As the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, the dread of the Halloween season is sneaking in. For your budding horror and mystery fan, check out some of these seriously spooky stories.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
For any young horror fan, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is a must-read. Alvin Schwartz's reimagining of classic American folk tales has been scaring kids since 1981 — in fact, it was number one on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most-challenged books of the 1990s. That's right: more people tried to get Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark banned from their local libraries than any other book for an entire decade.
That's because the stories are genuinely frightening. They're the type of tales that can make kids shiver, then laugh for being so afraid.
The real horror of the stories comes from the disturbing black-and-white illustrations, drawn by illustrator Stephen Gammell. Gammell's drawings are typically abstract, featuring bizarre, often horrifying figures.
Together, the stories and illustrations are unforgettable.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
This 1967 Newbery Honor-winning novel features six intelligent children, a mysterious old man, and a horrifying murder — all set around a beautifully complicated, secret game the children created. When April, the main character, finds an old bust of Nefertiti in an antique store's storage yard, she and her friends begin to recreate their own ancient Egyptian society within the confines of the yard. Their game is disrupted by a brutal murder of another child, forcing the Egypt Game children to stay inside for weeks. The story is enchanting, and is sure to make your children fascinated with ancient Egypt (if they aren't already!)
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
When millionaire Sam Westing is killed, his will brings together 16 seemingly random people to solve his murder — whoever does will inherit his vast fortune. The story isn't exactly spooky, but it is extra-mysterious and will have your child frantically trying to figure out just who Sam Westing really is (answer: it's complicated).
The Westing Game takes place in a fictional city on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, within a fictional apartment building called Sunset Towers. Sunset Towers faces east, toward the sunrise. This little twist on words is one of many featured throughout the book. Your young readers may want to pick this book up again a second time just to try and catch some of the more clever wordplay they may have missed the first time around.
The characters are delightful, and the brilliant and headstrong 13-year-old girl Turtle, who ultimately cracks the case, is a great role model for young readers. It's no wonder Raskin won the Newbery Medal for The Westing Game. Full of twists, turns, and fun, the story still feels fresh 40 years later.
This story is perfect for a rainy day or a road trip — your middle grader won't want to put this one down.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Full of gloom from the start, Coraline is just the right type of eerie for the season. After falling under the spell of a too-perfect stand in for her own mother, Coraline is on a race against time to save her real parents, as well as the souls of three lost children.
The story is spooky, and the drawings sprinkled throughout are beautiful (as you can expect from Neil Gaiman). This is a story your young reader won't forget.
Coraline is the right type of character for a young reader to admire. Whatever her faults, she stands up for what is right, and stands up to fear — no mean feat.
Check out RKR’s latest picture book recommendations -- perfect bedtime stories for you and your kiddos to enjoy!
DINI DINOSAUR by Karen Beaumont, illustrations by Daniel Roode
Dini Dinosaur was playing outside in the sand and the mud and dumped a bucket over his head! Now he is filthy and in desperate need of a bath, but every time he gets in the tub he forgets to take an item of clothing off! This is a perfect book for reading aloud with fun rhymes that children will delight in finishing: “Silly Dini Dinosaur! Don’t you know? You have to take your pants off…back you go! As Dini works his way through shirts, pants, hats, shoes and more, the joyful rhymes continue. When Dini is finally all clean, after an inspection from mama dinosaur, of course, it’s time for jammies, stories, songs and a good night’s sleep.
Be prepared for giggles at Dini’s silliness, and requests to read this one again and again as children familiarize themselves with the lovely cadence and word play. Encourage young readers to repeat the rhymes that appear on every spread to give them a sense of mastery and you may find them “reading” this back you!
Daniel Roode’s illustrations, created digitally, are bright and cheerful, and Dini and Mama make a sweet pair. This will be a charming and comforting read for the younger picture book set. Recommended for ages 2 - 5.
THERE’S A BEAR ON MY CHAIR by Ross Collins
A small mouse is furious to find a large bear sitting on his chair in this hilarious picture book by Ross Collins, author of The Elephantom and graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. The poor mouse tries everything he can to remove the bear - pushing, giving him a mean glare, trying to distract him with free food, jumping out of a box to scare him and more - and yet the bear sits on. Only when the mouse gives up and disappears does the bear leave, curious to see where the subject of his antagonism has gone. The final spread finds that the mouse has taken up residence in the bear’s house - an ending sure to cause fits of laughter and a sequel.
