Ghostly Reads for October

Crisp, colorful leaves. A chill in the air. The routines of school are established. Ah, it must be almost time for Halloween. In preparation, I always like to have some creepy books on hand to share with students. Now, I am not a fan of horror movies (there’s a lot of cringing), but I do love a good ghost story so I figured it would be the perfect time to share some of the titles and authors I have enjoyed in the past.

 Most recently, I finished the book The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki. This story follows a brother and sister, Neil and Bree, who move in with their aunts after their father moves out to the west coast to follow his acting dreams and their mother has a nervous breakdown. Neil enjoys watching a show about ghost investigators so he is immediately enthralled by the local legend of Graylock Hall, an abandoned (and supposedly haunted) hospital for people with mental disorders. He enlists his new friend Wesley and Wesley’s older brother, Eric, to explore the old building with him, but he is unable to escape without his older sister insist on coming along.

The foursome begins to explore the building while looking for the ghost of Nurse Janet, an employee who was suspected of drowning three children at the institution. Soon after beginning to explore the decrepit structure, weird things happen and Neil gets injured so the kids escape into the woods and are driven back to town by a kind local man, Andy.

It’s not long after that Bree and Neil begin to have terrifying dreams and experience strange events in their aunt’s house. Did something really follow them home from Graylock? And if so, what does it want?

I made the mistake of starting this book after 10:00 one night and had to keep reading until Chapter 8 just so I could go to sleep at a place that wasn’t going to leave me in a cold sweat that night. I enjoyed the imagery that Poblocki uses to create a consistently creepy world that I was (unfortunately) able to picture myself inside. Here’s an example from when the group first enters Graylock: “Shards of glass glimmered in the dim light at the group’s feet. A slimy green stripe of mildew and moss clung to the wall, dripping down from the makeshift entry. A shadowy horizontal line, about five feet high, stretched around the room, reminding Neil of a grimy bathtub ring.” Lines like these help to show students the importance of setting and they are great for mentoring to students how to write descriptively in their own papers. This is a book that I would recommend to middle grade students looking for a ghostly mystery and children who want a book to use as a model for some spooky writing of their own.

I picked up this book due to my enjoyment (read: fear) of Poblocki’s The Nightmarys when I read it last year. There were a few moments in this story where I actually felt myself getting goosebumps because of the creepy occurrences in the book. After I book-talked this novel at the start of the school year, both of my copies disappeared off the shelves and readers are waiting eagerly for a chance to read this book. My copy of The Stone Child, also by Poblocki, has not had an opportunity to gather dust either.

Another book that my students have enjoyed and spread throughout the classroom in the past is Bad Girls Don’t Die. This is another one of those books that I told myself I wouldn’t read after a certain time of the night because otherwise I knew this story of ghostly possession would haunt my dreams. See the video trailer here.

And who can forget two tellers of ghost stories, Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright, who have extensive catalogs of books for children. See the book covers below for some of their books that I have enjoyed in the past.

Which ghost stories do you recommend to students who are looking for a good fright? 

An Interview With Laurel Snyder

Did anyone truly think that Laurel Snyder could be contained within a single month? If you did, you were mistaken because now it is Laurel
Snyder September…in October! At the beginning of the year, when I started this journey through some of Ms. Snyder’s books, I told my students about her Skype visit (which is swiftly approaching!) and I book-chatted her books. Not too long afterward, the shelf seen in the picture at the right quickly emptied and has remained barren for the past month.

For my final post of Laurel Snyder September,  Ms. Snyder was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for her regarding her books, her writing process, and her enjoyment of black licorice.

Mr. Jensen (that’s me!): Your books can be enjoyed by children and adults alike due to the endearing characters and strong storytelling, but is there a reason that you write for children rather than for adults?

Laurel Snyder: Actually, I do also write for grownups. In fact, for many years I focused on adult poetry (I’ll tell you more about this in person). But my favorite books, and my powerful reading experiences, happened to me when I was a kid. I think this is true for a lot of people — that the books that affected them most strongly were books they encountered very young. Also, I think there’s freedom in children’s literature, a willingness to explore. For me, it’s just a natural fit!

Mr. Jensen: In each of your four novels, the protagonists have moments where they break the rules because what they are feeling seems like the right thing to do at the time. Why do you find it important to include this attribute in your stories? What are your thoughts on children having the freedom to live their lives and to make their own important choices?

Laurel Snyder: This is such a tricky issue! But I do believe strongly that childhood has to prepare kids for adulthood, and that one big aspect of that is learning to make their own decisions. We can’t teach them to think for themselves by simply making rules. Rules are important, but life is full of moments that defy them. I think kids need to learn to be respectful of rules, but also they need to think for themselves, and pay attention to the effect they’re having on the world.

Mr. Jensen: Your novels clearly feature the idea of dealing with what happens when people make wishes that do not turn out as expected. Does this stem from something in your background?

Laurel Snyder: Well, most of the books I loved best as a kid were “magic” books like this. E. Nesbit and Edward Eager were favorites, Roald Dahl and PL Travers, too. So I think that’s where all of that come from.

Mr. Jensen: You have written both picture books and novels, with many of your novels including illustrations in them as well. What kind of collaboration is there between you and the remarkable illustrators of your books?

Laurel Snyder: One of the most amazing things is when I get to see the art coming in. But by and large there’s not much collaboration. In general, authors and illustrators are kept pretty separate.  I suspect this is because if we got our heads together, projects might take even longer! I can tell you guys more about this if you like…

Mr. Jensen: Recently I discovered there may be a prequel coming out for Bigger Than a Bread Box. What additional information can you relay about this novel?

Laurel Snyder: I’m just finishing it now! It’s about Annie, Rebecca’s mom. In the new book, Seven Stories Up, Annie is 12, and she has her own magical adventure, and travels back in time.

Mr. Jensen: I love the honesty and humor of your recent blog post that shows you in full revision mode. Do you have any tips for student authors when it comes to revising their writing?

Laurel Snyder: Oh, gosh. Revision is HARD. The biggest thing to remember is that the book you want to write is not the book you started out to write, but the BEST book possible. You really have to let go of things, get out of the way of the book. The best way to do this is by listening to other people, finding out how they’re reading your draft, and not resist.

Mr. Jensen: As an author, you have most likely read many wonderful books in your life. Are there any novels or authors which stand out in your mind that you would recommend children read for themselves?

Laurel Snyder: The book I’m most amazed to discover kids haven’t read is The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber.  I love it so much! I have a huge list of books I love and recommend. 

Mr. Jensen: Here is your opportunity: convince the world of the superiority of black licorice.

Laurel Snyder: This I cannot do. I know I’m in the minority, and that most kids (mine included) don’t like the stuff. MORE FOR ME!

Once again, a HUGE thank you to Laurel for all of this wonderful information and insight. Make sure to send Ms. Snyder especially good vibes this month as she continues her work revising her current book. Please see my September blog posts for more information about five of Laurel’s great books that you should explore for yourself!

Happy reading everyone!