September 17, 2017

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Don’t Read These After Dark: A Horror Book List for Tweens

Horror fans, rejoice: Halloween is almost here! For readers looking for titles that deliver the chills, these 25 novels offer haunted houses, abandoned asylums, murderous trees, vengeful witches, ravenous ghouls, and one nightmare-inducing doll. These books may even have grownups checking under the bed before lights out.

 

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The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Storytelling and the secret desires of the heart wind together in this atmospheric novel that doubles as a ghost tale. Irish immigrants to England, Molly and Kip make their way to the Windsor house in search of employment. The great house stands in the shadow of a menacing tree, which locals speak of only in fearful whispers. Despite her young age and the warnings of a local storyteller, Molly uses the power of her own words to secure work, but soon realizes that all is not right in the house. Constance, Bertrand, Penny, and Alistair Windsor each struggle with personal demons, and strange footprints appear at night. A malevolent spirit, the Night Gardener, haunts the estate, dooming its inhabitants with foul dreams while the tree grants wishes to entrap the recipients. Molly and Kip must face their own dark secrets to release the Gardener’s hold and end his evil enchantments. Auxier gives readers a spooky story with depth and dimension. Molly’s whimsical tales illustrate life’s essential lessons even as they entertain. As the characters face the unhealthy pull of the tree’s allurements, they grow and change, revealing unexpected personality traits. Storytelling as a force to cope with life’s challenges is subtly expressed and adds complexity to the fast-paced plot. Readers of Mary Downing Hahn or Peg Kehret’s ghost novels will connect with the supernatural elements and the independent child protagonists of Auxier’s tale of things that go bump in the night.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT

 

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The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

A middle grade twist on a traditional Haitian folktale. Corinne and her father don’t believe in jumbies, malevolent creatures that come out of the island’s dark woods to prey on people. Then one day a strangely beautiful lady named Severine walks into Corinne’s house and takes over, her Papa begins acting weird, and evil creatures attack the village. Corinne and her friends approach the white witch for help but she can’t assist because it would affect the ancient balance between creatures and humans. However, the white witch does tell Corinne that she has a special power that can help. Readers will find Corinne engaging and her determination authentic. Corinne’s friends, Dru, Bouki, and Malik are also fully formed and believable characters whose loyalty and bravery help save the day. Even the evil Severine is drawn well enough to evoke empathy in readers. The story builds nicely to the inevitable confrontation between Corinne and Severine. Though the denouement seems a little too good to be true, the themes of fairness, justice, and retribution meld into a better than average evil witch story. VERDICT This is a well written tale full of action with enough scary elements to satisfy fans of Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm (Penguin, 2010) or Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms (Candlewick, 2012).—Gretchen Crowley, Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA

 

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Doll Bones by Holly Black

At 12 years old, lifelong friends Zach, Poppy, and Alice are ferociously clinging to their childhoods. Using old Barbies, pirate action figures, dolls from Good Will, and their imaginations, they have created an exciting world of characters in an elaborate game. Figuring heavily in their plotline is the Queen, an antique doll of bone china that belongs to Poppy’s mother and is strictly off-limits to the kids. She’s also incredibly creepy. When Zach’s dad throws away his action figures, the boy is so devastated that he ends the game abruptly, leaving the girls hurt and confused. Shortly thereafter, Poppy reveals that the Queen is made of the bones of a dead girl named Eleanor who has been communicating with her at night. The doll appears to be filled with Eleanor’s ashes, and she has promised Poppy that she will make their lives miserable if they don’t journey to Ohio, find her grave, and bury her properly. After much persuading, Zach and Alice agree to the journey. The Queen gets scarier and scarier as unexplained events begin to occur along the way. Black has created protagonists who readers will care about, and amusing secondary characters, like a pink-haired librarian and a crazy bus passenger who seems to be able to see Eleanor. This novel is a chilling ghost story, a gripping adventure, and a heartwarming look at the often-painful pull of adulthood. Black-and-white illustrations actually tone down the scare factor a little, making this a perfect starter story for budding horror fans.—Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

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Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