Full of simple, fun rhymes, the book also offers up excellent opportunities for language expansion with more complex words such as lure, unaware, endangered and more. Children will find the mouse’s antics extremely amusing and adults will too. Overall it is a silly, lighthearted story and Collins’ illustrations match the tone perfectly.
THREE BEARS IN A BOAT by David Soman
Dash, Charlie and Theo are playing at home when they break their mother’s favorite blue seashell. Afraid to tell the truth (their mother is a bear, after all), they set off on an adventure to find a replacement. An old sailor tells them where they might find a new shell, but it evades them even when they are sure they are in the right place. As they tire of their journey they begin to fight amongst themselves, blaming each other for the accident, until a great storm forces them to work together to find calm seas and the way home. Only after landing their boat back on the shore of their home island and realizing that the right thing to do is to tell the truth to their mother do they find a replacement shell. Suddenly, the sailor’s words, “if you look in the right place, I reckon you’ll find it” become clear. Mama is angry with her cubs, yet loves them all the same, and cooks them a warm dinner, but sends them to bed with no dessert.
Dash, Charlie and Theo are brought beautifully to life with Soman’s watercolor illustrations and their voyage is filled with characters and places both whimsical and wise. The storm mimics their brewing anger well, and the power of honesty is an important lesson that doesn’t feel heavy handed. A longer picture book, this is recommended for readers aged 3 and up.
Interested in learning more about Ron Bates and his middle-grade novel, THE UNFLUSHABLES? Check out a Q&A with him below!
First off, congratulations on your hysterical new book, The Unflushables! How did you come up with the story line?
RON: Thanks! The Unflushables was so much fun to write, and I’m on pins and needles—okay, nails and spikes—now that it’s actually out there on bookshelves. I’m excited to have it in the hands of readers and I can’t wait to hear what they think! As for the storyline, it came to me while I was in one of my favorite thinking spots, which is the checkout line at the supermarket. You know how they have that row of magazines you can look through while you wait? Well, I noticed the covers were always filled with celebrities—movie stars, musicians, athletes, supermodels, people like that. It’s understandable, I guess, because those people are at the top of their professions. But why ONLY those people? Why not other people who are incredibly good at what they do? Why not, for example, a really, really, really great plumber? Shouldn’t they get the star treatment, too? So I created a world where plumbers were on magazine covers and T-shirts and posters, and kids idolized them and collected their trading cards. Then I added a bunch of sewer monsters because a toilet repair job becomes a lot more interesting if there’s a gigantic croctopus popping out of it.
Sully’s plumbing prowess and humor is emphasized throughout the book, and only gets better as the story progresses. Where do you see Sully in ten years?
RON: That’s a great question because the book does give us a glimpse of what Sully might become down the road. That glimpse is Max Bleeker, his mentor, who we can assume at an earlier point in his life was a gifted prodigy a lot like Sully. In Max’s case, he became bitter and jaded and a loner. Sully sees that, so he might be able to avoid Max’s fate. But who knows? Sully’s gift is also a curse—plumbing takes a terrible toll. So to be honest, I’m not exactly sure how Sully will turn out, but it’s an interesting idea to explore. All I know for sure is that he’ll be in the sewer. Once that place gets a hold on a plumber, it never lets them go.
I thought it was such a cool choice to make the Ironwater Corporation the central villain when there were many other options and directions you could have gone in. What made you decide to do so?
RON: Ironwater! Even the name sounds evil, doesn’t it? I ended up casting them as the villain to give Sully a shadowy, sinister adversary that would challenge not only his plumber-honed battle skills, but his wits. The sewer monsters are undeniably dangerous but they’re more of a deadly obstacle, not a nemesis. With Ironwater, you get that sense of corporate intrigue, and it deepens the mystery behind the bizarre happenings in Nitro City.
The plumbers as "superheroes" aspect of the story plays a huge role in the plot; did you look up to plumbers growing up? What inspired this concept?
RON: Wow, I would love to tell you I was in a plumber fan club as a kid, and that I still had the junior tool-belt and decoder ring, but that’s just not the case. To be 100 percent honest, plumbers weren’t my main inspiration for the story. What really fascinated me was the sewer. I kept seeing articles about alligators roaming sewer tunnels, or huge snakes crawling out of toilets, or someone discovering a secret community of underground sewer dwellers. It made the place seem magical—a forbidden world right under our feet! And when I thought about who would be the hero of this world, all I could picture was a rugged figure swinging through the pipes on a drain snake while clutching a monkey wrench and a plunger. So obviously, it had to be a plumber. Then when I started researching the history of plumbing—building the Roman aqueducts, battling the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849—I realized that role wasn’t even a stretch. They really are heroes.
