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Bringing a Historical Worldview to the Present, a guest post by Michelle I. Mason

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel, but have you ever noticed how most time travel stories follow a certain pattern?

Like, for example, Back to the Future (one of my personal favorites!):Doc Brown’s goal is to master time travel. Then Doc is killed, and Marty McFly travels to the past by accident. Now Marty spends the entire movie trying to find a way to return to the present.

Or, there’s the other kind of setup, like Doctor Who: A time traveler hops around to different moments, either visiting to learn something and encounter interesting people, or perhaps even to correct a wrong. But still, the end game is to return to the present. They almost never stay in the other time, unless there’s some sort of alternate reality situation.

Of course, there are exceptions. But after watching and reading countless time travel movies, TV shows, and books, I wanted to attempt something different. In Your Life Has Been Delayed, a group of people travel forward twenty-five years, but the end goal is to figure out how to live with what’s happened rather than return to their own time.

Which presented a new challenge. This book is not historical. Except for a few pages in the first chapter, it takes place entirely in the present, but the main character, a seventeen-year-old girl from 1995, has a historical worldview. So, the next step was figuring out how to imagine her reactions to life in an entirely new century.

As someone who lived through the nineties, I started by making my own list of things I thought had changed during the past twenty-five years, but then I had to dive into deeper research. Ask someone what year they started using a particular device regularly or watched a certain show, and they might tell you absolutely, one hundred percent, positively that they know. But when they look it up, they’re off by as many as five years. Because memory and time are tricky.

I tested this out at my launch party a couple of weeks ago with an audience participation game, testing their knowledge of what was around in Jenny’s world on Aug. 2, 1995. It was interesting to see answers from both those who lived through that time and those who’ve learned about it in school or from their parents.

Why don’t we see how all of you do? (Answers follow)

Google

House phone

The Hunger Games

Cell phones

Baby Yoda

Nintendo

Social media

Marvel Universe movies

Pokemon

Amazon

Netflix

Laptops

Titanic (the movie)

Not all of the things listed above are mentioned in Your Life Has Been Delayed, but quite a few of them are. Google, for sure, which came online in 1998, as well as social media, which is a completely foreign concept to my main character, Jenny. The Hunger Games, which Jenny learns about from Dylan, the story’s love interest, sparks an interesting discussion about the rise of young adult novels. House phones and Nintendo were around in 1995, as were cell phones and laptops, although the latter two were not common. And, to clarify, cell phones were not the smart phones nearly everyone uses today. Jenny does end up binge-watching some shows on Netflix, although she’s baffled as to what happened to Blockbuster.

Some of the other questions I just threw in for fun, but here are the answers anyway:

Baby Yoda – no, but old Yoda, yes!

Marvel Universe movies – no

Pokemon – no (1996)

Amazon – technically, yes (July 1995)

Titanic – no (1998)

But just knowing when something became available isn’t an indicator of when it gained widespread popularity or was adopted by a majority of the population. Or, in particular, by my character in suburban St. Louis. For example, the movie Clueless, released July 19, 1995, depicts teens running around with cell phones—but those are super-rich teens in Los Angeles. Teens in suburban St. Louis were more likely to have pagers, if anything.

Computers and the internet are another interesting and nuanced question for teens in 1995. Teens were using computers at home and school quite a lot—to type up papers, to do design work, even learning basic programming. But there’s a difference between computers and the internet, a distinction that’s very clear to Jenny but less so to teens today, who probably can’t imagine a computer that isn’t hooked up to wifi.

One of my main resources for really digging into this difference was my own high school yearbook. Some of my favorite quotes were:

“South’s library has its own modem, though it isn’t used to get onto bulletin board systems.”

“Anytime anyone walked around South, it was a common sight to see a variety of classes learning on a computer. Right now students at PSH use computers in almost every class.”

“Taking advantage of the new Macs, students transfer their thoughts from paper to word processers in the Mac Lab.”

I wonder if these quotes put a nineties teen’s use of technology into perspective for students today, many of whom do the majority of their classwork online, submitting homework through virtual portals even as they’re sitting in a classroom.

Beyond technology, I also researched other everyday things my character would encounter, like fashion, new words that have entered our vocabulary, and even things like the fist bump, which existed in the nineties but didn’t become a widespread greeting until the Obamas popularized it in 2008. But if you ask most people, they probably think they’ve been fist bumping forever. Another one of those memory tricks!

It was fun exploring all the ways Jenny would react to a new century, and if I’d wanted to write a longer book, I could have tackled so many more topics! But, since this was where Jenny’s story ended, I hope readers might consider other ways the world changed over those twenty-five years. Perhaps other passengers, with different backgrounds and experiences, might have returned to find other changes that would impact them more personally. If so, I’d love to hear those discussions, too!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Greg Mason

Michelle I. Mason is the author of Your Life Has Been Delayed and the forthcoming My Second Impression of You (September 2022), both from Bloomsbury YA. Michelle spent ten years as a PR manager promoting everything from forklift rodeos to Hotel Olympics before deciding she’d rather focus on made-up stories. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably reading, watching too much TV, cross-stitching, baking amazing brownies, or playing the violin. Michelle lives in St. Louis with her family.

Website: https://michelleimason.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/michelleimason

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michelleimason/

Newsletter: https://eepurl.com/hh3lwD

About Your Life Has Been Delayed

Past and present collide in a captivating YA debut about a girl who takes off on a flight and lands . . . twenty-five years later.

When Jenny boards her flight back from New York, the biggest things on her mind are applying to Columbia and reuniting with her brand-new boyfriend. But when she and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, they’re told that their plane disappeared-twenty-five years ago. Everyone thought they were dead.

The world has fast-forwarded. Three of her grandparents are gone, her parents are old, and her “little” brother is now an adult. There’s so much she’s missed out on, not the least iPhones, social media, and pop culture. When some surprising information comes to light, Jenny feels betrayed by her family and once-best friend. She’s also fighting her attraction to Dylan, a cute and kind classmate who has an unusual connection to her past. And then there’s the growing contingent of conspiracy theorists determined to prove that Flight 237 hides a sinister truth. Will Jenny figure out how to move forward, or will she always be stuck in the past?

Debut author Michelle I. Mason offers a smart and funny high-concept debut about the most unbelievable of life changes-and the parts of yourself that can always stay the same.

ISBN-13: 9781547604081
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Shame on You: Desi Shame Culture and its Impact on Muslim Kids, a guest post by Farah Naz Rishi

A long time ago, my local masjid hosted a Ramadan dinner, as it always did in the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Usually, these dinners meant praying together as a community, and breaking our fast together on a potluck style meal that involved samosas, curries, and the ubiquitous, vague semblance of a pasta dish.

However, I had other plans.

After that one particular dinner, under cloak of darkness, I slipped out of the masjid and walked to the nearby Sunday school, a small cottage that had been converted into a schoolhouse. That night, it was empty of students—save for the boy I was secretly “dating” at the time, waiting for me.

I cherished these Ramadan dinners because it was the only time he and I could see each other in person. Being South Asian Muslims in a conservative community meant hiding our illicit, budding romance, even if everyone already knew about it. It didn’t matter that we were a couple of awkward teens who only snuck out to talk, face-to-face, uninterrupted (we usually only talked through text messages). As far as anyone knew, we were lovers in the dark, the epitome of sin. All our lives, we’d been taught that the performance of being a “good Muslim,” of maintaining one’s public image for the sake of family and community honor, was to be valued above all else. A lesson that clearly didn’t take.

Which is why, when we were caught that night, one uncle in our community loudly proclaimed that if we were caught alone again, he would break our legs. My parents didn’t speak to me for days.

