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!

Lightning Falls by Amy Wilson, illustrated by Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

Cover image by studiohelen.co.uk, published by Macmillan 19 August 2021

This was the Primary School Book Club choice for September 2021 and I am embarrassed to admit that, although I have been aware of Amy Wilson’s reputation for some time, this is actually the first of her books that I have read. Why did I wait so long? Her description of Lightning Falls or The Ghost House, as it is commonly known, had me hooked from the first page; in fact the house is so central to the story that it is a character in its own right!

Lightning Falls acquired its name from the extraordinary waterfall to which it is adjacent; a former grand manor house which is now a tourist destination for ghost hunters attracted by the “creaks and the squeaks” who often arrive clutching their “fifty-per-cent-off promotional vouchers from the Ghostwatchers’ Express”! Owned by Lord Rory, described as an adventurer, its only other human inhabitants are Mrs Peters the housekeeper, Leon the receptionist and Ted the chef. However, the main attractions are the ghosts of former ancestors of Lord Rory and deceased staff, who together make an extraordinary family for Valerie, the first-person narrator of the tale.

One of the main themes running through the story is Valerie’s search for her identity and origins, her solitary clue being the pendant that she was found with. She lives with the hollow feeling of always wondering who left her behind at the hotel as a toddler. She has been brought up to believe that she is a “hallowed ghost”, she exhibits many human characteristics alongside the abilities to remain invisible to humans and float alongside her ghostly best friend, Meg. The warm family relationships with which Valerie is supported by her ghostly and human companions are beautifully and believably written and greatly add to the enjoyment of this fantasy mystery.

As the story begins, Lightning Falls is being besieged by Star Storms which are having a serious impact on the hotel guests. Then a mysterious boy appears, sitting on the ruined viaduct which runs across the raging river, with threads of lightning appearing from his fingers. Valerie is determined to discover whether he is the cause of the storms, but when she confronts him she finds that he holds the keys to unlock her past.

I won’t give away any spoilers because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of this glittering and magical tale. Lightning Falls is a wonderful story for children of 9+ to add to their fantasy and Halloween reading lists and I appreciated the fact that it is not too scary; I know that 9-year-old me would have enjoyed this very much without the nightmares that accompanied some ghost stories! The themes of family taking many forms and the importance of valuing every individual for themselves independent of labels, appealed to me as I’m sure it will do many others in the light of conversations around allyship and inclusion. Finally, a big thank you to the Primary School Bookclub members who have opened my eyes to the magical writing of Amy Wilson, I now have another collection of books to add to my ever-growing TBR stack!

Halloween Treats for #MG Readers

With trick or treating cancelled this year, what better way to use that spare time than curling up with a hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows and a thoroughly entertaining book to send shivers down your spine?

There are an enormous collection of Halloween themed stories to suit every middle grade reader, so I’ve selected some of my favourite new releases plus a couple of old favourites as sometimes these are overlooked in the tide of new publications.

Click cover to link to review and chapter sample
Click cover to link to review

For newly confident readers who are looking for entertaining stories where the text is interspersed with wonderful illustrations, I highly recommend Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, a heart-warming tale of a magical black cat, and Leo’s Map of Monsters by Kris Humphrey, an exciting story of courage and ingenuity. You can read my full reviews by clicking on the book covers.

As children move on to reading longer books in lower Key Stage 2, pictures throughout the story are still important to make the reading process enjoyable. These readers are in for a treat with Harriet Muncaster’s recent book Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering, an enchanting gothic story set in a wonderfully rendered magical woodland world. The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory certainly reveals a range of gruesome and blood-thirsty creatures to make you quiver in your boots alongside a message of acceptance and the power of self-belief. Please click the book covers for my full reviews.

