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. 

Continue reading “Guest Blogger and Debut author Lisa Schmid talks GHOSTS!”

Creative Writing Club for Kids

At the beginning of the school year I got the crazy idea that kids might like a forum in which to do creative writing. Although they get some in the classroom, I was thinking of a completely non-judgmental environment where I guide them but they ultimately do what they want, where there are no wrong answers or points off for misspelling a word. Really, I wanted for them the kind of club I would have loved as a child myself.

Each session is roughly an hour, once a month. I provide notebooks, pencils and anything else we require (the PTA reimburses me which is lovely).  I tend to raffle off  middle grade books after I’m done reading them and the kids get a kick out of this. Below is the general outline of what I do during different sessions. It’s easy to mix and match or just use the information as a jumping off point. I’ll continue to add sessions as we make our way through the year.

I thought the club might attract ten students but I regularly get thirty. Pretty cool. Feel free to email me with any questions! (for more info on how to get started, see my post on The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors site!)

kids hard at work

Creative Writing Club Session #1

What is a setting? The time and place where a story happens. Future, past, now, outer space, a farm, school, New York City, etc.

Describe the setting from your favorite book or movie.

Select a photograph from the pile. (This is a pile of magazine photos of settings – beach, ocean, mountains, etc – pasted on paper.)

Exercise 1: describe the picture. Use all your senses. What does it smell like here? Is it cold or hot? What time of day is it? Etc.

Read a loud. (Totally voluntary – I STRESS this because some kids will run away screaming rather then share their work. I’ve found that after a few sessions so many more kids are willing to read.)

Exercise 2: pass photo to the left. Describe the scene as if YOU were in it. “I am….”

Read a loud

Exercise 3: pass photo again. Imagine you’re an animal in the photo. Describe the photo from the animal’s point of view.

Read a loud

Exercise 4: Free writing.

One day a spaceship landed on the playground and…

Use these three words in your story: rainy, Pogo ball, Doritos.

Read aloud.

Creative Writing Club Session #2

Free writing: It was Thanksgiving Day. I went outside and met a Turkey, who said….

1) Explode

2) Smelly

3) Purple

Read aloud.

Character Description

 The people who show up in your story – they don’t have to be human – could be alien or animal.

Main characters – we know a lot about them. They are the focus of the story or are telling the story.

Secondary characters – those are the ones that only show up for a little bit here and there. They can be important but we don’t spend a lot of time with them.

 Pick a character out of the bag. (I put a bunch of descriptions of possible main characters in a bag – Martian, Mad Scientist, Astronaut, Olympic Skier, etc) Describe this character: what does she look like? Sound like? Smell like? Where does she live? Does she fit in? Who does she hang around with? What does she do for fun? What does she like to eat? Does she have a family? Pets? How does she spend her time? What are her strengths and weaknesses? Is she courageous? What is she afraid of? What annoys her?

Read aloud.

Simple Story

Pick a Setting and Action. Write a simple story using your character, setting and action.

Read aloud

Repeat.

Amplify a Sentence

 (I call this Blowing Up a Sentence) Add descriptions and details to make it more interesting. Funny is good and most of these end up ridiculous but most more interesting than the original.

“I walked down the street.”

“I went swimming.”

Creative Writing Session #3

Quick Paragraphs

Write these questions up on the board. Have the students answer them. Give them five minutes per question set. Share. (my kids LOVED these; I’ll be sure to use them again.)

Example 1:

  • Who just snuck out the back door?
  • What were they carrying?
  • Where were they going?

Example 2:

  • Who is Ethan?
  • Why is he crying?
  • What is he going to do about it?

Example 3:

  • Whose house is Julia leaving?
  • Why was she there?
  • Where is she going now?

Superhero Exercise

Building on the five minute questions exercise, invent a super hero. What is your super power and who did you battle? Share.

Free Writing

Have students continue working on something they’ve already started or give them a new writing prompt.