Ghost Squad

The supernatural has always been a part of Lucely Luna’s life. Her father runs a ghost tour, and her hometown of St. Augustine is known for being the home of Las Brujas Moradas, aka the Purple Coven. And Lucely can see and converse with spirits, notably the spirits of her dead relatives. When her deceased family members aren’t in their human forms, they inhabit the old willow tree in the backyard as firefly spirits. However, her firefly family members recently flickered in and out of view, and then the fireflies began to fade.

Lucely and her friend, Syd, investigate how to revive her deceased family members. After learning more about Las Brujas Moradas, they visit Syd’s grandmother’s shop and steal a spell book that they need to revive Lucely’s family members. But when the two girls recite the spell, they accidentally awaken malicious spirits. The girls fight the ghosts, but all their efforts are for naught. They ask Babette, Sydney’s grandmother, for her help in fighting against the evil ghosts and reversing the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits.

The narrative focuses squarely on Lucely’s perspective. This close view allows the reader to understand the ghosts, magic, and Lucely’s personal life. The narrative’s linear structure, mixed with Babette’s conversations and the occasional inclusion of the school setting, makes the explanations about St. Augustine, the magic, and the Luna family history easy to understand. In addition, the Latino culture is on full display throughout the story, mainly through the mannerisms and the Spanish phrases that Lucely’s family members say to each other. Readers will relate to Lucely and Syd’s friendship and empathize with Lucely as she frets over her family members’ safety.

Lucely also learns about responsibility while getting rid of the evil ghosts. She is responsible for awakening the evil spirits, so she fixes her mistake and takes on more accountability for protecting the town. According to Lucely’s grandmother, their family has been “charged with keeping [St. Augustine] and its inhabitants safe.” By the end of the story, Lucely is assured of her identity and purpose in her community, which is an important lesson for younger readers.

Ghost Squad is a story that focuses on family, friendship, and culture. The story has a few slow moments, mostly spent establishing the town and the Dominican Republic and the Latino aspects of the Luna family. St. Augustine has many interesting characters, such as Syd, Babette, and the firefly spirits. Like the firefly spirits, Las Brujas Moradas and the human spirits are some of the many supernatural elements that add interest to St. Augustine. The story is also chock full of pop culture references, such as Harry Potter and the Ghostbusters, which adds a lot of humor. Readers of all ages will enjoy the story for its lessons on responsibility and friendship. Readers who like Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega will also enjoy The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The mist monster attacks the family tree. but the monster is injured when it claws the tree. “It clawed at the bark and howled, bringing its hand back against its chest as if it were burned.” The monster ran around the tree, growing in size until it became as big as a hurricane. The cocuyos repelled the mist monster with a spell. The monster was thrown back into the brush, but attacks the ghosts with fire: the fire misses, “the fire seemed to extinguish itself as soon as it reached her abuela.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Babette fights a dragon to distract it from Lucely and Syd. The dragon attacked with a rain of fire, but Babette points her wand at the dragon and says a spell— “Reverse, rearward from whence you came! Back, back! Into the flames!” Violet fire shoots from the wand and hits the dragon in the eye. “It let out one final, bloodcurdling shriek, and then began to burn.” The fight lasts for one page.
  • Lucely and Syd use the Razzle-Dazzlers, which are enchanted flashlights, on the mist monster, causing the mist monster to vanish “in a shriek of pain.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lucely uses the phrase “God forbid.”
  • Lucely uses the word “God” twice.

Supernatural

  • Ghosts, as in the spirits of humans, take the form of what they looked like when they died. Most ghosts are peaceful and hang around the graveyard or haunt the places where they died. There are also vengeful spirits of the dead that can possess the living.
  • Lucely’s deceased relatives have two forms as spirits; their human forms, and they take the shape of a firefly, dubbed “firefly spirits.”
  • One of Lucely’s deceased cousins floats up to the ceiling and relives his death. Lucely “could almost smell the rubber wafting around her cousin, like a strange and deadly aura.” When he wakes up, the cousin comes back to his senses.
  • The family uses a spell to get rid of the mist monster: “Away, away/We shall not fear/Away, foul beast,/And far away from here!”
  • In order to reanimate the family spirits, Lucely and Syd recite a spell from a scroll. They say, “Lavender, lilies, blossom and bloom,/ I call on the spirits to enter this room…/Rotten and putrid/Beneath the trees,/ I call on the spirits and let them roam free . . . ” Instead, they accidentally unleashed the undead, vengeful ghosts.
  • Syd makes a circle with salt in order to keep the evil spirits away. “The creature crashed into the salt circle and cried out in pain.”
  • Babette says a protection spell over the willow tree.
  • Babette and Lucely attack a storm of spirits using the energy of the spirits of the Las Brujas Moradas and the family spirits respectively. Babette says, “Las Brujas Moradas, hear us tonight./No longer in hiding, no longer in fright./Las Brujas Moradas, come to our call./No longer afraid, to tumble and fall./Las Brujas, Las Brujas, answer our plea./ Come to us now, from land and from sea./Take this demon away, tonight,/ Las Brujas Moradas./Take this demon from sight!” And Lucely says, “A sprinkle of sun,/ A shimmer of light/Turn back the darkness,/ Turn back the fright…I call on the power/of my ancestor’s ghosts/And speak three names, I love most…/Simon Luna, Teresa Luna, and Syd Faires!” A massive gateway forms in the sky and sucks all the bad ghosts into the void.

Spiritual Content

  • According to Lucely, in the Dominican Republic, there is a belief that the “spirits of your dead loved ones [live] on as fireflies.”

by Jemima Cooke

Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group who learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

Help! We Have Strange Powers!

Jillian and Jackson are twins having a normal day at the movies until a fortune teller machine changes their lives by zapping them with superpowers. Now Jillian can read minds and Jackson can make objects levitate. The twins are excited to live their new lives as real-life superheroes, but what if superpowers come with super villains?

Scientist Dr. Cranium kidnaps the twins and takes them to a lab. Dr. Cranium wants to drain the twins not only of their powers but of their minds. The twins escape the lab by lying about their powers, but their troubles are not over. They eventually go to HorrorLand, and become trapped in a creepy theme park run by monsters. Will they be able to escape, or are they trapped in HorrorLand forever?

Help! We Have Strange Powers is the tenth book in the Goosebumps HorrorLand series. The first part of the story is interesting as it focuses on Jillian and Jackson’s new powers. However, once the twins are trapped in HorrorLand, the plot becomes confusing because the twins meet all of the characters from the previous books. This will be confusing for readers who have not read the previous books, as there is no explanation for what HorrorLand is or how Jillian and Jackson get there.

Help! We Have Strange Powers is told in the first person from Jillian’s perspective. In true R.L. Stine fashion, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, making the reader want to continue with the book. Jillian and Jackson are not admirable, as they only use their powers for selfish reasons and to mess with others. The plot is not cohesive and it uses the typical Goosebumps elements. Even though the story is just average, fans of R.L. Stine will enjoy Help! We Have Strange Powers because it is an easy-to-read thriller.

Sexual Content

  • Jillian reads her classmate’s mind. He thought, “Wow. Jillian is looking totally hot today.”
  • Jillian says the gym teacher is “young and tall and very hot. The girls in school all have crushes on him.”

Violence

  • Angry that Artie, an annoying kid, got butter on his sweater, Jackson “wrapped an arm around Artie’s neck and began wrestling with him…The two of them tumbled into the aisle, wrestling, grabbing at each other, punching.”
  • As Jackson reaches into a fortune-telling booth to grab his fortune, the machine shocks him and Jillian. Jillian’s “whole body shook and danced as a powerful shock stung [her]. Jolted [Jillian] hard. And sent pain shooting out over [her] arms and legs.”
  • During a soccer game, Artie kicked the ball, which “crashed into Jackson’s stomach.” Jackson “opened his mouth in a sick groan. His face turned purple, and his eyes nearly goggled out of his head.”
  • Jackson and Artie are playing Wii boxing when Artie’s “punch went wide – and he slammed his fist into [Jackson’s] jaw.”
  • Jillian and Jackson try to see if they can fly. They break into a run and leap up. Jillian “crashed headfirst into the wire fence . . . and staggered backward, struggling to keep [her] balance. Pain shot through [her] body.” Jackson “hit the fence with a loud clang. He bounded off and tumbled onto his butt.”
  • While Dr. Cranium tries to wipe Jillian and Jackson’s thoughts, Jackson uses his powers to crash a mannequin into him. “The mannequin dropped hard and fast. It landed headfirst on top of Cranium, and he crumpled to the pavement.”
  • Jackson uses his powers to crash a chandelier onto the Purple Rage, a superhero who was trying to hurt the kids. “The chandelier crashed onto the superhero’s head and shoulders. The Rage uttered a weak cry. He toppled facedown onto the floor.”
  • Because the Purple Rage is so angry, he “exploded. His body burst apart with a loud splat . . . his purple guts went flying all over the room.”
  • Jillian, Jackson, and a few other kids try to go through a portal in a mirror that leads to Panic Park. It doesn’t work because the mirror turns back into solid glass, and Jillian runs into it. Jillian “screamed as [her] forehead cracked into solid glass.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jackson and Jillian go see a movie called Butt-Kicker II.
  • Jackson used his powers to hurl a soccer ball at Artie. It missed Artie because he bent down to tie his shoe. Jackson said, “I’m sorry I missed that jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Jillian and Jackson obtain telekinesis and mind-reading abilities after getting zapped by a fortune-telling machine. Jillian can read people’s minds and Jackson can make things levitate. They are kidnapped by Inspector Cranium, who tries to erase their memories by “going into their brains.”
  • Jillian and Jackson eventually end up at a theme park called HorrorLand. The workers there are monsters, and they trap the two siblings and other kids in a basement where superheroes try to hurt them.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon

Francine Poulet is the greatest animal control officer in Gizzfor County. She has battled snakes, outwitted squirrels, and stared down a bear. Francine is never scared—until she’s faced with a screaming raccoon who may or may not be a ghost. Maybe Francine isn’t cut out to be an animal control officer after all!

But the raccoon is still on the loose, and the folks on Deckawoo Drive need Francine. Can she face her fears, round up the raccoon, and return to the ranks of animal control?

While not everyone has faced a ghost raccoon, everyone will be able to relate to Francine’s fear. While chasing the raccoon, Francine is injured. After failing to catch the raccoon, Francine “didn’t know who she was. She was not an animal control officer. And she was not a Poulet, because Poulets never panic.” It isn’t until Francine meets Frank, a talkative child, that she faces her fears.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon tells a humorous tale that highlights the importance of overcoming one’s fears. At one point, Francine quits her job because of her fear. Like Francine, readers may need help and encouragement to face their fear. When Francine tracks down the ghost raccoon, she gains confidence in her abilities, which allows her to overcome her fear.

 The Tales from Deckawoo Drive Series uses the same humor and characters as Dicamillo’s Mercy Watson Series. While this story focuses on Francine Poulet, each character is unique and interesting. Unlike many books, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon shows a wide range of people—some are old and wrinkled, some are heavy set, and one is a pig. The people in the story are similar to the people you would find in your neighborhood. Despite their differences, they have a sense of community and sit around the kitchen table to share a snack of toast.

Large black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages and will help readers understand the story’s plot. The illustrations highlight Francine’s facial expressions, which will help readers understand her emotions. Many of the illustrations are full-page, and they have humorous elements to them. Even though Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is intended for younger readers, they may need help with the difficult vocabulary such as reclamation, recede, metaphorically, and hailed.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is a wholesome and entertaining story that shows the importance of facing your fears. The interesting characters, a ghostly animal, and sweet conclusion will appeal to many readers both young and old.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Francine tries to capture the raccoon. “She opened her eyes just in time to see a shimmery, raccoon-shaped object flying through the air. . . She started to run. She could feel the raccoon at her heels. . . The raccoon hit Francine with such tremendous, raccoon-y force that she lost her balance and fell forward.” Francine falls off the roof and breaks an arm and a leg.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Francine climbs a roof in order to catch a raccoon, the owner of the house asks her, “Are you truly an animal control officer? Or are you just some nut job gallivanting on my roof?”
  • While trying to catch the raccoon, the neighbors talk about Francine. One lady says she is worthless and another says “she looks like a fraud to me.”

Supernatural

  • Francine gets a call from Mrs. Bissinger, who thinks the raccoon on her roof is a ghost because it says her name. Mrs. Bissinger says, “He is an extraordinary raccoon! He shimmers! He screams like a banshee!”
  • While in the hospital, Francine’s dead father appears and tells her, “There aren’t ghost raccoons, Franny. You know that.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Good Night for Ghosts

When Merlin the magician sends Jack and Annie to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1951, they are on a mission to inspire a young Louis Armstrong to bring jazz to the world. Unfortunately, Louis is too busy working to support his family to spend any time playing music. What’s more, Jack and Annie discover that New Orleans is not only the birthplace of jazz—it’s also haunted. It will take a host of ghosts and a daring plan from Jack and Annie to make this mission a success.

