The Green Ghost

It’s Christmas Eve, and Kaye’s family is on the way to her grandmother’s house in a swirling snowstorm. Suddenly the car hits a patch of ice, slides across the road and skids into a snow-filled ditch! Through the car window, Kaye spots a light in the woods. Its glow leads her and her parents through the blizzard. They find a warm cabin, a kindly old woman named Elsa, and a green ghost who needs Kaye’s help!  

A long time ago, when Elsa was three, her sister Lillian wanted a beautiful Christmas tree rather than the ugly Junipers that her father brough home every year. So, Lillian and Elsa go into the snowy woods to find a tree. However, when Lillian finds the tree, she is unable to cut it down. By the time Lillian gives up, Elsa is shivering cold. Lillian can’t carry Elsa home, so she wraps Elsa up in her jacket, crawls under the tree, and snuggles up to keep Elsa warm. While Elsa survives, Lillian dies.   

By the time Kaye meets Elsa, she is an old woman who lives by herself. Like Elsa’s sister, Kaye wants a beautiful Christmas tree, not the artificial tree her grandmother planned to get. Kaye’s story parallels Lillian’s story and, in the end, Kaye learns that having a beautiful Christmas tree isn’t what is important. Christmas isn’t about the tree or the decorations, it’s about spending time with the people you love.  

The Green Ghost is full of suspense which will keep young readers flipping the pages until the very end. Even though The Green Ghost is a ghost story, the ghost’s appearance isn’t frightening. Before Kaye realizes that Lillian is a ghost, Kaye follows her into the woods. Kaye wonders, “What if this girl was playing a trick on her? What if she was trying to get Kaye lost in the woods? Could she find her way back to Elsa’s alone if she had to?” While the story revolves around a ghost, the story has a happy ending. 

The Green Ghost’s format will appeal to readers because of the short chapters, large font, and illustrations. The story goes back and forth between the early 1930s when Lillian was alive and the present. The two points of view are easy to follow because the chapters from Lillian’s time begin with the date and have a gray boarder around each page. This book is part of the Stepping Stones Series that is specifically written for beginning readers. The series allows readers to explore different genres such as history, humor, mysteries, and classics. 

If you’re looking for an engaging Christmas story with a positive message, The Green Ghost would be fun to read wrapped in a blanket on a cold night. If you want to add another Christmas-themed book with a positive message to your child’s reading list, check out Winter Wonders by Kate Hannigan. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Kaye and her family skid off the snowy road. “And they were sliding back across the road again. The car slid, and it turned, too . . . like some kind of carnival ride.” The car is stuck so they walk to a nearby house for help. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Blasted is used several times. For example, Kaye and her family are driving through a snowstorm. When Kaye starts asking her father questions, he snapped, “We’re in the middle of blasted nowhere.  

Supernatural 

  • A ghost appears to Kaye. “A small, pale face appeared. . . a lighted face. . . The light—or face, whatever it was—called to her. Not with a voice. . . Still, the light called as clearly as if it had said, ‘Come.’” 
  • Lillian, the ghost, appears as a little girl and leads Kaye into the forest where she stops by a tree. Then, “Lillian stepped back toward the line of trees and disappeared. She simply vanished.” 
  • Elsa tells Kaye that the ghost is her sister who died. “When I was a girl, Lillian visited me every year, right around Christmas. . . And then she and I would walk out together to see this tree.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Elsa tells Kaye and her family, “it was surely an angel who had brought them to her on this stormy night.” 

Dark Waters

Until next time. That was the chilling promise the smiling man made to Ollie, Coco, and Brian after they last outsmarted him. And as the trio knows, the smiling man always keeps his promises. So when the lights flicker and a knock sounds at the door, there can only be one explanation: he’s back and a frightening new game is afoot.

But before the three friends can unravel the smiling man’s latest nightmarish scheme, they set sail on Lake Champlain, where it’s said Vermont’s very own Loch Ness monster lives. Brian is thrilled. He hasn’t sailed since visiting family in Jamaica, and even the looming threat of the smiling man can’t put a damper on what is guaranteed to finally be a day of fun—even if it is awkward being stuck on a boat with his former best friend, Phil, and his new best friends, Coco and Ollie. But when the crew finds themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island and hunted by a monster on both land and sea, fun becomes the last thing on their minds. The smiling man has at long last set the stage for a perilous rematch. But this time, Brian is ready to play.

Unlike the first two installments of the Small Spaces Quartet, Dark Waters’ worldbuilding isn’t as believable. When the kids go through a rain squall, they are transported behind the veil. However, at first, the kids refuse to believe they are in danger. While the story implies that the smiling man is responsible for the kids’ plight, he never makes an appearance. Instead, the ghost of a man who died hundreds of years before is one of the central figures. While the ghost’s story thread explains the mysterious island, the man’s appearance does little to advance the plot. Likewise, Brian’s friend Phil is added to the cast of characters. However, he does not add any depth to the story.

Readers will also miss Ollie, who quickly fades from the story because she refuses to leave her sick father’s side. This allows Brian to take center stage. Unfortunately, Brian doesn’t use his knowledge to beat the smiling man. Instead, Brian and his friends do little more than run from both the ax man and the snakes. Brian never interacts with the smiling man. Even though Brian keeps his friends safe, but he doesn’t discover a way to get off the island.

Through Phil’s character, the story hints that honesty is important. This is reinforced when “Brian belatedly realized that if you told a lot of lies, even if it was for a good reason, like trying to keep people safe, it started to get hard to trust that other people were telling the truth.” Despite this, Brian and the other kids never tell the adults the true reason they are on the island. Another negative aspect of the story is that Ollie makes a bargain with smiling man in order to save her father’s life. However, she makes this decision without consulting anyone else, she hides her actions until the last moment, and the conversation between Ollie and the smiling man is not described. The conflicting message is confusing and leaves the reader wondering what would have happened if the kids had been honest.

In the end, Dark Waters is disappointing because the kids do little to solve the problems that arise. Plus, the characters’ behaviors are not consistent. Readers who loved the first two books in the story may have a difficult time wading through Dark Waters, especially because the dynamic between Ollie, Coco, and Brian changes which is one of the main appeals of the series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A giant water snake jumps out of the water. “The silver thing lunged, mouth wide, going for Phil’s hand. Would have gotten it too. If Mr. Adler hadn’t put his whole arm in front of Phil, shoved him unceremoniously to the deck, and gotten bit himself instead. . .”
  • The water snake attacks the boat, causing it to begin to sink. “A groaning of metal as though—as though something big was trying to get into the boat. Or get farther into the boat. Metal shrieked. . . Rising out of the murky, swirling water. A giant pink mouth, wide open packed with teeth as long as his forearm.”
  • When the water snake attacks the boat, it is implied that it killed Phil’s uncle, Mr. Dimmonds. “Their bags, full of all their gear, were floating already in the surge. And . . .and there was Mr. Dimmonds’s blue-striped beanie, floating too. . . the beanie sank. It had tooth marks in it.”
  • The kids put a decoy life raft into the water and “then there was a sudden boiling froth of water under the decoy raft, and the whole thing went flying into the air. A snapping mouth attached to a glittering silver body came flying up after it.”
  • The kids and two adults board a life raft and float toward an island. When they near the island, they see “a dripping silver head, a mouth crowded with teeth, rearing up out of the water. The head was bulging and barnacles, the eyes huge and filmy and blank. The mouth opened wide.” Everyone makes it safely onto the island.
  • Phil realizes that Brian remembered what happened with the scarecrows (in book one). Upset, Phil “punched him. It wasn’t a very good punch, more a shove, but it took Brian by surprise and dropped him.”
  • While exploring the island, the kids find a cabin with a skeleton in it. “The rest of the skeleton was covered by a blanket, except for one arm. The skull lay on a moldy pillow, fallen sideways, turned toward them.”
  • The “ax” man, who turns out to be a ghost, offers to “ax” the kids. He says, “Better the ax than what’s coming for you.”
  • While the kids are in the forest, they hear the chime of metal. Then, Brian sees “ten feet of snake had unwound itself from a branch overhead. Its open cotton-pink mouth was four feet away, jammed with teeth.” The kids run and climb a tree.
  • The snake starts to climb the tree so Brian tried to “break off a pine cone, and hurl it down. . . the pine cone bounced off the snake’s nose.”
  • The kids, who are still stuck in the tree, need to get the snake to leave, so Phil “grabbed the last flaming pine cone, and pitched it down with a lot of force and accuracy right into the thing’s eye. . . Now the snake was really enraged . . . it lunged higher yet, wrapping its body around the trunk of the tree, jaws going wide. . . Phil pitched the log straight into the snake’s open mouth. . . Then the jaws slammed shut and the snake recoiled, all the way back down to the ground.” The kids finally escape.
  • The kids find a captain’s log that talks about a sailor who was “lost while attempting to cast a fishing line just offshore. The monstrous snake reared up out of the water and snatched him.”
  • The captain’s log tells about some of the men who tried to leave the island in a boat. “Grieved to report the destruction of the lifeboat Emily, with all hands. . . then a smashing sound as the boat was flung into the air. The men came down into the water, and they had not chance even to drown, for the serpent plucked them out like so many fish and swallowed them down.”
  • The ghost tells the story of how his men died. “They hadn’t made it to the boat at all, they were just gone—swallowed whole, like rabbits.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • In total oh God, oh my God, and Jesus are used as exclamations six times.
  • Freaking is used twice.
  • Brian calls the snake a jerk.

Supernatural

  • Ollie’s watch helped the kids in the last two books, but this time, “after a second, as though the watch—the ghost of Ollie’s mom—whatever animated the watch—was reluctant, the screen shifted and became a compass.”
  • In each book, the kids go into a different world. “. . . Mist and water and through mirrors, that was how you went from world to world.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fitz and Cleo Get Creative

Cleo is a ghost who loves books. She wants to be like the characters in her books because they have awesome adventures, daring escapes, and epic battles. After watching a movie, she and her ghost brother Fitz decide to make a movie of their own—with their cat Boo’s help. First, they must write the movie script, which is really hard. Then they will need a band, artists, and actors. Will Fitz and Cleo be able to put all the pieces together and create movie magic? 

