Monday, March 4, 2019

BONE HOLLOW by Kim Ventrella

Today we're presenting an interview with one of our contributors, Kim Ventrella, about her new MG book BONE HOLLOW!

What can you tell us about BONE HOLLOW without giving too much away?

At its heart, BONE HOLLOW is the story of a boy and his dog, but it’s so much more! It also features one ornery chicken, a candlelit cottage in the woods, friendship, mystery and big doses of heart and hope.

Here’s a teaser:

In retrospect, it was foolish to save that chicken. On the roof. In the middle of a thunder storm. But what choice did Gabe have? If he hadn’t tried to rescue Ms. Cleo’s precious pet, she would’ve kicked him out. And while Ms. Cleo isn’t a perfect guardian, her house is the only home Gabe knows.

After falling off the roof, Gabe wakes up in a room full of tearful neighbors. To his confusion, they’re all acting strange; almost as if they think he’s dead. But Gabe’s not dead. He feels fine! So why do they insist on holding a funeral? And why does everyone scream in terror when Gabe shows up for his own candlelight vigil?

Scared and bewildered, Gabe flees with his dog, Ollie, the only creature who doesn’t tremble at the sight of him. When a mysterious girl named Wynne offers to let Gabe stay at her cozy cottage in a misty clearing, he gratefully accepts. Yet Wynne disappears from Bone Hollow for long stretches of time, and when a suspicious Gabe follows her, he makes a mind-blowing discovery. Wynne is Death and has been for over a century. Even more shocking . . . she’s convinced that Gabe is destined to replace her.

One thing that struck me about your first book, SKELETON TREE, was how it came across as a scary mystery at first, but revealed an emotional resonance by the end. How would you compare the two books?

Readers of BONE HOLLOW should expect much the same! It’s part contemporary fantasy, part mystery, but with a strong emotional core. As a writer, I’m always looking for those moments of emotional catharsis and connection. Part of the fun for me is to take something very light and whimsical, and twist it in such a way that it reveals those deeper layers. It’s about playing with reader expectations, and also about exploring those darker topics while never losing the sense of playfulness and hope.

Where did the idea for BONE HOLLOW come from? Did you come up with this after SKELETON TREE, or was it an idea you've been developing for a longer period of time?

I came up with BONE HOLLOW after I wrote SKELETON TREE, as a way to explore the same theme from a new point of view. Although it is a stand-alone, readers who are familiar with SKELETON TREE will see how BONE HOLLOW plays with and expands on the fantasy world that I created in my first book.

My hope is that readers will come away from these books with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death. In both stories, I’ve tried to create an engaging fantasy world filled with humor, whimsy and many light touches, but I’m also wanting to explore darker topics to show that there can be light and beauty there as well. Loss is one of those things that even very young children encounter, often with the loss of a pet or grandparent, and one of my goals in both books is to help young readers develop a framework for processing their feelings surrounding death that acknowledges the sadness, but also opens the door to hope. BONE HOLLOW expands on this theme, but tackles it from the perspective of Death, rather than the other way around.

Both books have strong supernatural themes to them. I know this is something of an interest of yours. Would you like to be known for writing this type of book, or are you interested in working with other genres at some point?

For me, spooky stories are all about possibility. About discovering a magical world beyond the mundane, and I think this is why I love writing spooky. I am a terrible cynic in real life. I don’t believe in anything fun, like ghosts, magical skeletons or an afterlife, but in fiction I can explore all of those things and create a world in which unlikely possibilities really do happen.

So, yes, I LOVE writing stories featuring magical or supernatural elements, but I’m also very interested in expanding into other genres. Writing stories without fantasy elements is a huge challenge for me, and I’m ready to learn, explore and grow, while never straying too far from my spooky roots. J  

When you're writing something you know will be scary, do you have any self-imposed limits on what content you'll include? Were there any ideas you wanted to use in the story that, at some point in the book's development, you were convinced to take out because of content?

Not for BONE HOLLOW or SKELETON TREE, but I am forever being told that my stories are too creepy. Imagine that! I have a very scary short story coming out in the NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK collection releasing in 2020, and I did have to cut some for that--but just one line. The editor, Jonathan Maberry, wrote, “I mean, there are some really gory descriptions, but I would have loved them as a kid.” Best feedback ever, and I was definitely that kid who would say, ‘Bring on the scary!’

That’s one of the great things about scary stories. You can always close the book if it gets to be too much.

How do you see the role of scary stories in middle grade literature?