A Good Night for Ghosts uses the setting of New Orleans to show how “musical talent is really a great gift to share with the world.” Jack and Annie meet Louis Armstrong, who goes by the nickname Dippy. As they spend time with Dippy, they discover he is hardworking, cheerful, and never complains. In an interview, Armstrong said, “I didn’t wish for anything that I couldn’t get and I got pretty near everything I wanted because I worked for it.” Armstrong’s can-do attitude is portrayed throughout the book.

When the ghosts of Pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew appear, they have a jolly good time dancing to music and then disappear into the night. Instead of being scary, the pirates’ appearance allows Dippy to show how music can express one’s emotions. The happy ghosts are shown dancing and singing along with the jazz song that Dippy plays.

At the end of the story, Jack and Annie see how the streetcars were segregated. “African Americans were sitting in the back, while only white people were in the front.” When Jack notices the segregation he wonders, “Why would anyone not want to sit next to someone just because they are a different color?” However, the topic is not discussed in any more detail. The back of the book includes facts about New Orleans and Louis Armstrong, as well as a recipe for making spooky slat-dough ghosts.

A Good Night for Ghosts is best suited for proficient readers who are seven or older. Black and white illustrations that show Jack and Annie’s adventures appear every 3 to 7 pages. Throughout the story, readers will learn historical facts about Louis Armstrong and New Orleans. A Good Night for Ghosts blends historical details, magic, and a visit from ghost pirates into an entertaining story that will keep readers flipping the pages until the very end. Readers interested in more ghostly facts should also read Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #20: Ghost.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Dippy was twelve years old, he “got too rowdy one time. . . It was New Year’s Eve. I was singing with the fellas, and I got carried away and fired off a gun. . . just into the air.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn is used once.
  • Dippy calls Jack and Annie potato heads. “It means you don’t have any more brains than a pair of potatoes.”
  • Heck is used twice.
  • When Dippy’s friends leave a blacksmith shop that is rumored to be haunted, Dippy calls them scaredy-cats. Later he calls them fools.
  • Pirate Jean Lafitte calls Jack, Annie, and some of their friends “scurvy dogs.”

Supernatural

  • Jack and Annie are given a magic flute. They are told, “The trumpet’s magic will make you a brilliant performer. But the magic can only happen once.” When one person plays the trumpet, “The other has to make up a song. . . and whatever we sing will come true.”
  • Pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew appear. “The pirate looked like a real person, except you could see right through him.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Bridge of Souls

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows . . . Unless it’s the other way around?

Cassidy thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while traveling for her parents’ TV show. But nothing can prepare Cassidy for New Orleans, a city bursting with old magic, secret societies, and scary seances. And the biggest surprise? An enemy Cass never expected to face: a messenger of death itself. Is Cassidy up to the challenge—and what will she have to lose in order to win?

Readers of City of Ghost and Tunnel of Bones will be eager to follow Cassidy on her new and suspenseful adventure. The Bridge of Souls takes on a more dangerous tone because Cassidy is being hunted by the Emissary, the messenger of death. Plus, Cassidy’s parents talk about historical ghosts who were serial killers. While the story never goes into gory details, the content may give some readers nightmares.

Since each book in the series takes place in a new city, new characters are introduced that help keep the story interesting. Jacob and Lara are central figures that reappear in each book; this allows readers to connect with them. The high-stakes action makes the danger more intense because the Emissary is looking for those who have cheated death—such as Jacob, Lara, and Cassidy. The growing friendship between Cassidy, Jacob, and Lara is one of the best parts of the book and the interplay between the three friends is at times humorous and endearing, which balances out the spooky-scary suspense.

Bridge of Souls will delight readers who love a good ghost story full of adventure, danger, and plot twists. The easy-to-read story will keep readers up late into the night because they will not be able to put the book down. Full of new characters, faithful friends, and paranormal experiences, Bridge of Souls takes readers on a spectacularly spooky trip through New Orleans. Readers who want more ghostly action should add the Shadow School Series by J.A. White to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Cassidy’s parents are filming a show about famous ghosts. While filming, Cassidy’s Mom talks about “the Axeman of New Orleans, who went around chopping people up. . . terrorized the city. He was a serial killer.”
  • Cassidy’s mom says, “a man named Pierre Jourdan bought this property and erected the mansion of his dreams, only to lose the estate in a poker game. Devastated, Jourdan took his own life. . .”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, Pierre Jourdan “reaches for my life, and he might have gotten there first if a bucket of poker chips hadn’t hit him in the side of the head. Jacob has excellent aim.”
  • Cassidy learns about LaLaurie, who “stands out for the sheer scope of her cruelty.” When her house caught on fire, everyone got out “or so they thought. And yet, there were voices coming from the burning house. . . LaLaurie had kept slaves locked in the attic. . . They had no way to escape.”
  • When the Emissary finds Cassidy, “Thick black ropes shoot up from the ground, reaching for us, wrapping around our ankles and wrist. . .I [Cassidy] stumble and fall, hitting the bridge hard. . . [Lara] is on the ground, too, fighting as half a dozen ropes try to pin her down. . . .”
  • Jacob tries to help his friends and “lets out a primal shout and flings himself forward at the Emissary. . . He slams into the skull-faced figure, pushing him back. . . Jacob slams his hands against the Emissary’s chest, but this time, instead of stepping back, the Emissary holds its ground, and Jacob’s fist sinks into its front, like quicksand.”
  • When the Emissary has Jacob, Cassidy swings her camera “right at the Emissary’s head. It hits the bone mask with a sound like metal on stone, like breaking pottery. The Emissary loses its hold on Jacob.” Eventually, the Emissary is pushed over the edge of a bridge. The scene is described over 11 pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the Veil, a ghost tells Cassidy that another ghost, Sam, is “probably drinking gin and listening to jazz in the square.”

Language

  • After Cassidy’s mom tells a ghost story, someone says, “Oh my god!”

Supernatural

  • Cassidy goes into the Veil and sees ghosts who have not moved on. In order to help ghosts move on, Cassidy shows them their reflection in a mirror and says, “Look and listen. See and know. This is what you are.” Then she pulls out their thread of life.
  • Jacob is Cassidy’s “best friend, resident ghost, and constant eavesdropper.” Jacob can hear Cassidy’s thoughts.
  • One of the characters has tattoos such as “the Christian cross on his bicep, the Egyptian eye on his forearm, the pentacle near his elbow. . .” He has these tattoos for “protection” against ghosts.
  • An Emissary is looking for Cassidy. Emissaries are messengers of death. “They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people beyond the Veil. They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people who’ve crossed the line, and come back.”
  • During a séance, a messenger of death takes over a man’s body and gives Cassidy a warning: “We have seen you, little thief. . . But now you cannot hide. We have seen you. And we will find you.”
  • A fortune teller reads a tarot card and uses it to predict Cassidy’s future. While picking a card Cassidy felt, “a pull, right under my fingers. And then my hand stops. There’s a pull, right under my palm, a steady draw, like the Veil rising to meet my fingers.”
  • Cassidy wants to know if voodoo is real. She is told, “Voodoo isn’t just about lighting a candle, or buying a trinket. It’s a trade. A matter of give and take. Nothing gained without something sacrificed.”
  • The Emissary finds Cassidy, and Jacob tries to save her. Jacob flings “himself at the Emissary. But Jacob goes straight through and hits the ground on the other side. He collapses, shivering as if doused in old water.” Another friend pushes over an old crypt. “It doesn’t crush the Emissary, exactly. . .But the fall kicks up a lot of dust and debris, a thin gray cover.” Everyone is able to escape.
  • Philippa is a medium who can see ghosts.
  • In order to break the thread connecting Cassidy to the Emissary, Cassidy and her friends perform a ritual. The supplies include: “A handful of stones, to anchor the circle. A ball of white string, to tether me to the living. A bottle of center oil, to purify, and to burn. And a box of long wooden matches, to strike the flame.” The ritual does not work.
  • Cassidy is given “an evil eye. It won’t do much to stop an emissary, but it might buy you some time. The charm’s designed to break when someone wishes you ill. It should break when danger is near.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

8+  320   5.0   5 worms   AR

Ghosts

When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House Merlin Mission #14: A Good Night for Ghosts, they had lots of questions. What are some of the most famous ghost stories? Why do people believe in ghosts? Do most cultures have ghost stories? What are ghost hunters? Readers discover the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts.

Included in the book are haunted places, different cultures’ beliefs in ghosts, and famous ghost stories. Each chapter is broken into small sections that give historical information. Almost every page has a picture or illustration. The book includes historical pictures of the people and places discussed in the text. Black and white illustrations, which are sometimes comical, show the ghosts that haunt famous places. On the side of the text, additional historical information and definitions are given. For example, “The name yurei comes from two words: yu, which means ‘dim,’ and rei, which means ‘soul.'”

At the end of the book, Jack and Annie give a list of things they would do “if we were ghosts” such as “walk through walls, glow like candles, never take a bath,” etc. The book also includes a list of natural events that could cause ghostly fears, as well as ways to research.

Each ghost story is told in a conversational tone that explains who the ghost is and how they haunt. Even though the book is all about ghosts, none of the information is told in a dramatic or scary way. The text never tries to prove or disprove the hauntings. Instead, the book keeps to the facts and lets the reader decide if they believe in ghosts or not. Even if a reader doesn’t believe in ghosts, the book gives plenty of historical information which is presented in an entertaining manner.

Whether you’re a history buff or just interested in the supernatural, Ghost presents nonfiction information in a way that will engage young readers. Readers will learn about ghosts that appear in New Orleans, the White House, Great Britain, and other famous sites. Ghost is packed full of historical information that is fun to read; it also gives information that connects to A Good Night for Ghosts, a Magic Tree House Book. Even though the content is appropriate for younger readers, they may need help with the advanced vocabulary. If you’re researching ghosts or just want a fun book to read, Ghost will allow you to explore the world of ghosts without any frightening surprises.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the mid-1800s, Joe Baldwin worked for the railroad. “Part of his job was to walk the tracks at night with a lantern to make sure the train had stopped at the right place. Joe’s head was cut off in an accident.”
  • According to one man, the ghost of Marie Laveau “hit him in the nose when he was in a drug store. The victim said that her ghost asked him who she was. When he said he did not know, she gave him a good, hard punch!”
  • In the 1800s, a sultan and his family were killed. “One dark and stormy night, intruders slipped in and murdered everyone. The murderers buried the sultan in a shallow grave underneath a tree in the courtyard. He is said to haunt the house where he died.”
  • President Abraham Lincoln and his wife went to the theater to watch a play. “A man crept up behind him and fired a bullet into his head. Lincoln died the following day.”
  • John McCullough haunts the National Theatre. “John was killed in a fight with another actor. His body was buried beneath the dirt floor in the cellar.”
  • King George III and others haunt Windsor castle. “King Charles I, whose head was cut off, shows up in the library and in one of the other houses on the grounds.”
  • The London Tower is haunted. “Whenever kings or queens suspected people of plotting against them, they put them in the tower. Some unlucky prisoners were hanged or had their heads chopped off.” Ann Boleyn was imprisoned in the tower. Henry VIII “ordered that her head be chopped off.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Ghost is all about different ghost citings and haunted places. Below is a list of just a few examples.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans “believed that ghosts were spirits of people who had not had a proper burial after they had died.”
  • In African, “children often hear stories about friendly ghosts who are the spirits of their ancestors.”
  • In India, people believe that “their bodies are haunted by ghosts.” They travel to see ghostbusters “who claim to be able to cure them of their problems.”
  • Marie Laveau lived during the 1800s. She practiced voodoo and “people said she could summon up spirits and even make magic potions. . . Legend has it that Marie’s ghost appears as either a cow or a big black dog that runs through the cemetery.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, New York, home of the legendary Headless Horseman. They are going to sleep in a cabin, take a haunted hayride, and go to a spooky party near an old graveyard. That’s where some people say they’ve spotted the ghostly horseman. But strange things start happening that don’t seem to be part of the planned Halloween fun. Is there a real Headless Horseman haunting Sleepy Hollow?

Readers looking for a Halloween scare will want to read Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. A little history, a scary setting, and a mystery to solve make Sleepy Hollow Sleepover a fun Halloween read. The three friends use their power of observation to solve the mystery. While investigating, Dink, Josh, and Ruth put themselves in danger by crawling into the back of a truck and getting kidnapped. However, their quick thinking allows the police to find them before the bad guys can get away.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover‘s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to many readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are one page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The story’s suspense doesn’t just come from the mystery. Bats, a zombie, and other Halloween fun add to the spooky scene. The conclusion explains how the kids solved the mystery and also leaves readers wondering if the kids really did see a Headless Horsemen. Another positive aspect is that the story portrays police officers in a positive manner. However, when the wagons burn, four police officers pack 25 kids into the backseats and some kids are sitting on other’s laps.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover will get readers’ hearts pumping as they follow the kids on the haunted hayride. Mystery-loving readers will enjoy following the clues as the kids try to find the culprits. Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy both the story and the illustrations. Grab a flashlight, turn out the lights, and enjoy Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. Readers who want more fall fun should also read Marley and the Runaway Pumpkin by John Grogan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone intentionally sets the wagons on fire. That person also makes all of the car’s tires flat.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice. For example, while on a haunted hayride a boy says, “All this stuff is planned, just to scare the heck out of us.”
  • Jerk is used twice. The kids are talking to a police officer about the person who set the wagons on fire. The police officer says, “whoever it was is a real jerk.”
  • The bad guys call the kids “rats.”