Bruchac weaves an incredibly scary story of a girl whose warm, contented family is suddenly torn apart. Molly’s knowledge of and immersion in her Mohawk heritage is something she takes for granted, as are the wisdom and strength that come from understanding the traditional tales and listening to one’s dreams. She sets the stage as she tells one of her father’s favorite stories about a man who is hungry and eats himself and then everyone around except for one clever young girl. Molly then discloses that her own parents have suddenly disappeared. An eerie, stick-thin old man arrives claiming to be her only kin using the pictures from her father’s wallet. Adults on the scene vary from being clueless to well intentioned but ineffectual. Brought to skeleton man’s house and locked in a room every evening, Molly keeps trying to find a way out, eventually finding that heeding her dreams, combined with some great detective work, does the trick. Better than many mystery writers, who make the clues obvious, Bruchac makes every word add to the tension right up to the final few pages. Details of video cameras and computers help to sustain belief in a highly improbable plot. The suspense draws readers in and keeps them engaged. In the classic horror tradition, Bruchac offers a timely tale that will make hearts beat and brows sweat, and it has the bonus of a resourceful heroine to put the world right again. Carol A. Edwards, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Not exactly a book of fairy tales, these illustrated short stories are more a series of ruminations interwoven with dreams and fairy tales. Classic elements are here—there’s a girl in a red hooded cloak, and a girl who wears a ribbon around her throat—but the entries expand and wander in different (and darker) directions. The illustrations (done in ink and graphite on Bristol board and then digitally colored) fill the entire page, so at first glance the work looks more like a picture book than a graphic novel. The hues are bold and striking, with the color red dominating the pages in the form of sunsets, flushed cheeks, bloodshot eyes, twisted word balloons, a deep crimson ruby, and even pools of blood. This collection contains four new stories and one (“His Face All Red”) that was originally published as a webcomic on Carroll’s website. This is a beautifully rendered but deeply chilling collection of vignettes that will be most appreciated by teens and adults who are fans of fairy tales, horror, and the things that hide in the dark. A delight for Edgar Allan Poe and Alvin Schwartz enthusiasts.—Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

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The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

In the first title of the series by Joseph Delaney (Greenwillow, 2005), 12-year-old Tom Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son who has been apprenticed to “The Spook,” whose job it is to ward off witches, boggarts, and ghosts from his domain in the English countryside. Twenty-nine other apprentices have gone before Tom. Will he be able to succeed because he is able to “see things,” or because he is left-handed, or because his Mam has taught him Greek? After leaving the farm and his family to go with Mr. Gregory, he is put through several trials and warnings to beware of girls in pointy shoes and to make sure not to insult a snippy boggart that cooks and cleans. Then the Spook begins very precise instruction, which Tom voluminously transcribes into notebooks. Young and naive, Tom makes a big blunder that unleashes the wrath of the malevolent witch, Mother Malkin, a villain who could rival Voldermort. In this tale that is a mix between Sweeney Todd and Harry Potter, readers will experience tension and suspense along with a likeable character in Tom, who is affable, loyal, and eager to do a good job.—Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public Library, NY

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

When Coraline and her parents move into a new house, she notices a mysterious, closed-off door. It originally went to another part of the house, which her family does not own. Bored, she investigates the door, which takes her into an alternate reality. There she meets her “other” mother and father. They are very nice to her, which pleases Coraline but also makes her a little suspicious. Her neighbors are in this other world, and they are the same, yet somehow different. When Coraline gets nervous and returns home, her parents are gone. With the help of a talking cat, she figures out that they are being held prisoner by her other parents, as are the souls of some long-lost children. Coraline’s plan to rescue them involves, among other things, making a risky bargain with her other mother whose true nature is beginning to show. The rest of the story is a suspense-filled roller coaster, and the horror is all the more frightening for being slightly understated. A droll humor is present in some of the scenes, and the writing is simple yet laden with foreboding. The story is odd, strange, even slightly bizarre, but kids will hang on every word. Coraline is a character with whom they will surely identify, and they will love being frightened out of their shoes. This is just right for all those requests for a scary book.—Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Somewhere in contemporary Britain, “the man Jack” uses his razor-sharp knife to murder a family, but the youngest, a toddler, slips away. The boy ends up in a graveyard, where the ghostly inhabitants adopt him to keep him safe. Nobody Owens, so named because he “looks like nobody but himself,” grows up among a multigenerational cast of characters from different historical periods that includes matronly Mistress Owens; ancient Roman Caius Pompeius; an opinionated young witch; a melodramatic hack poet; and Bod’s beloved mentor and guardian, Silas, who is neither living nor dead and has secrets of his own. As he grows up, Bod has a series of adventures, both in and out of the graveyard, and the threat of the man Jack who continues to hunt for him is ever present. Bod’s love for his graveyard family and vice versa provide the emotional center, amid suspense, spot-on humor, and delightful scene-setting. The child Bod’s behavior is occasionally too precocious to be believed, and a series of puns on the name Jack render the villain a bit less frightening than he should be, though only momentarily. Aside from these small flaws, however, Gaiman has created a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing tale of dreams, ghouls, murderers, trickery, and family.—Megan Honig, New York Public Library