Readers will fall in love with the two ghosts, who are friendly, adorably cute, and make every day an adventure. While some of the events are random—such as finding images in clouds—most of the chapters focus on Fitz and Cleo making a movie. Through their activities, readers will learn about the movie-making process: making sets, sewing costumes, writing a script, and finding actors. Readers will also be introduced to the Rube Goldberg Machine, which is “a complex mechanical device, where one simple action causes another simple action.” While things don’t always go the way the two ghosts plan, they always encourage each other. 

Readers might miss Boo because he doesn’t play a large role; however, this leaves room for three new characters: a vampire, a werewolf, and a fish creature. Adding Fitz’s and Cleo’s friends adds interest and creates some humor. While all the characters are typically scary creatures, in Fitz and Cleo all the monsters are cute and friendly.  

The siblings’ adventures come to life in large, colorful panels similar to a graphic novel’s panels. The illustrations use bright colors and simple backgrounds that will appeal to young readers. Although the illustrations are simple, the ghosts’ emotions are clearly conveyed. Plus, some of the illustrations are humorous, such as Cleo dressed up like a rock star and Fitz’s mishap that makes him all colors of the rainbow. 

Fitz and Cleo’s chapters range from five to eleven pages. Each page has two to eight short sentences. Unlike the first book in the series, Fitz and Cleo Get Creative isn’t a collection of everyday life. Instead, each chapter relates to the next. While most of the text is easy to read, adults may need to help readers with some of the words such as nigh, nimbostratus, generations, and summon. There are also plenty of silly moments. For example, when Fitz ask Cleo for a pencil, she tells him she doesn’t have one. “But I do have this replica Viking battle-ax! You can carve your ideas into stone.” 

Fitz and Cleo Get Creative will entertain readers because of the relatable conflicts, the friendly ghosts, and new characters. Even though the story revolves around making a movie, young readers will relate to the siblings, who don’t always agree and make mistakes. Even when things don’t go as planned, Fitz and Cleo persevere until they reach their goal—making a marvelous movie. Readers who love Fitz and Cleo can find more ghostly friendship fun by reading Eva Sees a Ghost by Rebecca Elliot.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Blue Ghost

Liz is staying with her grandmother in her old house in the woods of northern Minnesota when one night a noise awakens her. It is someone calling her name, calling for Elizabeth. Liz opens her eyes. There is a blue ghost in her room! What does the ghost want from her? 

The Blue Ghost pulls readers into the story right from the start. Even though the story focuses on a ghost, the ghost tugs at readers’ curiosity instead of scaring them. When the ghost beckons to Liz, she follows the ghost into the past where Liz meets one of her relatives, a young girl named Elizabeth. When Elizabeth mistakes Liz for a guardian angel, Liz doesn’t correct her, because trying to explain the truth would be confusing. Instead, guided by the ghost, Liz is able to help Elizabeth care for her baby brother who is sick with the croup. Once the baby is out of danger, Liz returns to the present. 

The Blue Ghost isn’t just a ghost story; it is also a story about family connections. Through Gran’s stories, Liz learns about the history of her family. This knowledge helps Liz when she goes back in time. However, Liz is surprised to discover that Elizabeth does not know how to read. While Elizabeth is embarrassed by her inability to read, Liz encourages her by saying, “[You] could learn very quickly.” Once Liz returns to the present, she discovers that Elizabeth not only learned how to read, but she also became a doctor!   

Readers will enjoy the mystery surrounding the blue ghost as well as the sweet relationship between Liz and Gran. Through Gran, Liz learns about her ancestors who built the house and the importance of family connections. While the two have some fun moments, the story’s tone has moments of sadness. However, sadness is not portrayed in a negative light, but as a natural part of life. Gran teaches Liz that “tears are probably the best cure for a touch of sadness. Or the second best, anyway.” According to Gran, the best way to get over sadness is “sharing your bit of sadness” with someone you love.   

Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy The Blue Ghost’s format because of the short chapters, large font, and illustrations. This book is part of the Stepping Stones Series that is specifically written for beginning readers. The series allows readers to explore different genres such as history, humor, mysteries, and classics. 

The Blue Ghost is an engaging story that gives readers a peek into the past and shows that it is never too late to learn. The story focuses on Liz, who is a curious and likable protagonist who wants to learn about her family’s past. While Gran takes a secondary role, the relationship between Gran and Liz is endearing and readers will enjoy seeing how Liz is able to help Gran. Unlike many ghost stories, Liz doesn’t keep her experience a secret. Instead, the book ends with Liz sitting down to tell her Gran all about her ghost. The Blue Ghost is a surprising ghost story because there is no scare factor. Instead, readers will be eager to see how Liz’s willingness to follow the blue ghost allows her to help in an important way.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • A ghost appears in Liz’s bedroom. At first Liz sees a blue light. Then, “It seemed to form a person, a woman . . . the woman grew more solid. She floated right over Liz’s head. . . She motioned, as if she wanted Liz to follow. Then she vanished.” 
  • When the ghost appears again, Liz follows her through a wall. Liz “kept expecting to bump into the wall. She didn’t. . . Slowly she opened her eyes and drew in a long, slow breath. . . she was in a log cabin.” When Liz went through the wall, she was transported back in time.

Spiritual Content 

  • The girl in the past believes Liz is an angel because “Mama always told me I had a guarding angel. And here you be!” 

The Screaming Staircase

In London, ghosts haunt the living and only children have the ability to sense these otherworldly beings and remove them from our world. Lucy Carlyle and her co-workers, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins, are agents working for Lockwood & Co., an independent agency without adult supervisors. After an assignment goes wrong and the agency burns a client’s property down, the trio are forced to investigate the most haunted house in England: Combe Carey Hall.

The suspicious circumstances behind Combe Carey Hall might place Lockwood & Co. in even more danger than they realize, especially as they attempt to solve the mystery behind a decades-old murder. Will Lucy and her co-workers make it out of Combe Carey Hall alive? Can they help a restless spirit pass on? Or will they become just another one of the property’s victims? And what is the mysterious owner of the hall hiding?

The novel is written from Lucy’s point of view and, while she comes off as far more mature than the average teenager, her insecurities and snarky personality make her relatable without compromising her likability. The banter and trust between Lucy, Anthony, and George make each of the characters shine. Every character has strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, and this elevates their teamwork skills. In addition, the dynamic between the trio helps emphasize the importance of relying on others while also trusting in one’s own abilities. After the group escapes Combe Carey Hall alive, Lockwood even says, “I trust your talent and your judgment, and I’m proud to have you on my team.”

Stroud’s worldbuilding around the supernatural elements of this alternate London is extremely interesting and intricate. A variety of different ghosts are introduced, plus several government and private agencies that investigate the paranormal. Stroud deftly addresses how the appearance of ghosts would impact London on a wider scale. To help readers understand this complicated world, a glossary of new terms is used, which includes specific agencies and specters’ abilities.

The Screaming Staircase is an excellent introduction to more macabre horror stories, especially for tweenagers who love longer novels. The book’s grim atmosphere is more intense than most novels geared toward young children, with consistent descriptions of death and its central mystery being related to murder. However, the descriptions of violence never breach into anything too graphic, and Stroud’s light-hearted dialogue ensures that the book is never too grueling. Nevertheless, the horror elements, while toned down for a younger audience, are still present. Younger readers could easily get nightmares, so consider avoiding this book if your child is easily frightened.

A double-edged facet of the book is its lack of a true moral. The Screaming Staircase is not trying to convey any deep messages or complex ideas, but that lack of intention helps ensure the novel is a fun and down-to-earth read. The fun dynamic between Lucy and her co-workers, interesting ideas presented in a haunted London, and macabre elements make Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase an excellent introduction to YA horror.

Sexual Content

  • When George goes looking through Lucy’s armoire, he says, “Well, there’s nothing in here but some charming tops and skirts and. . . Ooh, Lucy-I’ve never seen you wearing that.

Violence

  • When discussing the potential cause of a ghost’s manifestation, Lucy discusses how a man, “Fell down the stairs and broke his neck. . . He must’ve fallen with tremendous f-[orce].”
  • Lucy thinks about what happens to agents who forget to properly stock equipment. “A girl at Rotwell’s had died the previous week after forgetting to restock her magnesium flares.”
  • Lucy reveals that decomposed human remains are often the source of a ghost’s manifestation, “Most often. . . 73% of the time . . . it’s associated with what the Fittes Manual calls ‘personal organic remains.’ You can guess what that means.”
  • During an investigation, Lucy sees a corpse. She describes it as “a thing of bones, bared teeth, and shrunken skin, dark and twisted as burnt wood . . .”
  • Both of Lucy’s parents were abusive. Her father’s “hands were hard and swift in punishing any of his children who disturbed his usual taciturn indifference.” Lucy’s mother also “beat [her] sore.”
  • Lucy’s mother tells the story of a girl who committed suicide. The girl “waded out into the reeds, lain down in the stream, and drowned herself.”
  • Lucy and Lockwood discuss a variety of serial killers, including “the coin-in-the-slot killer” and the “one who kept heads in the fridge.”
  • When investigating the history of a house, George finds out that “in May 1926, the owner, a Mr. Henry Kitchener, had hung himself somewhere on the premises.”
  • The caretaker of Combe Carey Hall describes how a previous owner was a serial killer who decorated the hall with the skulls of his victims. “When he’d finished off each one, he set their skulls on the steps of the central staircase with candles burning behind the eye sockets.”
  • Lucy ponders the importance of securing a point of retreat while within Combe Carey Hall. She remembers, “two Grimble agents had been separated from their colleagues when the bathroom door blew shut on them . . . the two agents had been battered to death by whirling ceramics.”
  • While they’re in Combe Carey Hall, a thick, goopy substance called ectoplasm surrounds Lucy, Lockwood, and George. Lucy says, “It looks like blood, it smells like it. It’ll do as blood for me.”
  • Lucy finds the body of an agent who previously died in the house. “The neck was twisted at an odd, unnatural angle. One hollowed jacketed arm reached towards the hole as if it wished to drag itself forward and slip down into the dark.”
  • In an attempt to escape the torturous screaming of Combe Carey Hall’s staircase, Lucy nearly throws herself into the well. “Just a couple more strides and the screaming would stop. I’d be part of that silence too.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lucy describes her alcoholic father. “His breath smelled of strong, brown beer.”
  • Lucy’s old mentor “chain-smoked cigarettes.”

