November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Frightfully Good Reads | Chapter Book Chat

The season is upon us when students scour the shelves looking for scary books. While lots of kids are drawn to spooky tales, these requests may strike fear into the hearts of teachers and librarians. But don’t let horror scare you! Scary books can offer a safe space for readers to face their fears in a nonthreatening way.

Scary stories need not be the sole realm of fantasy, supernatural bad guys aside. In fact, they may just as often show kids dealing with more realistically scary experiences, such as navigating a new town, moving to a different house, or dealing with stepparents. Reading about characters that are facing these situations, problem-solving, and coming out on top may give readers the courage to face difficult situations in their own lives. While moving to a new community is scary, it’s most likely not going to be infested with monsters—nor is your stepmother likely to be a jumbie bent on getting revenge.

One issue, especially when working with the younger end of the middle grade spectrum is: how scary is too scary? When a kid asks for a REALLY SCARY book, do they mean it? What’s “really scary” to them might be mild to another reader. It’s a good idea to offer a range if you’re not sure. In the public library, I encourage parents to pre-read any books they’re not sure about, since they know their children better than I do. The good news is that kids are generally good self-censors. If a story becomes too much for them, they can always stop and close the book.

Ready to get your scare on? Here are a handful of scary chapter books to get spines tingling this autumn.

Rise of the Balloon Goons (Notebook of Doom #1) by Troy Cummings (Scholastic, 2013).balloon-goons
Alexander has just moved to the town of Stermont and things there are…very weird. His new school is closed for construction, so his class is meeting in the morgue of the town hospital, and everywhere he goes he runs into balloon goons (those floppy things they use to advertise car washes). The town seems to be infested with monsters and Alexander needs the Notebook of Doom to try to figure out how to defeat them. This wacky story definitely falls on the sillier side of scary with cartoonish illustrations and excerpts from the monster guide Notebook of Doom throughout. Hand this one to younger readers who want something a little creepy but mostly funny.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-ins:

Scholastic’s website for the series includes a discussion guide with activities for books in the series and instructions on how to throw a “Notebook of Doom” party.

Have students create their own “Notebook of Doom” by imagining scary creatures that might inhabit their town. Draw a picture of the creature and write down its habitat, diet, behavior, and how a young monster hunter might be able to defeat it. Collect entries from students to make your own monster guide.

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales #1) by James Preller (Feiwel & Friends, 2013).home-sweet-horror
In this first book of James Preller’s episodic chapter book series, Liam and his family have just moved into a new house, a house that doesn’t seem to want them there. While aimed at a young audience, the stories in this series are actually pretty chilling, so hand this to brave readers who can handle a good scare. The layout and illustrations in the book contribute to its creep factor; gray, mottled pages and scratchboard art set the tone for this haunted tale.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-ins:

Macmillan has created an activity guide to go along with the “Scary Tales” series, which includes a word search and mad libs, as well as craft and decoration ideas for a spooky party.

Half-Minute Horrors edited by Susan Rich (Harper, 2009).
This collection of very short scary stories has a little something for everyone. The stories, each of half-minute-horrorswhich can be read in approximately 30 seconds, range from scary to funny and include comics and prose stories. For a super easy booktalk, pick one story from the collection and read it in its entirety (my favorite is “The Creeping Hand” by Margaret Atwood). The collection includes many authors kids already know and love (Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snickett) and stories in this book may help them discover some new favorites. Suggest this if you’re not sure what level of scary a student is really looking for since there’s a wide range here.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-ins:

As a class, create your own collection of “half-minute horrors”. Ask each child to contribute a short story, comic, or poem that’s either scary or slightly scary. If your students need some help getting started, try using some scary story writing prompts from Scholastic.

Do students recognize some of their favorite authors in this book? Have them compare their favorite author’s story to a previously-read book or story by that author. Is the scary story in this collection similar or different to what they normally write?

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, 2015).jumbies
On Corinne’s island home, people often talk about the jumbies—evil spirits that live in the mahogany forests and cause trouble for people who cross their paths. But Corinne isn’t scared of jumbies…until one follows her out of the forest. This is one of my favorite books to booktalk. Not only is it a creepy story, but it’s got strong characters and centers on young friends working together to defeat a common enemy.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-ins:

Algonquin Young Readers has a website for the book that includes resources like discussion questions and a field guide to jumbies.

This book is based on a Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree.” Tracey Baptiste used this version of the story when crafting her novel. Read the folktale to the class and then ask students to identify similar elements in the novel. Ask students to learn the folktale and have them retell it or act it out for the class.

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Abby Johnson About Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson is the youth services manager at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library in Southern Indiana. You can find her on the web at abbythelibrarian.com.

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  1. A good Halloween book that is filled with ghosts, witches, black cats & other October ghouls is The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol. Despite all those delightfully nasty creatures, the book has every bit as many laughs & tender moments as it does chills.

    It is a take-off on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol & follows a similar plot-line with very different settings & characters. It’s a wonderful way to introduce kids to the classics with more of a contemporary Halloweenish twist. After all, ghost are for Halloween, not Christmas… right?