Creepy! Scary! Chilling!

I love scary books and movies and I hate scary books and movies. At the same time. For example, I’m watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix but I’m mostly doing it through my fingers which are plastered over my eyes because I’m too afraid to look. I bet I’m not alone in this.

Scary books have a way of soaking into your life. This morning I woke up to a loud banging outside my bedroom window. Of course, my mind went immediately to wicked witches, ghouls with ghastly intentions and spiteful spirits. My heart raced. Sweat broke out on my forehead. It was the unlatched gate to my front walkway, of course. And a little wind. Still….

But scary is fun, isn’t it? I’m sure there is a good psychological explanation for why but maybe, in this Halloween season, let’s just go with it. To that end, something for your middle grade readers that like a little creepiness baked into their reading. (all book descriptions lifted from Amazon/GoodReads)

(And if you are an adult or have an advanced reader, I recommend Shirley Jackson, the master of modern horror.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle  is so freaky and one of my all time favs.)

The Gravedigger’s Son, by Patrick Moody (Sky Pony Press)

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

Equal parts spooky and melancholy, funny and heartfelt. 

The Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers)

Corinne LaMer defeated the wicked jumbie Severine months ago, but things haven’t exactly gone back to normal in her Caribbean island home. Everyone knows Corinne is half-jumbie, and many of her neighbors treat her with mistrust. When local children begin to go missing, snatched from the beach and vanishing into wells, suspicious eyes turn to Corinne. To rescue the missing children and clear her own name, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea.

The Mesmerist, by Ronald L. Smith (Clarion Books)

Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London’s supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself.

The Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, by Jonathan Rosen (Sky Pony Press)

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life. That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps. (and don’t miss the sequel, From Sunset till Sunrise! Vampires!)

Guest Blogger and Debut author Lisa Schmid talks GHOSTS!

by Lisa Schmid

There is no such thing as ghosts. Right? I must admit when it comes to the subject, I’m a bit conflicted.

I love visiting “haunted” places like the Whaley House in San Diego.  Rumored to be the most haunted house in the United States, I have toured it a couple of times, hoping to see a chandelier sway or a spectral vision glide across the room. No such luck. But, to be perfectly honest, if I did see a ghost, I’d probably Scooby Doo it right out of there.

Another fun fact about me, I don’t want to see ghosts on my home turf or where I am spending the night.

For example, a couple of years ago I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. The first night while serving up scary banquet food, our waiter served up scary stories about ghosts who inhabit the hotel. One tale, in particular about a creepy ghost girl residing on the ninth floor totally freaked me out. Why? Because I, of course, was staying on the ninth floor. Go figure. So I did what any brave soul would do, I slept with the lights on. All. Four. Nights. 

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Jake Burt talks about The Right Hook of Devin Velma

Greetings from Witness Protection, Jake Burt’s debut middle grade novel, walks the line between funny and poignant so perfectly, I couldn’t put it down. That same light touch shines in his second novel for middle grader readers, The Right Hook of Devin Velma. In this story of friendship, anxiety, families and basketball, Burt creates characters who struggle with some of the harsher aspects of modern American life and yet come out stronger for the experience.

(Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound or purchase from your local indie bookstore!)

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A chat with debut author Lija Fisher, author of The Cryptid Catcher

What I love about The Cryptid Catcher is how much of a mess Clivo’s life is but he grits his teeth and perseveres anyway. This boy just can’t catch a break. His father has recently died, he’s stuck living with a kooky aunt and, as it turns out, he really doesn’t know much about his family. As the story unravels, with wild adventure and edge of your seat tension, the pieces begin to fall into place and Clivo starts to understand his purpose. I read this in one seating and can’t wait for the sequel.

(Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, Indiebound)

How about some questions for this debut author, yes?

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Farting robots! Chaos! Hilarity! We must be chatting with middle grade author Jarrett Lerner…

From the minute I saw the cover of EngiNerds, I was all in. I love the way the super smart ‘nerd’ boys are just average tweens in so many ways. This makes them relatable even when their adventures get wild. In the first of the series, Ken and pals discover the cool robots that appeared mysteriously on their doorsteps are not all positive. Sure, they can be awesome but they can also be destructive. Soon, the boys find themselves in a desperate race to save not only themselves but also the world.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound

From the beginning, EngiNerds is fast paced, thrilling, action packed adventure and chaos. I love this stuff! What influenced your desire to write this kind of book?

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A chat with the middle grade author duo Kati Bartkowski & Heidi Lang

I’m a huge fan of sequels, especially ones that get my heart pounding!  A Hint of Hydra, the follow up to last summer’s A Dash of Dragon, fits the bill. The series features Lailu, a monster cuisine chef with the best curses (‘What the spatula?’) and a extra serving of bravery.  The amazing world building from the first book holds steady in this tense, action packed story, which finds Lailu trying to prevent a war between the elves and the scientists. There is also a cute boy. What’s not to love??

(PS: When I first interviewed this sister writing duo, I just knew I wanted to hang out with them in real life. And it’s happening! Join us at Keplers Books in Meno Park on September 14th 6:00-8:00 for Mighty Middle Grade, a panel moderated by the amazing Jill Diamond. We are going to have fun and you want to be there. More details here.)

(Buy A Hint of Hydra: AmazonB&NIndieBound)

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Power Play: Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls #2 is out today!