Language

  • As Lucy tries to get someone’s attention, “he didn’t bloody respond.”
  • As she tries to follow Lockwood’s plans, Lucy thinks, “What the devil was Plan E?”
  • When Lucy collapses, George bursts into her room and says, “What the hell’s going on?”
  • Lucy calls the initial investigators behind a woman’s disappearance “idiots.”
  • George discusses how suspicious their assignment is by saying, “This whole thing is screwy.”

Supernatural

  • The premise of the novel is centered around the existence of ghosts and how to destroy them.

Spiritual Content

  • When London first got infested by ghosts, people visited various places of worship. “Churches and mosques did excellent business as people sought to save their souls . . . ”
  • Combe Carey Hall was initially “a priory, founded by a breakaway group of monks from one of the local abbeys.”
  • The monks who took up residence in Combe Carey Hall eventually, “turned away from God to the worship of darker things.

by Mia Stryker

 

Hardly Haunted

After years with no residents, a lonely house on a hill comes to realize that she is haunted. The revelation scares her even more than any of the strange noises and rumblings inside her ever have. Who would ever want to live in a haunted house? The house starts to fear a lifetime of living alone, until she hatches a plan.  

The house believes that if she is on her best behavior, no one will know her secret. She tries her best to keep quiet, to keep her doors from creaking, her stairs from squeaking, and her pipes from rattling. After a long effort, she finally manages to hold still. Unfortunately, she is quickly ambushed by a rush of wind, and her efforts are immediately squashed. The branches of the tree beside her scratch at her windows. Her lights flicker. Her chimney howls. The wind passes, but the house thinks that the experience was fun. She realizes that she enjoys being noisy and haunted and does not want to pretend not to be. However, this doesn’t change her feelings of loneliness. After some thought, the house decides that she should look for people who like that she’s haunted. Just then, a family of ghosts approaches the house and steps inside. They make themselves at home, much to the haunted house’s delight.  

Hardly Haunted is a fun and delightfully scare-free picture book for the Halloween season. Each illustration is spread across two pages. The story takes place throughout one day, beginning in a sunny background with bright blue skies and ending in a dark violet background with twinkling stars and a glistening full moon. Young readers will enjoy the illustrations of the personified house with windows for eyes and a water pipe for a mouth. Plus, detail-driven readers will have a fun time finding the black cat in every page.  

The book uses simple and short vocabulary, with 1 to 4 sentences per page – though the font is relatively small on some pages. To help immerse the reader into the story, words such as creak and squeak appear in large, messy font and make the story fun to read aloud. 

By reading Hardly Haunted, readers will be introduced to such themes as loneliness and insecurity. The house’s decision to happily stay haunted will teach readers that they don’t have to change themselves to be accepted. The arrival of the ghost family at the end of the book shows that the right people will find you in time. This story will particularly appeal to those looking for a Halloween-themed story that is light on scares. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The narrator is a talking haunted house. 
  • At the end of the novel, a family of ghosts appears. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Girl in the Locked Room

A girl is locked in a room in an old, abandoned house. She has been hiding there for more than a hundred years. Another girl, Jules, arrives at the ruined house and sees a pale face in an upstairs window. Who is up there, she wonders, behind a locked door? 

Jules finds out that a young girl, Lily, has been watching her from the window. Jules is fearful, then fascinated, then eager to befriend—and help—the captive, who is burdened by a chilling secret from the distant past. 

Even though The Girl in the Locked Room is a ghost story that revolves around murder, the story won’t give readers shivery chills. From the start, readers know that Lily’s family was murdered. Since the family’s demise is not described in detail and leaves out any gore, the circumstances surrounding their death add suspense. The mystery of what happened will fill readers with curiosity.  

The story jumps back and forth between Lily and Jules’ perspectives, which allows readers to understand both girls’ feelings. Much of the suspense comes from the characters’ questioning themselves and wondering about each other. At times, the long string of questioning becomes overwhelming as they slow down the pacing.  

While the girls’ feelings are clear, the cause of some of the events is confusing. For example, portions of the family’s murder are played out each night and only Lily and Jules hear the raucous. The idea of multiple dimensions is introduced, which muddies the plot and makes the ending confusing. As far as ghost stories go, The Girl in the Locked Room is an uninspiring story with lackluster characters that will easily be forgotten. If you’re looking for a book that revolves around the supernatural, you should grab a copy of Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega and Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Jules moves into an old house, she learns that the family who used to live there was murdered and the house is haunted. Jules’ friend says, “Lots of kids have seen their ghosts, my brother included—he says if you go inside that house, you never come out.” 
  • At night, ghosts from the past reappear, playing out the past. In one viewing, a group of men finds the murdered bodies of the family. Their bodies are not described.  
  • Jules and her friend, Maisie, go into the old house. Jules thinks, “I knew people had been murdered in these rooms. Blood had stained its floor. Silent screams hung in the air.” 
  • Through multiple scenes, Jules learns what happened to the family. Mr. Bennett fired an employee who had stolen from him. Lily hears “the men’s voices rise. Mama screams and screams again. Lily hears explosions, two, three, maybe more. She recognizes the sound of gunfire. There’s more cursing, more thuds and bangs.” 
  • In the past, one of the women’s husbands was known to hit her and leave bruises “all over her arms.” When the man breaks into the Bennett’s house and his wife tries to stop him, “there’s a loud smacking sound, and Aunt Nellie cries out in pain.” 
  • In a plan to change the past, Lily doesn’t hide in the closet. Instead, when the men arrive, she goes downstairs and a man “grabs Lily and lifts her off her feet. He holds her under her arms as if she’s a dog. His breath smokes with whisky and his eyes are wicked, like the eyes of the old bull Papa keeps in the pasture.” 
  • When Lily breaks free, the man’s gun falls to the ground, and his wife, Aunt Nellie, grabs it. She says, “Stop right now, Charlie or I’ll shoot you dead. Don’t think I won’t.” Charlie’s friend shoots and accidentally hits Charlie. He “falls to the floor. His head is bleeding. A red stain spreads across the carpet.” The scene between Lily’s family and the bad men is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The men who killed Lily’s family were drunk. 

Language   

  • When men threaten Mr. Bennett, he calls them “drunken fools.” 
  • Oh Lord, for the Lord’s sake, and Lord God Almighty are used several times. 
  • Someone asks, “What the devil’s going on?” 
  • Lily’s mom calls her husband an idiot. 

Supernatural 

  • When Lily’s ghost appears to Jules and her friend, “Jules and Maisie see her as she once was, not as she is now.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Lily’s pastor “told us the world would end in the year two thousand. Judgement Day would come, and the dead would rise from their graves, and we’d be sent to heaven or hell.”  

Cemetery Boys

Sixteen-year-old Yadriel’s family doesn’t accept his true gender. Despite this, he’s determined to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Yardriel embarks on a mission to help a spirit cross over to the land of the dead. However, instead of summoning his cousin, Yadriel summons the ghost of his school’s bad boy, Julian Diaz.

Julian agrees to let Yadriel release his spirit, but only after Julian does a few things first. During their time together, the pair grow closer and begin to develop feelings for each other. However, Yadriel, Julian, and his friend, Maritza, slowly begin to realize that Julian’s death might be linked with a series of disappearances across East LA. What could be causing them? Will Yadriel’s family ever fully accept him? And will Yadriel be able to set Julian’s spirit free to the afterlife?

Cemetery Boys is an excellent introduction to the genre of magical realism mixed with a sweet and genuine, if somewhat saccharine, YA love story. The fantastical elements of brujo magic remain consistent throughout the story and helps the reader clearly understand what can be accomplished by magic, but the realistic elements are where Thomas’s writing truly shines. They convey a down-to-earth story of a young man seeking acceptance from his traditional family. In addition, the author interweaves several problems that Latinx teenagers face in East LA.

Julian discusses how his friend, Luca, was sucked into a gang. Julian and his friends “didn’t see [Luca] for weeks and his parents didn’t care . . . By the time we tracked him down, he was living in a drug den and had gotten branded with tattoos.” Julian also talks about how his friend’s parents were deported. His friend was “the only one who’s got parents that actually like him . . . But they got deported . . . They sacrificed everything to get to the US and make sure Omar had a better life than them.” In addition, Julian is incredibly open about his rough relationship with his brother, Rio.

Thomas excellently disperses the more upsetting material among scenes of Yadriel and Julian growing closer. The pair go on an Odyssey of cute moments and teenage shenanigans, which makes them and their relationship both believable and sweet. Because of their relationships, Yadriel gains confidence and learns the importance of accepting himself.

Yadriel and his friends—Julian, and Maritza—are strong role models for teenagers because they do what they believe is right, even if it is not easy or socially acceptable. For example, Yadriel goes against his family’s wishes by investigating the death of his cousin. Maritza sticks to her values as a vegan even though she cannot use her magic abilities effectively, since her healing abilities depend on her using animal blood. Plus, Julian chooses to stay in the land of the living in order to help Yadriel prove himself as a brujo.

Cemetery Boys is deeply rooted within Latin American culture, especially through its supernatural elements. Latin American folktales are also sprinkled throughout the story. Additionally, a lot of Spanish is spoken within the book, especially when Yadriel performs magic. While this novel can be easily enjoyed without being bilingual, having some knowledge of both Latin American culture and the Spanish language enhances the reading experience.

Thomas successfully creates a story within the genre of magical realism that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. If your child is interested in urban fantasy or wants to read a book featuring diverse LGBTQ+ characters, Cemetery Boys is an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • Yadriel kisses Julian. “Yadriel threw himself against Julian and wrapped his arms around his neck kissing him fervently. He felt Julian’s smile under his lips . . . Someone let out a low whistle.”

