Halloween 2021

Books featuring ghosts, magic, monsters, vampires and witches for readers of 4 -14

For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.

Winnie and Wilbur and the Bug Safari – Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark – Katie and Kevin Tsang, ills Nathan Reed

With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+

Leo’s Map of Monsters – Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+

A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths

The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+

The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu

The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House – Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa

The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.

Lightning Falls – Amy Wilson, ills Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.

Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering – Harriet Muncaster

Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.

Everdark – Abi Elphinstone

The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+

Gargantis – Thomas Taylor, ills George Ermos

“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, ills Kaja Kajfež

Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.

The Hungry Ghost – HS Norup

An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev

Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Week at World’s End by Emma Carroll

MG Takes on Thursday image created by @marysimms72, book cover illustration by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Emma Carroll

Illustrator: Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

Publisher: Faber & Faber Ltd

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

When I told Ray what I’d found, I wasn’t sure he believed me.

page 11

This book in three words: Use Your Voice

The Queen of Historical Fiction swoops into the swinging 60s, plunging her devoted readers into the week during which the course of world history hung in the balance. 

Opening a new Emma Carroll novel is like a homecoming. You know what to expect: the domestic details of family life welcoming you in with a hot cup of tea, although when you step inside the furniture has been updated and someone you met as a twenty-something is now married with children.

Emma’s magic is to blend the domestic setting entirely seamlessly with her historic research so that you are utterly transported to whichever era she has mapped out for you. Her next sleight of hand is to take you inside the mind of a child so that you experience this new world firsthand and her writing is so expertly crafted that from page one until the final sentence you are utterly bound up in the adventure that unfolds before you.

I stood for a moment, enjoying how peaceful it was to not hear Bev yakking on, or the radio playing hit song after hit song because Mum, who hated silence, had barely switched it off since Dad died.

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Stephanie (Stevie or even Vie, to her closest friend) lives with her mother and older sister Beverley, at World’s End Close, a cul-de-sac backing onto wasteland adjacent to an American airbase. We learn early on that her father’s death occured very rapidly after the onset of an illness that wasted him away when he returned from military duties in an unnamed location exotic enough to give him an impressive suntan. To adults reading this story aloud it will be obvious what has happened to him, but Emma knows and respects her young readership and metaphorically takes their hand when revealing what has befallen him. 

Stevie’s next door neighbour and best friend is Ray, the son of an American airman and an English mother ( who Carrollistas will recognise from previous novels). Their friendship is built on their “otherness”, shunned by the other children at school, he because of his skin colour and Vie because she is so quiet, lacking in self-confidence and, in my interpretation, struggling with dyslexic difficulties.

Right from the opening pages, you are plunged into a world under threat from the Cuban missile crisis, with Ray’s family crowded round the television news listening to a speech given by their hero President Kennedy about the incoming threat from Russia and its communist ally Cuba.

Whilst Ray is captivated by this speech from his rock-star President, Vie becomes increasingly impatient as all she wants to do is drag him round to her woodshed to show him the “dead body” she has just discovered. When she finally gets him to accompany her, the dead body turns out to be a very much alive teenager who has “taken charge of her own destiny” and claims to be on the run from poisoners! With child-like trust, Vie and Ray do everything in their power to help Anna whilst the building tension of impending nuclear war envelops the adults around them in fear and dread. I am not going to describe any more of the plot details because I do not want to ruin your enjoyment of the brilliant unfolding and linking of plot. Instead I will concentrate on the things that make this book one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

The almost telepathic friendship between Vie and Ray, who can communicate with each other just with a nudge; they loyally support each other and extend their friendship to mysterious runaway Anna recognising a fellow outsider in need of help. The issues of nuclear weaponry are explored in a manner entirely appropriate for an upper end of middle grade readership. We see all sides of the argument as presented by different characters. Nana, their late father’s mum, initially supports the idea of all countries holding nuclear weapons as a deterrent, whilst Beverley signs up to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and dumps her “mod” boyfriend when he tries to stop her from organising a protest march. Ray’s father works at the American airbase where nuclear weapons are stored but is presented as a loving family man, just trying to do his best for family and country. The mystery of runaway Anna and the poisoners from whom she is escaping is expertly woven into the narrative and is gradually unravelled to a hopeful conclusion. Finally the power of finding and using your voice to speak up for a cause you believe in, is effectively portrayed. 