I was fourteen years old.

In IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, protagonists Kiran and Deen, who dated in the past, reveal that they had made pact to hide their relationship from their family. Kiran notes that she kept her relationship with Deen a secret because she didn’t want to “add stress” to her family: “Dating in the casual sense,” she says, “is still frowned upon Muslim communities, and it’s not something you can openly talk about unless you’ve practically made a formal Jane Austen-style declaration that you’re in pursuit of a life partner.” In the Muslim community I grew up in, this was precisely the case; dating carried a stigma, and that to date meant that I was a sinner, that I must have a weak faith. Regardless of my own religious beliefs—individual beliefs that I was still developing myself, on top of everything else—it felt that my community demanded I follow their brain trust iron-clad rules. That in some way, developing my own personal beliefs was wrong, too.

I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Although there are exceptions, many South Asian teens are expected to live up to their parents’ origin country’s cultural and religious standards, or at the very least, do so on the surface—all in the name of maintaining public image and family honor. And when one fails to do so, like in the case of Deen, one carries that shame and guilt for years to come, a weight that drowns you in a sea of expectation, and can lead to a self-destructive spiral.

The concept of honor reflects a family’s reputation and prestige within a community; and individual actions can raise of lower the entire family’s honor. Looking back on my own past experiences, it almost makes sense why some Muslim teens want to leave their community altogether: It gets exhausting seeing everything through the lens of shame and honor. Every act in life carries the extra consideration of, how would this affect my family and community? As if life isn’t already difficult as it is for a brown teenager.

Also exhausting? Being a second-generation immigrant teen balancing mainstream Western cultural norms and one’s family’s traditional values. It can often feel like an isolating experience, growing up too “westernized” to be accepted by the motherland, but too brown to be anything else. You are forever the Other. It makes sense, then, to find love with a fellow misfit trapped in the same limbo space. In this love, you can find an ally: someone who understands why you can’t go to sleepovers with friends from school, why you can’t go to school dances, and why sometimes it feels impossible to reconcile the need for emotional connection with your parent’s religious views.  

But for those teens who aren’t lucky enough to find that ally, the sense of isolation can prevent them from seeking help when they need it most. In the case of Deen’s older brother, Faisal, the pressures of growing up in an influential family, of being anything less than perfect, became too much to handle. And instead of having an open, transparent conversation—one necessary for healing—Faisal’s parents tell him to hide his pain for the sake of the family’s honor. Of course, this eventually results in Faisal’s sense of failure reaching an unavoidable and dangerous fever pitch. For many, this is an experience far from fiction. As “shame culture” is most utilized as a method of control in Asian communities, Asian American young adults are the only racial group with suicide as their leading cause of death (source: https://theconversation.com/asian-american-young-adults-are-the-only-racial-group-with-suicide-as-their-leading-cause-of-death-so-why-is-no-one-talking-about-this-158030).

I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU because I wanted my younger self to feel seen and understood. I wanted a wider audience to understand how difficult it was to grow up, for better or worse, in a tight-knit community that felt like it was always watching, and how the threat of shame can have very real, dangerous consequences on our mental health, and stain the perfectly innocent act of growing up.

My parents and I never spoke again of that night at the Sunday School. Despite their obvious disappointment with me, they carried on as if nothing happened. Instead of using it as a learning opportunity, a chance to connect and know more about their daughter’s personal life, they swept it under the rug. I suppose the public shaming we received was enough.

But there’s no room for growth if we’re not allowed to make mistakes. The irony is that using “shame culture” as a weapon to control often drives teens to hide under cloak of night, and internalize that hiding our shame is better than communicating it—the original problem that drove Kiran and Deen apart in the past. This is precisely why I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU: to show South Asian Muslim teens who are finally able to break the silence—and that ultimately, the most important lesson any teen can learn is that despite those who pretend otherwise, we’re human, flaws and all.

And there’s no shame in that.

Meet the author

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. She is the author of I Hope You Get This Message. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter and Instagram @farahnazrishi. Learn more at https://farahnazrishi.com.

About It All Comes Back to You

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close—to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

ISBN-13: 9780062741486
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Final Season, a guest post by Tim Green

Although Final Season is a work of fiction, much of the story is true. Because I have already used my own kids’ names and personalities as the main characters in my Football Genius series, I’ve chosen to use everyone’s middle name in this story, including my own middle name of John. Instead of the Green family, we are the Redds. Many of the other characters, especially Ben’s teammates in football and lacrosse are based on real kids with their real names and personalities. However, some, like Tuna and Woody, are entirely fictitious. I also added two characters, Thea and Rohan, who are my grandkids and too young to have been in the actual story, but whose personalities are spot on. 

At the heart of Final Season is the question of whether football is safe for kids to play. Our family was split on this, and I contend that there is no right answer, but only a choice that parents and kids must make according to their own beliefs and priorities.

The author in his NFL days.

For me, it was the right decision, despite the cost. Football paid for my education and my kids’ educations. Football opened doors in writing, business, television, and law. Football built our family’s home on a beautiful lake in a picturesque town, and enough land for each of our kids to build their own homes. Also, being an NFL player made my biggest childhood dream come true. 

My second big childhood dream was to become a writer. I have loved reading books since the third grade. To me, books were magic. They could take me away to another time and place. They could make me laugh and make me cry. In the heroes, I could see something of myself, or something I wanted to be. In the villains, I saw the things I didn’t want to be. So, I ached to make magic of my own one day. I was fortunate to have mentors and role models as an English major at Syracuse University who are giants in the world of literature, and others who are just plain brilliant. 

So, when ALS tried to take writing away from me, I fought back hard. One of my first symptoms of the disease was the loss of strength and coordination in my fingers. I had spent nearly thirty-five years writing and therefore typing every day. When I first started out I longed for the day when the words would just flow from my mind through my fingers to the page. It took many years for that to happen, but it did, and I was loath to give it up. 

Finally, my fingers became useless, but my thumbs still had some life left in them. I knew because I could text on my smartphone pretty well.  Asked myself if I could write an entire three hundred page novel with my thumbs. My answer was, “Why not?” So, in 2017 I wrote The Big Game on my phone with my thumbs. Then my thumbs went the way of my fingers. I had to find something that could get the stories out of my mind and onto the page. A friend who I told of my dilemma found a company called Lyre Bird. They had developed a system where I could stick a dot on my glasses so a sensor could pick up the movement of my head. With it, I could move the mouse across the screen, select a letter, and press a large button to type it. 

I wrote my next book using that system, but my body continued to succumb to the disease, and I grew nervous about committing myself to another technology that would one day probably fail me. Around the same time I developed pneumonia and nearly died. To save me, the medical team had to give me an emergency tracheotomy, leaving me literally speechless. Advanced technology saved me again with a cutting edge computer program that could take all the audio book recordings I’d narrated over the years and synthesize my voice. To do this I had to use another new technology, a Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker.  

The Tracker allows me to select letters by resting my gaze on the letters of a keyboard that takes up a little less than half of an iPad. Knowing that this method would avail itself to me for the rest of my life, I committed to the transition. Like all the previous methods for writing, it gets better with age, and the first chapter of Final Season took thrice the time as the last. Even with that improvement, I doubt I’ll ever have the fluidity of typing with my fingers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write, for you, and for me. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Final Season as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Meet the author

TIM GREEN is a retired professional American football player, a radio and television personality, and a bestselling author. He was a linebacker and defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, a commentator for National Public Radio and NFL on Fox, and the former host of the 2005 revival of A Current Affair. In 2018, Green announced on social media that he was diagnosed with ALS and was featured on 60 Minutes discussing his life and struggles with the disease. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and close to all of his five children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortimgreen

Instagram & Twitter: @Timgreenbooks

About Final Season

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

ISBN-13: 9780062485953
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Debuting with Death, a guest post by Jessica Vitalis

When I was drafting what would turn out to be my debut novel, “The Wolf’s Curse,” I couldn’t have predicted that it would come out during a worldwide pandemic. With the entire world facing unimaginable levels of loss and grief, a Grim Reaper retelling might not seem like an auspicious beginning for my career.