Violence

  • Animal blood is used in several of the brujo rituals. For example, when Yadriel performs a ritual to summon Lady Death, “The black Hydro Flask full of chicken blood thumped against Yadriel’s hip . . . the rest of his supplies for the ceremony were tucked away inside his backpack.”
  • Yadriel cuts himself to offer his blood to Lady Death in order to summon her. “Yadriel opened his mouth and pressed the tip of the blade to his tongue until it bit into him.” He then puts this blood into a bowl.
  • When Yadriel attempts to heal an injured cat, the ritual backfires and hurts the cat, causing it to bleed. Yadriel “could still picture the drops of scarlet on his mother’s white skirt. The terrible yowl. The sudden, sharp pain of the poor cat piercing into his head.” The cat is later healed by Yadriel’s mother and survives the encounter.
  • When Julian dies, there is “thrashing and pain on Julian’s face. The blood seeping through his shirt. His gasps for breath.” When Julian’s body is found “right above his heart, was a dagger.” Later, Julian finds out his Uncle Catriz killed Julian to be used in a sacrifice to gain powers offered by Xibalba, a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. Yadriel later resurrects Julian and he makes a full recovery.
  • Catriz kills three other people. When they die, the stone under them is “streaked with dark, dried up blood.” Yadriel resurrects them when he resurrects Julian.
  • Yadriel’s evil uncle is dragged to a hellish realm by Xibalba. The spirit “sank its teeth into Catriz’s shoulder, molten eyes blazing. A scream ripped through Catriz, the whites of his eyes surrounding his dark pupils. With a lurch, the jaguar dragged him down. Catriz’s howls turn to wet gurgles as he was pulled below the surface. Dark blood and water spilled across the floor in a wave.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In a ritual to call upon Lady Death, Yadriel uses tequila. “Yadriel had nicked a mini bottle of Cabrito tequila from one of the boxes that had been gathered for the Día de Muertos ofrendas.”
  • Yadriel carries alcohol that he uses in rituals. At one point he says, “Last thing I need is to get caught by campus security with alcohol and a knife in my backpack.”
  • Yadriel goes to a bonfire where there are “illegal substances” and alcohol.
  • People spread rumors that Julian’s older brother, Rio, is a drug dealer. These rumors are false.
  • While in the hospital, Julian is put on a sedative which causes, “a thick fog in his head, dulling his senses.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes asshole, badass, fuck, hell, and shitty.
  • When Julian sees Yadriel’s cat for the first time, he jokingly says, “Holy shit . . . That’s one messed-up looking cat!”
  • Julian tells his friend, “You got shitty taste in music, by the way.”
  • Someone calls Julian “a real asshole.”
  • After Yadriel questions why Julian doesn’t have a girlfriend, Julian says, “Because I’m gay, asshole.”
  • Julian, a gay man, says “Queer folks are like wolves . . . We travel in packs.”
  • After Julian has an outburst, Yadriel says, “What kind of machismo bullshit was that?”

Supernatural

  • The premise of the novel is centered around summoning ghosts, magical powers, and the idea of an afterlife.  Some rituals include summoning Lady Death, releasing spirits into the afterlife, and healing other people. Many of these rituals involve food and alcohol, and some involve blood.
  • Portajes, either daggers or rosaries, are used to release spirits into the land of the dead or heal people.
  • Quinces, fifteenth birthday celebrations, are when most brujos receive their powers from Lady Death.
  • Yadriel’s aunt tells him a story about Xibalba , a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. “Without human sacrifices to satiate his hunger, he threatened to unmake the land of the living.” Xibalba later enters the mortal plane to receive Catriz’s human sacrifices and, when Catriz fails to provide them, drags Catriz into his domain.

by Mia Stryker

Long Lost

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist. 

When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. There she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.  

Soon, Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore. 

While Long Lost focuses on Fiona, the story also jumps back in time to tell the story of two sisters—Hazel and Pearl. Fiona finds a mysterious book that keeps disappearing and reappearing; the book gives her a look into Hazel’s and Pearl’s lives. Fiona’s side of the story starts off slowly as her most pressing conflict is getting a library card, but soon the action picks up and the reader will get hooked on the mystery of what caused Hazel to disappear. Another element that builds suspense is the town’s belief in the Searcher, a mysterious black-draped apparition that steals children. While the plot is interesting, with all the different story elements, the plot may be difficult for some readers to follow. 

While the story contains plenty of mystery, it is also a story about sisters. Both sets of sisters—Hazel and Pearl, and Fiona and Arden—get so angry that they wish the Searcher would take their sibling. However, like all siblings, the girls learn the importance of working out their problems and being supportive of each other. Unfortunately, for Hazel and Pearl, this realization doesn’t happen until after they have died and meet up again as ghosts. 

While the main characters, Fiona, Hazel, and Pearl are not necessarily relatable, they are well-developed and interesting. Anyone who has siblings will understand the girls who often fight, say mean things to each other, and at the same time love each other.  

At times, Long Lost is a spooky story that will have readers’ hearts pounding. Readers will also be trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. The one downside of Long Lost is the conclusion, which is rushed and leaves readers with questions. However, the story ends on a hopeful note with Fiona and her sister, Arden, repairing their relationship. Middle-grade readers who love the idea of ghosts, but don’t want the frightening elements of many young adult novels will enjoy Long Lost. If you’re looking for more spooky, fun ghost stories, check out the Shadow School Series by J.A. White. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Pearl comes home alone, one of the servants didn’t recognize her. “The pale, fragile form drifting out from between the trees with trancelike steps, hollowed eyes barely looked alive at all. . . beneath the blue pallor and stunned stare, she recognized Pearl’s familiar face. . . The girl was too cold even to shiver. . . Mud clung to her shins. Scratches and scrapes covered her bare arms.” Later, it is revealed that Pearl jumped into the river trying to find her sister. 
  • While in the woods, Fiona sees the Searcher. “A tall, gaunt, black-draped form. Hunched shoulders. Long, bent spine.” Fiona “didn’t have time to think. She could only whirl around and run.” Fiona is frightened but uninjured. 
  • In the library, after hours, Fiona meets the ghost of Pearl. Then, “The library’s double doors thumped open. . . The Searcher stepped forward. His cloak dragged along the parquet. Its hood was too deep to reveal any hint of a face inside. . . The Searcher took another step. A rush of cold air swept up the staircase, carrying the smell of damp and mud and rot.” Both girl and ghost run. 
  • Fiona runs into the library’s basement. “She was still trapped in the dark with one long-dead girl, a ghost dog, and some silent, lurching thing in a long black cloak.” Later, Fiona discovers that the Searcher is really Hazel’s ghost. 
  • Angry at Hazel, Pearl “lowered her head like a charging bull, and barreled straight into her sister’s stomach. The two of them fell to the ground. . . Pearl lunged forward and snatched the knife from Hazel’s pocket, where it was always kept. As Hazel sat up, trying to grab it back, Pearl kicked her sister in the ribs, knocking her aside. Hazel let out a gasp of pain. . .” The fight is described over two pages. 
  • Hazel drowns, but her death is not described. 
  • Hazel’s ghost tricks Fiona into going into a cistern. Fiona “couldn’t feel hands wrapped around her wrists; there were no fingers, no flesh. But the coldness held on to her, as solid as stone. She couldn’t get up.” Hazel attempts to drown Fiona, but someone rescues her. The scene is described over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After Hazel disappears, her mother is “dosed by the doctor.” Her father locks himself up in a room with a “crystal decanter.”  

Language   

  • Fiona calls herself an idiot and Hazel calls her sister an idiot twice. 
  • In her thoughts, Fiona uses the word kook several times. When a boy tells her that a book is cursed, Fiona wonders if he is a kook.  

Supernatural 

  • The town has a rumor about a Searcher who “was a dark being that skulked through these woods, awaiting the moment when it might catch another wanderer alone. According to the tales that wound through the town, any such unlucky wander was never seen again.” When Pearl’s sister is missing, Pearl says the Searcher took her. 
  • Fiona finds a book that tells the story of Pearl and Hazel. The book keeps disappearing and then showing up in a different location. Fiona believes that the book has “been waiting for the right person to come along.”  
  • Fiona meets a boy her age named Charlie. He believes the disappearing book is cursed. “The book is cursed to remain at the library. It’s can’t leave for long. Just like a ghost can’t leave the place it haunts.” 
  • Charlie believes in ghosts. He says, “Ghosts are just parts of the past that haven’t stopped happening. Things are unfinished. Like if you disappeared, and no one found you.”  
  • The ghost of Mrs. Rawlins appears to Fiona.  
  • As Fiona discovers more about Hazel and Pearl, the book mysteriously adds new pages. 
  • While looking for clues in Hazel’s bedroom–which has been preserved as she left it—Hazel’s pocket knife “wobbled on its rounded handle like an egg set on a countertop. . . it spun faster and faster, making several full circles before coming back to a halt.” The knife points to “the spot where a peephole was drilled through the wall.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Escape from the Roller Ghoster

The Kersville Amusement Park is always a good time, but it also gives a new meaning to the term “thrill rides.” That’s because, in addition to being a popular destination for heart-pounding fun, the park is also just a little bit haunted. Join Desmond and Andres as they try to enjoy their day at the amusement park while being chased by ghosts! Warning: You must be this tall to read this book. 

Throughout most of the story, Desmond and Andres are running from one activity to the next. When they challenge the ghosts to a contest, the boys beat the ghosts, which is unrealistic. However, it does lead to some silly moments. Desmond tells Andres, “You know how we’re feeling right now? Well, that’s probably how the ghosts feel.” Once the boys realize how the ghosts feel, Desmond and Andres are able to come up with a creative solution that makes both the people and the ghosts happy.  

Escape from the Roller Ghoster’s plot is lacking, but readers will still enjoy Desmond’s and Andres’s silly antics. Each book in the Desmond Cole series is a separate story and the books can be read in any order. The story is told in ten short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary that is perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The illustrations are often humorous and use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. 