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The Graveyard Book: Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

The award-winning tale about an orphaned boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts is successfully adapted for the graphic novel format by Russell and his cadre of artists. The arresting opening image of a bloody knife sets the tone for this sometimes gory, but often playful, illustrated version. A toddler’s family is murdered by a mysterious stranger, and the denizens of the neighboring cemetery (ie. ghosts, vampires, and even a werewolf-type creature) take on the responsibility of being his caretakers. Renamed Nobody “Bod” Owens, the inquisitive boy grows up among the specters, making friends with a human girl, and escaping from several brushes with death. The panel’s dark blues, grays, and purples are punctuated with vibrant greens, yellows, and crimson red. Each chapter is illustrated by an artist or two, who in turn infuse the entry with their own technique, while reflecting the story’s original heart and atmosphere. Especially successful is the “The Hounds of God” section, illustrated by Tony Harris and Scott Hampton, which observant readers will note undergoes subtle shifts between the graveyard and the Ghoul kingdom. While some of the original’s subtlety is lost, this adaptation still celebrates friendship, loyalty, and family with similar humor and aplomb. The concluding interlude segues eerily into the next volume, for which readers will anxiously be waiting.—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

 

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A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

With disarming delicacy and unexpected good cheer, Gidwitz reweaves some of the most shocking and bloody stories that the Brothers Grimm collected into a novel that’s almost addictively compelling. He gives fair warning that this is no prettified, animated version of the old stories. “Are there any small children in the room now?” he asks midway through the first tale, “If so, it would be best if we just…hurried them off to bed. Because this is where things start to get, well…awesome.” Many of humanity’s least attractive, primal emotions are on display: greed, jealousy, lust, and cowardice. But, mostly it’s the unspeakable betrayal by bad parents and their children’s journey to maturation and forgiveness that are at the heart of the book. Anyone who’s ever questioned why Hansel and Gretel’s father is so readily complicit in their probable deaths and why the brother and sister, nonetheless, return home after their harrowing travails will find satisfying explanations here. Gidwitz is terrifying and funny at the same time. His storytelling is so assured that it’s hard to believe this is his debut novel. And his treatment of the Grimms’ tales is a whole new thing. It’s equally easy to imagine parents keeping their kids up late so they can read just one more chapter aloud, kids finishing it off under the covers with a flashlight, and parents sneaking into their kids’ rooms to grab it off the nightstand and finish it themselves.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library

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All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Travis, 12, and his younger sister, Corey, are high-spirited youngsters who love to play tricks on unsuspecting targets. When they discover that their grandmother’s Vermont inn, Fox Hill, is reportedly haunted, they can’t wait to cook up some ghostly manifestations to scare the guests and liven up their summer vacation. But their pranks turn terrifyingly real when they awaken Ada Jaggs, an evil and vengeful spirit. The shadows of children she tormented and mistreated in the past when the county poor farm was located at Fox Hill are also roused. Events soon spiral out of control, frightening the staff and guests of the inn, and Travis and Corey must discover a way to get rid of Ada and release the children to their final rest. Part of this plan includes opening her grave—a task that, of course, must be done at midnight. Hahn has written another fast-paced ghost story that readers will relish, shivering all the while. An interesting thread is the comparison of the lively children whom Ada hated and targeted with Travis and Corey—all are boisterous, energetic kids with a mischievous gleam in their eye.—Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA

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Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

Thirteen-year-old Ali is excited to be spending the summer with her Aunt Dulcie, an artist, and her four-year-old cousin, Emma, in the Maine lakeside cottage where her aunt and mother spent their childhood summers. But why is Ali’s mother so terrified to let her go? Why did the sisters’ annual sojourns there stop so abruptly 30 years earlier? And what is the meaning of Ali’s recurring dream in which, while walking along the shore of Sycamore Lake, she meets a young girl who points to three girls in a canoe and admonishes, you must do something about this? Ali soon discovers that Teresa, her mother’s and aunt’s playmate, had disappeared and was presumed drowned when their grandfather’s empty canoe washed up on shore. When a strange girl calling herself Sissy shows up at the cottage and lures Emma into defiant and dangerous behavior, Ali finally realizes who she is. Hahn weaves into the story some classic mystery elements such as a torn photograph, a waterlogged doll, dense fog, and an empty grave, all of which add to the suspense and keep the well-plotted story moving along to a satisfying conclusion.–Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

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Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Ghost story fans have a spooky treat in store with Hahn’s eerie new novel. Molly, the 12-year-old narrator, and her brother Michael dislike their bratty 5-year-old stepsister Heather and resent the family move to an isolated converted church in the country. The adjourning graveyard frightens Molly, but Heather seems drawn to it. Molly discovers that the ghost of a child (Helen) who died in a fire a century ago wants to lure Heather to her doom. Molly determines to save her stepsister. In so doing, she learns that Heather’s strange behavior stems from her feelings of guilt at having accidentally caused her mother’s death by playing near a stove and starting a fire. Eventually, Molly wrests Heather from Helen’s arms as the ghost attempts to drown them. The girls discover the skeletons of Helen’s parents, and their burial finally puts to rest Helen’s spirit. This is a powerful, convincing, and frightening tale. The details of everyday life quickly give way to terror. The pace never slackens. Characterization is strong, and descriptive passages set a mood of suspense. There should be a heavy demand from readers who are not “faint at heart.”–Judy Greenfield, Rye Free Reading Room, NY

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The Ghost’s Grave by Peg Kehret

Josh, 12, is furious at his mom and stepdad, who are spending their summer in India while he is trapped in Carbon City, WA. Aunt Ethel is very peculiar–she serves dinner for breakfast and thinks the peacock living on the porch is her dead sister. Josh’s luck turns when he discovers a tree house and a stray cat with kittens nearby. He also meets a ghost named Willie, who shares the tragic story of his death and convinces Josh to dig up his leg bones and reunite them with the rest of his body. When Josh stumbles upon a metal box full of money buried with Willie’s leg, he heads home with the cash, planning to tell Ethel and to call the police. But she breaks her ankle and is rushed to the hospital before he gets the chance. Later that night, the owner of the cash tracks down Josh and demands it back at gunpoint. Willie, the peacock, and a quick-thinking neighbor come to Josh’s aid and foil the thief. This fast-paced and engaging book should be a hit with fans of ghost stories. Josh is a rich character to whom readers can relate and they will cheer him on as he searches for the truth.–Alison Grant, West Bloomfield Township Public Library, MI

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The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

A paradigm of perfection, 12-year-old Victoria expects everything and everyone to be just so. Friends are particularly messy, so she has opted to have only one. Lawrence is a disheveled, music-loving dreamer whom she views as a “personal project” in need of fixing. When Lawrence goes missing, Victoria investigates and soon unearths dreadful secrets lurking beneath the surface of her picture-perfect community. The adults are behaving oddly, numerous children have disappeared, and nasty creepy-crawlies are popping up everywhere. Victoria’s sleuthing leads her to the local orphanage and into the flawlessly manicured grasps of Mrs. Cavendish, the malevolent, magic-using headmistress who snatches less-than-perfect children from their homes and reforms them through a nightmare-inducing regime of physical and psychological punishments. Once Victoria uncovers the awful truth, she must face her own greatest fears–and also learn to reach out to others–to save the day. Beginning with the uneasy realization that things are not quite right, gradually incorporating disquieting discoveries, and escalating into full-out horror (the children are fed chopped-up body-part casseroles), the suspense and sense of dread build to the satisfying (and also unsettling) conclusion. Shadow-filled black-and-white illustrations and the occasional bug scampering across the text intensify the eeriness. Insidiously creepy, searingly sinister, and spine-tinglingly fun, this book also presents a powerful message about friendship and the value of individuality.—Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal

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The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack

Ten original stories, all with a foundation in African-American history or culture. Some are straight ghost stories, many of which are wonderfully spooky and all of which have well-woven narratives. There is a tale from slavery times; a story set among the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; and one from the 1940s segregated South, in which a black man’s ghost brings revenge upon the white klansman who murdered him. Strong characterizations are superbly drawn in a few words. The atmosphere of each selection is skillfully developed and sustained to the very end. Pinkney’s stark scratch-board illustrations evoke an eerie mood, which heightens the suspense of each tale. This is a stellar collection for both public and school libraries looking for absorbing books to hook young readers. Storytellers also will find it a goldmine.—Kay McPherson, Central Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, GA

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The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Steve has always been a worrier, but since his brother was born he’s become even more anxious. When Steve starts having dreams about otherworldly wasps, he takes comfort in their message that everything will be okay. But the more he learns about their plan to “fix” the baby’s congenital condition, the more he’s conflicted. The tension and unease grow as Steve begins to wonder if the wasps are real or imagined. The story comes to a climactic end that is cathartic and comforting. Set in a modern-day suburb, this quiet yet emotionally haunting book thoughtfully explores themes of safety, anxiety, and the beauty of the imperfect. Klassen’s black-and-white graphite illustrations complement the sensitive and powerful narrative, written in first person from Steve’s perspective. The images have a retro, printmaker feel and never reveal the entire picture, leaving much to the imagination—what is hidden in the unknown? Is it something bad or good? How can you know? The characters are believable and strongly developed, especially Steve, who deals with anxiety and possibly obsessive compulsive disorder. Scientific information on the life cycle, anatomy, and behaviors of wasps is woven in a way that furthers the plot. VERDICT This affecting middle grade psychological thriller is recommended as a first purchase for libraries.—Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

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The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki

When Neil’s father abandons the family to pursue fame in California, Neil and his teenage sister, Bree, are sent to stay with their aunts while their mother receives treatment for depression. The small upstate New York village where Claire and Anna live is home to Graylock Hall, a state psychiatric hospital that closed down 15 years earlier after several teenaged patients drowned. Neil’s new friend Wesley quickly fills him in on the local legend of Nurse Janet, who is thought to be responsible for the patients’ deaths and now haunts the abandoned building. Since Neil’s favorite TV show is Ghostly Investigators, he relishes the thought of exploring the hospital for clues. But when he and Wesley, along with their older siblings, break into the building, they set off a chain of harrowing events that cannot be explained. In the days after their narrow escape, Neil and Bree are plagued by horrific visions and nightly visits from a ghost. As time goes on, they slowly realize that their spectral visitor is one of the drowning victims who wants to bring her murderer to justice. The further the four get in uncovering clues, the more apparent it becomes that Nurse Janet has been unjustly accused-and that the real murderer is intent on making sure that the truth is never brought to light. As with The Nightmarys (Random, 2010), Poblocki is in his element with eerie happenings and atmospheric settings. Short chapters with cliff-hanger endings and several twists and turns in the plot will ensure that the pages turn quickly. Give this book to Mary Downing Hahn fans and others who enjoy spine-tingling mysteries.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

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The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki

When seventh-grader Timothy is paired with the new girl, Abigail, for a school project, he doesn’t expect to find himself fighting against nightmares: his friend’s, his teacher’s, and his own. Suddenly, people who make Abigail angry are being haunted by their worst fears. But if she is causing the situation, why is she being haunted, too? And how can she make it stop? Timothy and Abigail discover that what is happening to them is somehow tied to a 60-year-old mystery of a missing girl, but the real cause of the terror taking over their town might be even older. Secrets–Abigail’s, Timothy’s, and even Abigail’s grandmother’s–must be revealed before the pair can defeat an ancient curse and put the Nightmarys to rest. Full of tense moments and atmospheric settings, this book will keep readers turning pages as quickly as they can. Poblocki keeps the suspense high as he slowly reveals the truth about who or what is in control. While the plot twists may be somewhat confusing, the strong characters and deliciously frightening action will keep fans of scary stories engaged to the end.–Karen E. Brooks-Reese, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA

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Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Victorian London could be a magical place: horse-drawn carriages, puppet shows, elaborate upper-class houses. Of course it could also be miserable: fog, filthy streets, shabby hovels where too many people live in too few rooms. Schlitz conjures both the magic and the mundane here. For Clara’s 12th birthday, her parents hire a street performer to give a puppet show in their home. The puppeteer, Grisini, is so talented that he appears to be magical. His two orphaned assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, are envious of Clara’s home and all its comforts. Clara vanishes the night of the puppet show, and Grisini and his assistants are the prime suspects. Then Grisini disappears, and Lizzie Rose and Parsefall must seek out the missing girl, with the sinister and mysterious help of a wealthy old witch. Schlitz uses such evocative language that readers will practically smell dirty London and then be relieved by the crisp, cold air in the countryside around the witch’s crumbling mansion. The characters are recognizable tropes: the witch is rotting from the inside out; the orphans may be dirty and ill-bred, but they have spirit and pluck; the little rich girl is actually sad and lonely; the skinny puppeteer and the overly dramatic landlady are recognizably Dickensian. Yet, they are so well drawn that they are never caricatures, but people whom readers will cheer for, be terrified of, or grow to like. The plot is rich with supernatural and incredibly suspenseful elements. Fans of mystery, magic, and historical fiction will all relish this novel.—Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT

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Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith

“When I got born, Mama Frances took one look at me and said, ‘That child is marked. He got hoodoo in him.’ That’s how I got my name.” But, for all that his dead daddy was known as a powerful mojo man, at age 12, Hoodoo Hatcher is the only one of his family who can’t do any kind of conjuring or even cast a simple spell. Mama Frances assures him that his time will come, but Hoodoo worries that his grandmamma is just trying to make him feel better. Then the Stranger comes to town—dark-cloaked, red-eyed, and cold—and fearful things begin to happen: swarms of flies, screams in the distance, and corpses in the graveyard dug up with all their hands chopped off. Hoodoo discovers an old folk magic spell book, and learns what the demonic visitor is seeking—the secret of the Hand of Glory, left hand of a man hanged for murder, with which an evil magician can call and control the dead. The chilling supernatural Southern Gothic plot action is enhanced by atmospheric descriptions of rural life in Depression-era Alabama. There are dark hints of racial tensions and the hardships of poverty, balanced by strong family and faith relationships. Readers will particularly enjoy Hoodoo’s authentic and engaging narrative voice. The author takes some liberties with historical details and with the obscure but very real folk magic texts that Hoodoo uses, although few readers in the intended audience will be aware of it. VERDICT Reminiscent of the adult horror fiction of the late Manly Wade Wellman, this debut novel will appeal to thoughtful middle grade fans of the supernatural.—Elaine E. Knight, formerly at Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL

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The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This novel built of stories yields nightmares. Alistair’s first memory is seeing a drowned, missing child floating in the river. He tells no one and grows into a tween who has a talent for keeping secrets. Fiona, his neighbor, chooses him to share hers: kids are missing, and the Riverman, from the parallel, timeless world of Aquavania, where stories are born, is the accused. Is this some kind of fantasy created to cope with a reality too grim to bear? Or are the missing kids simply runaways? The pace accelerates when Fiona confides in an exhumed letter that she might be next. The portal in this book is not only into Aquavania, through Fiona’s stories dictated to Alistair, but also into the characters’ convoluted adolescent world. Alistair turns to 18-year-old Kyle, the town’s emotionally complex, daredevil dropout, for advice and muscle. Meanwhile, Charlie, Alistair’s childhood friend of convenience, has become a gaming addict, and their friendship is unraveling. This writerly, chiaroscuro book is replete with the portent of violence, and thick with ideas about the psychological need for stories, all while questioning the ability of stories to redeem the tellers. Readers will find themselves confronted with deep, unanswered questions regarding the relationship of collective imaginary worlds to reality, the evolving nature of memories and friendships, and the unknowability of people. Those ready to explore darker realities will devour this book.—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City