What are some of your favorite books that have motivated you to write and got you excited about reading?
RON: There are so many, but a few are very special to me. The first stories I remember being obsessed with were the Encyclopedia Brown books. I loved the idea of collecting the clues then having the chance to solve a mystery alongside the world’s greatest junior detective. I still love that--trying to put myself in the sleuth’s shoes, putting that puzzle together in my head. I locked onto Roald Dahl’s books because they made me laugh. James and The Giant Peach, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—he just had a way of creating the craziest, quirkiest characters and making them perfectly believable in a particular situation. I guess The Hobbit is the book that got me hooked me on quests. To me, there’s just something irresistible about giving a character an impossible goal and sending them on a journey where anything can happen. I have no doubt my fascination with the sewers was at least partly inspired by Bilbo’s time in the mines of Moria. So I owe a debt to a lot of writers, too many to list, but Sobol, and Dahl, and Tolkien are definitely at the top.
Click here to buy The Unflushables!
We are "fangirling" over these eight contemporary fiction heroines who face tough circumstances, but aren’t afraid to be themselves and fight for what they want.
Armed with two pistols and yearning for a fresh start, Pity is not your typical character. She leaves her family and compound behind and embarks to start a new life. She gets swept up in the glittering lights of Cessation and before you know it is involved in the theater program, where it isn’t all fun and games. Forced to use her shooting skills in some unorthodox manners, Pity is then faced with larger scale questions—like what price is too big to pay for her freedom?
Jane is born into a unique time—two days before the dead roam the battlefields of the Civil War. This turns out to be the least of her problems. After completing her schooling in both combat and etiquette, Jane arrives home to Kentucky and realizes she is intertwined in a conspiracy—one in which her life is at risk.
The Cruel Prince—Jude
Jude didn’t have an easy childhood. She was only seven years old when her parents were murdered and she along with her two sisters were stolen away to live in the High Court of Faerie. Once she arrives at Court, she learns she has to earn her place in an order to do so, she is going to have to defy Cardan, the handsome, wicked and young high king.
The Children of Blood and Bone—Zelie
Zelie is on a mission to bring back magic and overthrow the monarchy in this dazzling debut from Tomi Adeyemi. Faced with tons of obstacles and even more danger, Zelie is forced to face the hard truth in that she could be the greatest danger of all as she grapples to control her own powers and her feelings for the enemy.
Camellia is a belle. She is able to control the coveted aspect of beauty and bestow it among the citizens of Orleans. When Camellia and the rest of her Belle sisters arrive at court, she realizes that not everything is as it seems and she is faced with a tough choice. Save the Queen and the ways of Orleans or save her sisters, the Belles?
Everybody knows fairytales aren’t real—including the 17-year-old protagonist, Alice. When Alice’s grandmother, the revered author of dark fairy tales suddenly dies, the whole family is in for a surprise. To make matters worse Alice’s mom gets kidnapped by a creature from her grandmother’s book and it is up to Alice to save her. Since Alice has steered clear of her grandmother’s crazy fans, it is time for her to embrace them and enter The Hazelwood, her grandmother’s estate and the entrance into the magical world.
The Astonishing Color of After--Leigh
Leigh is convinced that her mother is a bird. After her mother commits suicide, Leigh is positive that her mother has returned to this world in the form of a bird and has messages for her. In order to find her mother, Leigh ventures to Taiwan to meet her mother’s parents (her grandparents) and along the way uncovers family secrets, magic, ghosts and so much more.
The Hate U Give--Starr
Starr moves between two worlds and two lives—her private high school world and her home world in her poor neighborhood. When one of Starr’s best friends gets shot by a police officer in front of her, her world turns upside down. Soon her best friend’s death turns into a national headline. People are protesting and Starr and her family are getting threatened to keep quiet but the only one who knows what truly happened that night is Starr herself.
Interested in learning more about Farrah Penn and her debut novel, Twelve Steps to Normal? RKR chats with her below!
Congratulations on your debut novel, TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL! How did you come up with the story?
Thank you! TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL was the book I started writing after receiving multiple rejections on other YA books I’d gone on submission with over the course of a few years. I think every author can relate to the fact that rejections are disheartening, but I wasn’t going to let myself give up, so I started writing this with the idea of creating a contemporary story about a father/daughter relationship that was broken and needed to be mended. Everything else fell into place from there.Using Alcoholic’s Anonymous’ well-known 12 Steps to Recovery as a model of Kira’s own steps to try and make her life normal again was such a unique and effective tool to make the recovery process relatable and easy to understand. Why did you decide to incorporate this model as a central part of Kira’s story?
