Summer Scares

Don’t we all have at least one fiber in us that loves a good, scary story? As a species, we’ve been telling scary stories almost from the time we stood up and began to walk upright on two legs. Stories that have become integral to our human existence. Our advancement as a species is built on the back of a story. We pass our experiences down from generation to generation through story.

Scary stories play an integral role in shaping our existence. From entertainment to cautionary tale, to moral plays, to simply visceral enjoyment, stories of ghosts, monsters, urban legends, and creatures of the night serve their purpose well. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Brothers Grimm, all use a scare to define our limits and our psychological fears.

When my siblings and I were growing up in the early 1970’s, my dad never failed to send a shiver down our spines with this one thing he did. He would cup his hands around his mouth to get a 1930’s radio special effect and mimic the introduction to The Shadow radio drama.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

Even now, it brings a little smile to my face. The joy of remembering a dark hallway with us boys supposedly going to sleep in our bedroom and Dad, out in the living room, saying the Shadow’s introduction in his deep voice and with an emphasis on the word “evil”. I would smile as my heart raced and Mom would shush Dad about scaring us boys when we should be going to sleep. I would pull the covers tight and have visions of The Shadow with his black cape, hat, and mask. Scary (but not too scary) felt like a warm blanket. That’s one thing a good scary story does. It wraps around you and gives a familiar and slightly uncomfortable spine-tingling feeling.

Which brings me back to the beauty of a good middle-grade scare. These books are important. They do serve a purpose. Claire Quigley wrote a great blog post addressing scary books in June of 2016 at BookRiot.com. In the post, she nailed the explanation of why scary books belong in a prominent space in kidlit.

“These creepy stories have an important place in our literature, and our culture at large. Being a child is a scary, strange and unsettling time, and the stories that articulate these anxieties help children navigate the world, all the way through to adulthood. Life can be challenging, and at times upsetting, but you’ll also be equipped to battle through it, just like the heroes and heroines of those creepy tales. And let’s not forget, at the end of the day – those spine-chilling stories are always such good fun!”

Below is a list of my top 13 scary MG book recommendations. Books that are perfect for late summer nights when the warm, humid air calls for a creepy chill and reading by lantern or flashlight in a quiet, dark woods or on a windy nighttime beach is in peak season.

           

HOODOO by Ronald L. Smith
Debts paid by body appendages rarely are for the greater good.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
A different breed of adoption tale.

THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier
Never trust an old tree growing in the house.

          

THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel
Wasps are such beautiful & talented creatures.

TEXAS GHOST STORIES, FIFTY FAVORITES FOR THE TELLING by Doc Moore & Tim Tingle
The Hairy Man + a bonus chapter on how to tell a ghost story!

THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste
Walk away from yellow-eyed trickster creatures named Severine.

          

DOLL BONES by Holly Black
A doll is just a doll. Or is it?

THE GHOST OF GRAYLOCK by Dan Poblocki
Is exploring the abandoned asylum in the woods ever a good idea?

CORALINE by Neil Gaiman
Meet the parents; the other parents.

          

THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer
Accepting a biography writing gig from the neighbor girl.

SKELETON MAN by Joseph Bruchac
Always follow the talking rabbit.

SCHOOL OF THE DEAD by Avi
Beware the creepy uncle who helps plan your future.

And for the 13th and terminal selection…

THE THIEF OF ALWAYS

by Clive Barker
Rictus, Jive, Marr, Carna, and Mr. Hood.

 

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Mike Hays
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.wordpress.com. He can often be found roaming the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

Celebrating Cousins!

It’s National Cousins Day! And to celebrate, I executed a not-so-scientific search of middle-grade books that highlight relationships between cousins. What I found was that many such books also feature quite a bit of diversity when it comes to race, gender, and culture. But whether it’s a cousin from a far-away place, a cousin with a different lifestyle, or cousins that just happen to get along, that special family bond plays an important part in the characters’ lives. So take a tip from these great stories of extended families, and connect with a cousin today. Who knows what might happen.

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She’s always been different—set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents’ interracial marriage, and by her family’s retreat from the world. This summer she has a new reason to feel set apart—her confused longing for her friend Hazel. When cousin Trout comes to stay, she gives Staggerlee a first glimpse of her possible future selves and the world beyond childhood.

 

My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French

In this Australian import, eleven-year-old Kieran wants to be part of the “in” group at school. He wants to be on the soccer team. He wants to fit in. But then his weird cousin Bon turns up, both at school and at home. Bon knows nothing about fitting in, with his long blond braid, babyish hand-knit hat, and funny, precise voice. Bon doesn’t play sports, and he likes to draw imaginary maps with stories about “Bon the Crusader” and “Kieran the Brave.” He’s an easy target for teasing, and Kieran has little patience for him. Even more irritating, Bon’s only friend is the other new kid, a cool girl named Julia who wears cowboy boots and has a confidence that fascinates Kieran. What could she and Bon possibly have in common? With unflinching honesty, My Cousin’s Keeper takes on childhood jealousy, family secrets, and unexpected kindness.

 

The Callahan Cousins (#4 Together Again) by Elizabeth Doyle Carey

Look out Gull Island! Neeve, Phoebe, Kate, and Hillary—the twelve-year-old Callahan cousins—are back at their grandmother Gee’s rambling seaside estate for Christmas break! When the girls camp out at a whale museum, they stumble upon a mystery they can’t ignore. Phoebe takes the lead as the girls join forces to solve an island mystery. This is the final book in the series.