Even though Desmond and Andres are completely different, the two boys are best of friends who work together to rid the amusement park of ghosts. Full of silly moments, this non-scary ghost story will appeal to a wide range of readers. Readers who love ghost stories should also grab a flashlight, a blanket, and a copy of Ghost Attack by David Lubar. Similar to Escape from the Roller Ghoster, Ghost Attack uses humor to make young readers smile. 

Sexual Content 

  • In order to escape the ghosts, Desmond and Andres go on the “scariest ride at the park: the Tunnel of Love.” The illustration shows couples hugging and one couple kissing.  

Violence 

  • While playing a game, “instead of using the baseball, the sneaky ghost shot a fireball that hit the stack of bottles and turned them all to ash!” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • While on one of the rides, the ghosts were “fraidy-cats.” 

Supernatural 

  • When Desmond and Andres go on a ride, a ghost winks at them. Then, “A ghost just asked us if we were having fun.” The ghosts continue to follow the two friends throughout the park. Later they find out that the ghosts were not real. Instead, the ghosts where “a leftover hologram from our Halloween show last year.”  
  • Desmond hands Andres a pair of glasses. “Suddenly, all [Andres] could see were ghosts! They were playing games, eating food, and riding rides.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ghostology: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings

Have you been hearing strange footsteps and knocks, whispers, and rattling chains? Perhaps the early twentieth-century author of this newly discovered tome has some secrets to share. Within the book’s weathered pages you’ll hear of a headless French pirate in search of his missing noggin, a vanishing pair of young trickster twins, a ghostly woman who screams for attention, and other communications from the “fun side.” 

Readers who wish to explore the mysteries of the paranormal will find some hands-on challenges to lift their spirits, along with tips on a range of spectral subjects, such as what to pack in a ghostologist’s field kit, how to distinguish different types of ghosts, the best ways to hunt them, and spotting the unfortunate fakes and frauds. Too bad the late author never got to see her guide find its way into the world! But wait—what are those strange and scratchy asides that appear in odd places throughout the book? 

Ghostology is packed full of information about ghosts and explains the different types of ghosts as well as famous hauntings. Readers will be forced to interact with the book because the book is similar to a pop-up book that ask readers to open flaps that appear on some pages. Just because the book has only 30 pages doesn’t mean this will be a quick read. Each page is overloaded with information—definitions, ghostly stories, spells, information about psychics, and much more. 

Each page is a visual joy to behold. Large illustrations, photographs, lists, maps, and other graphic elements are scattered over the pages, which look similar to a scrapbook. While some of the illustrations are full color and beautiful, others are black and white and show ghosts in frightening detail. However, don’t expect to believe everything you see; Ghostology takes a look at some historical “proof” of hauntings and explains why you should or shouldn’t believe the evidence. Either way, you will have to decide if the book is truth or fiction. 

While Ghostology presents all the information as facts, occasionally the book has a fun, tongue-in-cheek tone. For example, toward the end of the book, in font that looks like handwriting, readers will see “Ha! HA! HA! You opened the page. At last I am Free! When darkness falls you’re sure to see . . . Lucinda (R.I.P.)” Be advised: some of the stories are creepy and some pages explain how to bring a spirit into the human world. 

Readers interested in all aspects of ghosts, including learning about historical ghost hunters and how to hunt ghosts, must read Ghostology. This book will give you a host of real ghost hauntings, haunted places, and other facts that you will be eager to learn more about. For those who want to jump into the fictional world of ghosts, The House on Stone’s Throw Island by Dan Poblocki and the City of Ghosts Series by Victoria Schwab are sure to get your heart thumping. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Anne Boleyn’s ghost was “beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536 on the orders of her husband.” Now she “haunts the Tower, where she screams, slams doors, and leaves unsightly bloodstains on the floor on the anniversary of her death.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The entire book is about different types of ghosts and famous hauntings. The book includes ways to entice spirits to make an appearance. For example, “to make a ghost visible in a mirror, stare at your own reflection in a dark room. . .” Then repeat these words, “Ookie, Wookie, Don’t say boo! Ookie, Wookie, I see you!” 
  • Poltergeist are explained. They can “cause physical disturbances, throwing or levitating objects, knocking at doors, even pinching, hitting, or using their teeth.”  
  • The book explains types of ghosts. The story lists a host of real ghosts such as Anne Boleyn’s ghost, Abraham Lincoln, and “even criminals such as the English highwayman Dick Turpin.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ghost Ship

The puppy pirates listen carefully as Puggly tells the story of Growlin’ Grace and her crew. Growlin’ Grace was determined to track down an evil sea slug. But when the pirates discovered that the slug was “bigger, stronger, and slimier than anything those pirate pups had seen before. . . Growlin’ Grace’s crew turned the ship around” and sailed away.   

After the scary story, Wally is pranked by a couple of pugs, who accuse him of being more puppy than pirate. How can Wally prove he’s as fearless as the rest? Spending the night on an abandoned pirate ship should do the trick! But when Wally and his human friend, Henry, climb aboard, they soon discover the ship might not be so empty after all. . . 

Young readers will enjoy the spooky story that has some suspense without being too scary. However, much of the story revolves around Wally and Henry exploring the ship and wondering if ghosts are real. Instead of having an action-packed story, Ghost Ship’s plot slows down and only picks up at the very end when Wally and Henry play a prank of their own. Still, readers will enjoy the pirate talk and cute word play such as pug-glorious. 

One negative aspect of the story is that Growlin’ Grace’s crew are called weirdos. When Wally and Henry meet two descendants of Growlin’ Grace’s crew, the pups call each other “Weirdos” because “that’s what Growlin’ Grace used to call her crew. She liked that she had a pack full of odd dogs who thought a little differently. They all had strange personalities and even stranger ideas about pirating life.” While Growlin’ Grace was using the term in a positive way, adults may want to take this opportunity to discuss the negative connotation of the name and if this type of name calling is appropriate.   

Ghost Ship isn’t as action-packed as the other books in the series. However, young readers will still enjoy the spooky adventure. The black and white illustrations are adorably cute and will help readers understand the story’s plot. With short chapters, large text, and illustrations every one to five pages, Puppy Pirates is the perfect series for readers ready for chapter books. Plus, the end of the book has four pages that show how to draw a puppy pirate and how to use a key to unlock a code. 

Ghost Ship will teach young buccaneers that the most important treasure is being with friends. And while this is a ghost story, the only ghosts that appear are puppies who are pulling pranks. Readers who love dogs should also check out All Paws On Deck by Jessica Young and  Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog by Peter Meisel; both pirate-themed books use humor to engage young readers. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Wally and Henry go on a ship they believe is abandoned. Then, “a white figure popped out of the shadow and flew straight at them. . . Wally growled and yipped, grabbing for the ghost with his teeth.” The supposed “ghost” disappears. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • After frightening Wally, Puggle calls him a scaredy-pup. 
  • When one of the characters gets frustrated, he yipped, “Graggle! Stinkbug! Plink!” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Dead Voices

 

Ollie, Brian, and Coco have had their fill of frightening experiences. After their narrow escape from the smiling man and his sinister scarecrows during their class field trip last fall, they are ready for some fun. Skiing at Mount Hemlock sounds promising, but their enthusiasm quickly dims as a snowstorm traps them at the loge with only their parents and Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, for company.

Strange things start happening. Coco is seeing shadowy figures, Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls, and Brian is positive that the stuffed bear in the lobby was on its hind legs when they arrived—not on all four.

Their fun-filled trip is quickly turning into another terrifying encounter with another dimension. There are ghosts at Mount Hemlock and their voices are demanding to be heard, but the price of listening may be too high.

In this haunting follow-up to Small Spaces, Ollie, Coco, and Brian must rely on their friendship and sharp minds if they are to survive their next harrowing adventure. Readers who are ready to be frightened will enjoy seeing Ollie and her friends go up against the smiling man one more time. However, Dead Voices increases the fear factor because both the living and the dead use deception to try to lure the children into Mother Hemlock’s frosty arms.

Unlike Small Spaces, Dead Voices focuses more on Coco’s point of view. While Ollie plays a main role in the story, Brian disappears early on, leaving Coco responsible for saving Ollie. This shift gives the book a new perspective and allows the reader to see how Coco is often misjudged because of her small size. Because Coco appears childlike, she is underestimated. However, she is a master at chess, which has taught her to look at a problem from many angles. It is this skill that allows Coco to beat the smiling man and free Ollie.

In the first book of the Small Spaces Quartet, Ollie and her friends spent most of their time running from danger. However, Dead Voices increases the suspense by increasing the danger. In addition, the ghosts are more frightening both in appearance and in their actions. Ollie meets a ghost, who appears to be friendly and helpful, but instead leads her into a trap. And when the smiling man makes an appearance, the reader learns that he is capable of completely changing his appearance, which allows him to disguise himself and trick Ollie into being trapped behind the mirror. To make matters worse, the smiling man puts all the other adults into an unwakeable sleep, thus making the kids rely on themselves.