Abby and the rest of her friends go international as they embark on their first “official” Center mission in this second book in the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

After discovering the truth about her spy school/boarding school—and her super-spy mom—Abby Hunter is ready for her next adventure, but what’s about to happen is something she never would have guessed…

Everyone at The Smith School is obsessed with Monster Mayhem, the latest reality video game craze. But when Drexel Caine, the mastermind behind the game is suddenly kidnapped, it becomes clear that the kidnappers are playing for more than just special badges.

After Drexel’s son—who is Abby’s friend, Toby—receives a cryptic message, Abby and her friends discover the kidnapping is part of a bigger scheme that could take down The Center for good.

With the help of Abby’s frenemy (and reluctant mentor), Veronica Brooks, the group tackles their first official Center Mission. They tangle with the world’s most notorious hacker, get in trouble for the possible theft of the Mona Lisa, and prepare for the ultimate showdown in London. But not before they have to contend with one more hurdle: the agonizing Smith School Spring Formal. Along the way, they discover they are much stronger as a team they can ever be alone.

And with a little luck, they might just save the world.

Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound

Cover reveal for….(drum roll)….Jenny Lundquist’s The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams

I had the great good fortune to spend several days with Jenny at a book festival earlier this year and I could not be more excited about her forthcoming novel! The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams is a hopeful middle grade story of three former friends who must come together at their annual town carnival to heal and reconnect after a tragedy.

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A chat with Wendy McLeod MacKnight about The Frame Up

I’m a sucker for a great art museum, especially if it has an audio tour that gets into the history surrounding the paintings. There is so much drama there, so much happening, but when I offer an art museum outing to my kids they look at me as if I suggested they eat glass. Which is one of the many reasons I love The Frame Up, Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s latest middle grade novel. Paintings come dazzlingly to life here in a fresh and oh so creative way that will make kids think about art in a whole new light. Add in modern friendship, family tension and creepy bad guys and I venture to guess you won’t be able to put this one down until you turn the very last page. I certainly couldn’t.

And lucky us, Wendy is here to answer some questions….

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Alexandra Ott, author of middle graded adventure fantasy The Shadow Thieves

The Shadow Thieves, the thrilling sequel to Rules for Thieves, is a must read for action fantasy enthusiasts in the middle grade space. Ott’s willingness to delve into her characters’ ambiguity brings them vividly to life. People are complex in the real world and reflecting this on the page makes for a compelling story. Plus, I can’t get enough of brave, determined and loyal Alli! She fits right in with the many wonderful girl leads I’ve encountered lately that won’t let me go until I finish. I think I’m going to start calling them ‘the one sitting club’.  (Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound)

And now some questions for Alexandra…

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing come from?

I always loved stories, even as a child. My parents read aloud to me often before I was old enough to read on my own, and I’ve been devouring books ever since. I think I was about 7 or 8 years old when I realized that being an author was an actual job, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since!

The Shadow Thieves is the sequel to Rules for Thieves and picks up after 12-year-old Alli Rosco is released from prison. Did you have the sequel story in mind when you wrote the first installment?

I had a loose idea of what would happen in the sequel. I knew which characters I wanted to bring back, what I wanted the focus of the story to be, and how I wanted it to end. But most of the plot details were invented in the process of writing the manuscript. I write most of my books this way; I like to have a plan but also leave plenty of room to explore as I go along.

In Shadow, like Rules, Alli ends up in that gray space between what is right and what is necessary. You illustrate so well how life is messy and things are rarely straightforward. Was this your intention with Alli?

Thank you! Yes, I knew even before I wrote the first book that it was a theme I wanted to explore—how to navigate that gray area, and how to choose between moral responsibility and survival. Alli is often placed in impossible situations where the right answer is never easy, and she has to figure out which choices she can live with and which lines she won’t cross. I think it’s an interesting dilemma to give any character, but particularly one as young as Alli who’s really finding her place in the world for the first time.

The Thieves exist in a fantasy world with touches of magic. I love how you’ve created a world that isn’t flashy or in your face but is just different enough for the reader to feel like she’s left the familiar behind. Did this world evolve or did you map out the rules before you began writing the books?

It was a little of both, I think. I knew going into it what kind of world I wanted to create, and I made lots of notes for myself before I started writing—things like how the governments are structured, the major cultural differences between the two main cities in the books, how their economy and currency works, the rules surrounding magic and how it influences the world, that sort of thing. But I also continued to develop the world as I wrote the story, and filled in a lot of holes in the worldbuilding that I hadn’t worked out beforehand. My goal was to create a world that’s easily accessible and understandable while also feeling fantastical.

I’m currently working on the third in a series so this question is for me! Which was harder to write, book one or two?

They both had their own challenges, but I’d say the second book was harder. With sequels, it’s always hard to find the right balance between including elements and characters that readers love from the first book while also introducing something new. Plus, I had deadlines while working on the second book, so I had to write it much faster than the first!

Who are your favorite authors?

 This is an impossible question to answer! I have so many. Some of my favorite children’s authors are J.K. Rowling, Cornelia Funke, Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce, to name just a few.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

 Reading, of course!

What are you working on right now?

 I’ve just started writing my next middle grade project. I have to keep the details a secret for now, but I think readers who love adventure fantasy stories with fierce female protagonists—like Rules for Thieves!—will enjoy this one too. I’ll have more information to share about this project very soon!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

 I love hearing from readers! They’re more than welcome to email me via my website, www.alexandraott.com, or to reach out on social media. I can be found on Twitter as @Alexandra_Ott, on Instagram as @alexottbooks, or on Facebook as alexandraottbooks.