 

 

Cupcake Cousins (Book One) by Kate Hannigan

In the first of a series, Willow and Delia, nine-year-old cousins, can’t wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding. But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don’t exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

 

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

Twelve-year-old Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico. Inspired by true events, The Only Road is a story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

 

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai

A rough and tumble tomboy, twelve-year-old Ariana couldn’t be more different from her cousin Laila, who just arrived from Afghanistan with her family. Laila is a proper, ladylike Afghan girl, one who can cook, sew, sing, and who is well versed in Pukhtun culture and manners. Arianna hates her. Laila not only invades Ariana’s bedroom in their cramped Fremont townhouse, but she also becomes close with Mariam Nurzai, Ariana’s best friend. Then a rival Afghan grocery store opens near Ariana’s family store, reigniting a decades-old feud tracing back to Afghanistan. The cousins, Mariam, and their newfound frenemy, Waleed Ghilzai, must ban together to help the families find a lasting peace before it destroys both businesses and everything their parents have worked for.

 

The London Eye Mystery by Siohban Dowd

Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off—except Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air? Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.

 

Letters From Rifka by Karen Hesse

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind. Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island–and if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair. Based on a true story from the author’s family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.

 

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Flying the Dragon tells the story of two cousins in alternating chapters. American-born Skye is a good student and a star soccer player who never really gives any thought to the fact that her father is Japanese. Her cousin, Hiroshi, lives in Japan, and never really gives a thought to his uncle’s family living in the U.S. Their lives are thrown together when Hiroshi’s family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), have to move to the U.S. suddenly. Skye resents that she is now “not Japanese enough,” and yet the friends she’s known forever abruptly realize she is “other.” Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye’s intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi’s expertise, and Skye’s growing interest in, kite making and competitive kite flying, culminating in a contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival.

What’s your favorite book about cousins? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

 

 

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Dorian Cirrone
Dorian Cirrone's most recent middle-grade novel is the award-winning,THE FIRST LAST DAY. She has published several books for children and teens and is the Co-Regional Advisor of SCBWI-Florida. Visit her at www.doriancirrone.com

Summer Reads = Summer Fun!

Summer is a time when I feel energized and creative, basking in the longer daylight hours and a different kind of vibe, even though I work at home and the actual calendar doesn’t change that much around here.

If your kid is the kind who likes to make and do in summer, as mine was (she’s grown now, but this is how I remember her middle grade summers, and my own), here is a post to scratch your kiddos’ summer activity itch. Of course, you might like to join in the fun, too.

I have to say right up front that this was not my (fantastic!) idea – here’s a big shout out to our own Annabelle Fisher for the inspiration, and to many of our members for chiming in with great ideas to share with you.

Like to cook? These reads might also make you hungry to make food.

Lisa Schroeder’s cupcake books, including It’s Raining Cupcakes, might inspire you to make some…

The Truth About Twinkie Pie, by Kat Yeh, is full of recipes.

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, is also filled with things I want to cook. 

Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, by our own Annabelle Fisher (including a recipe for magical “reversing cake” and other fun things!).

How about writing to authors?

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary gave adult me the push to write a favorite author, actually.

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech is another that inspires action in the form of writing.

Want to play with paper engineering?

Origami Yoda and Tom Angleberger’s other Origami books result in lots of paper play.

Richard Merrill’s Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds  is a blast (I’m giving this one an extra shout-out – this fellow SCBWI member and Dover Publications author is also my big brother!).

Books about science and nature and those that get us out of doors can also spark inspiration for projects and action.

Mixed Up Files member Jacqueline Houtman pointed me to Elaine Vickers’ blog, which features a ton of great activities for middle graders. Jacqueline’s own book, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas was featured there, and reading this book about a science geek might prompt a visit to find something to do, too.

Nature sketching and birdwatching are featured in The Someday Birds, by Sally Pia.

One Mixed Up Files member described Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island as being ”sort of about a group of kids camping on their very own island.”

The Phineas MacGuire books by Francis O’Roark Dowell feature science activities in the back matter, and a website to visit for more at: http://gophineas.com/. My students loved our read aloud of Phineas in the library.

Roseanne Parry, still another Mixed Up Files member, wrote Turn of the Tide, which features geocaching.

And Explore Forces and Motion, by Jen Swanson (still another Mixed Up Filer), includes 25 fun activities for kids to do with science.

Community service as summertime action?

Our own Michele Weber Hurwitz says, “My book, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, doesn’t exactly feature a craft project, but the main character, Nina, does a project involving 65 good things she does for her neighbors and family, one for each day of her summer vacation. It’s been a popular summer read for students who then do a community service project when they return to school.

Lisa Graff’s The Great Treehouse War Is about a bunch of kids who stage a sit-in, and then some…

Plus, there are always mysteries to solve and other fun things to do!

I’m intrigued by Annabelle Fisher’s recommendation of The Puzzler’s Mansion, by Eric Berlin, which she describes as having brainteasers and interactive puzzles in it.

Chasing Vermeer and the others in Blue Balliet’s architectural mystery series feature tangrams and puzzles to solve. I had several students who made their own tangrams after reading these books.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, by Chris Grabenstein, is another that is jam-packed with stuff to do and try.

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd is filled with oodles of stuff to do, too…

What books inspire you to dive in and then get out to have some fun in summer?

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Valerie Stein
In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, THE BEST OF IT: A JOURNAL OF LIFE, LOVE AND DYING, was published in 2009. Her current work focuses on historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press, and blogs at The Best of It. She manages Gather Here, an online history site for middle grade readers and teachers.