Kira’s steps were one of the most challenging things to nail down. I think the heart of the twelve- steps recovery program is learning to live life in a new way so you don’t revert back to old behaviors, but Kira’s problem is wanting her old life back exactly how it was. That provided to be an interesting part of her experience, and incorporating her own twelve steps helped guide her in her own journey.
All of Kira’s different relationships help influence her choices as she deals with returning to her old life, but they also make her self-aware, acting as mirrors for her throughout the book. Which relationship of Kira’s was your favorite to write?
Oh, this is tough! The romantic side of me enjoyed writing about the dynamic between Alex and Kira, but I also really loved taking a closer look at the complexity of Kira’s female friendships with Whitney, Raegan, and Lin. Some of my favorite father/daughter relationships exist in THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, so I also enjoyed creating Kira and her father’s story and writing those scenes.
You tackle several issues in the book, such as recovery, lose, change and growing up. Was there one issue that was more difficult to write about than others?
Yes, absolutely. Forgiveness was the hardest, I think. Like Kira, I’m also the child of an alcoholic. When someone you love is struggling, you feel SO many emotions: Hurt, anger, selfishness, sadness, betrayal, guilt. This isn’t my story, but there are elements I’m familiar with on a personal level. There’s one scene in particular toward the end of the book that takes place in a garage, and I remember it was so, so challenging to add more emotional depth to it because it hit close to home.
Kira receives several pieces of poignant advice from the people around her throughout the story, often from unexpected sources. Which do you think is most meaningful and important?
I think there are two pieces I’d consider the most meaningful. Toward the end a character tells Kira, “you don’t have to go through the tough and terrible things alone.” There’s always someone out there who is willing to help you, even if you find it’s hard to ask. Also, another character mentions how it’s important to forgive your own mistakes. Everyone is flawed, and we’ll continue to make mistakes, but we don’t have to constantly beat ourselves up for them.
In your Author’s Note, you mentioned that your father, like Kira’s, suffered from alcoholism. What was it like writing from your own experience?
When I first started writing this book, I didn’t fully see how much of it connected to me. Because I was writing fiction, it was like, “okay, this is Kira’s story.” And it is one thousand percent. But the strong emotions Kira feels and goes through stemmed from not only my own life, but also from reading forums and forums of other experience from children of alcoholics. At the end of the day, I tried to create an authentic character in Kira and an authentic story as possible.
Did you learn anything about alcoholism and recovery during the writing process of this book that you didn’t know before?
Absolutely. Because I’ve never been through the twelve-steps program, I learned so much talking to those who have. There’s a statistic from AACAP that says 1 in 5 adult Americans has lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up, and it’s still pretty uncommon to talk openly about it whether out of embarrassment, guilt, or confusion. I hope this book can open those doors to conversation.
What’s next for you?
I won’t reveal TOO much, but I've been working on another YA contemporary that centers around sisters and — I hope — contains a lot of female empowerment!
Click here to buy Twelve Steps to Normal.
James Patterson is stepping up his game. The author and philanthropist will be personally donating $2 million to classroom libraries this year (up from $1.75 million in past years) in the fourth installment of the School Library Campaign, announced last week by the Associated Press. This year's focus will once again by on classroom libraries: 4,000 teachers will receive grants of $500 and 500 Scholastic Book Club Bonus Points. The program and partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs was started in 2015 as part of an ongoing initiative to keep books and reading a priority for children in the United States. To date, Patterson has donated $7.25 million to school libraries.
Applications must be submitted by July 31, 2018 and can be found here. Winners will be announced on September 5, 2018.
Interested in learning more about Scott and John and their Sci-Fi Junior High series? Check out a Q&A with them below.
1). The intergalactic world you created in Sci-Fi Junior High Crash Landing is so creative and humorous. Were either of you huge science buffs growing up?
Scott: Not so much a science buff, but a science fiction fan for sure. I loved the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and all the other Universal monsters. I was also a big fan of the 50’s and 60’s “outer space/alien” movies such as The Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, Them (giant ants! I mean, how cool is that!) and so many more. And don’t even get me started on the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation movies!
John: Yes, I was a huge Sci-Fi movie fan. I loved everything from Star Wars, Star Trek to Godzilla and other mutant monsters. As a youngster, I was always a poor student, especially in science and math. However, I fell in love with the art on science book covers and interiors. I would study the artwork of earth strata levels and lava flow charts, dinosaur and planetary renderings for the colors and brush strokes.
