Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Both myself and the kids at my school love a genuinely scary read, one that will send shivers down your spine. The thing that can notch up the scare factor is if the story ties in real life events. I feel like it adds some authenticity to the scares because the events took place or the people existed. Lindsay Currie has set her new story, Scritch Scratch, in modern day Chicago but she links in historical events, making for a super creepy ghost story that will haunt you long after you reach the end.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She is a scientist who knows there is no evidence that ghosts exist. