Meet Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts! #Giveaway

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.

The Book

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

The Interview🎙️

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.

*BAhhh!!!🤣

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.

The Author

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.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

The Giveaway🎁

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Toying With Spooky Stories: A Writing Prompt

Let’s just be honest: toys are creepy.

Our stuffed animals stare at us with their button eyes while we sleep, and we can’t be completely sure they stay where we put them. Dolls? Equally freaky, if not more so. Puppets? Stop. (There is a reason the villains in my first book were evil puppets.)

Canva - Fluffy Stuffed Animals
They like to watch you while you sleep.

So it seemed only fair that when the kids in Twist, my book that comes out this month, had a bunch of monsters to defeat, they’d use toys to do it. It’s about time toys pulled their weight.It was a lot of fun, actually. Toys lend themselves well to weaponization. What parent hasn’t stepped on a Lego during a midnight bathroom trip and been convinced they were going to lose their foot? And there’s no alarm system as freaky as a Speak and Spell that accuses you suddenly out of the darkness. We all understand why Kevin McCallister used paint cans as booby traps in Home Alone…they’re heavy. But toys…toys are diabolical. They bring a level of psychological warfare to the table that’s hard to beat.

I mention this because while I love inventing creatures both friendly and foul, my favorite trick is presenting the commonplace, slightly askew. Familiar objects can send chills down your reader’s spine in the right context. That’s why the little wind-up primate with his clashing cymbals is so horrifying in Stephen King’s short story, “The Monkey.” It’s why a trail of Reese’s Pieces can lead to almost-unbearable levels of tension. And it’s why the juxtaposition of a Dungeons and Dragons miniature with a real-life danger doesn’t minimize the threat for the viewer, but gives them a focal point that makes them even more nervous.

Canva - Brown Haired Female Doll
She’s sad because you won’t share…your soul.

Familiar objects like toys are wonderful elements in a scary story, specifically because they’re so benign…until they aren’t. Once you’ve noticed how not-quite-right they are, you can’t unsee it. I know, this is a terrible thing I’m doing to you right now, but I am, after all, a spooky author. It’s literally my job. Of course, turnabout is fair play. So…

The next time you pick up your pencil (or ask your students to pick up theirs) why not pose the challenge of making a beloved childhood toy scary? If that doesn’t float your boat, if you really truly won’t be happy unless you can create a monstrous threat, see if your characters can solve that larger-than-life problem with household objects so basic, they’d normally overlook them completely. Especially if they’re toys! I guarantee good, spooky fun…besides, you’re already halfway there! Admit it: the Elf on a Shelf freaks you out.

Doesn’t he?

Canva - Grayscale Photo of Giraffe and Monkey Plastic Toy on Floor
Start here: the monkey is waving at…

 

 

Happy Holidays and Thank You!

Hello fellow Spooky readers!

Happy holidays!

From your Spooky Middle Grade Team!

A little over a year ago, a bunch of us spooky authors came together to stage a Halloween giveaway. The contest proved to be so successful for us, that we decided to stay together on a regular basis. Now, when you have what is essentially a group of strangers come together, you really don’t know what you’re going to get.

Well, I’m going to tell you.

 Over this past year, this group has become very close. We’ve become writing confidantes, an emotional support system, and most importantly, friends. For anyone who writes, you know how important it is to have someone who can do any of those things for you, and fortunately, we all now have sixteen other people who fit that description.

I’m writing this because at the end of the year, you take stock of everything. So, this is me taking stock.

First, I want to thank everyone in the Spooky Middle Grade Group for being friends and always being there to discuss writing. Talk fears and triumphs, giving support and giving advice. Commiserating and celebrating. All of you are always there, and thank you.

Thank you to the teachers, librarians, and students, who have been a huge part of our year. We’ve loved doing these group Skype sessions with all of you. We’ve appreciated your kindness, hospitality, and support. Because of all of your enthusiasm, this group has been very busy, and for that, we thank you.

But most importantly, thank you to all our readers. We love getting on these calls and have students ask us about our process, and even better when they ask specific things about our books, and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed them. It is not a lie or overstating truth to say how much it thrills us to see how we connect with readers.

To everyone, we wish all of you a very happy holiday season, a happy new year, and look forward to visiting, and chatting with all of your classes in 2020!

Thank you,

Jonathan Rosen and your Spooky Middle Grade team:

Josh Allen, Sarah Cannon, Samantha Clark, Lindsay Currie, Tania Del Rio, Janet Fox, Sheri Larsen, David Neilsen, Victoria Piontek, Cynthia Reeg, Lisa Schmid, Kat Shepherd, Angie Smibert, Kim Ventrella, Jacqueline West

Interview with Christian McKay Heidicker, author of Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Happy November, spookies! This is the best time of year for curling up with a spooky read. One of my absolute favorite books this Halloween season was SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker. Not only does it feature my favorite animal, but it’s filled with a bunch of haunting and beautiful illustrations by Junyi Wu.

