blue and pink strips in her hair. One thing she can’t hide is the guilt she feels for constantly disappointing her mother. See, her mom is gifted. So is her father, younger brother, and weird twin aunts. It’s not fun being different. At least, this is what she thinks at the start of her story. 😉
Ebony’s best friend Fleishman is…the best friend everyone wants. He’s honest, loyal, kind, and ridiculously smart, which is convenient during homework study. When Ebony gets a bit too feisty, pushing boundaries, Fleishman is there to reign her in. But he’s not without his own issues. He’s too uptight, needs facts to believe anything, and fears pretty much everything . . . with one exception – his legless lizard Nigel that he carries with him everywhere. Oh, and he rarely laughs at Ebony’s jokes. But she figures he’s missing a funny bone, so she lets it go most of the time.
Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted is…a centuries-old school, where kids with special skills related to Norse mythology can develop, grow, and learn in the proper environment. Once a student is accepted and signs the Terms of Enrollment agreement – which is vital because there are instructions on how to avoid a fire giant attack – he or she is assigned to one of the two school groups. The Sensory group explores the realm of psychic abilities, while the Luminary group charts astrology, the stages of the moon, and creates potions, spells…even a hex or two. *Mankind has drifted so far away from its origins that it has completely forgotten about the World Tree – Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, MJH has lots of educating to do.
The spookiest part of MOTLEY EDUCATION is probably when…Ebony and Fleishman meet at the Boneyard and random doors begin appearing out of thin air. Mist and green vapor wafts from all sides of the doors, thickening and creeping. A dim light flickers near one of the Boneyard crypts. It brightens until blue and white mist puff out between the seams of the crypt doors and . . . I’d love to keep going, but I’d be giving a spoiler away.
MOTLEY EDUCATION was inspired by…my youngest son’s love for Norse mythology and his drive to overcome his diagnosis of Apraxia of Speech. For those who are unfamiliar, Apraxia of Speech is a neurological disorder, where there are no pathways from the brain to the mouth muscles. Through intensive therapy, new pathways are built, and the child will begin to speak. It’s all pretty amazing.
I hope that readers will…gain the courage to follow in Ebony’s steps by accepting themselves, flaws and all, and embracing who they are – right here and right now. Ebony wanted so badly to be an amazing spirit tracker now, but she learned that it takes experiences to grow and mature into who she wants to be.
Don’t miss S.A. Larsen’s awesome giveaway happening now on Twitter (ends 10/2/2019):
S.A. Larsen is an award-winning author, childhood apraxia of speech advocate, and major ice hockey fan, who has watched more hockey games than she could ever count. Her favorite stories open secret passageways and hidden worlds to inspire and challenge the heart. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy romance Marked Beauty (Ellysian Press 2017). She lives in the land of lobsters and snowy winters with her husband and four children, where she’s writing Ebony and Fleishman’s next adventure. Visit her cyber home at salarsenbooks.com.
You know when you wait for something and it seems it will never get here? That’s what it’s been like for me to keep this interview under raps!
I met Lisa – in the cyber way – back before Christmas and knew Spooky Middle Grade blog readers would love her and her brand new book baby!
OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST: The Search For Lost Gold by Lisa Schmid
Release Date: June 18, 2019 Publisher: North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press
Twelve-year-old Ollie Oxley is moving — again. His mom is starting another new job, this time at the Bingham Theater in Granite City, California. Moving all the time means Ollie has struggled in the making friends department, but he quickly connects with a boy named Teddy. To Ollie’s surprise, though, his first friend in town is a little more… unique than those he’s made in the past. Teddy is a ghost.
Befriending someone who lived during the famous California Gold Rush sure does make things interesting for Ollie. But when the school bully, Aubrey, targets Ollie, and it looks like the Bingham Theater might close, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Can Teddy and Ollie work together to take down Aubrey, save his mom’s job, and solve a mystery years in the making?
Hi Lisa! Welcome to our spooky abode. Let’s start with one of my favorite parts of writing – character names. Was there a specific reason or influence that moved you to name your main character Ollie Oxley and his new friend Teddy?
My son’s name is Oliver, so I thought it would be fun to name my main character after him. It turned out to be a great decision in that the name Ollie proved to be highly useful in one of my plot points.
