Friday, October 16, 2020

Scary Stories for Middle Grade Readers and Writers

With Halloween around the corner, middle grade readers and writers are itching for some good scares! Here's a list of great books to tickle your terror, followed by writing resources for crafting spooky reads of your own.


With more books coming out all the time, Goosebumps is a great series for budding spooksters.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

This family-friendly tale is rife with humor and horror.

Children of the Red King

Here's another great series with spooky themes. Middle graders will love discovering Charlie Bone's unique gifts as he explores the grim dangers of Bloor Academy. 

The Magisterium 

This series from Holly Black and Cassandra Clare delves into a world full of mystery and forbidden magic. 

Where the Wild Things Are

True, Where the Wild Things Are is a picture book. But this story is a long favorite of kids who love monsters and of parents who love to thrill them.

For more on spooky MG, check out the reading list and Q&A section over at

Scary Writing




Enjoy your thrills!

Monday, September 28, 2020

HATCH by Kenneth Oppel


Okay, I'm not going to lie: I've been waiting to read the second book in the BLOOM trilogy since I read the last one back in the spring.


First the rain brought seeds. Seeds that grew into alien plants that burrowed and strangled and fed.

Seth, Anaya, and Petra are strangely immune to the plants’ toxins and found a way to combat them. But just as they have their first success, the rain begins again. This rain brings eggs. That hatch into insects. Not small insects. Bird-sized mosquitos that carry disease. Borer worms that can eat through the foundation of a house. Boat-sized water striders that carry away their prey.

But our heroes aren’t able to help this time–they’ve been locked away in a government lab with other kids who are also immune. What is their secret? Could they be…part alien themselves? Whose side are they on?


Just like with BLOOM, Oppel sucked me in from the first page. If BLOOM was all about the sudden and horrible infestation of Earth by disgusting plants, HATCH is all about creepy-crawlies.

Honestly? I hate creepy-crawlies. And nobody does creepy-crawly better than Oppel. Read THE NEST if you want to know what I mean. I literally shivered my way through that book. And readers: Ken Oppel did it to me again. 

Sometimes I had to put the book down because I was so jittery. And of course I picked it back up.

And kept thinking how much kids are going to LOVE being so creeped out!

While the first book focuses on Seth, Anaya, and Petra, book two introduces us to new characters, all of whom are fully drawn and are various degrees of likability. 

Our protagonists have no idea who to trust, including each other.

Oppel makes us care about his characters, which makes the stakes that much higher.

We also learn more about the aliens in HATCH. Or do we? Oppel leaves us guessing.

HATCH ratchets up the tension and thrills, and Oppel does an amazing job of taking us deeper into the labyrinth of this world, where we can never be certain that things are what they seem to be.

Of course, he leaves us hanging.

It is a long way until spring 2021.

And I can't wait!

This is a book that will be devoured by kids everywhere, though I would recommend it for kids 10+. 

And you MUST read BLOOM before you read this one.

But don't worry: you will devour them, much like some of Oppel's creepy crawlies devour their prey.


Verdict: 5 stars!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar Cover Reveal

We are so excited to share that @mangoandmarigoldpress is launching its eighteenth book and first middle grade novel EVER! Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is written by debut #ownvoices author Payal Doshi. This novel tells the story of Rea Chettri, a 12-year-old girl living a simple, if boring, life on the tea plantations of Darjeeling, India. Without warning, Rea's life gets turned on its head when her twin brother goes missing. Determined to save him, Rea embarks on a secret, thrilling adventure into the enchanted world of Astranthia. There, Rea will make new friends, grapple with dark truths, learn the meaning of family and friendship, and discover her true self. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the first book in the series The Chronicles of Astranthia.

With this launch, @mangoandmarigoldpress is also continuing their #1001DiverseBooks program to help not only bridge the diversity gap but also the accessibility gap in children’s literature. With each new book launch, Mango and Marigold Press is committed to also raise the funds to donate 1001 books to literacy and advocacy nonprofits that are working across the country to help those in need.

We need your help to make our vision a reality. Will you be a part of the change to end the diversity gap AND accessibility gap? When you pre-order your copy of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, you can also sponsor a copy for our nonprofit partner for only $10!

For all pre-orders placed between September 15th through September 22nd, 2020 you will have an exclusive chapter to read as a sneak peek into Rea’s adventure as well as receive limited edition character buttons, a bookmark, sticker, and a signed bookplate from the author!

Expected Ship Date: May 2021


Payal Doshi:

Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel.

IG: @payaldoshiauthor

Twitter: @payaldwrites

Bev Johnson:

IG: @beverlylove

Twitter: @beverlylove


Friday, September 11, 2020

Busting Through Writer's Block

I used to think writer's block wasn't real. It only existed in the minds of writers who didn't really want to write. Maybe there's some truth to that. But deep inside every true writer there burns a desire to write, even if it's buried really, really deep. It's there, like a sleepy monster that just needs reawakened. Whatever is blocking the writing monster must be swept away.

