Posted in Fiction, Horror, Media, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Realistic Fiction, TV Shows, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Part Lois Lane, Part Nancy Drew… Introducing Cici!

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer in Training, by Joris Chamblain/Illustrated by Aurelie Neyret, Translated by Carol Burrell, (Nov. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722484

Recommended for readers 8-12

Cici’s dream is to become a novelist. She journals her thoughts and ideas, and constantly people watches, much to the chagrin of her mother and friends. Cici doesn’t see it as being nosy; she figures that you need to understand what’s inside of people in order to write about them. But when she starts digging further into people’s lives and expecting her friends to lie to her mother to cover up her “investigations”, they let her know that they’ve had enough. Can Cici learn to be a good friend and an attentive writer?

Originally published in France under the French title Les carnets de Cerise (2012), this is Cici’s first English translation and includes two stories. In the first story (title), Cici discovers an older man walking through the forest every Sunday, covered in paint and lugging cans of paint back and forth. In Hector’s Journal, she tries to get to the bottom of a mystery involving an older woman who takes the same library book out every week. Both times, Cici goes after her subject with gusto, but is often insensitive to her friends and mother. It isn’t until her mentor, a local author, steps in to have a heart to heart with Cici that she finally understands that she’s been using people, and starts taking others into consideration. Kids will recognize themselves and their friends in Cici, especially as she goes through the frustration of disagreeing with Mom and falling out with friends.

The graphic novel is a mix of graphic storytelling and journaling, with doodles, scrapbook pieces, comments, and notes throughout the book. The art is realistic with a soft touch, and Cici has a very fun and eclectic style that will appeal to middle graders. She complains about her friends throughout the book, and with seeming good reason: one girl is in a perpetually bad mood, and Cici herself can be exasperating (mind you, I say this as a 46 year -old mother of three, not a tween). In short, kids will identify with or see their friends in these characters, and dive into Cici’s adventures – and maybe start journaling on their own.

In my neverending quest to create programs that I can booktalk with, Cici’s Journal is a nice fit with a writer’s program I want to test out. Put this one with your Dork Diaries, Amelia’s Notebooks, Wimpy Kid books, My Dumb Diaries, Kate the Great, Origami Yodas, and Popularity Papers.

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Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Thornhill is good haunted house creepiness

Thornhill, by Pam Smy, (Aug. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626726543

Recommended for readers 10-14

Two girls, two decades, one story: Thornhill is a story told in prose and pictures, switching back and forth to tell each character’s story. In 1982, Mary is a lonely orphan living in the Thornhill Institute for Children, relegated to her room where she makes puppets, for fear of the merciless bullying she suffers. The Institute is on the verge of closing, and the girls are being re-homed – except for Mary and her tormentor, who continues unabated by the social worker who prefers to victim blame. Mary’s story unfolds through journal entries, where we see the bullying turn her, desperately, to a plan for revenge that will echo for decades.

In 2016, Ella is the new girl in town, living in a home with a perfect view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute. As she looks out the window, she sees someone in the lonely attic window at Thornhill. Determined to discover who she is, Ella wanders onto the Thornhill property and unravels Mary’s – and Thornhill’s – story. Ella’s story is told through stark black and white artwork, leaving much for readers to discover. The narratives follow one another; Mary’s narrative enriches Ella’s story. The chilling ending will leave readers breathless.

Thornhill is captivating, urging readers to its conclusion. Mary and Ella are kindred spirits on their own journeys; while Ella’s story is relegated to what we see on the pages, there is a wealth of material there for sharp-eyed observers. It’s a great choice for suspense and thriller fans.

Posted in Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dark middle grade fantasy: Room of Shadows

Room of Shadows, by Ronald Kidd, (Aug. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807568057

Recommended for readers 10-13

David finds himself with a lot of anger lately. I mean, it’s justified: his dad abandoned his mom, and they’ve been forced to move into this creepy old house. When a school bully messes with him on a bad day, David beats him up, earning some in-house grounding from his mom. That’s where he discovers the room: a secret room with an old desk and a carving of a Raven, signed, “EP”. The weird dreams start shortly after. When the incidents start at school, all involving people who David’s tangled with, everyone starts looking at him differently, including his mom and the police. How can David prove he isn’t The Raven – the person responsible for the incidents, who leaves a signed note each time? And how can he keep himself safe from The Raven, who’s fixated on him?