But if it’s one thing writing this story taught me, it’s that processing grief isn’t only about resilience: It’s about rituals. It’s about community. It’s about hope –– the possibility that we might heal and, in so doing, find some measure of future happiness.

How we do that varies not only from person to person but from culture to culture. In North America, burials and cremations are the norm, along with funerals that allow loved ones to gather in remembrance of the departed. These rituals are part of our attempts to say goodbye, to come to terms with our grief. Having grown up in the United States, I thought these rituals were more or less the norm around the world.  But in researching death rituals while writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” I learned that they vary widely across cultures.

For example, some Tibetan Buddhists practice sky burials, where their bodies are left outside for birds and animals, thereby freeing the soul and continuing the circle of life. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have joyful ceremonies known as the “Turning of the Bones,” where approximately every five years, they perfume and/or rewrap their dead in fresh shrouds and dance near the tombs, and the Tinguian dress their dead in finery and seat them in a chair with a lit cigarette. One South American tribe is said to eat pieces of their dead to absorb their spirit, and the people of Kirbati exhume the skulls of the deceased to preserve and display in their homes.

Despite the many different traditions around the world, the rituals I encountered all share one common element: They bring comfort to the living. This realization was pivotal to writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” which is set in an early Renaissance-era seaside village. 

In my fictional world, the people believe that stars are actually lanterns lit by their loved ones once they reach the Sea-in-the-Sky and sail into eternity. The deceased are buried in boats with feathers, fishing gear and the other supplies they’ll need to make their journey. When my 12-year-old character loses his grandpapá and embarks on a journey to complete the old man’s Release ceremony, he’s stalked by a mythical Great White Wolf and ends up learning life-changing truths about the Wolf –– and about the nature of death.

The story is a twist on a Grim Reaper narrative, and it certainly explores grief and loss, but it also explores community, friendship and, most of all, the hope that comes with healing. The traditions and rituals might look different than the ones you and I are used to, but the emotions — the need for human connection and healing — are universal. Although I never could have foreseen the trials this year would bring, I’m grateful for the chance to share a story that might infuse a little more of this connection and healing in all our lives.

Meet the author

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. She brings her experience growing up in a nontraditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. “The Wolf’s Curse” is her debut novel.

About The Wolf’s Curse

Shunned by his fearful village, a twelve-year-old apprentice embarks on a surprising quest to clear his name, with a mythic—and dangerous—wolf following closely at his heels. Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Cursewill engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark.

Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he cried Wolf and was accused of witchcraft. The Great White Wolf brings only death, Gauge’s superstitious village believes. If Gauge can see the Wolf, then he must be in league with it.

So instead of playing with friends in the streets or becoming his grandpapa’s partner in the carpentry shop, Gauge must hide and pretend he doesn’t exist. But then the Wolf comes for his grandpapa. And for the first time, Gauge is left all alone, with a bounty on his head and the Wolf at his heels.

A young feather collector named Roux offers Gauge assistance, and he is eager for the help. But soon the two—both recently orphaned—are questioning everything they have ever believed about their village, about the Wolf, and about death itself. 

Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Islandand Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy.

ISBN-13: 9780063067417
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ghostly Inspiration Behind Burden Falls, a guest post by Kat Ellis

I’ve always loved the idea of ghost hunting, so I think it was inevitable a group of ghost-hunting teens would find their way into Burden Falls. In the book, siblings Freya and Dominic Miller — rivals of my main character, Ava — and two of their friends make a spooky YouTube show called Haunted Heartland. Ava is totally unimpressed by this, seeing as they’re threatening to expose the supernatural goings-on in her ancestral home, but I think if there’d been a group like them in my high school I would definitely have wanted in on that action. Sadly, there wasn’t, and I had to wait until a few years ago to get the chance to spend a night in a haunted castle.

The first time I went on a ghost hunt, I didn’t see any ghosts. But I might have heard one.

My sister Alex and I had gone to Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales in search of the supernatural. Now I think it’s fair to say that Alex is more of a believer than I am; while I’m open to being convinced, I take creaky floorboards and flickering candles with a pinch of salty skepticism (I’m a little like Ava that way).

But Bodelwyddan Castle looks like exactly the kind of place you’d expect ghosts to hang around. It also has the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in the UK. It’s an impressive turreted stone castle, with some parts dating back to the fifteenth century. The kind of place that’s seen some serious history, in other words, and probably more than a few deaths — especially seeing as it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers back in World War I.

There have been reports of all kinds of spectral sightings there over the years: pale children who’ve been heard playing in the Toy Room and spotted looking out from one of the upstairs windows; a Victorian lady who wanders along the sculpture gallery and disappears through a wall where there was once a doorway; and the Cellar Man — an unfriendly spirit who we were told likes to pinch and tug on the hair of any woman who ventures down into the maze of underground cellars at the castle. Unsurprisingly, given the castle’s history during World War I, there have also been reports of a soldier seen in full military uniform — sometimes walking the castle grounds, and other times in the rooms which were used as hospital wards during the war.

Plenty of creepy candidates for potential sightings, right? Knowing this, Alex and I were braced for some serious spookiness.

There were around twenty of us on our ghost hunt, separated into two groups led by a small team of expert ghost hunters and history buffs. We’d already explored several rooms of the castle, using things like dowsing rods and electronic devices to try to locate any spirits who might be hiding nearby; table-tipping and calling out for the dead to make themselves known to us. But beyond some cold spots and movement behind the curtains — both of which I put down to it being a draughty old castle, in my Scullyish way — I didn’t feel that I had encountered anything particularly unearthly. It wasn’t until around 1am, near the end of the hunt, that I heard the sound that made me pause.

The room we were in was on the ground floor — an elegantly furnished parlor next to a grand hallway with a wide, carved staircase. All the lights in the castle had been out since the hunt began, and the other group were exploring a room at the far side of the castle, one floor up. So, we weren’t expecting to hear footsteps rushing down the staircase just outside our room.

“Did you hear that?” my sister asked me, wide-eyed. And I definitely had; it sounded like someone running downstairs, but with all the lights off, that would most likely have ended with a tumble and a broken neck. The rest of our group had heard it too, and we all hurried out to see if anyone — or anything — was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs.

There was nobody there. We turned on the lights to check, but there was no sign that anyone had been on that staircase a moment earlier.

Our group leader contacted the others upstairs via walkie-talkie to check that it hadn’t been one of them coming to look for us, but they were all still at the far side of the castle, all present and accounted for.

I can’t say for sure that what I heard was a ghost, but I can’t come up with another explanation that makes sense of the sound. So maybe it was the spirit of one of the children, escaped from the Toy Room upstairs. Maybe it was another of the castle’s reported apparitions — a spirit who appears as no more than a pair of disembodied legs wearing white stockings and gold-buckled shoes. Maybe it was just a creaky old building stretching its spine… or maybe I need to go back to Bodelwyddan Castle and try again to catch sight — or sound — of the supernatural.