I think scary stories have a hugely important and positive role to play in middle grade literature, but first I should probably make a distinction. I like to think of SKELETON TREE and BONE HOLLOW as spooky, rather than scary. They certainly have macabre elements, but they fit much more in the arena of magical realism or contemporary fantasy than horror. I love to sprinkle a little spookiness into heartfelt, sometimes sad, stories that focus on characters going through difficult times, but ultimately coming out with a renewed sense of hope in the end.

That being said, scary, spooky and generally creepy stories are so important. They give kids the opportunity to confront and overcome their monsters within the safe space of a book. They grab kids’ interest and have the potential to turn reluctant readers into avid readers. So, so many benefits, but I also think that using a spooky or fantastical story framework can be a great way to ease kids into a discussion of real-life difficult issues. The fantasy world adds distance between the reader and the real-world issue, creating a buffer or safety zone between the reader and difficult topics like death.

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Make Scary Stories Come Alive

“Scary, Mommy, it’s scary.” 
“Ok, honey, just a minute. Go back upstairs.”

Not exactly one of my parenting triumphs. At this point, Jessie’s pretty young, my hubby’s out of town, and I’m on an urgent family conference call. She’s seen Jurassic Park before and enjoyed being “scared.” She’ll be fine watching the sequel upstairs with her siblings. Right? Wrong.

I’d forgotten the dreaded picnic scene. You remember the one, where a little girl wanders away from her family and is mauled by tiny dinosaurs? That was too much for my little girl. But it was an excellent scary scene.

How to Write Scary

There’s lots to know when writing scary scenes, such as what type of scene you’re shooting for, how to write it for maximum effect, who your audience is, and why you’re writing something scary in the first place. 

Know the Types of Scary Scenes

Suspense: These are scenes that provoke a sense of anxious uncertainty. Readers feel brought to the edge of their seats. These are great cliffhanger scenes that keep your audience reading. Another example of a suspense scene is when the reader knows something the character doesn’t (that there’s a monster in the closet, for instance).
Spooky: Spooky scenes can include humor or poke lighthearted fun at fear. Think Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ghostbusters, or Goosebumps movies and books.
Terror: Terror scenes provoke intense fear in the reader. These may keep readers looking over the shoulder or jumping at odd noises.
Horror: Very similar to terror, these provoke an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. Horror scenes may or may not include gore.
Fantasy/Paranormal/SciFi: These are any type of scary scene with supernatural or futuristic elements
Psychological: Of course, there is an element of psychology to every scary scene. But in this case, psychology is the main factor. Examples: when the fear is all in the characters’ head, split personalities, social anxiety.

Consider Your Audience

Genre standards and audience preferences should influence how you write your scary scenes, how much gore to include, how light or heavy-handed to be with the frightening elements. In middle grade fiction, story elements can be frightening and suspenseful, but are usually not graphic. Ease your readers into frightening scenes by first having scary things rumored or happening to friends of the main characters. If you write too graphically or intensely for a younger audience, they may be too frightened to finish the book. Gatekeepers such as parents, teachers, and librarians will likely screen the book out.

Make Them Care

Scary scenes are ineffective if the reader doesn’t care what happens to your character. Create relatable characters. Show them being kind. Show their flaws. Show what matters to them, and why. Show their dreams and aspirations. Then threaten all that. Your readers will shudder.

Use Concrete Details to Make it Real

Concrete details ground readers so you can tap their emotions. Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of this in Mockingjay, the third of the Hunger Games trilogy, which is obviously YA, not MG, but still. An amazing example.

I’m referring to the scene of the girl in the yellow coat. 

Katniss is trying to blend into the crowd. A girl notices her. The reader absorbs the image of a little girl in a lemon yellow coat. Sweet. But possibly a threat, since she’s noticed Katniss. But a little girl. A lemon yellow coat. Sweet. But danger. Hmm…reader is feeling anxious.

Gunfire rips through the crowd. Katniss next sees the little girl, screaming beside a motionless woman. We are riveted, gut-punched, and feel the girl’s pain. Then bullets mow her down, too. 

These concrete details make the scene come alive on an emotional level and heighten the reader’s horror at the situation overall, as well as our fear for Katniss, in particular.

Use Setting to Heighten Emotion

Use setting elements to highlight the frightening aspects of your scene. Even a sunny courtyard can have shadows, strangling vines, and blood-red flowers. Better yet, use aspects of the scene to remind the character (and your reader) of what’s at stake. Do forget-me-not blossoms remind her of her brother's eyes? What about when the flowers are trampled and dying?

