Suffice it to say that Halloween is going to look a little different this year. Why not make Halloween 2020 an out-of-the-box experience? The crisp autumn weather makes the perfect time for a cozy family read along. Choose a ghost story, pop some corn or make some hot chocolate, and settle in for a spooky middle grades chapter book. These books are written at the 5th-6th grade reading level and would be perfect to read aloud to your upper elementary aged youngsters. Each is scary, but not too scary, and captivatingly suspenseful.
Trace, by Pat Cummings. This story’s most exciting events take place on Halloween in New York City. Trace's parents were recently killed in a tragic car accident and he has been sent to Brooklyn to live with his eccentric Auntie Lea. While working on a school project at the New York Public Library he finds himself wandering lost in a remote part of the vast basement. There he meets the ghost of a little orphan boy from 1863. It’s a terrific ghost story about grief, family, acceptance, and self-confidence.
If you were a middle grader in the nineties you may remember Wait Till Helen Comes, by the first lady of middle grades suspense, Mary Downing Hahn. In Wait Till Helen Comes three siblings deal with an entity who tries to lure the children into the pond behind their home in order to see them drown. Many consider Wait Till Helen Comes the flagship of children’s chapter suspense. Your audience will be in the palm of your hand!
Also by Mary Downing Hahn is Took: A Ghost Story. In this one, 13 year old Daniel moves from posh Connecticut to rural West Virginia. His new classmates tell him the mountain tale of the Ghost Witch who steals children, especially little girls. Daniel is pretty sure he is getting the “new kid treatment” until his little sister goes missing. Was she “took”?
Here are other recommended ghostly titles we have in the shop this week:
If you and I have talked about books in the past 3 months, you’ve heard me mention Hench. I’ve hand-sold it to countless friends, reviewed it on Libro.fm, and even wrote a short blurb about it for last week’s Scene. What’s so great about this book (I hear you asking)? Hench is one of the most exciting, fun, and thought-provoking books that I’ve read so far this year, and it provides a wonderful escape from the doldrums of daily life.
Hench follows the trials and tribulations of Anna, a millennial woman trying to make ends meet in a gig economy by taking temp jobs. It’s a familiar situation, but Anna’s industry is special: she’s a hench-for-hire, providing her talent for data analysis to villains, as needed. When Anna gets a permanent position working for mid-level villain the Electric Eel, it seems like things are looking up (even though she hates her coworkers and office, and isn’t too sure about Electric Eel, who asks people how they feel a little too often and ends every interaction with “namaste”). All of her hard-won progress falls apart, however, when Electric Eel brings her along to a press conference where things go terribly, terribly wrong. Anna is caught in the crossfire and suffers a gruesome injury at the hands of hero Supercollider.
And so, laid off from her job with a “thank you for your service” letter, and facing a long and painful recovery, Anna struggles to find meaning in her life. She discovers it in an unexpected place: in spreadsheets and algorithms, mapping out the true costs, in money and lives, of Supercollider’s “heroics”. As she digs deeper into Supercollider’s past, uncovering the myriad innocent lives he’s ended or ruined, she attracts the notice of the notorious supervillain Leviathan. A former ally of Supercollider, he understands, better than anyone, what an unchecked superhero is capable of. In Leviathan’s employ, Anna finds the things that her life has been missing: purpose, camaraderie, stability, and more. And together, Anna and Leviathan will change the way the world sees superheroes, forever.
Now, if you haven’t spent the past year living under a rock (and if you HAVE, may I join you there?), you’ll probably notice some similarities between the comic book series/show The Boys, another franchise that focuses on the dark side of heroism. And while the similarities are certainly there, Hench is a wholly original and enjoyable novel, and stands up well against comparison. Anna is an achingly relatable character, and you’ll cheer for her as she emerges from her shroud of self-doubt and unresolved trauma and becomes the anti-hero she was meant to be. Tackling issues like feminism, moral-ambiguity and office politics in the most exciting way possible, Hench is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapist literature. And right now, who doesn’t want to escape from the world, one chapter at a time?
October, the month to read mysteries, horror, and suspense... but how about a fantasy novel with a little bit of all of the above? That is definitely my preference and New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse, wrote just the right book. Inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas, full of magic, intrigue, and prophecies, Black Sun will keep you on your toes.
The very first few pages of Black Sun will certainly give you Halloween vibes. A mother that carves out her own son's eyes? ouch. But if that is a little too much for you don't let it deter you from reading it, not many scenes are that gory and there is a much bigger reason and purpose for it. And the boy, Serapio, grows up to become fearless, a vessel for the gods, and easily the most powerful character in the book.
What is it like to be a child in 2020? Summer camp was canceled and school is on a screen. The family reunions were postponed until a better year. Playgrounds are closed and everyone seems nervous. There is talk among adults of masks, distancing and sickness.