2). Kelvin struggles with the fear of not meeting people’s expectations, especially because both of his parents are scientists and his little sister is a genius. Can you offer advice to kids who relate to Kevin’s fears?
Scott: All you can be is the best that you can be. If that isn’t good enough for some people, well, that’s their problem, not yours. Worry about trying to meet your own expectations. Those are the ones that matter the most.
John: I like to tell kids: “Hang in there kiddo! You’re not the only one who is insecure! Your individual strengths will shine through eventually, even if your parents are scientists and your little sister is a genius.” I also tell college level students to, “learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Stories and anecdotes like these remind us that we are not alone!
3.) How did you come up with the idea of writing the Sci-Fi Junior High Series? What made you want to write for kids?
Scott: John and I talk about this stuff all the time. We had nearly identical childhood interests, and Sci-Fi Junior High is just an offshoot of those interests. We both really love everything monster/science fiction/superhero related and always have. As for the age group our material is aimed at, it just seemed natural to write to my own maturity level.
John: Scott and I wanted to work on a story where a classroom full of unusual kids would deal with the same issues we deal with. Then I thought of the title and rough premise of Sci-Fi Junior High. Viola, Sci-Fi Junior high with weird and crazy alien kids with middle grade dramas was born. Our process could be described as a creative collaborative stew.
To answer the second part of your question, when I was a kid I always loved to draw and create my own mini comic characters. My Saturday mornings were spent watching cartoons and drawing monsters and superheroes. I was avoiding homework but I didn't realize that I was really working towards a future career. Later in life I went on to study art at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit Michigan and became a successful illustrator. As an adult I met Scott Seegert, through our daughters who were playing softball together. We couldn’t believe how much we had in common with all of our childhood pop culture influences. We decided to give this storytelling thing together a shot.
4.) What were some of your favorite books growing up that inspired you to write and got you excited about reading?
Scott: Dave Barry was my inspiration to get into this writing business. He is the only writer who has ever made me laugh out loud while reading. I’m talking tears running down the cheek level guffawing. And when he pointed out that his typical work attire was boxer shorts and a bathrobe, I knew I needed a change in careers from engineering to writing.
John: My favorite books that inspired me were mostly comic books and magazines such as Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, Iron man. Bat man, Mad magazine, Famous Monsters of Film land and comic strips. Novels and pulp novels like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Doc Savage were a staple in my teens. When I was really young I was inspired by Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are.
5.) Everyone’s writing process is different. As co-authors can you tell the readers of RKR what your writing process is like?
Scott: John and I are actually “co-creators” of Sci-Fi Junior High. We came up with the nuts and bolts of the concept together and then I write it and John illustrates it. We throw ideas around and see what sticks. There is a lot of back and forth involved and quite often his art concepts lead to plot/story ideas as well. And it only helps this process that we have studios right next to each other in an eclectic old (leaky) building. We even have a “secret” door between the two spaces so we can get together without even entering the hallway. CRASH LANDING is the sixth book we’ve done together. We also have a blowharded supervillain series called VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. MUAHAHAHAHA!!!
Break out the candy hearts, flowers and chocolate—Valentine’s Day is here. Get into the spirit with some of these especially lovable reads.
Love by Matt de la Pena
As the title depicts, this story is all about love. Snuggle up with your loved one and dive into this New York Times bestseller, you won’t regret it!
Valentsteins by Ethan Long
This book is not your ordinary Valentine tale. The story focuses on Fran K. Stein, a member of fright club who seems distracted. As he continues to work on his secret project, members of the club start to wonder what could be taking up so much time—it turns out Fran is hard at work on a valentine. What could be scarier than falling in love?
Peppa Pig and the I Love You Game by Candlewick Press
It’s Valentine’s Day and Peppa the Pig starts to play a game with her family called the I Love You Game. Peppa starts to make a list of all the things she loves: books, her birthday, goldfish…the list goes on and on—which makes her question what she loves most of all.
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Rose by Lucille Colandro
Everybody’s favorite old lady is back and swallowing items to make special Valentine’s Day treats. Filled with humorous illustrations and rhyming text—this book is perfect for all.
Amelia Bedelia’s First Valentine by Herman Parish
Amelia Bedelia is so excited to celebrate Valentine’s Day in her classroom and to get her first Valentine. However, the day is off to a less than perfect start when she forgets her Valentines for her classmates on the bus. What will she do?