Meanwhile, Grimm by Mike Nicholson turns a spooky tale of dreadful occurrences at a haunted hotel into a very modern expose of the “fake news” phenomenon. The Scottish town of Aberfintry is blighted by the presence of crumbling Hotel Grimm, perched on the side of Scrab Hill and seeming to cause the untimely demise of anyone foolish enough to spend the night. Needless to say the town’s teenaged marketing sensation, Rory McKenna is less than delighted when he is commissioned by Granville Grimm to design a marketing campaign for the spooky eyesore! Can he uncover the mystery surrounding the hotel and fight the local prejudice whipped up by the editor of a small town newspaper? This is an enjoyable and entertaining story which is very timely as we highlight the impact of fake news in information literacy lessons. At the moment you can actually purchase signed copies directly from the author Mike Nicholson at his website here.

Click book cover to link to review

The Apprentice Witch trilogy by James Nicol are all thoroughly entertaining stories, combining a wonderfully realised magical world with the most kind-hearted and accident prone young witch you could hope to meet. Read all three to immerse yourself in Arianwyn’s quest to vanquish the dark magic which threatens her world.

For those children in upper Key Stage 2, I have picked a selection to provide a substantial read and plenty to think about.

Click cover to link to review

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor is the second in his Eerie-on-Sea series and has enough perilous episodes and wickedly sarcastic humour to keep you engrossed through a long winter evening.

Click cover to link to review

The Hungry Ghost by HS Norup does a marvellous job of combining SE Asian tradition with a modern day story of blended families and loss. It is one of my favourite new releases of 2020 and educated me in a culture and tradition which I had not encountered before. The juxtaposition of the ancient Hungry Ghost festival with a bustling, modern setting in which a displaced teenager encounters a ghostly presence is perfectly crafted by a brilliant writer.

Click cover to link to review

Finally, one of my all time favourite books – I have probably purchased more than 10 copies of this to give away since it was published in 2016, the one pictured is my own signed copy, that’s how much I love it! Strange Star is Emma Carroll’s brilliant imagining of the story behind the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It is a perfect gothic novel, ideally pitched for Year 6 and 7 readers who are very likely to be studying Frankenstein in Year 7 or 8 at secondary school.

Draw the curtains, put some logs on the fire and enjoy … if you dare!

#BlogTour: Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

cover image by Elissa Elwick, published by Little Tiger Press

A magically mischievous kitten, a kind young girl and a purposeful broomstick make Midnight Magic a story that young readers will joyously pounce upon! 

I am delighted to join the blog tour for this enchanting tale today, and honoured to share these beautiful images from Chapter One with you, with many thanks to Little Tiger Press. Enjoy!

Review

Michelle Harrison’s first book for younger readers displays all of her enchanting storytelling skills, wrapped up in rhythmically rhyming text and encased in a package that will grace any bookshelf. I am not judging a book by its cover, but oh my goodness, the sumptuous purple and gold detail is supremely beguiling, as you can clearly see from the images above! Elissa Elwick’s illustrations are charming and expressive and fully encapsulate the fun and warmth of the story.

Before you begin reading, make sure that you have a hot beverage and tempting snack on hand because you won’t want to put this down once you start.

A cat gives birth to two cute and cuddly kittens,  followed, on the stroke of midnight by a third, jet-black sibling. Appropriately-named Midnight is unlike her brother and sister, Foxy and Snowdrop, having a tendency to breathe purple smoke, cause inanimate objects to move and generally cause chaos. For this, she is not popular with her family and in an ultimate act of betrayal she is abandoned and must seek out a new home…

Friendship and joyous adventure abound when she is taken in by Trixie, her rather apprehensive father and incorrigibly adventurous Nan. Weaving bedtime story imagery with a twitch of Midnight’s magical tail the story whisks readers away on an enchanted night time journey.

This is the ultimate magical Halloween read for children in the 6-9 bracket, a heart warming and rib-tickling tale of friendship and fun. It is perfect for newly confident readers to read alone and will also be a lovely bedtime story for younger children. If you are using the story in school, you can access teaching resources created by Scott Evans @MrEPrimary, here.

I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for an invitation to join the blog tour and a review copy of Midnight Magic. Do check out the other stops on the tour for interviews, features and further chapter extracts.