Although the pandemic put my paranormal adventures on hold, I definitely plan to explore more spooky locations in future. Meanwhile, writing about my ghost-hunting teens in Burden Falls only seems to have increased my appetite for all things otherworldly, so I think there’ll be lots more spookiness in my future writing.

And I’ll always be game to creep through a castle in the dark.

Meet the author

Kat Ellis is the author of young adult horror and thrillers, including Burden Falls and Harrow Lake. She studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, then spent worked in local government communications and IT for several years before writing her first novel. When she’s not writing, Kat can usually be found exploring the ruins and cemeteries of North Wales with her camera.

LINKS:

Website: www.katelliswrites.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/el_kat

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katelliswrites/

Books & buy links: https://katelliswrites.blogspot.com/p/books-buy-links.html

About Burden Falls

Riverdale meets The Haunting of Hill House in the terrifying new thriller from the author of Harrow Lake.

“Cinematic, clever, and creepy, with a main character that leaps off the page, Burden Falls ticks off all my moody thriller boxes.” —Goldy Moldavsky, New York Times bestselling author of The Mary Shelley Club and Kill the Boy Band

The town of Burden Falls drips with superstition, from rumors of its cursed waterfall to Dead-Eyed Sadie, the disturbing specter who haunts it. Ava Thorn grew up right beside the falls, and since a horrific accident killed her parents a year ago, she’s been plagued by nightmares in which Sadie comes calling—nightmares so chilling, Ava feels as if she’ll never wake up. But when someone close to Ava is brutally murdered and she’s the primary suspect, she begins to wonder if the stories might be more than legends—and if the ghost haunting her dreams might be terrifyingly real. Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there’s a killer on the loose . . . with a vendetta against the Thorns.

ISBN-13: 9781984814562
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Steven Banks Jumps All Over the Place Because That’s How His Mind Works, a guest post

I love monsters and they scare me. I wondered what would happen if the three classic “biters”; a vampire, a werewolf and a zombie, bit a kid the day before he started middle school. That became my book series Middle School Bites…Tom Marks is a Vam-Wolf-Zom. Any kid who felt different, strange, unique for any reason can identify with Tom. Book #3, Middle School Bites: Out for Blood comes out August 31. 

I don’t write for kids. I write for people. The majority of the people who read the books seem to be smaller and younger than I am. But I also wanted an adult to be able to pick up the book, read it and enjoy it. At some point they were eleven, right? Diary of A Wimpy Kid was originally conceived for adults looking back on their middle grade years.

It drives me crazy when kids don’t sound like kids in books. You must be true to your character’s age and background. I want to gently thrash authors who use sophisticated words and phrases that most kids (unless they were a genius) would never use, in dialogue or first-person action descriptions. It’s very difficult, I have to fight the urge to use more evocative words and phrases. Stephen Sondheim, to this day, regrets having Maria in West Side Story sing the line “It’s alarming how charming I feel” in the song l Feel Pretty. He said he cringes whenever he hears the line sung. She is a young, teenage Puerto Rican immigrant, she is not in a Noel Coward play. 

Big Fat Exception: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. How old is Scout and how is she using all these big ol’ fancy words?…But…The book has sold 30,000,000 copies so maybe you should not listen to me.

I think on paper. What does that mean? I have to write it out to see if something will work or is funny or good. And sometimes the process makes me come up with an idea or phrase I could not have imagined in my mind. Weird. I also like to move around and write in different locations; outside in the garden, the kitchen, living room, bed. For some reason it gives me a “new” and clearer view of things that I wrote at my office desk on the computer. After many years of writing books and scripts, I’ve learned to write anywhere. I wrote some of the Middle School Bites series in my car mechanic’s waiting room, doctor’s office, in my car waiting to get my Covid vaccination shot and at The Hollywood Bowl as I listened to the LA Philharmonic rehearse.

You don’t have to write about what you know. Kazuo Ishiguro, who was born in Japan, wrote a first-person narrated book as a middle-aged English butler in high society pre-World War II in Remains of The Day. He didn’t live that life. He did his research. He imagined it.

Write about anything and anyone. Just make it good (the hardest part). Beverly Cleary wrote the first book I adored, Henry Huggins. It’s about a third-grade boy and perfectly captured a boy’s POV. She was not a boy, but she could imagine and write that character. Like JK Rowling did with Harry Potter, or S.E. Hinton did with Pony Boy in The Outsiders (when she was 14! And finished at 15!). Ray Bradbury was not a Martian, but he took us to Mars. Seeing the world through another’s person’s eyes is a great journey and life experience. 

Serious Middle Grade Fiction with heavy themes is terrific…But…There is a lot of it. My goal with my books is to write a fast-moving, entertaining and funny book, suck the reader in, but at the same time, slip in – judiciously! – in tiny bits – some serious ideas, thoughts, philosophy and history. Make ‘em laugh and trick them into thinking. I have Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh appear in my books, via assigned school projects. Tom imagines that if he had a time machine he would go tell them that they become world famous after they died. Tom then tries to buy a painting from Van Gogh, who now wants $85,000,000 for it.

I also slip in a message about doing life, not watching it. Tom goes to a dance and his Dad teaches him some simple moves and tells him to dance, as opposed to being the boys who just lean against the wall and watch, trying to be cool. Participate in life.

No big secret! I made a conscious decision to not have Tom hide the fact that he is a Vam-Wolf-Zom in the book.  Kids hiding their real identity, super power, etc., has been done to death. I thought…What if everyone knows Tom is a Vam-Wolf-Zom? The school’s motto is All Our Welcome and they announce Tom’s “predicament” at an assembly. However, some people do not treat him the way they are supposed to and tease him and make fun of him and call him names. That’s reality.

Why are people bullies? Tanner Gannt is the bully in my books. I wanted to explore the different sides of a bully. Why is he like that? Tom learns more about Tanner when he ends up in his bedroom, as a bat, hiding in his backpack. He also witnesses a poignant Christmas morning with Tanner and his mother. 

I was the head writer of SpongeBob Squarepants for six years. I did seasons 4 through 8. My mantra for the show: simple and silly. I oversaw six of writers and there were also the story board artists who wrote. We wrote what we thought was funny and amused us, but keeping in mind the show was predominantly for kids. It was a huge, collaborative group effort, with chances to “plus” or improve the episode at many different steps. Writing books is a solo flight. Very different. But…also rewarding. It’s a good thing to try different styles of writing, novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories. You may discover what you’re really good at and you didn’t know it. Playwright August Wilson thought he was going to be a poet, but he became a playwright. And there’s poetry in his plays.

Superpowers! Because Tom is a Vam-Wolf-Zom he has super hearing, night vision, great strength, the ability to hypnotize people (if their wills are not too strong) and turn into a bat and fly or even turn into smoke…In a way, he is a superhero…But sometimes he hears and sees things using his powers that he would rather not…I also followed the “rules” of monsters and try to keep it “realistic”. Tom has to slather on sunscreen, wear hats and dark glasses in the sun, constantly eat to satisfy his zombie hunger (he does not eat brains) and blood, synthetic blood or raw liver smoothies seem to work.

A lot of “bad” things happen to Tom. Arthur Miller, the playwright, said that when he was writing Death Of A Salesman, would think to himself, each day, about his main character: “What can I do to Willy Loman today?” Poor Willy. Poor Tom. I would think the same thing. Get Tom into trouble. Have something bad happen. How does he react? There is your drama. Conflict. Humor. But Tom does have small triumphs along the way and learns things. 

Cliffhangers are cool. At the end of book one, on the last page, Tom meets the vampire that bit him. At the end of book two, he meets the werewolf who bit him and in book three he meets the zombie. 