Dead Voices is an action-packed ghost story that includes mystery, ghosts, and a deceptive villain that readers will love to hate. The simple plot leads readers into a creepy world where Mother Hemlock wants to make Ollie sleep forever. Dead Voices is perfect for middle-grade readers who want to be frightened without the graphic images that often appear in YA books. Readers who enjoy scary stories should also read Nightbooks by J.A. White and The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Ollie and her friends meet a ghost named Gretel. While alive, Gretel would wander the orphanage where she lived. One day, Mother Hemlock, “hauled her upstairs, and locked the girl in a closet. . . Gretel was afraid of the dark. She screamed and screamed, but no one came. . . the little girl had died of fright.” Throughout the story, Gretel says she is looking for her bones.
  • After Gretel died, Mother Hemlock “threw herself out the attic window in remorse.”
  • Mother Hemlock grabs Ollie who “thrashed in the thing’s grip, head-butted her, bit her horrible tasting arm, let her legs go limp so that she was dragged across the floor. . . Ollie felt panic starting to choke her.”
  • In order to get away from Mother Hemlock, Ollie lunged “with all her strength, and grabbed a fistful of hot coals. She shoved them up at Mother Hemlock’s grayish, furious face. Mother Hemlock fell back, smoldering, screeching.” Ollie escapes and runs to hide.
  • A dead bear comes alive and chases Ollie. “As Ollie watched, frozen, the dead bear fell to all fours. Licked its chops. Then, creaking, the dead bear charged. . . [Ollie] raced through the dining room. The footsteps of the dead bear sounded close behind her, and she could smell its reek: a combination of dust and formaldehyde.” Later, the bear chases Ollie again.
  • Dead coyotes come alive and chase Brian and Coco. Brian pulls Coco “up the stairs just as howls broke out from every part of the lobby and the shadows seemed, all at once to leap from the stairwell. . . There was a louder clatter of dog nails as dead paws slipped on the lobby floor.” As they are running from the coyotes, the kids get separated.
  • In order to help Ollie, Gabe (a ghost) “had thrown an old sack of some kind over Mother Hemlock’s head. She was groping around in a fury trying to get it off.”
  • Mother Hemlock grabs Ollie. “To her horror, Ollie felt her eyelids growing heavy. . . Frost was stealing up over her eyes, sealing them shut. Ollie screamed when she felt the frost creeping up over her own face.” Ollie falls asleep.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Coco says, “We’re about to have a pretty darn rough night.”
  • Coco calls the smiling man a jerk.

Supernatural

  • Ollie’s dead mother is able to communicate with Ollie through her watch. Ollie explains, “My watch helps me . . . My watch was—it was my mother’s. I think she talks to me with it. I think she’s trying to warn us now.”
  • Ollie and her friends see many ghosts. The main ghost, Gretel, wore “a long white nightgown. Her face was gray-white; her nose was black. Her eyes were frozen open, huge and unblinking.” Gretel says she is looking for her bones.
  • The kids are told that some ghosts “act. They want something. That’s when they’re dangerous, when they want something.”
  • When Ollie looks into a mirror, a ghost is able to grab Ollie’s hand. “A creeping horror started to overtake her: a feeling that if she stayed there long enough, she would become a reflection instead of a girl. She felt herself take an involuntary step toward that dark mirror, then another.” Mr. Voland breaks the connection by breaking the mirror.
  • Voland uses an Ouija board to communicate with the dead. Ollie thinks her mother is using the Ouija board to talk to her; however, Mr. Voland was using the Ouija board to trap Ollie behind the mirror.
  • Ollie looked into a mirror and saw a woman. “She was blue-lipped and black-nosed. . . When she smiled at Ollie, her teeth were sharp. . . Ollie tried to yank away, but black-nailed fingers had curled out of the mirror glass, catching her hand and holding it.” Ollie is pulled into the world behind the mirror.
  • When Coco and Brian get separated, she hears Brian’s voice coming from behind a lot of hallway doors.” Coco doesn’t find Brian, but Ollie’s watch leads her down a steep staircase.
  • Gabe, a ghost, cannot speak because his mouth is frozen shut. However, he uses a Ouija board to talk to Coco and Ollie.
  • Coco and Ollie need to find out how the world behind the mirror is connected to the real world. Ollie thinks, “Gretel is on this side. Gretel’s bones are somewhere on Coco’s side. The ghost and her bones are connected. If Gretel stands in front of a mirror on my side, and her bones are reflected in the same mirror on Coco’s side, then a door will open.” Gretel’s bones are never found, but Coco finds another way to open the door.

Spiritual Content

  • Brian says, “Dead people—they’re gone. We aren’t meant to talk to them.” Because of Brian’s comment, Ollie thinks Brian is Catholic. “It came out at odd moments.”
  • Mother Hemlock is closing in on Coco, who yells for Brain. Coco prayed “that Brian could hear.”

 

Riley’s Ghost

Riley Flynn is alone.  

It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Cool girls don’t like Riley. They decide one day to lock Riley in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home. 

When Riley is finally able to escape the closet, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren’t working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all.  

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night. Moments from her own life…and a life that is not her own. 

Riley’s Ghost explores the issue of bullying through two girls’ experiences. While the premise is unique—a girl is forced to face her past hurts with the help of a ghost—the story is frustrating because of the frequent flashbacks. Since much of the story is told in the past tense, the story’s pacing is slow and has very few dramatic scenes. When something interesting begins to happen, the story quickly shifts to past events which kills the suspense. While the constant jumps into the past help explain Riley’s behavior, she is not relatable or likable. Riley has often been the target of bullies; however, her own behavior has caused some of her problems.  

The addition of Max, a ghost who is using a half-dissected frog as a vessel, should add interest, but the ghost does not evoke sympathy because he is so awful. Instead of helping Riley, the frog does not want to confront his past. Riley is left to guess at Max’s motives. Even at the end, Max learns nothing and only wants to forget about his past mistakes instead of making amends. Plus, the story’s message is confusing because the story shows that most people pay for their mistakes, but “nobody should have to pay for their past mistakes indefinitely.” 

Riley’s Ghost takes a hard look at the bullying that can take place during middle school and shows how bullying can have a lasting impact on the victims. Unfortunately, the conclusion is confusing and chaotic, and the lesson is unclear. In the end, the story hints that Riley’s life makes a dramatic turn for the better, but the conclusion jumps to a feel-good ending without showing how Riley was able to make changes. For readers who want to explore the issue of bullying further, Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher and Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel would be better book selections.  

Sexual Content 

  • Riley thinks about her teachers. “And rumor had it that Mrs. Brendaker, the choir teacher, was madly in love with Ms. Child, which was bound to be hard on Mr. Brendaker, if and when he found out.” 
  • While in middle school, Heather and her friend kiss. The boy “gave her her first awkward kiss underneath the bleachers by the tennis courts.” 

Violence 

  • In a hallway at school, Grace gets in Riley’s face. “Grace poked Riley just below the collar of her sweatshirt. . . Her chest burned above her heart where Grace’s finger had just been.” Without thinking, “Riley’s right arm, which uncoiled unconsciously, swinging fast, the open hand connected with Grace’s left cheek with such force it made the other girls’ head whip around.”  
  • After Riley slaps Grace, Grace and her friends lock Riley in a supply closet in the science classroom. 
  • When a half-dissected frog begins talking to Riley, she “kicked out with her right foot, sending the creature with its dissected belly and its flopping innards soaring ten feet, straight into a wall, where it hit with a sickening slap.” 
  • Riley gets angry at the frog and tries to stomp him. “Riley chased after the frog frantically leaping down the hall, trying to smash him under her bootheel like a toddler squashing bugs on the blacktop, until she cornered him in the entryway of a classroom, backed against the door.”  She grabs the frog and thinks, “it would be easy to snap his spine, to feel it splinter.”  
  • A ghost leads Riley into the auditorium where Riley sees a vision of the ghost’s life. When Riley sees the ghost’s face in a mirror, she reaches out to touch it. “The mirror shattered at her touch, splintering into a thousand pieces. Riley screamed. . . She felt her feet mysteriously pulled out from under her, a moment of pure weightlessness, a total loss of control.” Riley falls and her “head snapped back, striking the hardwood floor, taking away the last bit of light.” Riley is knocked unconscious. 
  • When Riley was in elementary school, a classmate named Jordan messed up her drawing. Without thinking, she stabbed him with a pencil. “But she had got lucky—or unlucky—catching the soft web of tissue between Jordan’s thumb and forefinger. . . Jordan screamed again. The wound, now free to bleed, burbling up a tiny stream that trickled down the length of his thumb.” Afterwards, Riley had to see a therapist. 
  • When she was in middle school, the ghost Heather, “snuck into the gym, grabbed one of the baseball bats from the supply closet, then she just went crazy. Ballistic. She smashed everything she saw. Windows. Desks. . .” Heather was suspended and never went back to school.  
  • Riley sees visions of Heather’s death. “Her father was driving. . . She wasn’t wearing a seat belt. . . Riley could picture it. The shattered glass. The screech of tires. The body lifted, floating. Head snapping backwards. And then . . . just gone.” 
  • Heather’s classmates locked her in a supply closet. “[Heather] pounds and kicks, she pleads and shouts, she cusses and spits. . . She is afraid. Afraid of being stuck in this place forever. Afraid that no one will ever try to find her.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While locked in a closet, Riley wishes she could go home and take Advil, then sleep. 
  • One of Riley’s teacher is “the vape master.” 
  • In the nurse’s office, a cabinet is “full of Adderall and Ritalin.” 
  • While on vacation, Riley and her friend planned to “cajole Riley’s father into letting them try a sip of beer.”

Language   

  • Freaking is used in excess. For example, Riley says, “I’m stuck in this freaking school, freezing in the freaking dark, talking to a freaking frog who is also a freaking ghost!” 
  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes crap, hell, and piss. 
  • Goddam is used once. 
  • Occasionally, Riley calls her classmates names such as a jerk, prick, and “butt-faced jerkwads.” 
  • Riley imagines her classmates texting about her, saying that she “is cray cray.” Another girl says Riley is a “freak.” 
  • A boy tells a girl not to listen to Riley because “she’s a lunatic.” 
  • God, oh my God, and Jesus are used as exclamations rarely.  
  • Riley says, “screw this” and “screw it” several times. 
  • Emily thinks about telling her ex-friend’s mother that her daughter was a “terrible kiss-ass, crowd-following, spineless bystander.” 

