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Take 5: Creepy reads for the MG crowd

Today we are reviewing the subtly creepy ghost story Dolly Bones by Holly Black, a great read for Middlge Grade readers.  So I thought I would share 5 more of my favorite creepiest reads for the MG crowd.   

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The family and I are reading this out loud right now as a family bedtime story.  It is an excellent look at the world of fairy tales, but I am not going to lie – it is seriously creepy.  In the village where Agatha and Sophie live, one “good” child and one “evil” child are kidnapped every four years, never to be heard from again until the books arrive.  If you look closely at the books, you might find that these characters look like children long gone from their village.  Sophie has always wanted a way out of their dreadfully boring village and doesn’t doubt at all that she will be sent to the school for good, while the rest of the town feels certain that Agatha will be sent to the school for evil.  Except, there seems to be some sort of mix-up and Sophie is deposited into the school for evil and Agatha is sent to the school for good.  Will thix mix-up finally reveal the truths of the fairy tales?  The School for Good and Evil is an interesting and creative look at the world of fairytales, and a unique twisted in the popular trend of twisting fairy tales.

The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks
Marcus has summer plans to play video games, but when his mother pulls in a RV trailer, his plans suddenly change.  Summer gets really interesting when Marcus and co. enter a door at the bottom of the trailer and enter a world that appears to be a gateway to their greatest dreams . . . or worst nightmares.  A fun read, Paradise Trap received starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Kirkus.  Catherine Jinks is also the author of Evil Genius (which I enjoy) and The Reformed Vampire Support Group (which was a fun play on vampre lore).

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand
Victoria finds herself trying to save her friend Lawrence from the superbly creepy Cavendish home.  This is a FANTASTICALLY creepy read.  Check out my full review here.


Leisl and Po by Lauren Oliver 
Banished to the attic by her stepmother, Lesil’s only friend is the ghost of Po who sometimes appears.  But when the sorcerer’s apprentice Will makes a huge mistake, the three of them are drawn together into an extraordinary adventure.  Such a great read, and check out her MG read Spindlers as well. 

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School by Charles Gilman
There are strange things happening at Lovecraft Middle School. And there are some super strange kids there as well.  In the tradition of Goosebumps by R. L. Stine, Lovecraft Middle School presents an ongoing series of creepy tales for MG readers that combines your worst fears (spiders, for example) and the best of folklore, mythology, and the things that go bump in the night.  Read my review of book 1 here.

This is, of course, by no means a complete and exhaustive list of creepy MG reads.  So tell me, what are your favorites?  And let’s never forget the fantastic Coraline and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Goodreads Synopsis:

A doll that may be haunted leads three friends on a thrilling adventure in this delightfully creepy novel from the New York Times bestselling cocreator of the Spiderwick Chronicles.

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her. But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.

Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?

The Review:

You know how you see a lot of hype about a story (or a movie) and they you see it and it just didn’t really live up to that hype?  It happened to me when I saw the movie BIG.  Everyone went on and on about how side splittingly funny it was and when I saw it, it didn’t live up to the hype.  It was a touching movie that I enjoyed, but I didn’t bust at the seams with laughter.  That’s what happened for me here.  There was so much hype about how SCARY and CREEY this book was.  So here’s the dea: I thought this was a great book about friendship and adventure and growing up, but it didn’t scare me at all.  There were no chills, no tense moments, no need for me to sleep with the light on.  So, if you are looking for SCARY and CHILLING, this may not be the book for you.  However, for the record, my Tween saw the cover and refused to read it because it looked too scary so I may be totally wrong about the scary part.

BUT . . . if you are looking for a good Middle Grade book about friendship and the changes we all go through in middle school that can be difficult to navigate, this is a great title.  Zach, Alice and Poppy are all forced to deal with changes in their feelings towards themselves and one another (spoiler alert: someone has a crush!), new roles, and what it means to grow up.  Their friendship is tested, as is the wonders of childhood imagination (and it is in this that Doll Bones excels!).  For Zach in particular, there are some interesting parenting things happening as even his parents ponder what it means to grow up (and make some horrible parenting decisions).