Supernatural

  • The kids think they see the Headless Horseman riding by their cabin. The story leaves the reader wondering if the Headless Horseman is real.
  • During the haunted hayride, the wagon drives by a graveyard. “A hand was rising out of the grave! Then came an arm, covered in filthy rags. A second hand and arm appeared, then a face blotched with dirt. Some of the flesh was peeling off.” The kids know the zombie isn’t real but is part of the hayride.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Ghost

From the day Emily rescued her dog, Zack, they have always shared a special connection—they can read each other’s minds. And since Zack can sense when someone is in danger, they’ve been using their special powers to help save people.

But now Emily and Zack have discovered something new. They can see ghosts! And one ghost, in particular, needs their help. Shocked by her new discovery, Emily is determined to find out who this ghost is and why he is haunting her town. But if Emily and Zack are the only ones who can see the ghost, how can they get anyone to believe them? Will they be able to help in time, or will the ghost be doomed to haunt the earth forever?

The third installment of the Dog Whisperer Series has a unique premise but unfortunately lacks development and action. Emily and Zack save a woman from a fire, but the incident is so out of place that it lacks emotional impact. Likewise, many of the story’s scenes are not developed enough to make the reader care about the outcome. For example, when Emily meets a ghost, their interactions are not exciting. Instead, when Emily talks to the ghost, the ghost gives vague answers that are confusing. Even though Emily helps the ghost, the ending is predictable and lacks action.

Emily, who is biracial and adopted, asks her parents about her birth mother. Emily is upset that her birth mother doesn’t want to meet Emily. Throughout the story, Emily is trying to work through her feelings about her birth mother. To complicate matters, Emily is upset that her birth mother has other children who she did keep. While Emily’s feelings are understandable, nothing is resolved.

Even though Emily is a likable character, readers will find the lack of action and plot development frustrating. The one bright spot is Emily’s interaction with Mrs. Griswold, an elderly neighbor who is a recluse. Mrs. Griswold’s backstory is slowly revealed and the conclusion hints that Mrs. Griswold will begin reaching out to other people. Through multiple characters, a theme is revealed—people are often doing the best that they can in difficult situations, and only by looking deeper can you understand a person’s character.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Emily’s neighbor was in a car accident. “The worst part was that Mrs. Griswold had tested positive for alcohol that night. . . her blood alcohol level was way below the legal limit, and that she had probably had a glass of wine or eggnog at the party.”

Language

  • The store owner, Cyril, calls a boy “a shifty-eyed, squinty little punk” and a “snaggle-toothed punk.”

Supernatural

  • Emily can read her dog’s mind. Emily “didn’t understand it, but ever since the night she had found him, the two of them had been connected, somehow. When he was hungry, she felt hungry.”
  • Zack is a conduit for the ghost. When Emily sees a ghost, “the man suddenly seemed to be surrounded by a small cloud of gray mist—and then he disappeared.” Emily can read the ghost’s mind.
  • Emily can read her cat Josephine’s mind. “Reading Josephine’s mind was always a little bit unsettling.”

Spiritual Content

  • A ghost tells Emily that his dog, “Moved on, at once. Animals have very beautiful souls.”

Clap When You Land

Camino and Yahaira’s lives are turned upside down when they hear the news, “There have been no survivors found from flight 1112.”

Sixteen-year-old Yahaira lives in New York with her mother and father. Every year, her father returns to his home country – the Dominican Republic. This summer, he was on flight 1112. After Yahaira is told her father died in a plane crash, she is devastated by the news and weighed down by a secret – her father had a wife and a child in the Dominican Republic.

 Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. After Camino’s mother died, her father moved to New York. Camino’s father returns to the Dominican Republic every summer to spend time with her. Camino is crushed by the loss of her father and the discovery that he had another child, Yahaira, in New York.

Camino works with her aunt as a traditional healer and had aspirations of joining her father in New York to study medicine and become a doctor. Her father pays a local sex trafficker to leave Camino alone so she can focus on her schoolwork. Without her father funding this and her private education, she feels as though her dreams are now out of reach.

Clap When You Land follows Camino and Yahaira on their journey to discover how their lives are interconnected and what it means to be family. They both feel betrayed by their father’s secrets and must learn to cope with the aftermath. Camino and Yahaira learn the world is not always black and white, that maybe their father truly loved both of them. Yahaira comes to terms with her father’s deception saying, “I know now, Papi could not move between two families. When he was here – he was mine, when he was there, he was theirs.”

This spellbinding novel follows the two girls on the cusp of adulthood. Both girls must learn to deal with life’s challenges. Yahaira navigates life in New York as a lesbian, while Camino learns how to follow her dreams despite her circumstances. Clap When You Land will help readers understand the grieving process and how to cope with an immense loss.

The narration is provided in prose, switching between Camino and Yahaira’s voices which provides multiple perspectives on how loss can change someone. Camino and Yahaira’s relationship provides a valuable perspective on sexual assault and what it means to be a survivor. Camino and Yahaira find comfort in leaning on each other as they deal with the emotional and physical trauma they have suffered.

In addition, Clap When You Land discusses health disparities that exist both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States, providing important commentary on health inequities throughout the world. High school-aged readers will find Camino’s and Yahaira’s journey entertaining and captivating. The two young women are relatable characters who impart valuable life lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • As Camino walks to school, she sees “the working girls I once went to school with.” She is referring to girls who had to drop out of school to become sex workers.
  • Camino discusses how her father didn’t need to be strict with her because “I don’t mess with dudes from the barrio who love gossip at the domino bars about the girls that they’ve slept with.” Camino only flirted with the American boys from her school, but “not because they’re cute or interesting – they’re often obnoxious and only want a taste of my gutter-slick tongue and brownness; they act as if they could elevate my life with a taste of their powder-milk-tinged pomp.”
  • Camino discusses the neighborhood sex trafficker saying, “El Cero always gets a first taste of the girls who work for him. Before he gussies them up and takes them by the resort beach in cut-off tanks and short shorts so the men from all over the world who come here for sun and sex can give thumbs-up or -down to his wares.”
  • Yahaira reminisces about when she and her girlfriend, Dre, were intimate for the first time. Yahaira thinks, “The first time Dre touched me without our clothes on, she kept running her hand from waist to hip. And I wanted to write Miami a thank-you text, for giving my body a spot that was made to nest Dre’s head in.”
  • Yahaira describes Dre as saying, “If you tell a dirty joke, Dre will talk about plants that pollinate themselves. If you talk about hoeing around, you’d see Dre blink as her mind goes down a long winding path of tilling dirt.”
  • Camino is worried about El Cero, the local sex trafficker. She thinks, “Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms. Men with accents pick us as if from a brochure to climb and slide and swing.”
  • Yahaira was sexually assaulted on the train. She says, “When I felt a squeeze on my leg I thought it was an accident and when I felt fingers float up my thighs I thought I must be mistaken and when he palmed me under my skirt openhanded I dropped my trophy but did not scream, did not make a scene did not curse him out there was no strategy no alternate plan no way to win, there was just me stuck, and being felt up on a public train.”
  • Camino said her aunt always answered her questions, “whether it was about sex, or boys, healing or the Saints.”

Violence

  • When Camino learns that no one survived the plane crash, she thinks, “A body means there is no miracle to hope for; dead is dead is dead.”
  • Dre plays Nina Simone’s music when she is dealing with difficult events. Yahaira says, “She will play her when we see videos on social media of another black boy shot, another black girl pulled over, another kid in the Bronx stabbed outside the Bodega. Dre plays Nina when two girls holding hands are jumped.”
  • Yahaira’s mother won’t let her see her father’s remains because “the airline representative mails us a catalog of all the bits of cloth, and bone, and hair, and suitcase things that probably belong to my father.”
  • When a man sexually assaults Camino, she desperately thinks, “kick him back scratch at the eyes mouth open cry cry cry for help.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Camino frequently smokes cigars. “I lift my mouth to the cigar. Inhale. Hold the smoke hard in my lungs until the pain squeezes sharp in my chest.”
  • Camino’s aunt “hauls the honeyed rum.”
  • When they are making an offering to Camino’s dead parents, Camino and her aunt have a drink. “We pour a bit of homemade mamjuana into the water, and Tia doesn’t even stop me when I take a sip from the bottle. I am feeling guilty.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, after Yahaira’s coach calls to give her condolences. Yahaira thinks, “Who knew death must be so damn polite?”
  • Fuck is used sparingly. For example, Camino described how her house was blessed by saints, but “a lot of people don’t fuck with that kind of thing here.”
  • When walking down the street, Yahaira avoids “dog shit.”
  • Yahaira is planning on flying to the Dominican Republic to attend her father’s funeral even though “Miami is dead-ass serious that she isn’t going to the DR funeral.”
  • A man calls Camino an “uppity, ugly bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Yahaira asks Camino if she believes in ghosts. Camino answers, “Of courses, I believe in ghosts. There are spirits everywhere.”
  • Yahaira describes the alter in Camino’s home. “Miami and I have been ignoring the alter in the corner. I don’t know much about Saints or ancestors, only the rumors of sacrificing chickens and how it all relates to voodoo.”
  • Camino and her aunt are traditional healers and frequently call upon spirits. The townspeople say Camino’s aunt “has the Saint’s ear.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion

Iggy Peck is an architect at his very core: when he’s not making houses out of food, his head is up in the clouds, dreaming of design. So he’s totally blown away when Ada Twist’s Aunt Bernice inherits an old house from ice-cream mogul Herbert Sherbert that is filled with countless rooms from all his favorite architectural periods. But something’s not quite right . . .

Everyone says the house is haunted, and it seems that a number of priceless antiques—which were supposed to help Aunt Bernice pay for the house’s upkeep—have gone missing. If they can’t find those antiques, Aunt Bernice might lose the house forever. It will take all of Iggy’s knowledge of architecture and the help of the other Questioneers—Rosie Revere, Ada Twist, and Sofia Valdez—to solve the mystery and find the treasure!

Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion builds suspense because it has just the right amount of spooky, scary, and strange events. All of the events are eventually solved in a logical way. Iggy and his friends do some sleuthing, but they also research the Mysterious Mansion’s history and Iggy uses his knowledge of architecture to help solve the mystery.

The majority of the story focuses on the Mysterious Mansion’s history. Iggy discovers that two people who lived in the mansion died from the Spanish Flu. “People can still die from the flu, but it’s not as common because scientists invented new medicines and vaccines. People used to die of all kinds of diseases like measles and flu. Vaccines changed that.”

In addition, the spooky story also has humor. For instance, when Mrs. Bernice Twist inherits the mansion, the letter reads, “The Law Offices of Yabba, Dabba & Dew are not responsible for the actions of ghosts or anything that causes shivers, nightmares, heebie-jeebies, or worse. Especially worse.”

Most of the pages have large black, white, and green illustrations that will help readers envision the characters as well as understand the story’s plot. Other illustrations show drawings from Iggy’s notebook. However, younger readers may struggle with the story’s advanced vocabulary and the architectural lingo. However, the story’s use of imagery, onomatopoeia, and alliteration make Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion a fun story to read aloud. The story ends with information about art nouveau and art deco, information about “Weird, Wonderful, and Wonderfully Weird Cats,” and a recipe to make ice cream.

Readers familiar with The Questioneers Series will enjoy seeing the same cast of characters. Iggy and his friends are curious, resourceful, and able to think outside the box. Unfortunately, the conclusion has several events that are unbelievable. Despite this, readers will enjoy the mystery, the friendship, and the illustrations.  If you’re looking for another series that has smart, curious characters, check out the Ellie Engineer Series by Jackson Pearce and the Jada Jones Series by Kelly Starling Lyons.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Aunt Bernice, Ada, and Iggy try to open the mansion’s door when “the boards of the porch began to rise and fall like piano keys. A wave rolled from one end of the porch to the other and back again. . . Suddenly, the board beneath Aunt Bernice’s left foot rose up and sent her tumbling.” When they jump off the porch, the motion stops.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The town folks believe that the Sherbert House is haunted by Herbert Sherbert and his wife. When Iggy stumbles upon the mansion, he thinks, “There were darker tales of a woman whose cries could be heard late at night if you dared to get close enough to the house to listen. They said the ghosts were looking for something—or someone!”
  • The Mansion begins to play music and then “the shutters of the Great Hall window slammed shut. Almost as quickly, they flew open again. The shutter opened and shut in rhythm with the music.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Unbound

In the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, Mackenzie Bishop’s adventures as a Keeper of the Archive continue. At the same time, she must balance going back to school and figure out her relationship with Wes, her best friend, and fellow Keeper. But Mackenzie is still haunted by Owen Chris Clarke, the History who almost killed her and nearly brought the end of the Archive. Owen frequently visits her all-too-realistic dreams, and Mackenzie starts to question her sanity as the Archive’s other mysteries close in around her.

