Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a ghost (well, maybe not, but if ghosts at Christmas were good enough for Dickens, who am I to argue). It's not surprising that after the success of The Graveyard Book last year, there was a slew of fun and entertaining spooky stories for kids published the past year. And here they are.
The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43, by Harriet Goodwin (Stripes Publishing, 2009, 253pp, available in the UK). It has been raining for weeks, and the weather matches the gloom young Finn has felt since the sudden death of his father, and his mother's decline into depression. To escape the tension of his home, Finn sets out for a joy-ride in his mother's car. Out on the moors, in the driving rain, he loses control. By chance, he is flung from the car through the thin veil covering Exit 43, one of the passages through which the dead return to visit the land of the living. There he befriends Jessie, a young Victorian girl, newly aware that she is dead, who grieves for her own lost family.
But the seal protecting the opening to Exit 43 has been dangerously weakened both by the rain and by Finn's passage, and now the water is pouring in, threatening to extinguish the fires that keep the ghosts alive. And it's up to Finn and Jessie to release the Firepearl that is the only thing that can save the spirits of the dead, and Finn's own life.
By turns exciting and poignant, which a cast of great ghosts, this is definitely one I'd recommend to anyone who loved The Graveyard Book!
Spellbinder, by Helen Stringer (2009, Feiwel and Friends, 372pp) is another spooky story from the UK (although it's available here in the US). Young Belladonna can see ghosts, and, even though she has to worry about talking to people her classmates can't see, it's a darn good thing that she can. Because, even though her parents are dead, they are still home, taking loving care of her. Then all the ghosts vanish, dragged out of our world. And Belladonna and Steve (a tricksy boy from school, not yet a friend) are off to find out what has happened...even if it means travelling to the land of the dead, where they are pitted against the ominous forces of darkness raised by a wicked alchemist. Lots of ghostly fun, with a mysterious dark dog, the Wild Hunt, and a plucky Edwardian schoolgirl who has haunted the school since a nasty incident on the tennis court, and who keeps a stiff upper lip throughout.
An enthralling new take on the plot of chosen children facing Evil.
Suddenly Supernatural: Scaredy Kat, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (Little, Brown, 2009, 256 pp). Like Belladonna, Kat is a school girl who can see dead people. But for Kat this means following in the footsteps of her mother, and helping the ghosts find peace. Not how she wants to spend her life, necessarily, but she has no choice. In this sequel to School Spirit, Kat must help the spirit of a boy trapped in an abandoned old house. And in the meantime, in an engagingly un-spooky sub-plot, her best friend Jac is wrestling with her own demon--her mother's incessant demands that she be a world-famous cello player.
This series is great for the younger end of "middle grade" (4th and 5th), as it's lighter and easier than the two above. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed these two books (one reason might be my fondness for plots (or, in this case, sub-plots) about musical prodigies).
The Ghost on the Stairs (Haunted), by Chris Eboch (2009, Simon and Schuster, 169 pp) is another one for that age range, but it features a boy, 13 year old Jon, as the central character. His 11 year old sister, Tania, can see ghosts, but Jon is the only one who knows this. The last thing Tania wants is for their mom and stepdad to find out--they run a ghost-hunting reality television show, and Tania wants no part of it. But when the show takes the family to a haunted hotel, Tania begins to get to know the ghost who haunts it, and to know that there is more to her story than meets the eye...and Jon and Tania become involved in a tragedy that ended over a hundred years ago.
It's a fun one for kids, and it's an interesting take on the challenges of communication with spirits (Cybils review copy gratefully received from the publisher).
The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker (Tachyon Publications, 2009, 144 pp). Here's one I'd recommend to anyone older than nine. It tells of an orphaned girl and the old hotel that rises up from the sands of a lonely beach to shelter her. It isn't exactly a ghost story, but it does feature the very charming ghost of the hotel's head bell-boy. Here's my full review. (Cybils review copy gratefully received from the publisher).
I So Don't Do Mysteries, by Barrie Summy (Delacorte, 2009, 272 pp). Seventh-grader Sherry is not looking forward to her trip to San Diego. She's being shipped off to stay with her great-aunt while her father and new stepmother are off on their honeymoon, which is bad enough. But the ghost of her mother, a police officer killed in the line of duty, is complicating things. She needs Sherry's help with her efforts to succeed at the Academy of Spirits--her assignment is to solve a mystery at the San Diego animal park. So Sherry has to turn detective, whether she likes it or not...
The twist in Summy's approach to ghosts adds interest to a reasonably pleasant comedy/adventure that ecologically-minded girls might well enjoy lots.
Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road, by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise (Harcourt 2009, 147 pp). This one is an epistolary story, copiously illustrated. It tells of an author with a desperate case of writer's block, the Victorian house he rents for the summer, and the boy and his best friend (the ghost of an author famous for the number of her rejections) who come with it. When the story begins, the author is a grumpy curmudgeon, but by its end, boy, ghost, and author are happily co-authoring best-sellers, and have formed a somewhat unlikely, but charming, family.
I'm not exactly sure how interesting kids would find the relationship between a sixty-something author and a ghost, but I found it a nice read. It would also make an excellent gift for a writer who has just conquered their own writer's block (or who has found new love with a ghost). The sequel, Over My Dead Body, came out this fall, but I haven't read it yet.
Hannah's Winter, by Kierin Meehan (Kane/Miller, 2009, 228 pp). A twelve-year old Australian girl, visiting Japan, finds herself enmeshed in the fantastical mystery surrounding the ghost of a long-dead boy. This was one of my personal favorites of 2009--here's my full review. Give this one to the girl of any age (fantasy reader or not) who loves all things Japanese. (Cybils review copy gratefully received from the publisher)
If I missed any middle-grade 2009 ghost stories, please let me know! And here's the list I compiled of 2008 ghost books last Christmas season...
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