In many ways, Doll Bones is a storytellers dream because it is all about the childhood wonder of playing and telling stories and how we hold on to that – or let it go – as we slowly become adults.  For the record, I was still playing Barbies with my best friends in Middle School.  The ghost stuff is subtle, and open to interpretation, which I think is part of what makes it less scary (for me).  Is the doll haunted? Or is this just one last ditch effort to try and hold onto the story and friendship?  (My 2 cents, I’m actually going with ghost).  There were a few spot on scenes with the ghost story, like the looks the doll seems to give (dude those eyes that open and close are fantastically creepy – so see, it is creepy) and the comments of some of the adults about the doll, but in the end, the ghost isn’t the point of the story, the quest and the relationships are.  Although this wasn’t what I thought it would be, it was a fun, touching read for all of us trying to hold on to those last few moments of childhood.  Definitely recommended for J and MG collections, they will love it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

What’s the diff? MG versus YA . . . a guest post by author Shannon Duffy

How is Middle Grade fiction different than YA fiction?
The simple answer to this question is that in middle grade, the protagonists are usually between ages 9-13 or 14. With young adult, the protagonists are in their mid to late teens. You tend to see a lot of them at about 16 or 17.

TLT has 2 tween reviewers, here is a Top 10 from 2012
Inward vs. Outward focus. Middle graders are usually more internally focused. For them it’s more about themselves, trying to make it through the middle grade years, fitting in while also figuring out who they are. A lot of their world is about their friends and families. YA characters are focused more externally. They are seeing the world in a broader sense and are dealing with, or at least thinking about, drinking, sex, getting their driver’s license, and hey, where are they going to go for college—where do they fit in in the broader scope of the world.

Then there’s the whole romance stuff of course. Yes, there can be romance in MG…but it’s flirtier if anything and these kids are only starting to figure out about liking someone else like that. I personally don’t have romance in my MG, but it can be done, albeit on a much more innocent level than YA. With YA, romance can come into play a lot more—stronger feelings, more romantic and sexual actions—although it’s not mandatory.

Then, of course language plays a part, and in particular swearing. MG books need to be toned down and while reflecting real language and slang of these kids, graphically swearing MG kids doesn’t fit the voice of MG. In YA, swearing is more acceptable. Not only are the characters older, but your readers are too. Not that you have to write your characters swearing either. It depends on your character and what fits their voice. But it’s more acceptable to be seen in YA.

Middle grade books are important because for many kids, this is the time they develop their true love of reading. That’s what happened to me. I loved getting my hands on lots of books as a middle grader. I felt like it took me on adventures, and at times, I felt completely sucked into the story. Not only does reading help middle graders have a better vocabulary and grammar, but hey, most importantly, it’s FUN to read!

Thanks for inviting me to your blog!


Gabriel Stone and the Divinity of Valta is a magical, fast-paced story that takes readers on a journey they won’t soon forget. It has enough mystery, intrigue and wonder to keep readers up, lamp lit, and reading into the night.

Month9Books, a new publisher of speculative fiction for teens and tweens, announces the release of GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA, a middle grade title from Canadian author, Shannon Duffy, on February 5, 2013, whose first title, a young adult paranormal romance, SPECTRAL, was published in April 2012 from Tribute Books.

Gabriel Stone is a twelve-year-old boy still reeling from the unsolved disappearance of his mother. With a dad who’s hard to relate to, and mounting pressures at school, Gabriel lets off steam by hiking in the place where his mother was last seen. There, Gabe and friends find a crystal that proves not only beautiful, but magical beyond their wildest dreams. Only, magic and beauty come with a price: in order to return home, they must save the dying world of Valta.

GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA is perfect for the classroom. Reading and Teacher Guides are available. Contact Caroline Patty at: educationm9b@gmail.com to request guides. GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA also makes a great gift for readers ages 9 and up who enjoy fantasy stories like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA.


Shannon Duffy grew up on the beautiful east coast of Canada, and now lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and son, Gabriel. She’s mom to one boy, and several pets. Shannon loves writing, reading, working out, soccer, and the sport of champions-shopping. Shannon Duffy is available for quotes, signings, video or podcast appearances, and all opportunities relative to GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA. 
GABRIEL STONE AND THE WRATH OF THE SOLARIAN, Book 2 in the Gabriel Stone series will be available from Month9Books in February 2014!


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luTM9s5Ukik]
Month 9 Books is a publisher of speculative fiction for teens and tweens… where nothing is as it seems. Month9Books will donate proceeds from each of its annual charity anthologies to a deserving charity. Individually, authors may donate his or her advances and royalties to a charitable organization. Month9Books will also release 10-12 non-charitable titles annually. GABRIEL STONE AND THE DIVINITY OF VALTA is Month9Books’s first Middle Grade release. Month9Books is distributed by Small Press United, a division of IPG. You may visit www.month9books.com for more information.