But her dreams aren’t the only things haunting Mackenzie. A string of disappearances follows her path, where she was the last person to interact with each of the missing persons. Plus a mysterious man keeps watching her while she’s traveling to and from school. As if that wasn’t enough, she keeps blacking out and waking up with no recollection of what happened. Is a lack of sleep, or something more sinister haunting Mackenzie?

The Unbound is shades darker than The Archived both in atmosphere and content, which helps to enhance the mystery of the Archive and its employees. As the stakes rise, it becomes clear that the reader knows little more than Mackenzie, who struggles with the trauma of almost dying and being manipulated by Owen in the last installment. Some plot points revolve around Mackenzie’s parents, who fear that Mackenzie is depressed, self-harming, and acting out. However, much of the trouble that Mackenzie encounters is because of the Archive and her nightmares. By the end of the novel, Mackenzie is ready to heal her relationships with her parents, Wes, and, most importantly, herself.

The back-to-school setting helps balance the darkness of the Archive and Mackenzie’s nightmares. Although school is not a completely safe location for Mackenzie, school is the one truly normal place that she and Wes experience. At times, their friends provide comic relief and tell Mackenzie more about Wes, who is notoriously secretive.

School also helps bring Mackenzie out of her inner world and the world of the Archive. In many ways, having friends and going to school pulls Mackenzie back into the realm of the living. In both The Archived and The Unbound, Mackenzie spends her time straddling the line between living and dead, between the real and imagined. But in this installment, Mackenzie becomes a more seasoned Keeper while also learning how to live her life.

The Unbound is an exciting follow-up to the darkly magical The Archived. The end neatly wraps up this book and provides a bridge to a potential third book. This book does continue the adventures from The Archived, so The Archived needs to be read first. This book is a must-read because Schwab’s creative prose wonderfully captures the world of the Archive and Mackenzie’s journey, through interesting discussions about grief, trauma, and the scars that we all carry. The dead never truly leave us, but as Mackenzie learns, sometimes it’s necessary to let go and embrace the living as tightly as we can.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie and another Keeper, Wes, are friends who spend a lot of time haplessly flirting, though Mackenzie insists that they aren’t dating. However, they do act like they’re dating and Wes sleeps in Mackenzie’s bed. Mackenzie narrates, “I catch his hand, music flaring through me as I draw him to the bed.” They do not have sex.
  • Since Mackenzie and other Keepers have the power to “read” people and objects, another person’s touch tends to be really noisy and overwhelming for Mackenzie. Wes kisses her regardless, and she describes, “The way his lips smiled against my jaw, his now-familiar noise—that cacophony of drum and bass—pressing through me with his touch before I could find the strength to tell him no.”
  • Cash kisses Mackenzie. She says, “His lips are warm and soft, and my head fills with jazz and laughter; for an instant, it feels sweet and safe and simple. But my life is none of those things, and I realize as the kiss ends that I don’t want to pretend it is, and that there is only one person I want to kiss me like this.”
  • Wes and Mackenzie kiss again. Mackenzie describes, “I kiss him, not gently but desperately.” The description lasts for a page.

Violence

  • Mackenzie has frequent nightmares about Owen, the History who tried to kill her in the previous novel. Mackenzie says, “I dream of him dragging the jagged side of his blade across my skin as he murmurs that the ‘real’ Mackenzie Bishop must be hidden somewhere under all that flesh.” This nightmare happens often, and he usually stabs her in the dream, “[driving] the knife forward into [her] chest.”
  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben “was killed last year on his way to school” in a hit-and-run. His death plagues the family.
  • Wes has a rough home life, and Cash describes Wes’ parents’ divorce as “brutal.” When Wes retreated for a year, not contacting his friends at all, and then returned, Cash gave him a “black eye” for abandoning them. They are still good friends.
  • Mackenzie dislikes the family therapist because she assumes incorrect things about Mackenzie and she convinced Mackenzie’s mother to throw out Ben’s stuff after he died. Mackenzie recalls once that “the one time we met face-to-face, she saw a scratch on my wrist from a pissed-off History and was convinced I did it to myself to feel things.”
  • On her way home from school, two guys attack Mackenzie with a pipe and a knife. She blacks out and wakes up to the two men laying on the ground, “covered in blood.” Mackenzie has no recollection of what she’s done. She notes that one man’s “nose is broken. Blood is gushing down his face, and one of his legs looks like it’s bent at the wrong angle.”
  • Mackenzie runs over a jogger with her bike by accident. “The collision is a tangle of handles and wheels and limbs, and we both go down hard on the concrete.” Other than scrapes and scratches, both are ok.
  • A girl named Bethany goes missing, and Mackenzie learns from her classmates that Bethany’s home life was rough. Her mom had remarried and the situation was turbulent. One girl notes that “sleazy dude [the stepfather] has been there all of a week when he’s home alone with Bethany and takes a go at her . . . She did what any self-respecting Hyde schoolgirl would do. She punched him in the face. But when she tried to tell her mom what happened, she said it was Bethany’s fault.”
  • Someone attacked Cash, and he shows up to school with a “cut beside his eye [and] a bruise darkening his jaw.”
  • Owen, the History that tried to kill Mackenzie in the previous novel, is back, though Mackenzie doesn’t know how. He attacks her at school and kills a passerby. Mackenzie describes, “I hit the ground and roll over and up onto my feet again as he lunges forward and I lunge back. Or at least I mean to, but I misjudge the distance and the toppled shelves come up against my shoulders an instant before he forces the bat beneath my chin.” This continues for several pages.
  • Owen kills one of the Crew, another Archive employee, at the dance. The Crew “crumples, and before he can recover, Owen takes his head in his hands and snaps his neck.” A fight scene with Owen, Wes, Mackenzie, and several other Crew continues for several pages after this death.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mackenzie takes medication for her headache and then promptly blacks out. When she wakes, “the drinking glass is lying in glittering pieces on the counter, my hand wrapped around the largest shard. Blood runs between my fingers where I’ve gripped it and down my other arm where I’ve carved a single deep line.” She has no recollection of what happened.
  • Mackenzie’s mother drugs Mackenzie to make her sleep. Mackenzie describes the moment when she realizes that her mom slipped a sleeping pill into her drink. She says, “At first I think I’m about to have another blackout, but those happen fast, and this is slow like syrup.”

Language

  • Dallas, the therapist, says to one Crew member, “I’d tell you not to be such an ass, Zachary, but it would be a waste of my breath.”

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive. The Archive is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • none

by Alli Kestler

The Other Side of the Wall

It’s Christmas break. Tess and Max are in London staying at the posh Sanborn House with their Aunt Evie. As they wait for their parents to arrive, there is an unusual snowstorm that makes the city seem as if it’s caught in a snow globe. It’s the perfect weather for an adventure in Hyde Park. But when Max, Tess, and Aunt Evie leave to search for a cab, they find a horse, carriage, and driver curiously waiting for them at the curb. And that’s just the beginning…

Soon Tess is charmed by a mysterious boy named Colin who lives at the hotel all year round—on the 8th floor. Max is sure the elevator only had 7 floors the day before. How come everyone at the hotel seems to ignore Colin? Things seem to get stranger and stranger. There’s a 1920s costume party in Colin’s parents’ apartment, a marble that seems to be more than it appears, and a shadow that passes mysteriously by Tess and Max’s hotel window.

Tess wants to figure out what’s going on, but she finds only more questions. Is it just a coincidence that Colin’s last name is Sanborn, the same as the hotel? Why does the cat’s-eye marble look eerily similar to the crystal at the top of their hotel room key? And, most importantly, what happened in that hotel one Christmas long, long ago?

Tess and Max are realistic characters who travel back in time. The world building is beautiful, but some readers will quickly become bored because the beginning of the story lacks action. When Tess and Max meet Colin, they are slow to realize that he is a danger. When Colin possesses Max, Tess begins calling him “the person who used to be Max.” This phrase was used too often, and the repetition is annoying. Despite this, Tess’s dedication and love for her brother is both realistic and enduring.

Unlike traditional Christmas stories, The Other Side of the Wall is both mysterious and creepy. The story takes the reader back in time and ends with the sad death of Colin. Readers who have not read the first two books in the series will be slightly confused. Even though the story hints that Tess sometimes sees things that are not really there, her behavior is never explained. The Other Side of the Wall ends abruptly leaving many unanswered questions.

Anyone who wants to add a little fright to their Christmas night will want to read The Other Side of the Wall. The unique story replaces jingle bells for spooky spirits. However, if you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, you will want to leave The Other Side of the Wall on the library shelf. For those looking to put a little scare into the holiday season, you might want to ask Santa to put Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R.L. Stine into your stocking.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tess and Max go into the hotel’s lobby. “There were two young men in the library (which also had a fully stocked serve-yourself bar in a small room adjacent to it).”
  • Tess’s aunt tells her that, “My friend Bobbie rang up and asked if I’d run down the road to a pub for a holiday drink.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Tess and Max go to a party where they meet a seer. She tells them, “I ask the question, or you do, but it’s the cards that tell me the answer. I’m not much more than a conduit.”
  • Tess and Max meet a boy named Colin. When Colin begins to go pale, “Max reached out to touch him, but it was as if his hand seemed to go right through Colin’s arm. As if he had become transparent or he wasn’t really there, as if. . .” When Max moves away, Colin “started to walk towards Max, purposefully, step by step, directly to him, almost as if Colin was playing chicken or else he wanted to whisper something to Max. . . But then there was the most startled look on Max’s face. . . as Colin walked directly into him and simply disappeared.” Colin takes over Max’s body.
  • Tess pets a terrier. The dog suddenly vanishes “and Adele the psychic was standing in front of her.” Tess wonders how the dog could transform into Adele.
  • Max walks “straight through the wall. . . and simply disappeared.” Frightened Tess runs out of the room and talks to a man. “But before she could finish the sentence, she saw the gentleman’s face begin to crack and tiny pieces start to break away, first his cheek and then part of his nose as if he was made of plaster.”
  • Tess follows Max into a dark hallway where orange vectors appear. As Max walks on the vectors, Tess follows.
  • Following Max, Tess jumps in a carriage. The horse, Comet, raced so quickly, “it was as if Comet was able to, levitate would be the right word, or simply fly just off the ground, carrying the carriage behind her through mid-air, cold air, spectacularly dotted with snow. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ghosted

When Ellie entered junior high, she promised herself that she would never look weak. She became the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She is also the most feared. Ellie has figured out that the more horrible she is, the more people fear her, and the more they respect her. Ellie has perfected the ability to manipulate people through fear.

The night of her junior high winter dance, Ellie has a terrible accident. As she lays unconscious, a ghost takes Ellie on a trip to her own past, present, and future. Ellie is forced to relive her parents’ divorce, her struggles with school, and the loss of her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees, inspire her to change her ways?

From the first chapter, the story focuses on Ellie’s mean, manipulating ways. While the reader comes to understand the events that lead Ellie to become such a horrible person, it is hard to relate to her. When Ellie’s parents first divorced, Ellie was surrounded by her best friend Marley and Marley’s two dads. Instead of being comforted by their supportive presence, Ellie focused on what she didn’t have and “let those feelings of hurt and sadness fester into something ugly.” For the reader, Ellie’s ugliness overshadows every other aspect of the story.

Margolis clearly shows the dangers of Ellie’s meanness – both for Ellie and the people she encounters. However, some of the events are unrealistic and portray preteens as sheep who follow the most popular person out of fear. None of Ellie’s peers have the strength of character to stand up to Ellie, even when Ellie makes them do outrageous things. In reality, parents and teachers would have stepped in and protected Ellie’s classmates from her cruelty.

Ghosted follows the same format as The Christmas Carol, and like Scrooge, Ellie changes her ways. Ellie learns and finally admits that “making other people feel bad and weak distracts me from my own pain. And it props me up.” Ellie chooses to own up to her mistakes and apologize; however, the conclusion has several plot holes that readers will notice. For example, while at school Ellie falls and is unconscious for 15 minutes; however, the students do not get a teacher, and they call off the ambulance because when Ellie comes to, she feels fine. In addition, the story glosses over the hurt and pain that Ellie caused others and hints that all will be forgiven.

The story moves at a fast pace. The ghost, who is sarcastic and mean herself, adds interest. Although the message is pertinent to middle school readers, Ellie’s cruelty makes it hard to root for her. Readers looking for another story inspired by the Christmas Carol should pick up Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R. L. Stine. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a Christmas story that will leave you with a warm glow and a positive message, add the Celebrate the Season series by Taylor Garland to your must-read list.

 Sexual Content

  • Ellie takes a video of Marley, who is joking around. Marley pretends that she is boy crazy and says, “I have never kissed a boy, but sometimes at night I practice by kissing my old American Girl doll. I cut the hair off so she looks like a boy.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • On Christmas Eve, Ellie and her mom have dinner with friends. Ellie’s mom drinks a glass of wine.