I put stuff I like in books. I like Emily Dickinson, action figure toys, Monty Python, rabid collectors, good-bad movies and noir detective novels. So….Tom has to do a diorama for history class and uses an old action figure to be Emily Dickinson. He aims to impress a girl he likes, who loves Dickinson’s poetry. The action figure is from the worst super hero movie ever made called Vacuum Girl. She sucks baddies up in her vacuum, but it has to remain plugged in. The toy turns out to be valuable because the figure was a re-purposed toy (Big Jack Jackson) from an old TV show. It was dangerous for kids to play with, so it was recalled. The toy is stolen and Tom must track it in film noir / detective fashion. I wrote those chapters in a kid-styled version of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler. Tom also imagines the worker who had to re-paint the figure, complaining to his boss that it does not look like the actress in the movie and they are not fooling kids in a John Cleese / Michael Palin dialogue exchange. 

You can’t just put stuff in a book because you like it. You need a dramatic reason! I love Halloween…My brother, Alan, and I used to build a giant maze and walk through in his front and backyard. Filled with monsters (actor friends and neighbors in elaborate masks and costumes), special effects and very scary stuff.  We took three weeks to build it. We’d get over 1,000 people going through on Halloween night….So….Tom loves Halloween, but it is also a rare chance for him to go out in a mask and costume and be “in disguise”, so no one knows who he is. People don’t stare or ask questions. He can also ask other kids, “What do you think of that Tom Marks? So, that’s a good thing…But…Do you want to hear those answers? Meanwhile, the school bully, Tanner Gantt, dresses up like a Vam-Wolf-Zom, to make fun of Tom. 

I base some characters on real people. Abel Sherril is based on three people; My friend, Bill Prady, who co-created The Big Bang Theory, (the TV show, not the theory) read the entire World Book Encyclopedia when he was ten years old and was a Walking Google pre-Google. The fact that Abel wears a suit and tie to school every day is based on another friend, Mark Wheeler, (a geologist and a national champion fencer!) who wore a suit to kindergarten. And I used to bring my lunch to school in a briefcase. I love briefcases. Blame James Bond and Ian Fleming…Zeke, Tom’s best friend, is named after a nickname I called my dad and he is based on a good friend’s son, who is full of life, doesn’t get embarrassed, marches to his own drummer, is super enthusiastic and loyal…Good qualities in a human being. Tom sometimes wishes he was more like Zeke. So do I. 

I love libraries. You get to borrow books for free! The library I went to as a child is still there and not much has changed. It’s a little like going back in time when I go inside. Weird. I also wrote a great deal of a one-person show I did, that you can see on Amazon Prime “Steven Banks Home Entertainment Center” (Shameless plug). 

A good book is a good book, no matter what age it is written for. I pity the people who do not read YA or middle grade or even picture books. Where Is My Hat? by Jon Klassen is a masterpiece. I read the Ramona books as an adult. Ramona is a great American literary figure and I am being 100% serious. Beverly Clearly captured a child’s mind perfectly. 

Book you should read that you might not know about. One of the best new books I have read in the past 15 years is The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. A 15-year-old Victorian-era girl becomes a nanny/teacher to three children who were literally raised by wolves. An adult can enjoy this as much as any middle grader. It’s that good and that funny. The writing attains a P.G. Wodehouse level at times. It’s a series of 7 books. Also The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig, narrated by an authentic sounding (!) 11-year-old. It’s a modern-day version of Hamlet. You’re welcome. Wait…One more: I wrote a YA novel called King of The Creeps. It’s not about monsters. It’s about a 15-year-old in 1963 who decides to become a folk singer to impress girls, buys a cheap guitar in Greenwich Village, has one lesson, learns one chord and two days later ends up on a big TV show The Ed Sullivan Show.

In conclusion…There is no conclusion. Read!

Meet the author

Steven Banks is the Emmy nominated head writer of SpongeBob Squarepants and wrote on Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and CatDog. He recently wrote the new animated series Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Steven wrote and starred in the cult classic special, Home Entertainment Center, on Amazon Prime.  His books include the YA novel, King of the Creeps and New York Times Bestseller, SpongeBob Exposed. His new book series is Middle School Bites. TV appearances include Mom, Penn & Teller Fool Us, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Plays include Love Tapes, co-written with Penn Jillette, Looking at Christmas (NYC PBS) and Shadowland, which he co-created with the legendary dance/theater company, Pilobolus, which has been performed in 40 countries and seen by over one million people. Steven is a drop out of Los Angeles City College and a graduate of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College.

Links:

Middle School Bites on Facebook 

@vamwolfzom 

middleschoolbites on Instagram

About Middle School Bites: Out for Blood

Tom the Vam-Wolf-Zom is back—and so is the werewolf that bit him—in this monstrously funny series about a boy who’s dying to fit in.

Eleven-year-old Tom was bit by a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie right before the first day of middle school. It was a weird and crazy day. And he didn’t even get excused from sixth grade!

Now he’s being hunted down by the werewolf that bit him. Should Tom join a wolf pack? On the one hand, he could give up school and homework forever. (He really doesn’t want to do his history report.) On the other hand, he’d miss his band, his friends, and Annie, his maybe-possibly-someday girlfriend. He might even miss his big sister, Emma.

Then the vampire that bit him returns with a warning: the werewolf is dangerous. Perhaps Tom should stick with sixth grade—even if it’s mostly talent show disappointments, detention, and chicken-turkey-salami-roast beef sandwiches. 

Created by an Emmy-nominated writer for SpongeBob, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and CatDog,this hilarious series is illustrated with clever, cartoon-style art on every spread. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Last Kids on Earth.

ISBN-13: 9780823446162
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Series: Middle School Bites #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Writing Pains: Steps of the writing process that torment us the most, a guest post by Class of 2K21 Books

“Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

When we picture our favorite authors creating their masterpieces, we envision words flowing like magic from their fingers, vibrant characters leaping off the page, and tension building with slow and steady perfection as light streams through their plant-filled offices.

But when talking to authors, you see that the reality is often punctuated by false starts and hiccups, self-doubt, and lots of caffeine. It means writing over stolen moments amid the juggle of life and deferred showering as deadlines loom. It means fear. The truth is, the writer’s journey is filled with phases of slog, insecurity, and a specific kind of literary torture. 🙂

Below, several Class of 2kBooks authors share aspects of the writing process they find the most daunting, along with ways to overcome those fears in order to unlock the story within. Read on to hear from fab authors Shakirah Bourne (Josephine Against the Sea), Kalena Miller (The Night When No One Had Sex), Jessica S. Olson (Sing Me Forgotten), Sam Taylor (We are the Fire), and Jennifer Adam (The Last Windwitch).

Sam Taylor: For me, the first draft is the hardest part. I always outline and complete quite a bit of research and planning prior to starting, but still it is so, so hard to create an entire book from a blank page! I’ve started keeping my first drafts (or Draft Zero, as I call them) to myself. This gives me the freedom to explore my story and get to know my characters, without worrying about making sense to someone else. I consider Draft Zero a reality-check for my outline. It’s my chance to figure out which of my initial ideas are working, and which need more development. Most importantly, my best and most creative ideas come while I’m working through Draft Zero. Here, I have the chance to explore them. In revision, I can get all those loose threads cleaned up and presentable for my first round of readers.