Teddy started as a Toby, but for whatever reason, it just never felt right. I wanted something more playful and loving. After all, what’s more loveable than a Teddy Bear?
What was the hardest part of moving for Ollie this time? What made it different from any of the other times his mom had moved them around?
Moving all the time has always been difficult for Ollie. His mother and sister share a love of the theater which gives them a special bond. Unfortunately, this adds to his feelings of isolation. And now that he’s in middle school the stakes are higher, and the angst is real.
What is your favorite thing about Ollie? About Teddy? About the world you created?
Ollie is sarcastic, but he is also brave and kind. Even though he gets bullied, he never sinks to their level.
Teddy is loyal. He may be a ghost, but he’s got Ollie’s back. He’s not going to let anybody mess with his new best friend. He’s also very mischievous and quite funny. Sometimes I would laugh out loud when writing his dialogue.
I love the tension between the two boys. Over the years, Ollie has built up walls. Teddy is determined to tear them down. It takes a while, but he can be quite persuasive.
I LOVE that you used history—the California Gold Rush—within this story! How hard/easy was it for you to thread information about the gold rush throughout Ollie and Teddy’s journey and, for our young writers reading this, how did you go about doing that?
I live in Folsom, California which is central to the Gold Rush of 1849. When I first started writing Ollie Oxley, I lived in the Historic District. At the time, my son was a baby, so I spent a lot of time on walks. History would present itself in ways that would lend to my story. For example, one day I met a man standing in front of his house. We started talking, and it turns out his home served as the town courthouse in the 1800s. Prisoners were tried on the first floor and if convicted taken to the basement to be hanged. This story, of course, made it into my book!
What about research? How much did you do on the California Gold Rush and ghosts before you began to write this story?
I visited the Folsom History Museum on several occasions. It’s jam-packed with useful information. And of course, what would a writer do without the internet? My browse history is filled with ghost and graveyard searches.
Ollie finds himself in a bullying situation, which some readers will relate. Without giving too much away, how does Ollie handle this at first? From Ollie’s perspective, how can kids his age deal with being bullied?
As the perpetual new kid, Ollie is used to getting bullied. Even though he’s not in show biz, he can put on a good act. He uses sarcasm to deflect bullies and shield himself from their taunts. Also, he is smart enough to understand that when someone is unkind, it’s never about him, it’s more about how they view themselves. Because really, how could someone he just met have it out for him?
What message do you hope young readers will gain from reading Ollie’s story? There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep moving forward. And above all, be kind.
Such a wise and important message for readers to take with them. Thank you for sharing yourself, Ollie, and Teddy with us! I can’t wait to see where they’ll go next.
And here’s a little something special for you:
Lisa Schmid is an author, a stay-at-home mom, and a pug wrangler. When she is not scaring up ghostly adventures, she is most likely scaring up fun with her husband and son. She lives in Folsom, California, home of the 1849 Gold Rush.
Today is an exciting day here on Spooky Middle Grade.
#SpookyMG author Kim Ventrella is celebrating the release of her middle grade novel BONE HOLLOW, and you’re invited to the party! We’re going to show off her super eerie cover, share details about the book, and chat with Kim about her creation. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to see the HUGE GIVEAWAY Kim’s offering up. So read on!
DEATH IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…
In retrospect, it was foolish to save that chicken. On the roof. In the middle of a thunder storm. But what choice did Gabe have? If he hadn’t tried to rescue Ms. Cleo’s precious pet, she would’ve kicked him out. And while Ms. Cleo isn’t a perfect guardian, her house is the only home Gabe knows.
After falling off the roof, Gabe wakes up in a room full of tearful neighbors. To his confusion, none of them seem to hear Gabe speak. It’s almost as if they think he’s dead. But Gabe’s not dead. He feels fine! So why do they insist on holding a funeral? And why does everyone scream in terror when Gabe shows up for his own candlelight vigil?