Language

  • Ellie thinks that her classmates have “marshmallows-for-brains” and are morons.
  • The ghost calls Ellie stupid and a dummy.
  • Ellie thinks the ghost and her dad are both jerks.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation three times.
  • My God is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • After a fall, a ghost shows Ellie her past, present, and future self. The ghost can also read Ellie’s mind.
  • The ghost drags Ellie “from place to place, year to year, shrinking you down to fit into the snow globe, changing your regular outfit into a bikini for the fish tank, only to go and transform you back into your regular size.”
  • The ghost takes Ellie to different places. One of the places is a mural that some classmates made. Another place Ellie is transported to is a tunnel in a loaf of bread.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story

Rick Scroogeman hates Christmas. He can’t stand the carols or the pageants. He doesn’t like the lights or the mistletoe. But the worst part about the season is having to watch the old movie version of A Christmas Carol, especially since all of his classmates have started calling him Scrooge.

When Rick finds out that he didn’t get a part in the school play, he’s determined to get revenge. When Rick’s terrible prank successfully ruins Christmas for his classmates, he feels victorious. But when three ghosts appear, Rick realizes what he thought was just a nightmare might become real. Can anyone teach Rick the true meaning of Christmas?

Rick is truly a terrible boy. He thinks being mean is funny. He enjoys stomping on people’s feet, taking his brother’s jelly beans, and getting revenge. Rick bullies his way through life and doesn’t understand why so many people don’t understand his humor. When the Christmas ghosts appear, Rick learns how it feels to be bullied. Even though Rick learns how it feels to be bullied, the ending is ambiguous enough to make the reader wonder if Rick will change his horrid ways.

In Young Scrooge, Rick tells his own story. His snarky comments and ungrateful attitude show he is completely unaware of others’ feelings. When the ghosts take him to different realities, Rick is put on the receiving end of a bully. Yet for the majority of the story, Rick is more concerned with getting home and getting his Christmas gifts. Even though Young Scrooge is based on A Christmas Carol, the ending won’t give the readers a warm fuzzy feeling.

Readers who want to put a little horror into the holidays will find this ghost spooky but not scary. The story’s short chapters and easy vocabulary make the story easy to read. Even though the story shows the harmful effects of bullying, the story is never preachy. Although parents might find Young Scrooge lacking, younger readers will enjoy the fresh twist on A Christmas Carol. Young Scrooge will never become a Christmas classic, but it will entertain readers and would be a great conversation starter on bad behavior.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Rick splashes water on Davey. Rick thinks it’s funny because “everyone will see the dark spot on the front of his pants and think he had an accident.” When Davey gets mad, Rick slaps “him hard on the back. He goes sprawling into the yellow tile wall.”
  • When Jeremy asks Rick, “What do you want, Scrooge?”, it makes Rick angry so he tromps “down on the top of his sneaker as hard as I can with the heel of my shoe. . . That must hurt. He starts to hop up and down on one foot.”
  • When Rick walks into one of his classes, he sees Lucy. “First, I take my thumbs and smear the lenses on her glasses. Then I take both hands and ruffle her hair as hard as I can.”
  • Rick makes fun of a boy that stutters, then, “[he picks] him up by his waist and lifted him into his locker. And then [Rick] closed the locker door with him inside.”
  • While walking to the front of the class, Rick “tromped really hard on Josh Cratchit’s foot as I passed by him. I couldn’t believe how loud he screamed.” When Rick returns to his seat, he “gave it another good hard stomp as I passed.”
  • Josh sees Billy O’Brian, who is fat. Instead of calling Billy by his name, Rick calls him Belly O’Beast. Rick likes “to grab his big belly with both hands, jiggle it up and down, and shout, “‘Earthquake!’ especially when there are girls watching. Belly’s fat face always turns bright red.”
  • When Rick finds out that the kids did not want him to be in the play, Rick puts ants in their costumes. “Some kids sprawled on their backs, scratching. Others were frantically pulling off their costumes. I saw ants scurry out of the clothes and over the stage. Ants crawled all over Belly’s cheeks and forehead.”
  • When Rick gets home, he sees his brother Charlie. “I dropped my backpack on the floor. Then I grabbed both of his ears and tugged them as hard as I could.”
  • When Christmas carolers come to Rick’s house, he throws snowballs at them.
  • Rick is taken to a school in the past. A kid “raised his big boot and tromped his heel down as hard as he could on top of my right sneaker. . . pain shot up my leg, up my entire body. . . The pain was unbearable.”
  • When a girl laughs at Rick, he “grabbed the back of her hair and gave it a tug. You know. Playful. Not too hard.” The girl then dumps ink on Rick’s head.
  • A boy “stuck his foot out and tripped [Rick]. [Rick] stumbled into the big globe. Landed on top of it. And the globe and [Rick] rolled across the floor.”
  • While building snowmen with Ashley, Rick “grabbed up a big handful of snow and molded it into a snowball. . . and smashed it into Ashley’s face. [Rick] held it there, rubbing it over her cheeks and eyes.”
  • While in the future, Rick is taken to his grave. When he peers in it, he sees some of the kids from Dead Middle School. “They were huddled in my grave—and I could see right through them! They were transparent, all in shades of gray. No color. And now they raised their arms. All at once, they shot their arms up out of the hole. Hands wrapped around my feet. Two guys floated up and wrapped their arms around my waist.” Rick is able to pull himself free, but “One of the arms holding my waist fell off. The arm ripped off at the shoulder and fell to the dirt.” The scene is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Rick thinks most of the kids in his school are losers.
  • Mr. Pickwick didn’t give Rick a part in the play. Rick thinks it is because the teacher is a jerk.
  • When a girl dumps ink over Rick’s head, the other students laugh. Rick thinks, “I felt like a total jerk.”
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Rick to his friends’ Christmas party. Rick overhears the kids saying he was a “total jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Rick sneaks into his attic looking for his Christmas presents. The attic door closes and the lights go out. Then, Rick sees “an eerie green-yellow mist swirling at the other end of the closet. . .It curled up on itself like a snake. [Rick] stared without breathing, without moving as the mist curled and uncurled, up to the closet ceiling, then down again.” The mist is replaced by a man. “His nose came to a sharp point. His eyes glowed red like burning coals.” The man is the ghost of Marly. The ghost discovers that he is in the wrong house and leaves.
  • After the ghost of Marly disappears, another one appears. “His long gray robe reached the floor, covering his whole body. It billowed like drapes at an open window, and I heard a sound like rushing wind. . . He turned toward me and I could see into the hood. I saw only blackness in there. No face. No face at all.” The ghost is the ghost of Christmas Past.
  • The ghost of Christmas Past touches Rick, then “The wind picked up again. . . [Rick] covered both of [his] ears with [his] hands as the blast sent [him] flying off the floor. Flying into a deep blackness.” When Rick opens his eyes, he is in the past.
  • After being in the past, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears and transports Rick to his time. “We plunged down, then started to slow. Colors swirled up in the gray, bright flashes of green and blue and red. So bright, I shut my eyes.” When he appears, Rick discovers he is now part of a different family.
  • While trying to leave his new family, two snowmen stop him. “I lowered my head and tried to swerve around it. But it moved quickly, silently gliding over the snow, staying close, pushing its big bulk in front of me. . . I pulled my arm back and shot my fist as hard as I could into my snowman’s frozen head” When another snowman comes near, Rick hits it as well. “The snowman didn’t seem to feel it. I tugged myself back—but now both hands were stuck in its icy grip. I pulled and pulled again, leaning as far back as I could, but I couldn’t free them.” One of the snowmen transforms into the Ghost of Christmas Present.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future appears in the form of a robot and takes Rick to “Dead Middle School” where everyone is dead.
  • Rick hides in a closet. “And then I felt a puff of cold wind. I opened my eyes in time to see the closet fill with a purple light. . . The closet began to shake. The shelves rattled.” Rick is transported home.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Long Way Down

Somebody shot and killed Will’s brother Shawn, and Will thinks he knows who did it. The morning after Shawn’s death, Will picks up his brother’s gun and gets in the elevator of the apartment building with his heart set on revenge. That’s when things get weird.

Sixty seconds. That’s how long it takes Will to reach the bottom and exit the elevator, but in those sixty seconds Jason Reynolds crafts a story where Will confronts nasty truths about the events that killed not only his brother but his other relatives and friends over the years. Will faces literal ghosts in the elevator that he never thought he’d have to confront. In those sixty seconds, Will must shape the course of his life.

Although Long Way Down takes place over a course of a minute, the story is packed with twists and turns. Early on, Will learns that the other people who entered the elevator are ghosts come to warn him. Each ghost is someone from Will’s past, and through discussion and memories, Will forms new understandings about the violent, revenge-hungry world that has shaped him and his ideas of justice.

The ending is ambiguous and the reader does not find out if Will follows through on his revenge plot. It is clear from the ghosts’ stories and Will’s code of justice that if he takes vengeance, he’ll end up dead like the ghosts. It could be insinuated that they are asking Will if he’s ready to join their ranks by making the same mistakes. Will learns that violence is cyclical and feeds itself. Long Way Down has a heavy message but shows that Will has the power to choose a different path. Even though he and his family have been wronged, the themes within the story make it clear that revenge is never the way out. And, most importantly, Will is the only person in charge of his own destiny. The ghosts give him the tools to determine his fate, but only he makes his own destiny.

Will’s story is told free-verse which highlights the speed at which Will learns from the ghosts and the speed of the descending elevator. Long Way Down packs a punch because it’s short and moves quickly. In this way, the message never leaves center stage, but it’s also never beaten like a dead horse.

Long Way Down is one of Reynolds’ more serious stories, and the plot works well with the somber tone. It’s a hard-hitting tale that demands that each person evaluates the meaning of justice and the consequences of their actions. Some of the events described are dark and may upset younger readers, but these scenes all highlight the main themes. Long Way Down is an excellent story that presents the power of choice and compassion in the lives of everyone, including the people we never get the chance to meet. Fans of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will appreciate the similarities that appear in Long Way Down. While Reynolds doesn’t mold his story around the Christmas season, both stories show how one event can drastically change a person’s life.  Readers can also find Long Way Down in graphic novel format.

Sexual Content

  • Will and Shawn’s mom prayed that Shawn “wouldn’t get Leticia pregnant.”
  • Shawn gives Will some of his cologne and said that “[Will’s] first girlfriend—/ would like it.”
  • A girl enters the elevator, and Will describes her as “Fine as heaven… [Will] was/ walking [his] eyes/ up her legs,/ the ruffle and fold/ of her flower/ dress, her/ arms, her/ neck, her/ cheek, her/ hair.”
  • Will doesn’t want to flirt with the girl in the elevator because “it’s hard to think about/ kissing and killing/ at the same time.”
  • The girl knows Will’s name. Will thinks, “if a girl says she knows you/ but ain’t never met her/ then she’s been/ watching you./ Clockin’ you./ Checkin/ you.” He continues to “load up [his] flirts.”
  • The mystery girl’s name is Dani; she and Will were childhood friends. Dani says to Will, “You remember, on this day,/ I kissed you?”

Violence

  • Will’s brother Shawn “was shot/ and killed.” Will has flashes where he describes Shawn’s death. Once, Will narrates, “And then there were shots./ Everybody /ran, /ducked, /hid, / tucked/ themselves tight . . . the buzz of a bullet,/ ain’t meet us.”
  • Will lists off “The Rules” for when someone is killed in their neighborhood. The third rule is “If someone you love/ gets killed,/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them.”
  • Shawn’s side of the bedroom is all neat and clean except for one drawer that “was jacked up on purpose to keep [Will] and Mom out/ and Shawn’s gun in.”
  • Will thinks that Shawn’s so-called friend, Carlson Riggs, shot Shawn. Will has a few theories for why, including that Carlson moved and joined a gang called Dark Suns. Will thinks Carlson shot Shawn because Shawn crossed into their turf “as the corner store/ that sells that special soap/ my mother sent Shawn/ out to get for her the/ day before yesterday.”
  • Will plans to kill Carlson with Shawn’s gun. Will would “pull my/ shirt over my mouth and nose/ and do it.”
  • While playing in the park, Dani was shot and killed by unnamed gunmen. “Gunshots,/ she said . . . Dani said her body burned/ and all she wanted to do was/ jump outside of herself,/ swing to somewhere else.”
  • Will saw Dani die. “Her eyes wide, the brightness/ dimming. Her mouth, open./ Bubble gum/ and blood.”
  • Another ghost enters the elevator and accosts Will. “Two large hands . . . snatched fistfuls of my shirt,/ yoking me by the neck,/ holding me there until/ the elevator door closed.”
  • Uncle Mark videotaped everything he could, including, “gang fights,/ block parties.”
  • In order to take Uncle Mark’s drug-dealing corner, a guy killed him. Will says, “Unfortunately,/ [Uncle Mark] never shot nothing/ ever again./ But my father did.”
  • Will narrates, “Shawn always said/ our dad was killed/ for killing the man/ who killed our uncle./ Said he was at a pay/ phone, probably talking/ to Mom, when a guy/ walked up on him,/ put pistol to head . . . But that was the end/ of that story.”
  • Will’s dad tells Will about how he killed Uncle Mark’s killer. Will’s dad says, “Hood over my head./ Gun from my waist/ and by the time he saw me/ I was already squeezing.” Later Will’s dad discovered that he killed the wrong guy.
  • Will’s dad takes Will’s gun and puts it up to Will’s head. “Pop stood over me,/ the gun pressed against/ the side of my face.” Will freaks out and Pop backs up, giving the gun back to Will.
  • A ghost named Frick enters the elevator. Buck says, “This is the man/ who murdered me.”
  • Frick “shot [Buck]/ twice/ in the stomach,/ in the street.”  Frick was only supposed to rob Buck, but Buck “swings at [Frick]… I got scared./ So I pulled/ the trigger.”
  • To be a Dark Sun, one must have “a cigarette burn under the right eye” and rob, beat, or kill someone.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Buck smokes a cigarette in the elevator. Buck offers one to Dani, who takes “one/ from the box.”
  • Uncle Mark is seen in family photos with a “cigarette tucked/ behind ear.” He also smokes in the elevator.
  • Will says of smoking, “I don’t smoke./ Shit is gross.”
  • Uncle Mark lost his camera. To get another, he decided “to sell [drugs] for one day. . . Uncle Mark/ took a corner,/ pockets full/ of rocks to/ become rolls.” One day turned into months.
  • Will’s Mom “cried and drank” herself to sleep.
  • Will talks about Buck. Will remembers that Buck was “a small-time hustler,/ dime bags on the corner” until Will’s dad was killed.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes damn, asshole, and hell.
  • The word “fuck” is used once. Shawn has his gold chain on him when he’s shot. Will says about the chain, “Them fuckers ain’t even/ snatch it.”
  • After Shawn’s death, Will sees himself in the mirror and says “I looked and/ felt like/ shit.”