Top 10: Middle Grade Fiction, Graphically Speaking

If your job description is anything close to what I’ve seen, you get to fill in the blanks for the nebulous population known as the “tweens”- that 10-12 year old scary time where they can’t quite fit in with the teenagers because they’re “little” kids but they want to DO everything the teenagers do, from HALO tournaments to lock-ins, and are tired of the “baby” things that the little kids are doing.  Welcome to the “Tween zone” – kinda like the Twilight zone, but with tweens.

To a point, they’re right.  Their development and needs are different than younger kids, but they’re also different than teens, so what works for them won’t work for other groups.  The humor and sarcasm that works with teens won’t work with a lot of tweens, and the smoothing that you do with younger kids won’t work with them either.  Their reading habits differ as well- they need to be pushed into that world of inbetween books (whether you have it as junior high or juvenile or tween or chapter books) before they jump from picture to teen books.  This is the time where a lot of kids will loose that love of reading- often times because they struggle in making the transition from picture book to “grown up”, and don’t have the encouragement.

So what do you do?  I like pulling my hybrid books- those books that still have the graphics and illustrations throughout the book to keep their interest, but have the story and characters that build depth and encourage their thought process and critical thinking.  While they’re a relatively new genre (think Captain Underpants), they’re still mostly found under juvenile fiction, and can get lost between copies of Wonder, The Giver, and Mark of Athena.

I’ve pulled together the TOP TEN books that my “tweens” are DEVOURING that have a twist- they’re books, but are illustrated or graphic novels without delving into the world of manga.  And they can easily be turned into a book program- take leftover notebooks or journals and have them create their own illustrated journals.  Have an origami program and create characters from the books. Draw yourself in the style of the books and see who has the best character!

If you know of titles that fit but didn’t make the list, share in the comments below!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  I cannot keep these on the shelves, in English or in Spanish.  They are constantly moving, and the request list is always long.  And with the movies continuing to be popular, I don’t think my list is leaving any time soon.

Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke.  Zita is a kick-butt heroine who doesn’t blink when her best friend is abducted by aliens.  So far there are two books in the series, but I’m hopeful more are on the way.

Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell.  My tween girls are IN LOVE with these books- these are Nikki’s diaries as she goes through moving to a new school  fighting for an iPhone with her mom, and other 8th grade struggles.

The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger.  Tying into the popularity of the Star Wars franchise, Angleberger puts these characters into tweens mindsets and humorous situations, and gives instructions for how to create the origami versions both in the back of the books and on his website.

NERDS series by Michael Buckley.  The unpopular 5th graders aren’t what they seem- they’re actually running a secret spy ring within the school itself.  Transforming themselves into amazing super spy heroes, the outcomes are hilarious  and keep my tweens laughing.


Bone series by Jeff Smith.  First published in 2005, New York Times Bestseller, still extremely popular.  Just fair warning, however, that there may be “inappropriate subjects” (smoking and other issues do appear throughout the books)  

Artemis Fowl:  The Graphic Novel.  This one actually surprised me, because I hadn’t had anyone asking for the books, but they’ve really been asking for the graphic novel.  I think it’s great, and I’ve actually been able to turn some of the graphic novel readers into series readers while waiting for the read of the graphic novels to come out.  And it doesn’t help that I have the author’s page bookmarked where he does all eight books in eight minutes…

Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.  Babymouse can skew young, but my tweens can’t get enough.  The schoolhouse drama between Babymouse and her nemesis Felicia Furrypaws goes on and on and on, and the adventures seem endless!

Lunch Lady series by Jarrell J. Krosoczka.  Taking her Breakfast Brunch through a series of ongoing adventures is the brave Lunch Lady, fighting with weapons like the spatu-copter, the spork phone, GPS gum, ziti microscopes, and carrot thumb drives.  Like Babymouse, this series does skew on the younger side.

Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon.  Danny is unique, the only dragon, and is constantly getting into situations eerily similar to the ones that tweens face (having to watch a younger sibling and things go wrong, being bullied, etc.)  The humor laced throughout the books, as well as the as-is-well endings, gives this series’ off beat humor a home in tweens’ hearts.
What are your tweens reading?