Something Wicked This Way Comes…

Feeling scared is fun for many people, including myself.  Even as a child, I loved the thrill of a spine-tingling story.  Growing up in New Mexico surrounded by Mexican American culture, I was exposed to tales of La Llorona and the Chupacabra, as well as all the usual chilling tales passed from one generation of children to the next.  My friends and I played Light As A Feather Stiff As A Board at slumber parties, and one time we all swore with our whole souls that we actually lifted our friend above our heads with each of us only using two fingers.  There were nine or ten of us, but still!  We KNEW it worked, which completely freaked us out.  Especially when our friend’s mom popped her face up to the window from outside wearing a werewolf mask – our screams could probably be heard three streets over.  When my best friend and I were about ten years old, I convinced her to watch the old Disney movie starring Bette Davis, The Watcher In The Woods, and to this day she still has not forgiven me.  She says I scarred her for life and that I am sick and twisted – and she is absolutely right.  I do love love love a scary story!

Movies, books, folk tales, legends – the scary ones are so much fun for kids.  The mystery of What If and the thrill of the unknown can spark a child’s imagination like nothing else.  I realize that some children cannot handle scary stories – heck, some adults can’t handle them – but there are opportunities to expose kids to scary stories in a safe way that allows them the thrill without guaranteeing they’ll be sleeping in your bed for the next several years.  With my own children, I started out with fun Halloween picture books and as they got older, we moved to small chapter books.  We watch the silly family Halloween movies every year, and my twelve-year-old recently watched the Netflix hit Stranger Things.  They’ve learned to enjoy spine-tingling stories in the safety of their home with me to guide the way, and so far they don’t seem to be permanently damaged!

For myself, I enjoy a horror story that has a slow build and a great plot with deep character development.  I’ve never been a fan of slasher movies with lots of icky violence because the plots are so poor in those stories. Formula-writing is definitely not a favorite of mine, which many authors of horror or paranormal fiction seem to use. In other words, I need it to be a great story, not just a scary story.

Whether you’re introducing kids to scary stories or reading them yourself, this time of year is the perfect backdrop for your scary reading life.  Here are some suggestions for all ages:

the-elementals

The Elementals by Michael McDowell

Valencourt Books, June 2014 (original publication 1981)

the-little-stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Riverhead Books, May 2010

 

room-on-the-broom

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Puffin Books, August 2003

old-haunted-house

At The Old Haunted House by Helen Ketteman and Nate Wragg

Two Lions, August 2014

scary-stories

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell

Scholastic Inc., October 1989

nightbird

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

Yearling, March 2016

Have fun reading, and leave the light on!  You never know what lurks in the dark…

 

The Magic of Middle-Grade

My family, like many families, enjoys watching movies together.  My kids are at that “sweet-spot” age where most family movies are enjoyable and appropriate for both of them – the oldest isn’t too old (or too cool) to have fun watching, and the youngest isn’t too young to be scared or not get the jokes.  Recently we watched a few movies together that are movies based on books and/or remakes of movies that were popular when I was their age, in addition to some cult classics that have yet to be remade.  Watching these movies, and feeling the nostalgia of my own childhood when remembering the original films or books, made me realize what it is I love so much about middle-grade fiction: the magic of possibility.

Kids in middle school still believe. They believe they’ll grow taller, run faster, be a famous sports star, or singer, or actor, or scientist – their world is full of possibility and nothing is out of the question. Although most would never admit to it, they are still hopeful that adults are wrong, and there really are superheroes, mythical creatures, ghosts, hidden treasure, and mysteries to be solved.  The possibility of those things being real was what I loved best about being a kid, and now it’s what I love best about middle grade fiction.  The movies from my childhood that have been remade for today’s children evoke that same sense of possibility, and there are many middle grade books that do the same.  Here are a few of my personal favorites, in all genres, that, to me, showcase the magic of possibility –

 

the-imaginary-2

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2015

the-one-and-only-ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

HarperCollins, 2012

the-screaming-staircase

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co.) by Jonathan Stroud

Disney-Hyperion, 2013

out-of-my-mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010

doll-bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doubleday Children’s, 2013

salt

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2013

the-marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2015

wolf-hollow

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016

These are just a few examples of excellent middle-grade fiction that show readers what can be possible – whether or not it’s factual or realistic isn’t the point.  After all, maybe there ARE invisible dragons who befriend children in the forest.  Maybe there ARE friendly giants who bring dreams to humans each night. Maybe there ARE geniuses hiding in plain sight.  Maybe there IS a hidden tunnel that leads to pirate treasure. Maybe there ARE ways to travel to other dimensions with the help of a telekinetic friend.  Maybe there really IS a school for witches and wizards, and the admissions letter is about to arrive.

Maybe the impossible is, well, possible. 

Banned Books, Again!

The second half of my banned books photo series was featured last week on Facebook and Instagram, but in case you missed it, here they are!

Day 4

not-old-enough-yet

Inappropriate? Sexually explicit? Unsuited to age group? Contains profanity? Unnecessary violence?

Yup. These are excellent Young Adult books that someday my son will be old enough to read. At twelve years old, however, it is my opinion that he’s not quite ready for the mature situations addressed in these books. That is my parental choice to make, but not a choice I’m allowed to make for other people’s children.


In a few years I’ll grant him the freedom to read all these shocking books – he’ll learn from and enjoy the amazing stories contained between their covers. For now, though, a little peek will have to do…

Day 5

racial-insensitivity

How can a book written by a black woman about one black girl’s hair and a historical novel depicting life in the oppressive 1800s South be considered racially insensitive?

Instead, readers could label these books honest, eye-opening, revealing, educational, relatable, or valuable. Readers don’t need a single narrative – they need many stories. Libraries, like public schools, must offer something for everyone, even if a book makes readers uncomfortable.


Often when we’re uncomfortable, we learn and grow. Or, we could just enjoy a really good book.

Day 6

religious-viewpoint

Banned for religious viewpoint? In other words, banned because these books have Muslim characters. However, the Holy Bible is on the top ten list this year of most challenged books, so maybe some people just don’t like any depiction of any religion.


It would be great if, instead, these books were read and appreciated for depicting brave female characters overcoming what is, to most Americans, unimaginable adversity. My kids will definitely learn from the powerful girls in these books!

Day 7

scary-stories

What was that noise?

Was it the rustling sound of someone sneaking up behind you? Or was it the sound of parents challenging a book because they deemed it too scary?

Happy October and last day of celebrating our freedom to read! Here’s hoping, over the next year, you read freely, bravely, and rebelliously (maybe not a real word, but whatever). There was that noise again…I’m not scared, YOU’RE scared…

Thanks for joining us in our celebration of Banned Books Week!