Supernatural

  • A childhood friend of Shawn’s, Buck, appears in the elevator. Buck is a ghost because he was shot and killed years previous. When Buck smokes, there’s “Fire./ Smoke./ But no ash.” As new people enter the elevator, it becomes clear that several ghosts are visiting Will to give him guidance and warnings.

Spiritual Content

  • Will thinks about God and says, “I swear sometimes/ it feels like God/ be flashing photos/ of his children,/ awkward,/ amazing,/ tucked in his wallet/ for the world to see… God ain’t/ no pushy parent/ so he just folds/ and snaps/ us shut.”
  • Buck’s stepfather was a preacher, “praying for anyone,/ helping everyone.”

by Alli Kestler

 

The Case of the Phantom Cat

In book three of Holly Webb’s The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins, twelve-year-old Maisie and her dog, Eddie, are invited to join Maisie’s friend, Alice, on a trip to the country. But there’s something strange about the manor where they’re staying. Odd noises, horrid smells, and spectral sightings abound. Alice is terrified, but Maisie is skeptical. She doesn’t really believe in ghosts. Does she? There must be another explanation for the odd happenings, and Maisie plans to use her detecting skills to find out just what it is!

Maisie and Alice are friends despite being from different social classes. While Alice goes to French lessons, Maisie is dusting, cleaning, and running errands. The story hints that Maisie isn’t a proper friend for Alice because of their social class. Readers may wonder why the governess, Mrs. Sidebothan is rude to Maisie and expects her to help the servants clean. Mrs. Sidebothan is snooty and lazy which allows the girls to make fun of her. For example, Maisie “comforted herself that at least she didn’t have a name that sounded exactly like Side Bottom. And the bottom to match.”

The mystery revolves around strange noises, a bad smell, and a ghost-like cat. The story is spooky without being scary and the girls show bravery when they investigate the strange happenings. In the end, Maisie is able to discover a plausible reason for each thing that was attributed to ghosts. Readers will enjoy seeing Maisie and Alice band together to solve the mystery.

Even though the mystery is solved in a satisfactory way, The Case of the Phantom Cat has an abrupt ending that leaves the readers with plenty of questions. Despite this, readers will enjoy exploring a strange house with secret passages and how Maisie’s dog, Eddie, helps solve the mystery. While the content is appropriate for younger readers, they may need help with the difficult vocabulary. The characters use words and phrases that fit with the old-fashioned time period, such as guts for garters, insolent, hogwash, and stickler.

The story ends with reading comprehension questions as well as information about the time period, such as explaining how Calves’-foot jelly is made. Even though The Case of the Phantom Cat is the third book in the series, the books do not need to be read in order. Readers who want a little ghostly fun will enjoy The Case of the Phantom Cat. With eight short chapters and cute black and white illustrations, The Case of the Phantom Cat gives readers a chance to see if they can piece together the mystery’s clues themselves.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Alice says “oh drat” once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Archived #1

Contrary to the popular adage, the dead do in fact tell tales. Many of them. The dead, or Histories, are kept in a place hidden from the living world called the Archive, where only the Librarians can access them. But sometimes they wake, and they make it into the Narrows (the world between) and some are willing to kill to get back to the living world. Keepers are tasked with returning the lost Histories back to the Archive, and sometimes things get . . . messy.

When Da brought his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mackenzie Bishop, into the Archive to have her take his place as Keeper, she quickly became a young, ruthless prodigy. After a tragedy, Mackenzie starts to see her brother in the eyes of the Histories that she has to return to the Archive. Mackenzie must confront the lines that separate the living and the dead. With the increases in disturbances in the Archive and someone erasing Histories, Mackenzie uncovers the secrets that keep the Archive in one piece.

Mackenzie and the other characters are extremely realistic, despite their fantastical stories. Headstrong and fiercely independent, Mackenzie struggles with grief over her brother’s death and the secrets about the Archive that she must keep from her family. She shows strength in her ability to own up to and correct her mistakes. Mackenzie’s struggles are wide-reaching and she is a sympathetic character. Her relationships with other characters, including the Librarian Roland and fellow Keeper Wes, help her improve as a person and bring some light to an otherwise somber story.

Despite the gothic nature of the titular place, the Archive itself is beautiful. Housing and tracking the Histories of the dead is a macabre business, and as one of the main locations in the novel, the Archive ironically has a life of its own. With a curious cast of Librarians and other personnel working within the structure, at times the Archive seems more alive than the outside world.

The Archived presents strong themes about grief, memories, and the line that separates life and death. Mackenzie, being only a teenager, tackles these topics that haunt all the characters—young, old, dead, and alive. The various ways her parents deal with death versus the ever-secretive Librarians’ ways of dealing with the dead serves to enhance the discussion about death and memories in particular. All the characters have regrets and push the line between the world of the living and the Archive, and their stories are ultimately determined by their abilities to deal with grief and the past.

Victoria Schwab paints an atmosphere that is equal parts magical and spooky in The Archived. Readers who want a darker book will be delighted by Schwab’s prose and wildly inventive world. The Archived sets up an interesting series with much to discover. In the sequel, The Unbound, more secrets are revealed through Mackenzie’s next adventures. The Archived shows that the dead never really leave us, as long as their memories live on in those that they loved.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie dreams of being normal, and in her dreams, she “kisses a boy.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor confuses Mackenzie for a kiss-a-gram. Mackenzie eventually tells him, “Sir, I’m not here to kiss you.”
  • One of the escaped Histories kisses Mackenzie. She says, “as his lips press against my skin, the silence flares in my head, blotting something out. Heat ripples through my body, pricking my senses as the quiet deadens my thoughts. He kisses my throat, my jaw. Each time his lips brush my skin, the heat and silence blossom side by side and spread, drowning a little bit of pain and anger and guilt, leaving only warmth and want and quiet in their place.” The description continues for a couple of pages, and this situation happens a couple of times.
  • Fellow Keeper Wes kisses Mackenzie. Mackenzie describes, “I’m about to speak, about to tell him that, tell him everything, when he brings his hand to the back of my neck, pulls me forward, and kisses me . . . all I can think is that he tastes like summer rain. His lips linger on mine, urgent and warm. Lasting.”

Violence

  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Mackenzie describes the accident. “It was a normal day, right up until the point a car ran a red light two blocks from Ben’s school just as he was stepping from the curb. And then drove away.” Later, she recalls a memory. “The cops are talking to Dad and the doctor is telling Mom that Ben died on impact, and that word—impact—makes me turn and retch into one of the hospital’s gray bins.”
  • Some Histories, or ghosts from the Archive, are called “Keeper-Killers, the Histories who manage to get out through the Narrows and into the real world.” As the name suggests, these Histories kill Keepers to escape.
  • Mackenzie had to face trials to become a Keeper. In a memory, Mackenzie narrates, “Da told me to be ready for anything, and it’s a good thing he did, because between one moment and the next, [the examiner’s] posture shifts . . . I dodge the first punch, but he’s fast, faster even than Da, and before I can strike back, a red Chuck connects with my chest.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages.
  • One of the Histories has a knife and attacks Mackenzie. She saw metal, “and jump[ed] back just in time, the knife in his hand arcing through the air, fast.” Other Histories escape and attack Mackenzie as well.
  • Da taught Mackenzie how to fight. In her memory, she recalls, “You take me out into the summer sun to show me how to fight. Your limbs are weapons, brutally fast. I spend hours figuring out how to avoid them, how to dodge, roll, anticipate, react. It’s get out of the way or get hit.”
  • With her Archive-granted ability to see into the past, Mackenzie sees the memory of a guy murdering a girl in a hotel. The guy swipes “a large shard of glass from the floor . . . He’s on top of her, and they are a tangle of glass and blood and fighting limbs, her slender bare feet kicking under him as he pins her down. And then the struggle slows. And stops . . . I can see her, the lines carved across her arms, the far deeper cut across her throat.”
  • A series of deaths occurred within months of each other, some look like suicides and some look like accidents. Mackenzie learns that the circumstances for each death are fuzzy at best. She wonders, “Did he jump or was he pushed? Did Marcus hang himself? Did Eileen trip?”
  • A History stabs Wes. Mackenzie watches as “Wes throws another fist, and Owen catches his hand, pulls him forward, and plunges the knife into his stomach.” Wes is severely injured but survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Da smokes “a cigarette.” He is a lifelong smoker.
  • Mackenzie can “read” objects by touching them. When she’s reading a bloodstained floor in the hotel, she sees a boy who “judging by his feverish face and the way he sways, he’s been drinking.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor shows up and “a thin stream of smoke drifts up from his mouth, where a narrow cigarette hangs.”

Language

  • Profanity is occasionally used. Profanity includes damn, ass, bastard, and hell.

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive, which is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • Da shows that he’s somewhat superstitious/spiritual, and Mackenzie has the same superstitions. Before entering the Narrows, Mackenzie says, “I pull Da’s key from around my neck, running a thumb over the teeth the way he used to. For luck, Da used to rub the key, cross himself, kiss his fingers and touch them to the wall—any number of things. He used to say he could use a little more luck.”
  • Wes refers to his dad’s new fiancée as “Satan in a skirt.”
  • Wes reads part of Dante’s Inferno. He says, “When you think about it, the Archive is kind of like a Hell.”

by Alli Kestler

The Ghost Collector

Ghosts don’t scare Shelly. As an apprentice to her ghost-hunting grandma, Shelly catches ghost cats, dogs, and raccoons in her hair. She helps them move on to wherever comes after death. Shelly watches her grandma do the same with people. It’s what the Cree women in their family have always done.

When Shelly’s mom is in a terrible accident and dies, Shelly’s world is completely shattered. Now, Shelly wants to know what happens after death. Where do all of the ghosts go? Why do some spirits stay as ghosts? Shelly is in a desperate search to find her mother’s ghost. She wants to talk to her mother one last time. If Shelly’s mom loved her, wouldn’t she come back as a ghost?

Without her mom, everything has changed. Now, Grandma doesn’t take Shelly to hunt ghosts. Shelly feels lost and alone. She knows she’s breaking the biggest rule of ghost-hunting: it’s not right to force spirits to stick around. Shelly never intended to keep ghosts hidden in her bedroom, but when she’s surrounded by ghosts she doesn’t feel as lonely. If she keeps hunting ghosts, maybe she will eventually find her mother’s ghost.

The Ghost Collector uses a unique premise to show one girl’s struggle with grief. In a desperate attempt to understand her mother’s death, Shelly questions several ghosts about the afterlife. At first, Shelly is angry and confused because her mother doesn’t reappear as a ghost. However, by the end of the story, Shelly accepts her mother’s death and is able to put away the belief that if her mother loved her, she would have come back as a ghost. The Crees’ beliefs are intertwined with the story, which gives Shelly an added depth.

As Shelly’s grandmother teaches her about ghosts, she also teaches her a set of rules. For example, Grandma teaches Shelly that “we’re not supposed to charge everyone for their ghost.” However, after Shelly’s mother dies, everything begins to change and Grandma begins breaking her own rules. Grandma says, “Sometimes the rules are what you make them. Sometimes they need to be bent—broken. Sometimes the world is made of hard choices.” Shelly is angry and confused that Grandma doesn’t follow her own rules, and soon Shelly thinks she also doesn’t need to follow the rules.