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Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

In a turn-of-the-century steampunk-flavored London, teenager Lucy Carlyle is one of a special few who have the psychic abilities to see-and the nerve to eliminate-the British community’s Problem, a dangerous ghost epidemic. Children are the first line of defense against the influx of these Visitors whose Ghost Touch can kill, since they are invisible and almost undetectable to adults. When Lucy joins charismatic Anthony Lockwood and his obnoxious partner, George, they are assigned a case which, if solved, may allow them to prove themselves in a business regulated by adults. But first they must survive the night in one of the most haunted houses in all of England. Stroud does not disappoint with this thrilling adventure (Disney-Hyperion, 2013) which, while predictable in places, is well paced and filled with such humor balanced with chilling details that it somehow manages to simultaneously reassure and terrify the reader. In her first audiobook recording, Miranda Raison’s characterizations and lovely British accent add even more dimension to the story, creating an audiobook that is preferable to the traditional print version. Recommended for those who loved Stroud’s “Bartimaeus” series, who are looking for a somewhat tamer version of the “Monstrumologist” series, or anyone who just loves a good ghost story.—Chani Craig. Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School, Montague, MA

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Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

Twelve-year-old Charlie is a worrier. Nearly everything makes him nervous. He is the complete opposite of his younger sister, Georgie, who is brave and curious. As children in their town begin to disappear permanently while on supposed trips to visit their grandmothers, Charlie and Georgie know that they will be next. When one day their mother, who does not seem herself, suddenly sends them off to meet their grandmothers, both of whom they’ve been previously told had passed away, this chilling tale truly takes off. It’s clear that the grandmothers are not what they seem, but if they’re not really grandmothers, then what are they? This is a story filled with creepy hallways, devilish trees, ghostly prisoners, and other sinister haunts. It’s also a heartwarming adventure about overcoming one’s fears and the unbreakable bond between siblings. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (HarperCollins, 2002) and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener (Abrams, 2014) will enjoy this middle grade fantasy/horror story. VERDICT Strongly recommended for collections were middle grade horror is in demand.—Pilar Okeson, Allen-Stevenson, New York City

000-thicketyThe Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White

“There is no such thing as a good witch.” These words, well known to all the villagers of De’Noran, haunt 12-year-old Kara Westfall. Ostracized and abused, she and her brother are the children of the last known witch, who was hanged on the edge of the Thickety when Kara was five. As the tangled branches of the dark, forbidden forest spread closer to the village, something strange and powerful awakens in Kara. Was her mother’s magic truly evil? White’s debut novel is darkly bewitching. The isolation of De’Noran and the fervor of its residents create a heady suspense, and White’s well-crafted characters operate beautifully within the fantastical world he has created. Offerman’s inky silhouettes perfectly complement the story. Readers will devour each twist and turn of the plot, right up to the startling conclusion.—Sara Saxton, Wasilla Public Library, Wasilla, AK

What have we missed? What are your top horror titles for tweens? Share them in the comments below.

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Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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Day of Dialog | Brooklyn
Coinciding with Brooklyn Book Festival, this special-engagement event on September 15 will feature both Festival and metropolitan-area authors with panels modeled on Library Journal and School Library Journal’s long-running and annually sold-out Day of Dialog events. Get the inside scoop on the hottest new books—plus book giveaways and author signings!

Comments

  1. Stacy Dillon says:

    Great list. I’d also add The Aviary, by O’Dell and the Books of Elsewhere series, by West.

  2. Alexandra Leeman says:

    What a fantastic list!
    There are a few I haven’t come across, so will purchase these for our school.

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