Jennifer Adam: There are two distinct parts of my writing process that I find deeply challenging. The first is just getting an initial draft done. I struggle with perfectionism that sometimes manifests as a temptation to procrastinate (if I can’t do it perfectly, maybe I shouldn’t do it at all) or as the urge to endlessly fidget with the words I’ve already written rather than just moving forward. I’ve definitely gotten better at pushing through – mostly because there are so many stories I want to tell and I know I’ll never get to them if I don’t get things done! – but that first draft is still such a slog for me. It’s hard to create something from nothing.

The other part I find difficult is diving into any major edits. I LOVE digging deep into a story, tearing it apart and rebuilding it more strongly, adding layers and depth and texture. I love seeing how a story can evolve and take on a clearer, sharper shape. But starting edits makes me so anxious – I’m always scared I’ll break the story or make a bigger mess. It takes me several days of thinking and brainstorming just to get up the courage to start making changes. Once I do, though, I have a marvelous time because it starts to feel like working on a puzzle, and that moment all the pieces click is pure magic.

Jessica S. Olson: The hardest part of the writing process for me is always the beginning. Nailing down an outline and then writing the first draft. Especially now that I’ve written several books, it’s always so daunting to begin, because it’s like staring up at this massive mountain I’ve hiked before and knowing just how difficult it’s going to be to reach the top and just how long it’s going to take. I’ve also learned that so much of what I outline and what goes into the first draft ends up getting changed in future drafts. Rewritten. Altered. Deleted. So every word in that first draft feels pointless sometimes because I know that most of those words won’t make it to the final draft. But these messy first drafts are so vital, and they have to be written! You can’t revise what you don’t have. Every masterpiece has to start somewhere–so we push through!

Kalena Miller: Perhaps I’m unusual, but I love first drafts. Staring at a blank piece of paper is the best part of the process. For me, revising tends to be more difficult. Once I have a complete draft, my brain balks at the idea of messing it up because I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of putting it back together. However, working with an editor on THE NIGHT WHEN NO ONE HAD SEX has really helped me overcome this fear. Getting to work alongside another professional who’s just as invested in my book as I am was an amazing experience. Not that revising wasn’t still an overwhelming process (I definitely cried a few times, but that’s not particularly unusual for me), but knowing my editor shared my vision for the book was the motivation I needed to get it done. 

Shakirah Bourne: I’m pretty sure my version of hell is staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Writing a first draft is so painful for me–I feel the weight of irrational expectations, fear of failure, and frustration that the wonderfully-crafted story in my head does not magically appear on the page. I get through it by reminding myself that the first draft doesn’t have to be good, but finished. I also make sure that I have a detailed outline before writing to help avoid excessive procrastination and prevent writer’s block. Some days, drafting is enjoyable and fun, and when I re-read I’m pleasantly surprised that the writing isn’t as awful as I imagined, but to maintain motivation I have to visualise the moment I write the final line in the last chapter. I love doing edits and revisions so I’m always very excited when I get to that stage.

As we can see, writing involves avoidance, stress, and self-doubt. It means carving out time in the dead of the night or the first light of dawn, juggling jobs and family amid fears and expectations. For some of us, anxiety lies in the early blank page stages, while for others it’s the later layers, the developmental reworkings that are most dreaded.

But no matter our kryptonite, we can each find our courage. We dive into the fulcrum of our hearts, that quiet place within where the magic begins. We come to see that in our fears and fallibilities lies strength, a quiet belief that helps us do that thing we thought we could not do.

Thank you so much for being with us here on TLT.  The links to some of our books can be ordered/pre-ordered and added to your Goodreads, so check us out below.

Wishing you the strength to tackle the tough as you work toward your dreams!

With gratitude,

The Class of 2k21 Books

https://www.shakirahbourne.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54776548-josephine-against-the-sea

https://www.kalenamiller.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/56989110

https://www.samtaylorwrites.com/books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43839832-we-are-the-fire?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=VIXztTTGTB&rank=1

https://www.jessicasolson.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53176389-sing-me-forgotten

https://www.jenniferfrancesadam.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/54496121

Into the Dark: Why Kids Should Read Horror, a guest post by Ally Malinenko

The scene went like this:

“I would never let my children read that.”

I froze, shame flooding me, coloring my cheeks, tightening my throat. Her words echoed in my head.

 “I would never let my children read that.”

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? One of the things a lot of people might not know about publishing is that it involves secrets. Lots of them. For instance, you’re really not supposed to talk about your book being accepted for publication before the Publisher’s Weekly announcement. It’s fine to tell family and all but you aren’t supposed to go on Twitter and scream about it as much as you’d like to. Back in January 2020 Ghost Girl, my debut novel, had been accepted but we were waiting on contract stuff to finalize before the announcement was made. It had been over a month and to say I was getting antsy would be an understatement. I work in a research library and one day we had an appointment with a well-known biographer. It’s not important who. But let’s just say that this biographer happened to write one of my favorite books about one of my favorite writers.

To say I was excited to meet her was an understatement.

I’m not sure why I said it. It was almost like I couldn’t stop myself.

“My first book is being published.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, congrats. What do you write?”

The eternal question. What do you write? My lizard brain blurted out the same thing I say all the time, not even thinking it would elicit a response.

“I write middle grade horror.”

Her face wrinkled in surprise that then deepened into disgust. “Middle grade? Like…..for children.”

“Yes,” I said, my voice a pitch higher as the tips of my fingers started to tingle. Anxiety was descending.

“I would never let my children read that.”

And once again I was whisked through time back to the halls of my school, clutching my tattered copy of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark, teased by the other kids in the hall. Or in the library, same book in hand, a teacher giving me a cocked eyebrow and a sidelong look.

I handed the famous biographer her materials, muttered the usual reminder about the archive rules and left as quickly as possible wondering how after all these years, are we still of afraid of children who like dark, strange, scary things?

I have wondered about this before I started writing Ghost Girl, and while editing Ghost Girl and now that my book is out, I’m still thinking about it. Prior to working in the archive, I was a children’s librarian and I knew all the kids that were like me, the ones that beeline straight for the Goosebumps. Those kids are there, looking for these books. So why are parents, teacher and sometimes even librarians – the gatekeepers – worrying about it? What do adults think they are saving kids from? What do they think is going to happen if kids read scary books?

Because the truth is those books offer more than scares; they offer solace. It’s a thing I call Safe Scary. Kids know the world is a scary place. There is no way to shield that from them. Nor should we. Giving kids scary books gives them a place to navigate those feelings, to be scared in a safe way. If it’s too much they close the covers. But if it’s not they have a chance to be the hero, which is the other important thing that horror does for kids. It gives them agency. It gives them power. A thing that children, by nature and status, do not have. They live in a world where they are told when to get up, when to go to bed, what to eat, when to eat it, what to watch, and sadly what to read. When kids read books, they get to play act the main character. My main character is Zee, a girl who loves scary stories but didn’t expect to live in one. She is stubborn and brave and at times makes terrible decisions. She is, fully, a kid. Reading Zee’s story, kids get to experience it with her. They’ll go into the woods with Zee, into the dark, but they’ll come back out on the other side, where the light is. They’ll survive the night. That is what horror books teach us – survival. Let them defeat the monsters on the page so they’ll recognize the ones that will inevitably appear in their lives.

The other thing horror does is tells kids the truth. Adults often forget that kids have the same emotions as they do but often lack the skills to express them. They are acutely aware when things are not okay. But we are rarely honest with kids about the bad parts of life. We lie when their pets die. We tell them everything is fine when Mom and Dad aren’t speaking at the dinner table. We throw the truth in a dark corner and hope they never see it. Horror, on the other hand, doesn’t deal in platitudes. It doesn’t pretend away reality. It puts you front and center against a monster and then it places in your hand the sword you need to vanquish it. Horror believes in kids and trusts them to go along for this ride. It knows they’ll last the night.