Shelly encounters a variety of ghosts who have various reasons for not passing on, including confusion, fear, and unfinished business. One of the ghosts encourages Shelly to spend more time with the living. The ghost tells Shelly, “I’ve got nothing but time. You, on the other hand, still need to get through the business of living. Enjoy it. Being dead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Some readers, especially ones who are experiencing grief, may be disturbed by the way ghosts are portrayed (see below for specifics). The Ghost Collector allows the reader to see Shelly’s mixed emotions and understand her grief. At times Shelly’s grief is heart-wrenching, but her personal growth is also inspiring. The Ghost Collector is an engaging story that will allow readers to explore the topic of death. Parents may want to use the story to begin a discussion of the difficult topic of death.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Shelly thinks back to when she was younger and a classmate “cut off the end of her braid and when she hit him the principal said they were both wrong and called their parents. . . Shelly’s mom said she didn’t see how her daughter hitting a kid after he cut her hair was an unreasonable response.” Later Shelly’s mother told her, “Hitting people shouldn’t be your first response, but fighting back when someone tries to bully you isn’t a bad thing.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The women in Shelly’s family can see ghosts. “Shelly’s grandma teaches her about ghosts, how to carry them in her hair. If you carry your ghost in your hair, you can cut them off when you don’t need them anymore. Otherwise, ghosts cling to your skin, dig their fingers in under your ribs, and stay with you long, long after you want them to.”
  • Shelly’s grandmother helps people get rid of ghosts, and Shelly often goes with her. One woman asked for Shelly’s grandmother’s help. When Shelly and her grandmother go to the woman’s house, “Shelly can see the ghost that haunts the lady’s apartment dancing around her feet. It’s a little dog with a constantly wagging tail, trotting around on tiny paws with nails that click against the hardwood floors. . . Shelly catches the dog in the ends of her hair then scoops it into her arms . . . when the puppy licks her face it feels like someone is rubbing an icicle against her cheek.”
  • Several times in the book, Shelly’s grandmother helps animal ghosts move on. “Animal ghosts tend to be simple—the spirits of creatures that haven’t realized they’re dead yet. Being outside helps them fade away because a ghost removed from an anchor—whether that’s its home where it died, a favorite place, or a grave—will start to fade unless someone tries to keep it around. . . Shelly and her grandma use their hair like a net, like a fishing lure. They let ghosts cling to them and act as a hook to carry the dead to new places, places where they won’t be tied to anything and will be able to fade.”
  • One of the characters is the ghost of a teen, who sits on his gravestone. When he talks, “his mouth moves, but his voice comes from the headphones around his neck. . . Ghosts don’t usually come with accessories—Joseph having the player and headphones means he was buried with them.” Joseph tells Shelly, “I don’t know why some people stay and some people go. I don’t know why I stayed, except I was less scared of being a ghost forever and being stuck here, alone, than of whatever comes next.’
  • Estella stays at the graveyard where she was buried. She wants to wait and see her headstone.
  • Shelly and her grandmother help a raccoon move on. When Shelly first sees it, she thinks, “It’s an easy ghost. A raccoon that got stuck in the chimney. He looks furious about being stuck. When Shelly lets down her hair, he grabs hold of it eagerly, pulling himself free from the shaft and climbing straight into her arms.”
  • Shelly and her grandmother go to a friend’s house to get rid of a ghost. Shelly “feels the ghost as soon as she steps into the house. . .There’s nothing nice feeling about this ghost at all. It’s like static electricity all along her skin—a prickling sensation that makes the hair on her arms stand up and has her shivering.” When the ghost appears, “It looks like static, too, all flickering black and white and gray. . . it doesn’t walk, just flashes on and off, on and off. . .” The scene is described over two and a half pages.
  • While learning about ghosts, Shelly learns that “sometimes the dead are just confused about what happened, so they don’t move on. Sometimes they’re angry or upset. Sometimes, like Estelle, they do want to stay so they can do one last thing. But ghosts can get stuck, and that’s when hauntings happen.” Sometimes when “people throw out old things, ghosts go with them on their way to find a new home—confused spirits Shelly and Grandma used to snip off objects and bundle up to set free later.”
  • Shelly and her grandmother go to a house because a ghost was knocking pictures off the wall. When they arrive to set the ghost free, they see a “bird is sitting on top of a bookshelf. Its feathers are ruffled up and it looks about as disgruntled as a bird can look. . . Grandma bundles her hair up around the bird and holds it there until she’s sure it’s caught.”
  • Shelly meets the ghost of a little boy, who is confused and angry. He wants to know where his mother is.
  • When Shelly gets mad at Joseph, she “lashes out and kicks her foot through Joseph’s immaterial body and he topples over from the force of it, coming uprooted from his spot on the ground by his grave. . . He flickers, like the man who Grandma once dredged up from the river.” Joseph is scared and confused “as he twists in place and tries to claw his way back toward his grave, his spot.”
  • Shelly learns that “Death is going to happen to everyone, but knowing when it’s going to happen, choosing when you make the transition from life to death, choosing whether or not you’ll be a ghost and stick around a little longer, isn’t something most people get the chance to do.” She also learns that “Ghost are echoes of the person they once were. They fade away slowly, personalities and memories eroding over time.”

Spiritual Content

  • Shelly’s mom asks her if she wants to eat or go to the thrift store. Shelly says she wants to eat. Her mother replies, “Thank God, I’m starving.”

The Forgotten Girl

On a cold winter night, Iris and her best friend Daniel sneak into the woods to play in the freshly fallen snow. There, Iris makes a perfect snow angel—only to find the crumbling gravestone of a young girl named Avery Moorse right beneath her.

Soon strange things start to happen to Iris. She begins having vivid nightmares. She thinks she sees the shadow of a girl lurking in the night, and she feels the pull of the abandoned grave calling her back to the woods…

Obsessed with figuring out what’s going on, Iris and Daniel start to research their town. They discover that Avery’s grave is actually part of an abandoned black cemetery, dating back to a time when white and black people were kept separate in life—and in death. They become determined to restore Avery’s grave and have proper respect finally paid to Avery and the others buried there.

Unfortunately, they have summoned a jealous and demanding ghost, one who’s not satisfied with their plans. She is tired of being overlooked and wants Iris to be her best friend forever—no matter the cost.

The Forgotten Girl is a heart-stopping ghost story intertwined with the historical significance of racism. As Iris and Daniel research their town’s history, they learn about when their junior high was desegregated and the history of segregated cemeteries. The story delves into history, but the examples of racism are completely integrated into the story and never feel like a lecture. Through the characters’ eyes, readers will be able to understand how racism isn’t always overt, but it is always painful.

The story also shines a light on how grief can change people’s lives. When Daniel’s father dies, Daniel becomes fearful and cautious. He spends more time at home and no longer spends time with his friends. However, Daniel is not the only person affected by a death. When Daniel’s grandmother, Suga, was a teenager, her best friend died during a snowstorm. The loss of her friend caused Suga to become fearful and superstitious. Through their experiences, the reader learns the importance of not allowing fear to control your life.

Iris and Daniel’s friendship will draw the reader into the story, but readers will keep reading because of the creepy events that happen. The Forgotten Girl uses an engaging story to present historical information that is both interesting and relevant. At the end of the book, the author’s note gives historical information about abandoned graveyards and her inspiration for the story. However, sensitive readers should be wary of reading The Forgotten Girl because the ghostly events are frightening; readers will be able to imagine the events happening to them. Despite this, The Forgotten Girl should be on everyone’s reading list because of the historical information and positive lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While doing research, Iris and Daniel learn about when Nelson’s Pond Middle School was desegregated. “There were protests…Avery and the others were spit on, their hair was pulled, and things were thrown at them, when all they wanted to do is go to school. To learn.”
  • A ghost tries to drown Iris so they can be “forever friends.” Daniel sees Iris. “Iris’s head broke the surface of the pond, her mouth open to take a loud gasp of breath, before she was pulled back underwater…she’s pushed Iris into the pond and held her under. Iris tries to fight her, but couldn’t, her arms going right through her instead.” Iris survives the attack. The scene is described over six pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Suga has many superstitions. Suga believes that “Babies can talk to angels, you know.”
  • Suga believes that the snow spirits snatch children. She tells Iris the tale. “When you hear the winter wind, that’s the sound of their screaming. That’s when you’ll know spirits of the snow are ready for their feeding. Wandering children are their prey, lonely in the night. They take the children in the snow, feeding on their fright.”
  • When someone drops their fork, that means they will get an unexpected visitor soon.
  • Suga tells Iris, “If you looked over your left shoulder and saw a ghost, it was probably the devil. If you looked over your right, it was likely an angel.”
  • Suga tells Daniel, “Well, if a ghost is attached to a person, they’ve lost their way to where they were trying to go in the first place… They need to be led to where they need to go, so they can rest. A ghost obsessed with a person is a lost spirit.”
  • When Iris and Daniel are lost in the woods, Daniel “silently prayed, thought about his father… Daniel saw a light. He let himself become relieved. He was starting to see houses!” Iris is afraid that the light is a trap, but Daniel “didn’t think so. He didn’t feel afraid. The light felt like basketball and comic books and trying ties and haircuts…” When Daniel touches the ball of light, “a familiar, warm comfort washed over him. He felt the excitement he used to feel from holding a basketball. He felt his dad telling him that it would be all right, that he was proud of him. That he was at peace.”

Spiritual Content

  • While sneaking out of the house, Iris “tiptoed down the stairs praying that they wouldn’t creak.”
  • When Iris hears a tap-tap-tap, she “prayed that the spirits of the snow wouldn’t come for her tonight in her dreams.”
  • Iris falls asleep. When a noise wakes her up, “she stared straight at the ceiling, realizing she’d fallen asleep praying.”
  • Iris and her family go to church. “The pastor talked about the importance of helping those in need, talking about some of the community service drives they were holding…” During the church service, “they prayed their benediction.”
  • When Daniel’s family go to visit his father’s grave, “Suga closed her eyes in prayer.”
  • Before the meal, Iris’s sister “said a singsongy prayer.”
  • When Iris sneaks out of the house, the neighbor turned on the porch light and yelled to see if anyone was near. Iris “ran past the neighbors’ house, praying that they were already back in bed, not looking for anyone anymore.”

Archimancy

Cordelia Liu wasn’t happy to leave California. As soon as she stepped into Shadow School, she knew things were going to be different. Still, she didn’t expect the school grounds to be filled with ghosts.

Cordelia soon realizes she’s not the only one who can see the ghosts; her new friend Benji can too. Together with super-smart Agnes, the trio are determined to find out why the ghosts are there and whether there’s a way to set them free.

But the school was created with more sinister intentions, and someone is willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure that the ghosts remain trapped forever. Cordelia and her friends don’t know who they can trust. Do they need to fear the living, the dead, or both?

Shadow School isn’t just another ghost story. White creates a unique setting that is spooky without being overly frightening. Cordelia and her friends are somewhat stereotypical, but readers will still enjoy the brainy Angus, the sullen cute Benji, and the curious Cordelia. As Cordelia and her friends help the ghosts leave Shadow School, readers may be slightly disappointed that the ghosts’ stories lack detail. Instead of delving into the ghosts’ personal stories, the ghosts are quickly dispatched.

Even though Cordelia solves each problem quickly, readers will still enjoy the mystery behind Shadow School as well as the character’s interactions. Since Cordelia is a new student at Shadow School, she struggles to make friends. Throughout the story, Cordelia learns the importance of forgiveness as well as the importance of being friends with people who are different than her.

Cordelia is far from a perfect character, but her flaws make her relatable. She has awkward moments with her parents, she isn’t sure who she can trust, and she doesn’t always know what to do. Cordelia thinks about ignoring the ghosts, but decides to continue helping them because “easy choices were seldom the right ones.”