Here’s a little description to entice you:

The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Christian was kind enough to take time from his busy touring schedule to talk to me about his terrifying book!

TANIA: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES is the most original book I’ve read in some time! What was your inspiration for this story, and why did you choose foxes, in particular, to tell your tale?

CHRISTIAN: Well, thank you!

I was inspired by the Berenstain Bears—specifically The Spooky Old Tree and Bears in the Night. When I originally wrote these stories, the foxes wore little vests and deerskin boots and they walked down to the market to buy a goose from the badger grocer. But when my agent politely informed me that that anthropomorphism doesn’t sell, I started making the stories as scientifically accurate as I could.

As far as why they’re foxes . . . I have no idea! They just came to me, as lovely as flames in my imagination. Whenever students ask me Why Foxes during school visits, I tell them that I woke one night with teeth piercing my throat and found a fox pinning me to the bed with her jaws. Another fox stepped into the moonlight on my pillow and told me I needed to write this book or else . . .

TANIA: The foxes in your book face danger that is real and yet appears supernatural through the lens of the protagonists. It reminded me of the power of children’s imaginations when interpreting things they can’t quite grasp. Was it challenging to write through the eyes of a young fox or to balance the realistic with the anthropomorphic?

CHRISTIAN: It was challenging! The parallels between classic horror tales and the lives of foxes came easily, but selling that through the perspective of the kits was tough (especially the Golgathursh). Anytime I grew overwhelmed, I’d just take a step back and reestablish the boundary of the stories: Does it parallel a classic horror tale?/Could it happen to foxes? From there, I just had to figure out which details to include.

TANIA: I was admittedly surprised by how dark this book was at times, especially regarding death. And yet, it also felt appropriate, given that the natural world can be an unforgiving place. The foxes’ behavior and environment felt very true-to-life and there was even a surprising appearance by Beatrix Potter which has made me see her in a whole new light! Did you do a lot of research into her character or animal behavior for this book?

CHRISTIAN: I was surprised by the darkness too! And yes, I did a ton of research.

The more I learned about foxes and classic horror tropes, the more the events started to choose themselves. I worried about how scary it was getting at first, but then I watched Planet Earth with my soon-to-be-stepdaughters and noticed that they didn’t cry when innocent animals were eaten. They were upset, but they seemed to understand that this was a part of the natural process. From that point forward, I started to think of the book as National Geographic Horror. So long as I added a bit of coziness for every flash of teeth, I knew the stories would remain palatable.

The fact that Beatrix Potter taxidermied many of her subjects before she sketched them is true, by the way. I’m sorry I have to be the one to break it to everyone. (Okay, not that sorry 🙂 )

TANIA: In the book there is an explanation for why scary stories are important for young foxes. Why do you think scary stories are so important for young readers?

CHRISTIAN: I could try to do this justice. But I’ll just quote Neil Gaiman instead:

“. . . if you are keeping people, young people, safe from the darkness . . . you are denying them tools or weapons that they might have needed and could have had.”

I think that about sums up my feelings.

TANIA: What are some of your favorite spine-tingling reads?

CHRISTIAN: Speaking of Neil Gaiman, I *adore* The Graveyard Book and Coraline. I also really love the Turn of the Screw, the Berenstain Bears (as mentioned), and Ghostopolis. I don’t see that last one getting enough cred.

Obviously, I love a lot of horror novels by adults too, but I try not to recommend those to young readers.

TANIA: What are you working on next? Anything else you’d like to share with our Spooky MG readers?

CHRISTIAN: You might be happy to hear that I’m working on a sequel to Foxes. It takes place many decades later in the city that has replaced the Antler Wood. It will involve Mia’s and Uly’s and Mr. Scratch’s descendants, and it will retell modern horror tales instead of classic ones. If rabies was a zombie story in the old one, the fox fur farm in the new one is dystopian horror.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Foxes book trailer, but we put a lot of work into it:

Christian McKay Heidicker reads and writes and drinks tea. Between his demon-hunting cat and his fiddling, red-headed fiancée, he feels completely protected from evil spirits. Christian is the author of Scary Stories for Young FoxesCure for the Common Universe and Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. cmheidicker.com

Spooky Writing Tips for Kids

This week, I asked three spooky middle grade authors to share their favorite writing tips for kids. Hopefully these quick tips will help add that extra dash of creepy to your next terrifying tale.

S.A. LARSEN

Use all five senses when writing your scenes. But don’t stress about it. Just close your eyes and imagine what your character smells, feels or comes in contact with through touch. Reach your character’s arms out to let an imaginary breeze sweep along their skin. Have your character take a deep breath and almost taste the dying moss clinging to the trees. Playing with the senses from a creepy point-of-view is so fun in spooky stories!

SAMANTHA CLARK

Keep up the intrigue by dripping details into a scene, each one getting scarier than the last. And don’t forget to use all the senses. Maybe first they hear a howl in the distance. Then smell something dark and musty. Then feel drool drip down their neck…

CYNTHIA REEG

To help me get in the spooky mood for writing my monster stories, I brainstorm creepy vocabulary words before I start writing. Divide a paper into categories for the 5 senses–Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch. See how many words you can think of for each sense. Even if you don’t use each of these words in your story, it will help set the tone for your writing. Scary on!

