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.