Supernatural 

  • The ghost of Heather, a girl who died while in middle school, haunts the school. By making a flashlight blink on and off, the ghost shows Riley where she wants her to go. Riley also sees visions of the ghost’s life.  
  • While locked in the school, Riley hears voices when no one is there, lights go on and off. In addition, Riley hears crying coming from the bathroom stall. Then black letters appear on a mirror, “Nothing to see here.” 
  • A ghost uses a half-dissected frog as a vessel. He tells Riley, “I thought it might be easier for you to handle if you had an actual body to talk to. Something substantial. And this was the best vessel I could get.” 
  • While in a hallway, Riley sees “all the dials on all the lockers started to spin. Up and down the hall. Every locker, all at once, turning one way and then the other in unison.” Then Riley hears people talking, saying that someone is a “freak, a loser, so awkward, so weird.”  
  • Based on her father’s stories, Riley knows that “to vanquish a ghost was to find out what it wanted, what kept it anchored to this world. Find the tie that bound it here and then cut it loose.”  
  • The ghost, Max, wants to destroy some letters that his ex-friend wrote to him. “Riley felt a tickle like a breath on the back of her neck before a current of air picked up the stack of letters . . . the pages shot upward and then fell back down like maple leaves.” Riley saves the letters from being burned.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Gallant

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now, Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

As a gothic, ghost story Gallant is surprisingly dull and unexciting. While Olivia can see “ghouls” and communicate with them through her thoughts, none of the ghouls she encounters are developed in detail. Instead of being interesting, the ghouls fade into the background and they evoke little emotion. Even though Olivia learns that she can communicate with ghouls, she doesn’t try to initiate a conversation with her dead uncle, who obviously killed himself. She also doesn’t try to communicate with her dead mother, who could answer many of her questions. Because of this, Olivia’s gift is not fully developed or explored.

Olivia is an interesting and unique protagonist, who is non-verbal and communicates only through sign language. This caused her childhood to be lonely and unpleasant. Not only does she have to struggle with being abandoned at Merilance, but she also has to deal with the other children who are cruel, and the matrons who are indifferent. Because of this, Olivia is willing to go to Gallant, even though her mother has warned her to stay away.

While the story has some interesting story threads—what happened to Olivia’s parents, why should she stay away from Galant, why can she see ghouls—none of them are well developed. Even though Olivia encounters the personification of Death, his soldiers, and other ghouls, the story only evokes mild curiosity, contains little suspense, and little scare factor. In addition, the conclusion is lackluster and depressing. In the end, the reader is left wondering why Olivia would stay at Gallant. Readers who are looking for an exciting paranormal story should read Schwab’s other series, The Archived, or The Breathless by Tara Goedjen.

Sexual Content

  • Sometimes boys would “linger at the edge of the gravel moat,” trying to get the girls’ attention. One day, Olivia goes to talk to a boy and “he kissed her, she waited to feel whatever her mother had felt for her father the day they met, the spark that lit the fire that burned their whole world down. But she only felt his hand on her waist. His mouth on her mouth. A hollow sadness.”

Violence

  • Anabelle, a girl at Merilance, tears pages out of Olivia’s mother’s journal. Olivia “fell on Anabelle, finger wrapped around her throat. Anabelle yelped, and Olivia squeezed until the girl could not speak, could not breathe, and then the matrons were there, pulling them apart.”
  • To get back at Anabelle, Olivia “went down into the cellar. . . she managed to fill the jar with beetles, and spiders, and half a dozen silverfish. She added a handful of ash from the head matron’s hearth.” Olivia dumps the content on Anabelle’s head.
  • Olivia cannot yell and she wonders if pain could free her voice, so she cuts herself. “The cut was deep. Blood welled and spilled onto the counter, and heat screamed up her arm and through her lungs, but only a short, sharp gasp escaped her throat, more emptiness than sound.”
  • In a dream, Olivia witnesses her uncle’s death. “The gun swings up against his temple. . .” then Olivia wakes up.
  • While in Death’s world, a ghoul pushes Olivia away. “And then a blade sings through the ghoul’s back, and it staggers, and Olivia knows the ghoul cannot die, knows it is already dead, but the sight of the metal spilling out of its chest, its knees buckling silently to the dirt, still sends a shock of horror through her bones.”
  • In order to get out from behind the wall, someone killed Matthew’s brother. “The door on the other side was soaked with blood. There was so much of it. Too much. Someone had painted the door with my brother’s life. Covered every iron inch . . . But that thing slaughtered my brother for nothing. Only a Prior’s blood can open the door, but it has to be willingly given.”
  • Olivia goes behind the wall, hoping to find Matthew’s brother. When she sees Death, “Olivia spins, drawing the blade. She doesn’t wait, but twists and drives the knife into his chest.” The knife doesn’t hurt Death.
  • Death tries to subdue Olivia, who “fights like a girl set loose on the world with nothing and everything to lose. But it’s not enough. A gauntlet closes over her wrist, flinging her into a plated chest, and the last thing she sees is the gleam of an armored shoulder as the third shadow looms.”
  • Olivia takes a piece of bone and “the sliver of bone becomes a beak, becomes a skull, becomes a crow, muscle and skin and feathers.” Olivia tells the crow to attack Death. “Olivia is on her feet, racing toward the door, even as she hears him pluck the bird from the air, the brittle snap of its neck. . .”
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Olivia and Matthew fight Death. Death captures Olivia. “His embrace tightens until she cannot move, cannot breathe. Her bones groan, and she lets out a stifled gasp.” Matthew comes through the door to help Olivia.
  • One of Death’s soldiers goes after Matthew, who “slashes out with his blade, but the wolfish soldier dodges lithely and kicks him in the chest. He collapses to his hands and knees, gasping for breath . . . The soldier lowers the dagger to his throat.”
  • One of Death’s soldiers grabs Olivia, “she writhes and tries to breathe, tries to think and time slows down. . . She slams her head back into the soldier.” Olivia is able to free herself and grab one of the soldier’s weapons. “The soldier rears back, but Olivia is already swinging, bringing the sword down a third time, carving deep into his shoulder. The collarbone comes free. . . he is already falling back into dust as the bone hits the grass.”
  • In order to save Olivia’s life, Matthew “pushed her out of the way the instant before the sword cut down. Matthew, who leans in the doorway, the blade driven through, the point jutting like a thorn from his back.” Matthew dies.
  • When death finds a way into the living world, Edgar “aims at Death a second time and fires, the bullet melting in the air above his floating cloak.”
  • Olivia calls on the ghouls, who “close over [Death] like ivy, their edges dissolving into one teeming mass of shadow as they force him back through the garden, back through the open door, back beyond the wall.” Then Olivia seals the door with her blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the matrons at Merilance hides a bottle of brandy in a drawer.
  • In order to help Matthew sleep, Edgar drugs him.

Language

  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • Olivia can see “ghouls.”
  • There is a stone wall at the back of Gallant’s garden. At night, a person can walk around the wall, but they end up in a different world—a world where Death lives. Olivia’s mother once went around the wall and saw Death “with his four shadows and his dozen shades, all silent in the bones of the ruined house.”
  • When Olivia crosses the wall, she sees “the shriveled remains of a garden. Withered limbs and wilting blooms, their petals, pale, their leaves devoid of color. . . And there, at the top of the ruined garden, sits another Gallant.”
  • In Death’s world, Olivia has the ability to give life. When Olivia picks up a tooth, it “jumps. Shudders like a bee against her palm. . . by the time it hits the ground, it is not a writhing bit of bone, but a mouse.”
  • Olivia meets Death. “His skin is not creased, yet here and there it peels away, the polished bone beneath showing through like stone under thinning ivy. And that is how she sees that there are pieces of him missing. . . The joint of one finger. The edge of one cheek. . .”
  • Death watches a group of people dancing. Death dances with a woman. And then, “the dancer crumbles against him, her body sagging into ash and he sighs. . . A pale white fragment shines on the wooden floor where the dancer stood . . . then it rises and tucks itself against the tear along his jaw, and she realizes it was a shard of bone.” Then other bones return to Death’s body and flesh regrows over the bones.
  • Matthew explains how his family, the Priors made the demon go back beyond the wall. The Priors “put the wall back up. And this time, they soaked it edge to edge in their blood and swore that nothing would ever cross that gate without their blessing.”

Spiritual Content

  • At Merilance, Olivia “was told to kneel and knit her fingers and speak to a God she couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t touch. . . She never believed in higher powers.” But when she meets death, she prays to the ghouls for help and they come.

Maya and the Return of the Godlings

Training to be a guardian of the veil isn’t easy, but 12-year-old Maya is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps, especially since he hasn’t been the same since their last run-in with the Lord of Shadows, the evil being who controls the Dark. On the brink of an upcoming war between Earth and the Dark, the Lord of Shadows snatches Papa’s soul.  Maya rounds up her friends, fellow “godlings,” Frankie and Eli, for another journey into the Dark to retrieve Papa’s soul and stop the veil from collapsing.

Once back in the Lord of Shadows’ domain, Maya is faced with difficult moral choices. She finds an imprisoned Darkbringer, named Zeran, who doesn’t want a war with the human realm. For the first time, she considers that not all Darkbringers are evil, which makes it harder to fight them since most have been recruited into the Lord of Shadows’ ranks by force. Allied together, Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran continue to the Crystal Palace, the Lord of Shadows’ lair.

In the confrontation between the Lord of Shadows and Maya, she learns her half-sister Eleni is still alive. Not only is Eleni being used by the Lord of Shadows for her power, but she was the one who let the Lord of Shadows into the human realm which allowed him to start a terrible war years ago. Maya wonders if it’s her fate to also open the gateway, which would allow the Lord of Shadows to wage war on the human realm for the second time. Determined to prevent that from happening, Maya steals back Papa’s soul and rescues Eleni. Back on Earth, Maya may have won this battle, but she knows the war is far from over.

Maya’s character is both funny and thoughtful, as she has a penchant for disobeying orders but for the right reasons—she will always save her friends and family even if the world is against her. Her determination to keep people safe is admirable. However, the friends have repeated setbacks because random creatures attack them. These scenes get tiring since they do not add to the plot.

Despite this, Maya and the Return of the Godlings is an interesting read that takes time to develop the characters such as Zeran, a darkbringer rebel. Zeran’s character is interesting because he forces Maya to change her perspective. At first, Maya perceived him to be the enemy, but now she feels a duty to protect him. This is what makes the plot most worth reading: Maya’s unwavering determination to make the world safe for all who wish to do good.

The story has a sense of unpredictability because the plot does not stray away from mentioning the death of past characters, such as Papa’s first family. Plus, the situation in Maya’s world continues to grow in gravity, making it increasingly likely that her friends and family won’t escape unscathed. With a war brewing, Maya and the Return of the Godlings explores dark topics.