Shadow School has just the right amount of mystery, friendship, and frightening scenes to keep middle school readers engaged. Readers will have to use context clues to decipher difficult vocabulary, such as pealegume, tessellating, assuage, and spile. Told from Cordelia’s point of view, Shadow School gives readers an exciting peek into a paranormal world. Readers who enjoy Shadow School will also enjoy Nightbooks, another spooky story written by J.A. White.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While eating lunch, a food fight starts. “A plate of lasagna smacked” a boy in the face and “a piece of stringy cheese dangled from his nose as he searched for the culprit. . . Trays flew through the air, raining down lasagna, pizza, bagels, fries, sticky beverages, and the occasional healthy salad. There were no hurricane-forced gales, no apparent cause for the objects to be moving on their own. . . The table next to Cordelia was rumbling like a volcano about to erupt. She pulled Grant to safety as it slid across the room, right where they had been standing a moment before.” As the kids run out of the cafeteria, Cordelia sees a ghost. The chaos is described over three pages.
  • Cordelia hears a ghost whistle a lullaby and “Cordelia felt her limbs grow sluggish and saw the boy. . . could barely stay awake. His eyes fluttered, and he tottered uneasily from side to side before falling through the wall.” As Cordelia watches the ghost grab a tool with “a long pincer on one end, black and jagged like the claw of a prehistoric crustacean . . . the green-eyed ghost dug the pincer into the back of the hipster and pressed a trigger at the opposite end. The edges of the pincer closed. The green-eyed ghost pulled backward, and the hipster seemed to leap out of himself, though the version gripped by the pincer quickly deflated and hung like a suit of clothes.” Cordelia figures out that the ghosts fade away because someone snatched parts of them.
  • When Cordelia and her friend try to take blueprints out of a hidden office, a ghost sees them. The ghost named Elijah “raised his arm and point[ed] to the left, where the bronze compass that had been sitting on the table now hovered in the air, its rusty but still serviceable point extended in their direction. As Cordelia watched, the compass was joined by a utility knife and two pairs of scissors, while a row of sharpened pencils took position to their right.” A boy ghost “came out of nowhere, plowing shoulder-first into the back of Elijah’s legs and knocking him over.” Because of the boy ghost, Cordelia and her friend are able to escape. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Cordelia and her friends plan to trap the evil ghost in a ghost box. When one of the evil ghosts (Lenny) tries to grab Cordelia, “the hiker reached out and wrapped her arms around him. Lenny tried to shake her off, but the hiker dragged him backward with a fierce look of determination. Within a few moments, his entire body was inside the ghost box with her.”
  • As Cordelia goes down a hall, “the lockers to either side of her began to rumble and shake. . . Locks burst open and shot across the hall at dangerous speed. Cordelia heard one whiz past her ear while another clipped her wrist, sending a lightning bolt of pain all the way to her elbow. She broke into a run.” School supplies begin hitting Cordelia, then “the world went black.”
  • An evil ghost named Geist tries to get rid of Cordelia. When he catches her, “Cordelia suddenly rose two feet into the air and drifted toward the cart. She tried to fight it, but Geist was too powerful.” Cordelia’s friends save her and they capture Geist. “Cordelia grabbed a tool of her own and got to work, fastening the claw to Geist’s hip. The ghost snatcher spun in her direction, his green eyes glowing with malevolence, but there was nothing he could do. . .One, Geist was gone. Two, each one of their snatching tools now held a sad, deflated sac of skin.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cordelia googled “Good Spirits” and instead of getting information on ghosts, the search “took her to a list of stores that sold alcohol.”
  • Agnes makes brownies and shares them with adults. Then she tells them, “I added crème de menthe. That’s alcohol!”

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Cordelia says a boy is “a jerk.”
  • While telling a story Agnes says, “some idiot dumped a few northern snakeheads into a pond in Maryland. . .”

Supernatural

  • Some of the characters can see ghosts. The number of ghosts is “always changing. New ones arrive. Old ones fade away.” One of the characters explains, “Ghosts stay in one small area. A bench, like Newspaper Man. Or the gym, like the boy. There’s a doctor wearing green scrubs who mostly sticks to the supply closet, but sometimes she rushes down the hallway with her hands up in the air. It always happens real quick, like she’s just been called into surgery.”
  • Cordelia puts glasses near the Newspaper Man. When he puts them on, he “flipped to the next page and propped his feet up on the table. All the frustration left his body. . . A black triangle the size of a welcome mat appeared in the air above him, hovering a few inches below the ceiling. . . The triangle grew until it was half the size of the room. . . It slid open from the bottom, like a garage door, revealing a gentle, flickering light that brought to mind a cozy fireplace on a cold winter’s night.” The man enters the triangle and disappears.
  • Cordelia puts blush by a woman who continues to look in the mirror. When the woman picks it up, “the black triangle appeared a few moments later.” When the door slid open this time, Cordelia saw a room with “bright, pulsating light of a party.”
  • The ghosts that disappear “don’t seem so happy about it. Almost like they’re sick. . .”
  • Cordelia and her friends discuss what a poltergeist is. Someone explains, “It’s a special kind of ghost that can move objects around.”
  • The kids find the blueprints to make a box that traps ghosts. The owner of the school “believed that if he studied these [haunted] houses and tracked the similarities between them, he could use this knowledge to build a haunted house on purpose. He called this process archimancy.”
  • Ghosts have special goggles that let them see the living.
  • When an evil ghost whistles a tune, “the music wrapped itself around [Cordelia], squeezing the tension from her muscles and soothing all her worries. Cordelia know she should run, especially when she saw Whistler climb the first few rungs of the ladder, but moving required a huge amount of energy that she no longer possessed.” The Whistler grabs Agnes’ cheeks and “she instantly began to shiver. . . Agnes’s lips began to turn blue.” Someone blows a whistle and the “shrill sound was deafening in the small, round, overpowering Whistler’s song.” The kids are able to escape.
  • When an evil ghost, the Whistler, touches an object, a red triangle appears. “Instead of hovering in the air like its black siblings, the triangle lay flat on the floor, gleaming like a poisonous candy apple. It slid open. Puffs of smoky darkness polluted the room. . . Cordelia heard factory sounds: the pump of pistons, rumble of heavy machinery, roar of a furnace. And screams. There were lots of screams.” The Whistler falls into the triangle and the triangle vanishes.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Tunnel of Bones

Cassidy isn’t excited to be in one of the most haunted cities in the world—Paris. While her parents are filming their TV shows about haunted cities, Cassidy doesn’t plan on attracting danger. But when her parents take her to the creepy underground Catacombs, Cassidy finds danger lurking in the shadows.

When Cassidy accidentally awakens a frightening, strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghost hunter and her friends, both old and new, to help her unravel a mystery. As the spirit grows strong, Cassidy realizes that she’s not the only one in trouble. Soon the ghost causes disaster after disaster, which endangers the people Cassidy loves. Can Cassidy stop the angry spirit, or will he haunt her city forever?

The second installment of the City of Ghost series will not disappoint. As Cassidy follows her parents through Paris, Cassidy gets a firsthand look at some of Paris’s ghostly stories. While many of the ghostly encounters could be deadly, Cassidy’s best friend (and ghost), Jacob, is always waiting in the shadows in order to keep Cassidy out of trouble. Readers will enjoy Cassidy’s inquisitive mind and courage.

Cassidy’s adventures take her into Paris’s underground as well as to several of Paris’s landmarks. The adventure is at times creepy and suspenseful, but always interesting. Tunnel of Bones adds several new and interesting twists. As Cassidy tries to help a young ghost remember his past, she begins to wonder if Jacob will also begin to lose his memory of his earthly life. The parallel between the two ghosts adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Tunnel of Bones will entertain readers with a good ghost story. The easy-to-read text contains short sentences and offers action, description, and dialogue. Although several ghosts make a short appearance that does not enhance the plot, a little boy ghost continues to reappear which gives the story an air of mystery and unexpected danger. Cassidy’s faithful friends and encounters with frightening ghosts mixed with a dash of humor creates a highly entertaining ghost story. Although Tunnel of Bones can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers will not want to miss the first book of the series, City of Ghost.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she drops a necklace and begins to look for it. “But before I can reach it, the ghost grabs me by the collar and pushes me back against a tree. I try to twist free, but even though he’s a ghost and I’m not, the Veil levels the playing field.” Cassidy’s friend Jacob comes to her aid. “The ghost looks sideways just as Jacob swings the bucket at his head. The man staggers, black tar dripping down his face, and I gasp, dropping to the ground.” Cassidy uses her mirror to send the man on. The scene is described over three pages.
  • In order to see a ghost, Cassidy climbs onto a roof. When the ghost sees her, he pushes her off the roof. Cassidy is “falling, and somewhere between the edge of the roof and the lawn below, I cross back through the Veil and land hard on the ground beside the crypt. The fall knocks all the air from my lungs and sends pain jolting up through my right arm, and for a second all I can do is blink away the stars and hope I didn’t break anything.” Cassidy’s arm “zings” but she isn’t seriously injured.
  • When Cassidy opens the Veil, she sees a man “in an old-fashioned suit. He lifts an old-fashioned pistol and aims it straight at me, and Jacob wrenches me back out of the Veil before the shot goes off.”
  • The poltergeist opens the back door of a truck and “the contents begin to spill out. Boxes and crates smash into the street, followed by a massive golden frame that hurtles straight towards me.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she is on a train car. When she changes train cars, she sees a ghost. “And as he turns, I see the knife buried in his stomach. His own hand curled around the blade as if to keep it from falling out. The sheen of blood running down his front.” Jacob drags Cassidy out of the train car and slams the door.
  • While looking for the poltergeist, Cassidy runs into a man. “The man snarls and grabs me, shoving me against a wall of bones that rattle as they dig into my back. I gasp, but I manage to swipe the cap from his head before Jacob lunges at the spirit from behind, hauling him backwards. . . Jacob slams the other ghost into a pillar of skulls. The bones topple with a crash, and the man drips, dazed, to his hands and knees.” Cassidy and Jacob run away.
  • In order to help the poltergeist remember his past, Jacob grabs ahold of the boy. The boy “thrashes, trying to twist free. The air around him ripples and glows red, and the whole tunnel begins to shake as the crimson light spreads over everything, splitting across the floor, the ceiling and the walls of bone. . . The whole ground begins to shake with the force of Thomas’s displeasure. Even the wall of bones to my left begins to tremble and shift.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone tells a story about a man that was invited to a party. When the man goes to the party, “he found a party in full swing, and passed the night with music and wine and excellent company. . . And then something hits me. Not the frame, but a pair of hands. They plant themselves against my back and shove, and I stumbled forward to the pavement, scraping my palm as the frame crashes into the stone wall and rains glass onto the street behind me.”
  • Cassidy’s parents are in their hotel room “sharing a bottle of red wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Cassidy’s best friend, Jacob, is a ghost and can read her mind.
  • Cassidy can travel through the Veil and the in-between where ghosts live. Cassidy explains, “That’s the thing about the Veil: It only exists where there’s a ghost. It’s like a stage where spirits act out their final moments, whatever happened that won’t let them move on.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, “the world around me—vanishes. The carnival lights, the crowds, the sounds and smells of the summer night. Gone. For a second, I’m falling. And then I’m back on my feet.”
  • In order to get a ghost to move beyond the Veil, Cassidy holds up a mirror for the ghost to look into. Then she says, “Watch and listen, see and know. This is what you are.” When Cassidy says the words, “the whole Veil ripples around us, and the ghost thins until I can see through him, see the dark thread coiled inside his chest. Lightless, lifeless. I reach out and take hold of the thread, the last thing binding him here, to this world. It feels cold and dry under my fingers, like dead leaves in the fall. As I pull the cord from his chest, it crumbles in my palm. Vanishes in a plume of smoke. And then, so does the ghost.” Cassidy completes the same pattern on two other ghosts, and the ghosts disappear.
  • Cassidy awakens a poltergeist. Cassidy’s friend tells her, “It’s a spirit drawn to spectral energy… It was probably dormant until it sensed yours, Cassidy. . . That cold sensation you’ve been feeling, it is a kind of intuition, a warning that strong spirits are near. . . Poltergeists are wanderers. They’re not stuck in a loop or a memory, and they’re not tied to the place they died.”
  • While trying to understand ghosts, Cassidy calls a friend that tells her “the Veil is tailored to fit the ghost, [and] the place they died, which means it’s essentially tied to the ghost’s memory—that’s what binds it there. So if a poltergeist isn’t bound to the Veil, it’s because—they don’t remember.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Major Monster Mess

Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond.

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He is Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. Desmond Cole loves the cafeteria food, but Andres always brings his lunch. Unlike most schools, the lunch at Kersville Elementary is great. Desmond always has a plate heaping with food. When a cafeteria worker smells Andres’ lunch, strange things begin happening. Andres soon wonders if a monster is after his lunch.

In the sixth installment of the Desmond Cole Series, Andres takes center stage as he tries to find out why he comes home smelling like a monster. Another conflict is introduced when a shadow keeps trying to take Andres’s lunch, which is made up of traditional Hispanic foods. Major Monster Mess has a lot of aspects that will have younger readers turning the pages. Besides featuring a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement, there is also the threat of monsters, as well as the mystery of the shadow. As usual, Desmond and Andres discover that there is little to fear when it comes to monsters. Even though they may have scary appearances, they have good intentions—to cook the students of Kersville a delicious lunch.

The Major Monster Mess has a unique and humorous plot that has mystery and a satisfying, unexpected conclusion. The story contains just enough gross factor and scary monsters to keep readers turning the pages. Even though The Monster Mess is the third book in the Desmond Cole series, readers do not have to read the previous book. The story is told in ten short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary; perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Readers who enjoy The Scary Library Shusher should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • On the way to school, a black shadow tries to take Andres’ lunch. “A black shadow streaked across the ground and flew right behind me! Then something grabbed my backpack and wouldn’t let go! The shadow was trying to pull me off my bike.” Andres pedals into a brier bush and the shadow “yowled and let go.”
  • While in the cafeteria, a black shadow tries to take Andres lunch. “. . . There was no way I was going to let some monster tear it away from me. So I fought back. The next thing I knew, we were in a tug-of-war. . .Before I knew it, he had pulled me into the air. We zoomed around the lunchroom while the monsters kept eating their food, splattering glop all over the place.” Desmond tries to help Andres and they both end up in a pile of goop. “It was filled with apple cores, pencil shavings, and toenail clippings.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Zax is a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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