Examine the Purposes of Your Scary Scenes

Are you trying to force your character to their breaking point? If so, why? Are you showing the character develop a new strength or skill? Will this fearful situation break your character or will they triumph? Will they stick to their values or violate them? What are the mental and physical consequences of how they react?

Scary Writing Resources

Back to Jessie and Jurassic Park. I’m happy to say she suffered no permanent damage for her early exposure to something scary sans Mom. She’s an avid reader and doesn’t shy away from horror films or life’s adventures.

What are your fave scary writing tips or MG horror novels?

Monday, February 25, 2019


I was lucky to read an early draft of THE CARNIVAL OF WISHES AND DREAMS, by Jenny Lundquist, author of Plastic Polly, Seeing Cinderella, The Princess in the Opal Mask, The Opal Crown, The Charming Life of Izzy Malone, and The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby.
This sweet friendship story offers a happy ending that School Library Journal says "tweens will gobble up". THE CARNIVAL OF WISHES AND DREAMS is the story of three girls who each receive notes asking them to meet the anonymous sender at midnight at the carnival Ferris Wheel:

Audrey McKinley can’t believe someone would ask her to ride the Ferris Wheel. Everyone knows she’s afraid of heights and the last time she rode the Ferris Wheel it ended with a panic attack. But ever since her dad lost his job after a factory fire, he’s been working too little. The carnival gives him a chance for seasonal work, and she plans to spend the evening checking up on him and making sure he does his job.

Grace Chang isn’t supposed to go to the carnival. It’s too close to the burned remains of the factory where her firefighter father lost his life. They always rode the Ferris Wheel together, so that’s also something Grace isn’t supposed to do. But since her mom announced they’ll be moving away from town the day after the carnival, Grace is sick of only doing things she’s supposed to do. She’ll be at the carnival, and she is definitely riding the Ferris Wheel.

Harlow Cohen is surprised anyone would want to ride the Ferris Wheel with her. Harlow used to be popular. But ever since her grandparents’ factory burned down and so many people lost their jobs, many of the kids at school blame her—and her rich family—for their own parents’ worsening economic situations.

I loved how these girls' stories came together! Told in alternating chapters from each girls' perspective, this book is sure to be a tween favorite!

For your chance to win an ARC plus some great book swag, leave a comment below. (Be sure to include your email address.) A winner will be chosen at random.

For more information about the author: 


Twitter: @Jenny_Lundquist,




Friday, February 22, 2019

Author Interview and Giveaway: Claire Fayers, Author of THE BOOK OF UNWYSE MAGIC

I'm thrilled to introduce you to the most delight middle grade fantasy!

The Description:

The town of Wyse, set precisely on the border of England and Wales, is remarkable for one thing: it is the only remaining human town where magic works. 
When twelve-year-old Ava and her brother return to their birthplace of Wyse, they discover that their once magical town has been losing its charms under the control of Lord Skinner. Uncovering a working magic mirror, Ava opens an unauthorized link to the twinned town of Unwyse, where she meets Howell, one of the unlucky Fair Folk who is being pursued by the terrifying Mr Bones. 
Discovering that they are the joint guardians of a grumpy old book that can tell the future, the new friends are unexpectedly launched headlong into an adventure to uncover the mysterious link between Mr Bones and Lord Skinner, and to find out what's happening to the waning magic that connects their two worlds.

The Interview:

First of all: I LOVED this book!  Can you share the inspiration?

Thank you so much! The first germ of an idea came when I was having a meeting with my agent and she said she’d love to see a Middle Grade Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And I, without thinking, said ‘I can do that!’

Of course, then I had to deliver on my rash promise. I began with an image of a carriage stopping in a shabby street outside a set of magical souvenir shops. Who was in the carriage? What were they doing here? And where was this place?

That was the start of the town of Wyse. There’s a river called the Wye not far from where I live, and it’s on the border of England and Wales, so the name of the town and its location came very quickly. Everything else took a lot more work!

The title of the American version is different from the Canadian and UK versions – can you explain?

This is one of those publishing decisions that people generally don’t know about. It took a long while to decide on a title for the book, and the UK finally decided on Unwyse Magic while the US wanted The Book of Unwyse Magic (which I was very happy about.) But then the UK team discussed the title, and the cover, with booksellers, and they found it wasn’t as popular as they’d hoped. So they redesigned the UK cover, and changed the title to Mirror Magic.

I love both titles, and I’m very grateful to my UK publisher that they put in the time to do a complete redesign. It made me appreciate again that creating a book is a real team effort, with large numbers of people working behind the scenes.