Readers who enjoy books with magical worlds and rich cultural ties should also read Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston and Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya and Papa get attacked by shadows while repairing the veil. Maya explains, “Something whipped out of the tear and snatched my legs from underneath me. . . writhing shadows. I hit the ground hard on my butt, and the staff spun out of my hand. . . Papa lunged for me, but his legs buckled, and he stumbled instead. He reached for the place between his chest and stomach, his face twisted in pain. . . The shadows still had my ankles and were dragging me into the tear. . . Papa stepped into the mouth of the tear. His dark skin glowed silvery-white and pushed back the darkness. The shadows hissed as if they couldn’t stand the light and let go of my legs. I whacked one with my staff before they fled back into the Dark.”
  • Frankie was adopted after her mother, an orisha, was killed. Frankie learns that her mother, Zala, hunted down rogue magical creatures. Maya thinks, “If Frankie’s mom’s death hadn’t been an accident, it meant someone – or something – had killed her.”
  • Zeran, a young darkbringer, deserted the army and is subjected to all sorts of punishment. The guards who have him in custody threaten to send him to the stocks and lock him in a cage with bars that kill on contact.
  • While stealing a map, Maya, Frankie, and Eli are attacked by a darkbringer. “An electric shock hit me in the back. My whole body seized up, and the staff slipped from my hand. I hit the ground hard. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and my teeth tore into my cheek. I couldn’t move as the metallic taste of blood filled my mouth. . . Frankie hit him with a ball of raging energy, but instead of falling back, the darkbringer seemed to absorb her magic. . . the darkbringer advanced on Frankie, and she stumbled back. I screamed inside my head and fought against the electricity winding through my body. My insides were on fire, and sweat stung my eyes. . .” The fight lasts for five pages, ending with Eli knocking the darkbringer out.
  • Maya and Frankie are caught by Nulan, the former commander of the darkbringer army. Nulan fights with the new commander, Rovey, over who gets to kill Maya, Frankie, and Eli. Their fight lasts eight pages. “Rovey locked Nulan in a bear hug, and electricity shot through her. Her whole body shook… Nulan head-butted Rovey. He dropped her and she crashed to the ground. Rovey stumbled back, looking dazed and confused while Nulan gave him a vicious smile. Knives appeared in her hands…” After this point, we don’t see the resolution of the fight because Maya runs away, but Rovey and Nulan live since they come back in the end of the story.
  • Maya, Zeran, Frankie, and Eli get lost in a forest where they are attacked by shadow monsters.  Maya “slammed my staff into the shadows hard. The impact vibrated up my arms into my teeth. My vision was a blur as I twisted and turned to keep out of their grasp. The shadows screamed as white veins of light started to form around the places my staff stuck. After enough hits, they fled into the forest.” The fight lasts four pages, and no one is injured.
  • Zeran quickly disarms Nulan with an anti-magic collar. “Zeran flew straight into Nulan. They crashed and rolled on the floor. One of her magical blades materialized out of thin air, and she aimed it for Zeran’s heart. But he was quicker. He pulled the collar from his neck and snapped it around Nulan’s throat. Her blade instantly disappeared. Nulan clawed at the collar right before Zeran head-butted her and knocked her out cold.”
  • The Lord of Shadows tries to stop Maya from getting her father’s soul. “His ribbons snapped around my ankle. . . searing cold snaked up my leg. The lower half of my body fell still, and I couldn’t move. . . Why was I suddenly so sleepy? I saw a reflection of myself in the glass. My skin had turned ash gray. The Lord of Shadows was draining the life from me!”
  • Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran fight with the school bullies, Winston, Tay, and Candace, who also have orisha powers. “Winston stepped in our path with his friends at his side. Sparks of fire lit up on his arms. Candace grew to pro-wrestler size. Tay cracked his knuckles, and the floor shook beneath our feet. . . Winston jabbed his finger into my chest. Zeran grabbed his hand and twisted. Winston fell to his knees, and Tay sprang into action. Frankie flung out an energy lasso that smacked Tay on the nose. He winced as he grabbed his face, looking annoyed. Candace tripped over Eli’s invisible foot. With the bullies disarmed, Zeran let go of Winston and shoved him back.” The fight ends when they get caught by a teacher.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Papa says, “Mama’s going to skin both our hides if I don’t get you back in time for school.”
  • Maya drops her staff and it hits a passerby. Maya censors the word. “‘What the bleep?’ the man says. Okay, he didn’t say ‘bleep,’ but Mama said that I better not even think of cursing.”
  • A secretary named Clara is annoyed at someone commenting on her instagram posts. She calls that person “a little twit.”
  • Winston, a godling who bullies Maya at school, calls her “guardian of giant turds” after learning of her role as guardian of the veil.
  • Maya says, “Oh crap!”
  • Winston calls Zeran a “freak.”

Supernatural

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings who are featured prominently in the story. Maya’s father and other community members are orishas. They each have different orisha powers. Some are specialized – like Eli who can turn invisible. Others, like Oshun, the orisha of beauty, have a certain domain.
  • Orishas speak Sekirian, the first language of the universe.
  • Maya and Papa are orishas whose duty is to protect the veil, a magical forcefield made by Papa to separate the human world from the Dark, a parallel universe of magic and evil creatures. Throughout the story, Maya and her father repair “tears” in the veil.
  • Papa and Maya can teleport by bending space. They can also open gateways which create a door between Earth and the Dark.
  • Maya uses a magical staff that acts as a conduit for her power. It magically changes shape into everyday objects like a hair pin or ring.
  • Because of the incoming war, the power of other orishas in Maya’s community manifests. For example, Winston, a school bully, gains the ability to control fire.
  • Papa conjures magical horses to take the godling children to the celestial city Azur. “His magic started to take shape. First a cluster of sparks here and another there. Then lines of light connected the sparks like a constellation of stars. Eli gasped as the magic settled into four winged horses.”
  • Glamour, a special magic, prevents humans from perceiving orishas and other magic. For example, the horses that Papa conjures appear as bikes to humans across the street. Maya explains, “The horses would look like something completely normal to human eyes.”
  • The children and Papa go to Azur, the city of the celestials. “The city sat on a cloud that spanned for miles among the stars. . . Sunlight dances off the buildings made of silver and gold and glass. The whole city glowed.”
  • The city is populated with Azurians, other celestials. Maya describes them. “The Azurians were tall and lanky, short and plump, and every shape and size. Some had skin as smooth as marble or scales and gills. . . Tails swept along the ground. Wings tucked against backs. Long tentacles wiggled among feet. . .” Humans also live there, but a rare type of human that have the natural ability to see magic. Elokos, creatures that eat humans, also live there when they no longer have a taste for human flesh.
  • Frankie meets a kishi while in Azur. “They had two faces – one human and one hyena. In his stories, they were always tricksters who literally had two faces.”
  • The Dark is populated by winged, blue-skinned monsters called darkbringers.
  • The darkbringers use dog-like creatures to hunt down Maya, Eli, and Frankie. “The dogs turned out to be not dogs. Instead of fur, green scales covered their bodies and they had a row of sharp spikes across their backs. What was it with the Dark and its deadly animals? Last time we were here, we had to fight off large birds with needle-like spines on their underbellies.”
  • In the Dark, the kids go to a city where darkbringers live, reminiscent of Chicago but with magical technology. The darkbringers have magical creatures for pets.

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings that are gods in this story. They have certain domains and powers, such as Shangó, the god of lightning. Their children, which have orisha blood, are known as godlings, and they often manifest supernatural powers.
  • Papa’s soul being stolen is one of the major plot points. Obatala, an orisha, and Maya discuss the soul. Obatala explains that orishas’ souls are not replaceable. “For those of us born of the universe, the essence of what we are is complicated. Our soul is our bond to the universe – it is our immortality. We cannot forge a new one.”
  • Eli controls an army of spirits trapped in a bog in the fight against the Lord of Shadows. At one point, he allows a ghost to possess him, sharing its power.

by Madison Shooter

Fitz and Cleo #1

Meet Fitz and Cleo. They’re ghosts, siblings, and friends. This is their first book filled with eleven (that’s more than ten!) fun-filled adventures. Join them as they go to the beach, fly paper airplanes, play baseball, do science, and adopt a cat! 

Much like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Fitz and Cloe are adorable, friendly ghosts that readers will love. The two ghosts make everyday mundane events into something fun. The siblings’ adventures come to life in large, colorful panels similar to a graphic novel’s panels. The illustrations use bright colors and simple backgrounds that appeal to young readers. Although the illustrations are simple, the ghost’s emotions are clearly conveyed. Plus, some of the illustrations are humorous, such as a pink fairy pig with wings, and the cat Mister Boo who loves to sleep on Fitz’s head.  

Fitz and Cloe’s chapters range from three to eight pages. Each page has two to eight short sentences. The story is fun to read aloud because most of the text is comprised of dialogue; plus, there is plenty of onomatopoeia. While each chapter contains humor, there are also plenty of sweet moments. For example, while looking at other planets through a telescope, Cloe tells Fitz that Earth is the best planet “because you’re on this planet Fitz. And Mister Boo is on this planet. We’re on this planet TOGETHER. So it HAS to be the best!” 

If you’re looking for an entertaining book that will appeal to young readers, then Fitz and Cloe is the perfect book for you. The two ghosts and their cat make everything from playing baseball to flying paper airplanes into a fun adventure. Plus, young readers will relate to the siblings, who get brain freezes, spend a day at the beach, and play with a ball of yarn. Small details in the illustrations make the story even more engaging.  

Even though each chapter of Fitz and Cloe is short, readers will be eager to continue until they reach the end of the siblings’ adventures. The story has widespread appeal because of the everyday conflicts, the ghost protagonists, and an adorable cat. Another one of the story’s positive aspects is that the two siblings are kind to each other. For more fun reading, check out the Unicorn and Yeti Series by Heather Ayris Burnell. 

 Sexual Content 

  • None 

 Violence 

  • None 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

 Language   

  • None 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • None 

 

 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 that 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

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