Fear is a natural part of life and adults have learned coping skills for their fear. They have had years of experiences to pull from when the bottom drops out. But kids don’t. Horror books offer very important lessons about fear. The biggest being that you either conquer it for succumb to it. Fear offers no middle ground. It is through story telling that we learn how to navigate our emotions. Stories build empathy. They are a way for humans to say to each other “I felt this. Did you feel this too?” They are ways for us to make connections in a world that often seems devoid of them. Horror by nature builds empathy simply because when the main character is threatened, you root for them. You want them to win. You want them to survive the night. A connection is built.  A lesson is learned. A fear is conquered. A hero emerges, dusty and shaken but still standing.

I recently read an excellent piece about the loneliness of horror fandom for kids, especially for BIPOC kids, by Ally Russel. Ally wondered where her horror family was as a kid. Why she felt so disconnected. I understood that. It can be a lonely fandom. But we have now the opportunity to change that. As Ally says, “If you know a young horror fan, protect them at all costs. Let them explore the boundaries of their fear.”

Protect them at all costs.

Protecting them isn’t shielding them. It isn’t placating them. It is letting them know the dangers our there and putting a book in their hand so they’re ready when it happens. Monsters, eventually, come for all of us. It is best to be prepared.

If I could redo that afternoon with that very Important Biographer, I would have done it different. I would have told her all these things. I would have kept my head up. I would let her know I am proud to write horror for kids, proud to have the privilege to write horror for kids.

To watch them go, head up, shoulders back, right into the dark and know they’re going to be okay.

Meet the author

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.comInstagram

About Ghost Girl

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story——with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!

Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend Elijah believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

ISBN-13: 9780063044609
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ways Stories Find Us, a guest post by Lesa Cline-Ransome

“Where do you find your stories?” It’s a question asked of every author at every conference, panel, and nearly every interview. The real question is, do authors find stories, or do stories find authors? 

I imagine some of us, like archaeologists on an excavation, head out digging for stories, unearthing layers until we uncover the treasures we were searching for buried beneath the surface. But others, like me, let the stories find us. 

The task is no less easy. It requires preparation. Patience. A keen ear. Trust. 

As a young girl, my neighborhood friends and I in Malden, Massachusetts spent our summer nights playing hide and seek until the streetlights came on. As the counting began, we ran and hid in backyards, behind houses and tall bushes, quietly fending off mosquitos hoping not to be caught. But if we were successful in securing too good of a hiding place, and we were alone for too long, we secretly hoped to be caught. There was a joy in being found, of being reunited with friends. This is how it feels when the right stories find their way to you. A lot like a celebration. 

Stories can find us in the ways we least expect them to. As writers, we let them in, one by one, filtered through our life experiences, interests, and curiosities. 

I have written nearly twenty-five books for young readers and rarely have any of them begun with me at a desk thinking of topics and subjects I’d like to tackle. 

A taxicab hailed on a New York City street stops to pick up an editor on her way to the office and the driver listens to a public radio interview of a journalist who wrote a recently published adult biography on one of the first black female White House correspondents Ethel Payne during the editor’s brief ride. When she arrives at her desk she writes to me in an email, “Have you ever heard of Ethel Payne?” No, I have not, I reply, but I look her up, wanting to know more and in reading Ethel Payne’s story, I recall my youthful dreams of becoming a journalist and just like that, the picture book biography, The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne is born.  

Attendees at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska

At a literary conference in Seward, Nebraska, I sit across from Steve Sheinkin, one of my favorite authors. The author next to me has a line about a mile long, and mine, not so much. Finally, I gather up the nerve to go over and introduce myself to Steve. I fumble a fangirl hello and look down to see one of his titles, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Hmmm. I think to myself. Why have I never heard about this? I manage to ask him to sign a copy and devour the book on the flight home. And there the story sits, quietly. Waiting. Until I begin writing my debut middle grade novel, Finding Langston where I insert a reference to the Port Chicago Disaster as part of a secondary character named Clem’s storyline. One year later my editor discusses with me the idea of expanding the story of Clem’s character into a novel all his own in the final book of the Finding Langston trilogy. “Maybe you could explore more of the Port Chicago Disaster,” she suggests. What my editor doesn’t know is that that story has already found me. 

And so Being Clem, the story of Clem, emerges from a chance meeting in Seward, Nebraska years earlier. And in it we see Clem and his family struggle as they come to grips with the death of his fictionalized sailor father, Clemson Thurber killed during the tragic naval base explosion that killed over 200 black servicemen during WWII.

A nagging toothache reluctantly lands me in my dentist’s chair where in his attempts to soothe my dentophobia, my kindly dentist tells me a story to calm my jittery nerves. My dentist is a fan of nonfiction and shares the account of a strange story of a failed entrepreneur named Frederik Tudor who thought he could finally get rich by harvesting the ice from Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, packing it onboard a ship and selling it in India. “Aren’t you from Massachusetts?” he asks. I am from Massachusetts, but all I knew about Walden Pond was the story of the poet Henry David Thoreau, who sought a life of solitude in the woods of Concord, I tell him through a mouth full of gauze. “Well, Henry David Thoreau watched him harvest the ice,” my dentist continues in between his drilling, just steps away from his cabin and recorded it in his diary. My dentophobia disappears in my thoughts of a story of two men, one pond, and how it drew them together for very different reasons. And there in my dentist’s chair another story finds me and will make its way to bookstores as Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between in the fall of 2022.

The author’s mother, Ernestine Cline

Because much of my spare time is spent in the company of books, that is where my stories and I have made our acquaintance. I grew up with a mother who was an avid reader and often needed to be reminded she had children who wouldn’t mind having a hot dinner every now and again. She would reluctantly put down her book and throw something together so we could eat. I couldn’t imagine then what those pages held that so transfixed her that she couldn’t remember our grumbling stomachs. But now, when I look up to see that I have missed subway stops, appointments, and portions of my day because the time has simply disappeared in the pages of a book, I think of my mother. But it is in these moments, I am allowing the stories to come.

I could almost hear the voices calling from the stoop of 4501 Wabash Avenue on Chicago’s Southside for my book Finding Langston and feel the hard backed seats Ruth Ellen and her parents sat in bound for New York City in my book Overground Railroad in the instant I opened Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America’s Epic Migration. Reading Wilkerson’s real-life portrayals of subjects whose journeys north and west were prompted by fear and racism, determination and hope inspired the worlds through which young Langston and Ruth Ellen see the world as passengers on the journeys of the adults in their lives. 

It is often said that you need to be in the right place at the right time. In a taxicab, a dentist chair, a literary conference in Nebraska, a quiet place with a good book. And that is a large part of having stories find you. It is making space for the crucial moment when that piece of a story intersects with some part of you—your history, a memory, an experience, an untapped passion—and you know in that moment, there’s something here. 

But being in the right place at the right time is just one part of creating a story that is authentic to you. That is the seed. Next comes the planting in an environment enriched with strong characters, setting, plot and dialogue. Carefully using your craft to remain true to the stories that are begging to be told, engagingly and honestly, the way only you can tell them. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: John Halpern

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Just a Lucky So and So (2016), Before She Was Harriet (2017), and Underground Railroad (2020).  Her Finding Langston Trilogy consists of Finding Langston (2018), Leaving Lymon (2020)and Being Clem(2021). Lesa’s work has received a plethora of honors, including dozens of starred reviews, NAACP Image Award nominations, Coretta Scott King Honors, and Christopher Award. Many titles have been named to ALA Notable Books and Bank Street Best Children’s Books lists. She lives in upstate New York. www.lesaclineransome.com

Twitter and Instagram – @lclineransome

About Being Clem

The final novel in the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy from Coretta Scott King Author Honoree and Scott O’Dell Award medalist Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Clem can make anybody, even his grumpy older sisters, smile with his jokes. But when his family receives news that his father has died in the infamous Port Chicago disaster, everything begins to fall apart. Clem’s mother is forced to work long, tough hours as a maid for a wealthy white family. Soon Clem can barely recognize his home—and himself. Can he live up to his father’s legacy?