One of my all-time favourite books is Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, and your book felt like a middle grade version of that book, because the magic is so well thought-out and the world-building so strong. How did you go about doing the world-building? Any hints?

Aha! I’ve been rumbled! I love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for its mix of historical realism and magic. I did quite a lot of the world-building in edits, because my lovely editors kept asking me awkward questions about how the world and magic worked. (You can short-cut this by asking yourself awkward questions, or getting a friend to do it.)

I started off with a few basic ideas. A human and a fairy town, joined by magic mirrors. Magic running out. Each town ruled by a sinister figure. I found it useful to have a ‘type’ of a place in mind. Wyse isn’t a real town, but it’s based on the small market towns that you get along the borders. There are also a lot of British seaside towns which were the height of fashion in Victorian times but are now often quite run-down. Everything is tied to that feeling of faded grandeur and I think that gives the world a sense of consistency.

So, invent a few details, keep asking yourself why the world is this particular way, decide on a unifying theme, and do lots of rewriting!

There are some excellent, and subtle, lessons in this book. For instance, Lord Skinner is not who he appears to be, and has enchanted his fellow citizens into thinking he is a fine gentleman. Any inspiration there?

Mentioning no names, yes! It’s inevitable, I think, that when you’re writing a book, you are influenced by what’s going on in the world. There are many people like Lord Skinner, who use money or power or charisma to convince everyone that they are good, decent people, when underneath they are far from it.

The mirror image of that is when people turn on other people who are a bit different. The humans in Wyse are afraid of the Fair Folk because they are magical, and they treat them badly, but it’s always better to be shaped by our kindness than our fears. Standing up to fear is a big theme in the book.

 I love Ava and Howell’s characters – they are so real to me, and their regrets and fears are important factors in their successes. What is your character-building process like?

It’s random and full of mistakes. It took me a long time to get Ava and Howell right, and they had to be just right because they’re such important characters. 

I usually start with the easy things – age, appearance, where they come from. Then I jump straight to the most difficult questions – what do they want and why do they want it? My characters must start out unhappy in some way, and they must change through the story.

A lot of this comes out as I’m writing. I’m quite bad at planning and I prefer to jump straight in and write a whole load of different scenes to see what will happen. I keep a separate document with character notes, which I fill out as I write, so when I do the second draft I can make sure that all the details are consistent. (You don’t want a character suddenly changing age or hair colour halfway through.)

And finally – THE BOOK! The book is one of the cheekiest characters I’ve read in a long time. How much fun was it to write from its perspective?

The Book is one of my favourite characters. I’d written chapter headers in my previous books (Voyage to Magical North and Journey to Dragon Island.) This time, I wanted to tie the headers more firmly into the story and the best way was to have them written by one of the characters. And so I came up with a magical book.

Because The Book had been around for a long time, it would be far too easy for my heroes to ask it what was going on, so I put in a couple of restrictions. The Book can only tell you about the future, it can’t tell you what happened in the past. And its magic is glitching so its predictions are accurate but not always useful. You probably don’t want to know when the safety pin will be invented, for example, when you’re trying to escape from terrifying skeletons.

The Book is also very grumpy, (it was dropped in the bath once and has never recovered). I love writing grumpy characters – I don’t know what that says about me! 

Any advice for would-be middle grade fantasy writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on, and read with your writer’s hat on. If you find a character you like, ask yourself why. If a plot twist catches you out, take note of how it’s done. Then write – there is really no substitute for sitting down and putting words on paper. 

Your world should feel like a real place to you. Draw maps and make loads of notes on every location. But when you’re writing your book, the world must be filtered through the eyes, ears and thoughts of your characters. Don’t expect to get it right on the first draft. With the first draft, you’re discovering the story for yourself. Once you have that rough draft you can go back and do it properly.

What’s next?

My fourth book is already out in the UK. It’s called Storm Hound and it follows the adventures of one of Odin’s ferocious hunting hounds who falls to earth and finds that he’s shrunk to the size of a very cute little puppy. He’s adopted by a local family and has to contend with cats, vets and obedience classes. But his fall has been noticed and dark magicians are closing in…

I’m still not quite decided on my next book. I’m torn between three different ideas and I’m working on them all. I’ll be sending proposals to my agent soon, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thanks so much for having me on MG Minded. It’s been great fun talking to you.

Want to learn more about Claire Fayers?

Visit her website:

Or follow her on twitter: @ClaireFayers

Want a signed copy of The Book of Unwyse Magic? Leave a comment below before February 28th and you're entered for a chance to win!