The publication of The Week at World’s End was delayed by the pandemic, but ironically reading it in the light of the past eighteen months highlights many parallels of life being lived under threat from a fearsomely destructive force. The appreciation of the small joys in daily life that it can be so easy to take for granted will, I am sure, resonate with Emma Carroll’s legion of Middle Grade readers.

If you enjoy this book, then I highly recommend Emma’s previous novels, some of which I have reviewed in earlier blogposts:

The Ghost Garden

Strange Star

The Somerset Tsunami

When We Were Warriors

Secrets of a Sun King

Letters from the Lighthouse

#MGTakesOnThursday Strange Star by Emma Carroll

MG TakesonThursday
Image created by Mary Simms and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by Mary Simms on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.

Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.

Write three words to describe the book

Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Strange Star

Author: Emma Carroll

Illustrator: Julian De Narvaez

Publisher: Faber & Faber

 

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “Taking the cape and Miss Clairmont’s wet shawl, he shut the front door.”

This book in three words: Gothic, Mystery, Family

The quote above sets the scene for an evening of storytelling in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva which will produce one of the greatest works of gothic fiction of all time. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, and in the world of MG historical fiction there is no doubt in my mind that Emma Carroll rules supreme. This is my favourite of all her works: her imaginative retelling of the inspiration behind the story of Frankenstein. I urge you to read it, and then read every other book written by this incredible author.

My full review can be read here. Strange Star by Emma Carroll

Once you have read the book, you can watch this Lego stop-frame animation created by my daughter a few years ago for a school extended study project. Strange Star in Lego.  Warning: contains spoilers.

Review: Strange Star by Emma Carroll

I have recently realised that MG Books that I assume I’ve included on here because they are on my “most-treasured” shelf are actually missing because I read them long before starting this blog! I shall use whatever spare time I have over the next few weeks to upload as many reviews of much-loved titles as possible. Here is one of my all-time favourite works of historical fiction: Strange Star by Emma Carroll.
Strange Star

The year is 1816, the setting is the parlour of Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva and Mary Godwin, her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley, her sister Claire and a servant boy, Felix, are huddled in front of a blazing log fire as a violent storm rages outside. You couldn’t wish for a more enthralling start to a work of MG historical fiction which seeks to imagine the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s gothic creation of Frankenstein. 

Under the brilliant storytelling expertise of Emma Carroll a tale unfolds of emerging scientific discovery clashing with superstition and tradition in the nineteenth century. As with many of her books she perfectly captures the first-hand voice of a village girl in the Somerset Hills, Lizzie Appleby. This narrator recounts a story of traditional village family life disrupted by mysterious events. The nearby grand house of Eden Court is the location of unsettling activities; weird deliveries, ghastly howling noises and the disappearance of animals from the local farms! Her family members’ involvement in these events eventually tear Lizzie away from her familiar surroundings and send her on a journey overseas in search of answers.

This book is a glorious and seamless combination of science; the story behind Frankenstein;  and epic story-telling. The contrast between the scientific experiments with electricity by the scientific community and the folklore and superstition in the village are brilliantly juxtaposed. I also liked the  fact that Emma Carroll examines the lack of respect and attention for women scientists in the nineteenth century with their work often being credited to men in order to be taken seriously.

The story ends with the first copies of Frankenstein being sold by a bookseller in Finsbury Square in the City of London. In 2016 Strange Star was actually launched at  Daunt Bookshop on Cheapside, just around the corner, an event which I was lucky enough to attend!

I have read all ten books, as well as short stories in compilations, that Emma Carroll has published and this remains my favourite of an incredible collection. I highly recommend it to anyone of 10+ who likes a spine-tingling mystery and at this time would especially recommend it to Year 6 pupils about to transition to secondary school, where there is a strong likelihood that you will study Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Review: The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll

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A hauntingly atmospheric tale set on the North Somerset coast in 1616, this book evokes a creeping sensation of foreboding as we follow Fortune Sharpe from her home in the hamlet of Fair Maidens Lane to the house of a rich merchant further up the coastline of the Bristol Channel.

