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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James Ponti is here! Yes, I’m shouting…

I read Framed! in one sitting. Then I immediately leaped from my chair and ran to the library where I insisted the children’s librarian put the book on the shelves right away. She, being a genius in all things books, was way ahead of me. I sighed with relief. I did not want to be the only one having so much fun. 

(Buy the books: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound)

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You survived the cuddle bunnies. But what about the vampires?! A chat with Jonathan Rosen…

My daughter had an animatronic stuffed Elmo when she was little. I was convinced it was possessed – it would turn itself on at random times and twitch around in wacky, demented circles. It showed up in my nightmares. It whispered in my dreams. For sanity’s sake, in the dead of night, I introduced it to the dumpster. What is meant to be cute can also be…well…not. But writing horror is no easy thing, especially when it is meant for kids. So let’s talk to the man who delivers chills, thrills, heart and humor and see how it’s done.

(Buy the books: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound)

Continue reading “You survived the cuddle bunnies. But what about the vampires?! A chat with Jonathan Rosen…”

An interview with debut author Mae Respicio

One of the many things I love about Mae Respicio’s debut novel, The House that Lou Built, is how she creates a character who so thoroughly plays against type and yet is relatable and familiar. For readers unfamiliar with Filipino culture, as I am, Lou is the best kind of guide. Experiencing the world through her eyes was a delight from start to finish. Middle grade readers are in for a real treat.

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

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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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Summer Reading 2018

Multiple studies now prove what we always knew: summer reading helps prevent the ‘summer slide’ or summer learning loss. And some experts say it takes just five books to reap the benefits. We can do that.

Of course, for some kids, reading is as natural as breathing but for others it’s a struggle. Fortunately, there are many amazing programs out there, including those at your local library, that encourage kids to pick up books during these long, hot, unstructured, wild and free summer days. (Check out my reluctant reader guide for tips, too.)

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Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls – the paperback!

The paperback is now out! Paperbacks are great. Practically stress free! If you lose them, who cares? If they get wet, whatever! If you use it as a coaster for your coffee, fabulous!

Pick one up today: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound or order from you local indie (we cannot survive without our local bookstores so show them the love whenever you can!)

Also, visit me on Twitter, Instagram or FB for paperback giveaways! Paperbacks, bookmarks, Power Play stickers, postcards, and more!

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.