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Interview with Jen Petro-Roy, Author of GOOD ENOUGH & YOU ARE ENOUGH

I recently had the opportunity to chat with author Jen Petro-Roy about her upcoming books GOOD ENOUGH and YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Welcome Jen to Middle Grade Minded! 
First of all, what should readers know about your new books that are set to release tomorrow?
First of all, I want YOU to know how honored I am to be here. I love that there are blogs out there that cater specifically to middle grade readers and it’s so wonderful to be able to connect to your audience. And, yes, I have TWO books releasing on February 19th, one fiction and one non-fiction. I’m pretty sure that this is a rare occurrence in publishing and it’s so exciting to have two books to promote and talk about at the same time.
Good Enough and You Are Enough are both about eating disorders, an illness that I suffered from for twelve years, in varying degrees of severity. Good Enough tells the story of twelve-year-old Riley, who was just hospitalized for anorexia nervosa. As she navigates her feelings about recovery, she has to deal with her gymnastics star younger sister, parents who just don’t understand, and a fellow patient who may or may not be trying to sabotage her progress.
You Are Enough is a self-help guide for teens and tweens that is also informed by my experience (I discuss my personal journey), but also by a ton of research. I’m super proud about how inclusive this book is—I talk about males with eating disorders, the LGBTQIA+ population, and how fat acceptance is central to eating disorder recovery. I write about common situations kids could find themselves in that could interfere with their recovery, how to combat body image woes, and so much more.
Can you speak to how your journey to eating disorder recovery has informed your novel, GOOD ENOUGH, and your nonfiction self-help book for young readers, YOU ARE ENOUGH?
As I wrote, I drew upon my past emotions a lot—the initial ambivalence about recovery, the shifting feelings during hospitalization, the frustration with family and friends who may not understand how the person struggling feels. It was hard at some points to recall those feelings and experiences, but I’m glad that I forced myself to go through them again, because I think it made the book richer and more realistic.
I’ve heard from some early readers that Good Enough helped them to understand more about eating disorders—a few who had been through recovery themselves even let me know that I captured the emotions perfectly, which was wonderful to hear. 
 I also hope that including parts of myself in You are Enough will help readers looking for help understand that they are not alone—that others have been through this struggle and they too can survive and thrive.
What unique challenges did you face in trying to tackle the issue of eating disorder recovery in both novel and nonfiction format?
One of the things I was incredibly conscious about was making sure not to write anything that could possibly trigger a reader…that might make them think that they weren’t sick enough or that might give them an “idea” about a behavior they could do. When I was younger, most of the books on eating disorders were very “after school special” like. They showed people engaging in harmful behaviors, accompanied by dramatic music.
This is the exact thing I aimed to avoid. In Good Enough, I didn’t include numbers, whether that meant Riley’s weight, the calories she was obsessing about, or how long she used to exercise. I never want kids to read my books and think that they should or could do specific disordered behaviors. Above all, I aimed to instill the recovery process with hope, instead of just suffering. Riley grows a lot in Good Enough, and as she recovers she gains parts of herself that she had lost. There’s joy in that process, and it’s wonderful to see that progress in life and in books.
I read that you were also a former librarian (yay!). What did working in libraries teach you about writing for young people?
I loved being a librarian. I worked with teens and children, and the most important thing that I realized was that children are smart. They are wise. A lot of gatekeepers believe that children need to be talked down to and sheltered from what they believe are “tough issues.” But kids deal with a lot in their lives and need to know how others handle things. Tweens and teens are resilient and compassionate and want to feel for and learn from other kids in the books that they read. 
Thanks so much Jen for stopping by!!!

Jen Petro-Roy is a former teen librarian, an obsessive reader, and a trivia fanatic. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Massachusetts. She is the author of P.S. I Miss YouGood Enough, and You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery. Jen is an eating disorder survivor and an advocate for recovery.    

You can find out more about Jen and her books on her website.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Taking a Middle Grade Road Trip

I don't know about you, but I love a road trip novel.

I recently read Dan Gemeinhart's wonderful The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, and that got me to thinking about how effective road trip stories are. 

I expect to see this book on a lot of 'best of 2019' lists later this year!

Not only do we get to go along on the main character's geographic journey, they are almost always a metaphor for the character's inner journey. 

They challenge us to question how brave we would be in similar circumstances.

And they often redefine what we think of as home.

The first road trip book I ever read was The Wizard of Oz.

Not only did Dorothy take a significant road trip to get to Oz, she had to walk a LONG way once she got there!

Other Road Trip Books I Adore

I'd love some recommendations for other great road trip middle grade novels!!! Please share below!

Bon Voyage!