Causes and Solutions for Writer's Block

Writers block can stem from a host of different problems. Each problem has its own solution, although there can certainly be some crossover.

The Scrambling Scribbler

This is the writer who is swamped with life and can barely find time to fit writing in. Honestly, this applies to most of us from time to time (all the time?). Occasionally, when busy schedules or an overcrowded life forces us to take a step back from writing, it can be tough to get started again. We feel like we don't have time to refresh our minds on what we were working on. Or we don't have the energy to dive back in.

The Solution: Write. Right now. Really.

The truth is, if you're a writer at heart, you need to write. It's important. For your sanity. And for the sanity of your friends and family. Trust me. When you're experiencing that panicked I-don't-have-the-time-or-energy-to-write-anymore feeling, take a deep breath. Sit down for five minutes and write. Right now. You can manage five minutes. Write anything, whatever pours out of you. It doesn't have to be related to other work you've set aside. Just the simple act of reconnecting with your writing self will help ease you back into the joyful act of creating. The barriers will start to come down. If you need ideas to get your started, try out these prompts.

The Hairy Deadline

Sometimes a deadline can make us freeze up. We want to produce our best work. We want to satisfy a publisher. We want to please our fans. Maybe we want to win a contest. Whatever the case, the hairy deadline can create a ton of stress, which then blocks our creative progress.

The Solution: De-Stress

I could write an entire month of posts on de-stressing, but here's a few quick tips. First off, tell yourself it is ok to not be perfect. And really try to believe it. Making progress and producing a body of work is more important than being the best at what you do. Second, get outside and run, bike, or go to the gym. Do a little yoga. Anything to get your blood pumping so you can sweat out some of those toxic stress hormones. Follow this up with a little meditation and relaxation - indulge in a nice, long bath or a beach read, anything that helps you unwind. You'll find yourself refreshed and ready to write again.

The Dreary Doodler

This is for when you are totally bored with what you are writing. This creates a block of its own. And trust me, if you're bored, the reader will be, too. 

The Solution: Try Writing Something New

Even if you're working on a project you are committed to finishing, experimenting with an unrelated story can give you just the break you need. It can stimulate fresh ideas and insights into your primary work-in-progress. 

The Shell-Shocked Spirit

Unfortunately, sometimes a tough life experience can hurt our spirits and shut down our creative processes. We feel like we are just trying to survive. If our physical or emotional needs are not met, we can't achieve our potential. This hampers our creativity. Check out the science behind this principle. This is where I first learned that writer's block is real. 

The Solution: Meet Your Needs

This is a tough one. But I would say the solution is to find ways to meet your other needs. Maslow's hierarchy describes a pyramid. The base is our physical needs like food and safety. Next is psychological needs such as relationships and feelings of accomplishment. Once those needs are met, we are more free to create and be fully self-actualized. 

The Inner Critic

We've all been shut down by the inner critic before. You know that nettlesome voice that criticizes what you write, sometimes before you've even written it. 

The Solution: Put on Your Creator Hat

It's time for the critic to take a break. Put them to bed. Lock them in a dungeon. Take off the critic hat! Writing and critiquing activate two very different parts of your brain. When you are writing, mentally put on your creator hat and respectfully tell your critic side to shut up. You can say it however you like. The point is, be aware that writing and editing are activities that should not happen at the same time. Give your creative side a chance to breathe, a chance to create. Feel free to edit later.

The Weary Wordsmith

Life can be exhausting. So can writing, especially when you are delving into dark or emotionally intense  storylines. 

The Solution: Take a Break

Take a nap. Go for a walk. Take some kind of break doing something that rejuvenates you. You will return refreshed, renewed, and ready to write.

What helps you overcome writer's block?

Monday, August 31, 2020

Don't Turn Out the Lights!

Like most kids of the eighties and nineties, I grew up reading the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology by Alvin Schwartz with haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. So I could believe that I too could conquer my personal demons. I longed for that catharsis, and it required real monsters.

That's why I'm so thrilled to have a story in a brand new anthology, DON'T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS: A TRIBUTE TO ALVIN SCHWARTZ'S SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, presented by the Horror Writers Association. For me, this was all about coming full circle, returning to the series that inspired my creativity as a child. The anthology features 35 original tales by 35 of today's top authors, edited by Jonathan Maberry.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Book Review: THE AMELIA SIX serves up girl power and history


First of all: I have always been obsessed with the mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance: did she survive the crash or smash into the ocean? 

Over the years, the mystery has been addressed in novels and nonfiction books.