With a background in Edgar Allan Poe’s history, I dove eagerly into Room of Shadows. The author takes Poe into very dark territory here, for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. It’s an interesting concept, but one I had a hard time with. I didn’t really get to know David or his best friend, Libby; I felt like their character development took more of a backseat, allowing the Poe storyline to drive the plot. I did like the nod to some of Poe’s greatest hits in the story, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Pit and the Pendulum; it’s always great to discover Poe in new fiction. This one wasn’t my book, but middle grade horror fans who are ready for something weightier than Goosebumps and Haunted Mansion may sit down with this one.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

One for Sorrow mixes ghost stories with historical fiction

One for Sorrow, by Mary Downing Hahn, (July 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544818095

Recommended for ages 10-14

Annie is the new girl at her school. Desperate to make new friends, she’s thwarted when the school pariah, Ellie, latches onto her on the first day. Annie quickly discovers that there’s a reason the other girls don’t like Ellie: she’s a liar, a tattletale, and a thief who bullies her way into Annie’s life. When Ellie is out sick for a few days, Annie manages to befriend the other girls at school and becomes one of Ellie’s tormentors. When the 1918 flu epidemic reaches Annie’s town, it claims Ellie as one of its victims, but Ellie’s spirit won’t rest. She returns as a vengeful ghost, punishing all the girls who bullied her through Annie, thus ensuring that Annie will be as hated as Ellie was in her lifetime.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the reigning queens of middle grade horror. I still can’t look at a doll in the same way after reading Took (2015), and she’s the first author I go to when my library kids ask me for a good, scary story. One for Sorrow, inspired by the 19th century nursery rhyme, seamlessly blends elements of an intense ghost story with historical fiction. Hahn addresses World War I and anti-German sentiment and the 1918 flu epidemic in a small American town while drawing on her own mother’s childhood for inspiration, having her characters visit various homes with funereal wreaths on the door in order to eat their fill of sweets and pastries put out for the wakes. Ellie’s vicious haunting will keep readers turning pages late into the night, feeling Annie’s helpless frustration as Ellie systematically destroys her reputation and her life.

 

Mary Downing Hahn has won many awards for her writing. You can find out more about her (like the fact that she’s a former children’s librarian!), her books, and her awards, through her publisher’s website.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Can you escape Monsterville?

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.

 

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Doll’s Eye is SO creepy. Perfect for horror fans.

dolls-eyeThe Doll’s Eye, by Marina Cohen, (Feb. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722040

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Hadley is not thrilled with her mother’s decisions. Since she married Ed, whose 6 year-old son, Isaac, is nosy and allergic to everything, means Hadley’s constantly chasing him away from her stuff AND her entire way of eating has changed to accommodate Isaac. They’ve moved out of their apartment and away from her friends to live in this huge, dilapidated house, away from everything, because her mom and Ed got it cheap. Her mother even broke her promise to send Hadley to summer camp with her best friend, to go on a family road trip instead. And worst of all, her mother seems to have no time for her anymore. The only neighbor her age is a bug-obsessed kid named Gabe; at least the tenant, an older woman named Althea, treats her like a granddaughter.

Hadley discovers an old dollhouse with a doll family, and wishes her family were perfect, just like the dolls. But you should always be careful with wishes…

Doll’s Eye is creeptastic and perfect for middle grade horror fans that are ready for some more scares in their reading. Hadley is well thought-out and written, and her supporting characters will keep readers turning pages. Wacky former neighbor Grace is a delight, a scary movie staple as the person who’s in tune with the spirit world. The unexpected ending will get some strong reactions – Doll’s Eye is a great book to give to Goosebumps fans who are ready to go next level.

Give this to your Mary Downing Hahn fans and tell them between The Doll’s Eye and Took (by Hahn), they’ll be looking at their dolls (or their siblings’ dolls) with a very different set of eyes.