Thanks Spookies!!! I hope these tips help you add a little bite to your spooky story repertoire.

 

Spooky Stories All Year Round

There are many different types of spooky stories. Some feature humor, adventure and straight-up chills, while others explore sensitive topics and tug at readers’ emotions. No  matter what type of story you love, spooky books have a place in the classroom, library and beyond all year round, not just at Halloween. To delve deeper into this topic I spoke to some of today’s foremost authors of middle grade spooky stories.

Jan Eldredge

Why do you write spooky stories?
I guess I write spooky stories for the same reason I love to read them. They allow us an escape to dangerous, exciting worlds, worlds that we get to explore from the comfort of our safe, everyday lives.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories are chock full of benefits, particularly for young readers! Reading about young protagonists defeating evil can be very empowering for children. Spooky stories can also provide safe ways for kids to explore fear and experience a sense of danger, sort of like trying on a costume to see what it feels like to be someone else for a while. Spooky stories are great reminders that our boring lives aren’t quite so bad after all.

S.A. Larsen

Why do you write spooky stories?
For me, spooky stories are like passageways into the unknown and the misunderstood, mysteries that keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve always been curious about the great beyond and the aspects of life we can’t see – like what really goes on inside a cemetery when none of the living are watching. Writing spooky tales with otherworldly or ghostly elements gives me the freedom to explore life themes such as the importance of family, self-esteem and confidence, and friendship in new and unexpected ways for young readers.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Tales with spooky and eerie elements explore the same important life struggles, hopes, dreams, and challenges that contemporary stories do. They also help kids see that fear is a part of life – fear of change, fear of a new school, fear of taking a test – and helps them see and workout solutions to overcoming fear. These are universal emotions and challenges that can be discussed throughout the year. The possibilities are endless!

Janet Fox

Why do you write spooky stories?
Really, the spooky part of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE was accidental! My original idea was more mystery/fantasy, but as I wrote the antagonist she became darker and darker and more nuanced for it. And the darkness of the antagonist reflected something in my own mood, something I needed to sort through. But my son said something recently that was inspired in this regard. He said that he loves dark, spooky stories because that one tiny glimmer of hope within the darkness – even if it’s just a candle – can feel like a brilliant light. And I thought, yes. That’s what I like, too. Magnifying the light in the darkness or the happiness within the spookiness. That’s the secret.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
I would say that’s why spooky stories are always in season – they offer that recognition that hope flickers brilliantly in the dark.

Samantha M. Clark

Why do you write spooky stories?
I get scared easily when I’m reading spooky stories, but I still love them. Spooky stories get my blood pumping, and I need to know if everything’s going to end safely. When it does, it helps me know that when I’m scared in real life, everything can be okay. So when there’s an opportunity to put some spookiness into my own stories, I jump at the chance. Getting scared can be fun, especially when we know we can always close the book if we need a break.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Halloween is, of course, when we celebrate spooky stories the most, but reading spooky stories is fun and good for us at any time. They remind us that it’s okay to be scared, and show us that we can be brave just like the characters in the stories. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” And with spooky stories, we can build courage and confidence safely while facing our fears within the pages of the books and with the characters as our guides and companions. Spooky stories help us grow, and that’s a good thing every day.

Jonathan Rosen

Why do you write spooky stories?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. Much more so than horror. I like the creepiness factor of the unknown. What’s there lurking in the shadows? The mystery, to me, is much scarier and interesting, than having the monster actually appear on the stage. Why is the ghost there? What’s the story behind it? How was that monster created? I loved these stories as a kid, and always felt fascinated by them. I like to write to my younger self and kids who were like me.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
There is no bad time to read scary stories. Yeah, they’re much better to read at Halloween time, but the kids who love them, don’t want to be relegated to one season a year for books. Kids like to be scared, to a degree, but then they know they can put the books away. They’re safe again. I also read a long time ago, and it’s true, spooky stories give kids the consequences of not following rules. Your Mogwai will turn to a Gremlin if you don’t follow them. Your vampire neighbor can get in your house, if you don’t follow the rule about not inviting him in. Spooky stories also open the mind to think of different possibilities. I know when I read them, I always went searching for more. More stories about the subject. I wanted to read about haunted places. The times when the ghosts came from. I think reading leads to more reading.

Kim Ventrella

Why do you write spooky stories?
I have always been interested in the intersection of darkness and whimsy. I love the space where macabre tales meet deeply-felt emotions and discoveries. Adding a spooky element allows me to explore difficult real-life topics in a way that I find more palatable and easier to understand.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories aren’t just about Halloween. They’re about exploring the mysterious all around us, searching for new possibilities, confronting our deepest fears and stepping out into the darkness to find that courage and resilience that resides within us all.