But this might be my favourite story that includes Amelia:

I've been a huge fan of Kristin L. Gray since her debut novel, VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE.


She has a wonderful ability to put her readers in the shoes of their main character and have us root for them the whole way! (She is also the author of two wonderful picture books: KOALA IS NOT A BEAR and ROVER THROWS A PARTY)

The premise

Eleven-year-old Amelia Ashford—Millie to her friends (if she had any, that is)—doesn’t realize just how much adventure awaits her when she’s given the opportunity of a lifetime: to spend the night in Amelia Earhart’s childhood home with five other girls. Make that five strangers. But Millie’s mom is a pilot like the famous Amelia, and Millie would love to have something to write to her about…if only she had her address.

Once at Amelia’s house in Atchison, Kansas, Millie stumbles upon a display of Amelia’s famous flight goggles. She can’t believe her good luck, since they’re about to be relocated to a fancy museum in Washington, DC. But her luck changes quickly when the goggles disappear, and Millie was the last to see them. Soon, fingers are pointing in all directions, and someone falls strangely ill. Suddenly, a fun night of scavenger hunts and sweets takes a nosedive and the girls aren’t sure who to trust. With a blizzard raging outside and a house full of suspects, the girls have no choice but to band together. It’s up to the Amelia Six to find the culprit and return the goggles to their rightful place. Or the next body to collapse could be one of theirs.

My Thoughts

First of all, I LOVED this book. Not only because of my own obsession with Amelia, but because this is SUCH a good story.

Who wouldn't love a book where the first line of chapter one reads:

Imagine the worse smell you can think of, multiply it by rotten fish, and I promise you a turkey truck stinks worse.

I mean seriously, this is a GOOD opener!

I love Millie's awkwardness, her grief over her mother's leaving, and her thrill at getting to stay overnight at Amelia Earhart's house (who also happens to be her mother's idol).

Most of all, I loved that that this book tells the story of a group of smart girls. Smart girls who can solve a mystery themselves AND work out their interpersonal issues AND support each other. 

I love that this book promotes teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, and I LOVED the ending.

This book is a great whodunit with heart, and is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the history of women and early aviation and the life of Amelia Earhart. 

And there are great resources at the end for kids (and adults) who want to read more about Amelia.

This book is a winner - I highly recommend it!

Want to learn more about Kristin L. Gray? Visit her website:

Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Review: Groundhog Day goes Parisian and Middle Grade!


Thank you Jolly Fish Press for the ARC of PARIS ON REPEAT by Amy Bearce. The blog was offered a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Timid, self-conscious military kid Eve Hollis gets caught in a time loop during an eighth-grade class trip to Paris and must internalize some lessons about confidence, bravery, acceptance and love to break out of it and go home.

Back copy hails something to the effect of “Groundhog Day with a Parisian twist”. I haven’t seen that movie in about 30 years, so I can’t make any clever parallels or comparisons.

Bearce NAILS eighth-grade awkwardness/angst, and adorably intense friendships (not to mention the creepiness of male street vendors).

Let's talk about how Eve is fourteen.  Granted, many of us were that age at some point; I’m not sure how it became literary No Man’s Land. But I’m here for (fictional) fourteen-year-olds (that I can close the cover on). 

Bearce plays with the reader a lot, getting really close to tropes and then swerving away. I don’t do spoilers in reviews, but I can say: The twist on the “Friends before Guys” lesson is truly epic. Also, a compelling subplot features the Competing-Over-a-Best-Friend dynamic, a real-life trope we don’t see enough in kids’ books. 


  • Eve is white and race plays no role in the story. However, it’s clear from the names and brief physical descriptions of her classmates that 


  • Great  backmatter discussing the author’s time in France as a military kid and how Paris has changed since the book was written (pre-1919). 

This is kind of a double-edged sword: Eve’s fatal flaw is she needs to learn confidence and to accept herself and others (a skill we all should have)... but it’s iffy how a mysterious adult appears to be in control of holding her in the time loop “till she learns her lesson”. 

Categorize that how you will. But this is an enjoyable read if nothing else. 


  • Eve’s parents’ impending divorce is discussed (something Eve needs to forgive her parents for and accept);

  • Several scenes with the creepy/pushy street vendors and pickpockets were accurate but mildly upsetting. Another lesson Eve needs to learn is to stand up for herself.

  • Two of Eve's friends kiss (very PG-rated, but being a helicopter mom I had to mention it).

  • Eve’s first two days in the time loop are pretty repetitive and that part (about 10 pages in 214) of this otherwise entertaining book  drags a bit.

  • Bearce’s chapters skew longer (10+ pages), so this book may not be the best choice for a reluctant or unconfident reader. 

Give to:

  • Fans of Natalie Lloyd and Sheila Turnage

PARIS ON REPEAT is available now; look for the rest of the Wish & Wander series soon.