In her award-winning trilogy, Lesa Cline-Ransome masterfully recreates mid-twentieth century America through the eyes of three boys: Langston, Lymon, and, now, Clem. Exploring the impact of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow laws, and much more, Lesa’s work manages at once to be both an intimate portrait of each boy and his family as well as a landscape of American history.

ISBN-13: 9780823446049
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Series: The Finding Langston Trilogy #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Writing From Feeling, a guest post by Bill Harley

In the end, a good story is not about words. While writing is a craft with many parts, being a talented crafter of sentences, paragraphs and plot isn’t enough. In the end, we use the words to communicate experience, and human experience is centered in feeling.

I try to write from feeling. I’ve come to believe if I get the feeling right—what the characters are experiencing and feeling themselves—I’ll make a connection with the reader. Writing teachers will often talking about using all the senses, but for me, the most important sense is what it feels like inside.  My middle grade Charlie Bumpers series is told through the eyes of a well-adjusted fourth grade boy in a functional family. For all his failings, Charlie is very sensitive to the world around him and what other people are feeling. While he’s not very attentive to many details, his heart is true, and it’s his heart that guides the story. Whether it’s being disappointed in the part he gets in the class play, or experiencing loss after loss on his soccer team, the thing that drives the story is what things feel like to him. “What is Charlie feeling?” was a question I continually asked myself, and I wrote from there. And as I wrote, I often had those same feelings myself.

How do you measure success when you write from this perspective?  For me, it came in the form of a nine-year old boy who came up to me holding one of the Charlie Bumpers books. “I like your book,” he said. “It’s funny.” I nodded. And then, more tellingly, more importantly, he said, “I know how Charlie feels.”

Like we say around our house, “There’s one in a row.”

My new book, Now You Say Yes, presented a deeper challenge. This book tells the story of two kids who suddenly lose their single parent and are faced with the prospect of being separated and sent into foster care.  The older one, Mari, decides they should drive across the country, from Los Angeles to Lynn, Massachusetts, hoping to be taken in by their estranged grandmother. This is a pretty desperate move.  While I was, like Charlie, once a nine-year old boy in a typical elementary school, in Now You Say Yes, Mari, the main character, is a fifteen-year-old girl—something I never was and never will be. She’s adopted out of the foster care system, and there’s a whole lot of baggage that comes from that—baggage I don’t have. The other main character, her adoptive brother Conor, is on the autism spectrum. I have never been diagnosed as such, although after a lot of work on the book, I’m beginning to think the autism spectrum is very wide and includes many more of us than I had ever imagined.

How do I tell the story through their eyes, show who they are through their behavior? First, I did research – I talked to a lot of people, read a lot of books, and paid attention to people who were similar to these two kids. I began to see how they might see the world.

I had several break throughs in grasping their frustrations and challenges. In thinking about Mari, who harbors a deep hurt and anger over her early life, I was suddenly brought back to my own experiences as a kid. It’s only later in life I’ve realized my family watched me regularly boil over. So much energy, then frustration, then anger would sweep over me until sometimes I literally couldn’t see. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. I drew on that feeling when I wrote about Mari.

In trying to see things from Conor’s point of view, I was taught by an experience with a young man on the spectrum, a friend of our family. Driving him to his mom’s workplace, he told me which way to go, but I told him I knew a better way.  At that, he fell silent and stared out the window. Half-way to the destination, I realized he was right, and I was wrong, and then I saw how his brilliance was so often overlooked and ignored. I had done it, too. His spatial knowledge and mapping are extraordinary.  I apologized and now, when he offers advice, I always listen. Being ignored and taken for granted is a very common experience for people on the spectrum. But I know what that feels like, too, and I could use that.

And so, after listening and reading, and thinking, I wrote from feeling. Of course, none of us can know exactly what others are thinking and experiencing, and while I can’t get completely in the head of a foster care kid, or someone who is diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum, I do have access to what their feelings might be. And those feelings are the guide for what I write.

It’s an act of faith, isn’t it? – trusting that our emotions are similar to other people’s regardless of their background, experiences, and mental make-up. But this faith, this ability to imagine, is at the heart of writing. E.L. Doctorow wrote, “A novelist is a person who lives in other people’s skins.”

In the emotional turning point of Now You Say Yes, Mari finds herself surrounded by hundreds of people she doesn’t know, watching a solar eclipse. While everyone else stares at the sky, she instead looks at the people and sees all their brokenness and realizes it’s that brokenness that binds them together—we’re all broken. There, for a moment, Mari feels what everyone feels, and realizes she’s not alone.

At the center of Now You Say Yes are feelings. The feeling of being ignored and overlooked. The feeling of being powerless. The feeling of wanting to belong and wanting to be valued. The feeling of caring for someone so deeply you will do things you’d never thought you’d do. These feelings are universal, and it’s where my best writing comes from.

Meet the author

Bill Harley is well-traveled, well-read, well-educated, well-spoken and well-loved. Accompanied by his guitar, his narrative songs and stories, both original and traditional, are a celebration of our common humanity. Best known for his work with children and families, his ability to navigate through a confusing world with humor and wisdom is evident in his masterful storytelling as well as his numerous award-winning recordings and books. A two-time Grammy winner, he is vibrant, outrageous, unpredictable and genuine with songs and stories about growing up, schooling and what it is to be human—our connections with one another and with the planet we share. Recognized by audiences and peers as one of the finest performing storytellers in the country, his work has influenced a generation of children, parents, performing artists and educators. Bill tours internationally as a performing artist, author and keynote speaker from his home in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

About Now You Say Yes

Award-winning author and storyteller Bill Harley returns with an unforgettable middle grade novel about two orphaned siblings on a cross-country journey in search of their place in the world.

“I rooted for outcast-misfit protagonists Mari and Conor every mile and (every single page!) of their intimate and epic, grief-fueled road trip. Bill Harley’s Now You Say Yes reminds us that acts of kindness—big and small—make all the difference.” —Patrick Flores-Scott, award-winning author of Jumped In and American Road Trip

When her mother dies, fifteen-year-old Mari and is desperate to avoid being caught up in the foster system. Again. And to complicate matters, she is now the only one who can take care of her super-smart and on-the-spectrum nine-year-old stepbrother, Conor.

Is there anyone Mari can trust to help them? Certainly not her mother’s current boyfriend, Dennis. Not the doctors or her teachers, who would be obliged to call in social services. So in a desperate move, Mari takes Conor and sets out to find their estranged grandmother, hoping to throw themselves at the mercy of the only person who might take them in.

On their way to New England, the duo experiences the snarls of LA traffic, the backroads of the Midwest, and a monumental stop in Missouri where they witness the solar eclipse, an event with which Conor is obsessed. Mari also learns about the inner workings of her stepbrother’s mind and about her connections to him and to the world…and maybe even a little about her own place in it.

A beautiful exploration of identity and family, this heartwarming and engaging middle grade novel comes from renowned storyteller and two-time Grammy Award winner Bill Harley.

ISBN-13: 9781682632475
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 08/01/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years