Scared and bewildered, Gabe flees with his dog, Ollie, the only creature who doesn’t tremble at the sight of him. When a mysterious girl named Wynne offers to let Gabe stay at her cozy house in a misty clearing, he gratefully accepts. Yet Wynne disappears from Bone Hollow for long stretches of time, and when a suspicious Gabe follows her, he makes a mind-blowing discovery. Wynne is Death and has been for over a century. Even more shocking . . . she’s convinced that Gabe is destined to replace her.
Hi Kim! I’ve got to say, when I read your blurb, I chuckled at saving a chicken. 🐔 And the rest of the description totally reeled me in, which will surely do the same for young readers. So let’s dive right in.
Spooky minds want to know what fascinates you about writing spooky books?
For me, spooky stories are all about possibility. About discovering a magical world beyond the mundane. I’ve always said that my life motto is, “I want to believe.” It’s from The X-Files, ha!, but it’s so true!
*fist pumps The X-Files*
I am a terrible cynic in real life. I don’t believe in anything fun, like ghosts, magical skeletons or an afterlife, but in fiction I can explore all of those things and create a world in which unlikely possibilities really do happen.
Care to share some of your favorite spooky books from your childhood?
I love, love scary stories! As a kid, I was hugely into the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections, with the terrifyingly beautiful black-and-white artwork. I was also a huge fan of Roald Dahl, especially his short stories.The Landlady was my favorite! I performed it as a reader’s theatre and wrote my own short story based on the same premise back in second grade.
Oh, and speaking of Scary Stories… Jonathan Maberry is editing a reboot of the Scary Stories franchise, called New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and I am super excited to have a story featured in that collection called ‘Jingle Jangle.’ It’s set to release in 2020, so get prepared to be scared! Whoa, that rhymed 😛
That is spooktastic! Congratulations! 🎉 Can’t wait to read this collection.
Let’s turn to BONE HOLLOW. How would you sum up this book?
At its heart, Bone Hollow is the story of a boy and his dog, but it’s so much more! It also features one ornery chicken, a candlelit cottage in the woods, friendship, mystery and big doses of heart and hope.
Were you ever afraid or hesitant to write Gabe’s death? Did you think it might be too much for young readers or why do you think it’s okay to explore?
I write books in the hope that readers will come away with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death.
That’s a wonderful goal.
Like with Skeleton Tree, I’ve tried to create an engaging fantasy world filled with humor, whimsy and many light touches, but I’m also wanting to explore darker topics to show that there can be light and beauty there as well. Loss is one of those things that even very young children encounter, often with the loss of a pet or grandparent, and one of my goals is to help young readers develop a framework for processing their feelings surrounding death that acknowledges the sadness, but also opens the door to hope.
What’s your favorite thing about Gabe? About the world you created in Bone Hollow?
Gabe has had a rough life, but he hasn’t let it harden his heart. He displays this persistent optimism in the face of overwhelming difficulties that I so totally admire. In Bone Hollow, readers will enter a misty woodland valley lit by flickering candles and night-blooming flowers. Nearby, they’ll find a maze with strange plants and dreamlike specters around every corner. I would love, love to visit Bone Hollow in real life one day!
Oh, and I forgot about Gabe’s humor! It was so much fun coming up with some of his syrupy southern sayings, like “Ollie’s bottom was itchier than a flea on a hot plate.” Love it! I wish I really talked like that.
Care to share the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
So many options!!! I think the piece of advice that continues to inform my writing the most is to focus on impact. Every word you write should be deliberately chosen to achieve a certain impact on the reader. And I mean that mostly in the broader, story-wide sense, although it also applies to the sentence level. Ask yourself, ‘What emotional journey do I want my reader to take?’ If you can identify those emotional beats that you want the reader to experience, then you can use that as a skeleton for your novel. It was a mindset shift for me from just writing ‘cool stuff,’ to writing action designed to have a specific impact on the reader. And did you see how I worked skeletons in there? Haha!
Being quite fond of skeletons💀, why yes I did notice. Nicely done!
Please tell your readers what they can expect next from you.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m very excited for New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, set to release in 2020! I also have a few other projects coming down the pipeline, so check my website for more updates on those soon.
Exciting times are coming your way, Kim. We can’t wait to see where they take you! Thank you for sharing yourself and BONE HOLLOW with the world and your spooky crew here on Spooky Middle Grade. And . . .
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.