It is the reign of King James, and his men are prowling the Somerset countryside , seeking to grab productive land and arresting midwives and other women skilled in the art of healing with herbs on suspicion of witchcraft. Fortune has to leave her home in a hurry when she is spotted rowing a boat on the Sabbath; her mother sends her away, disguised as a boy, to be hired as a servant at the market in Bridgwater. The only item that she takes from home is a strange package, which is taken from her at the market by a mysterious stranger.

Fortune finds herself hired as the personal servant to Ellis Spicer, the heir to a merchant who has made his fortune from the sugar trade. In Berrow Hall, a house of secrets, Fortune must adapt to a life of subterfuge, helping her new master hide his ambition (to become a performer) from his bullying father who will only countenance him taking over the family business. The glittering house is suffused with sadness, after losing his wife during childbirth, Mr Spicer loathes women and wants nothing to do with his baby daughter Bea who is left in the care of her siblings and servants. He and the sadistic barber- dentist, Dr Blood have a plan to hunt “witches” and gain favour from the King, hoping to win naval protection for their trading ships..

After a night of celebrations for Twelfth Night, Ellis disappears, and whilst searching for him, Fortune and Susannah start to sense “ an ice-cold dread that something very terrible was about to happen.

From this moment the plot gains a momentum that will knock you off your feet and leave you breathless until the final pages, when you can at last come up for air!

As always, Emma Carroll effortlessly weaves a tale from real historical facts, a tangible sense of place and her supreme talent for character creation. The venal Dr Blood is a character to freeze the contents of your veins! The story is suffused with an  underlying message of accepting everyone’s differences and the dangers of looking for scapegoats when things go wrong. There is a fine cast of strong female characters, standing up for their rights against the patriarchy of the age, but I also loved the inclusion of a great male role model in Fortune’s brother Jem, whose love for his sister is bravely demonstrated.

A highly recommended read for upper Key Stage 2 children (10+).

 

Review: The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant

Castle Rock

I can think of no better way to summarise this book than this quote, which appears almost half-way through:

“This is the story of a girl who lost her mother and her home, and was afraid of losing her father, and needed to find herself.”

The story opens in heart-breaking fashion with Alice bidding farewell to Cherry Grange, the house that has been home to generations of Mistlethwaites for over a hundred years, culminating with her digging up the white rose bush which was planted in memory of her late mother.

She sets off with her Dad, Aunt Patience, a couple of suitcases and boxes and the plant known as mum, “driving towards an unknown and terrifying future.”

It seems that worse is to follow. In her attempts to pull Alice out of her imaginary world and force her to engage with real life, Aunt Patience has decided that boarding school will be good for Alice. She is thrust onto the sleeper train from Euston to travel to school at Stormy Loch Academy in Scotland and on the journey meets Jesse Okuyo, the youngest of 4 brothers, who longs for adventure. Stormy Loch is “an unconventional school with an approximate approach to health and safety”, run by The Major who likes to rescue waifs and strays. On arrival in the vastness of the Scottish Highlands, something about the atmosphere of the place makes Alice believe that her stories can come true…and the adventure begins.

The plot hinges around an Orienteering Challenge and a stolen jade statue, it explores parenting, teamwork and trust and weaves all of these threads perfectly.

This book had me mesmerised with its relatable protagonists, exuberant celebration of the majesty of the landscape, thrilling plot and imaginative writing. I loved the way that Natasha Farrant used her authorial voice to drop hints and teasers throughout. There were frequent, knowing nods to other boarding school books which I am sure will be enjoyed by readers, and the development of the three main protagonists, Alice, Jesse and Fergus was beautifully described. 

I can’t believe that I’ve had this gem sitting, undiscovered, in my “to be read” stack for months – I absolutely recommend that you don’t delay for as long as I have, but get hold of a copy and read it. A fantastic book for confident readers of 9+ 

This is #Book12 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.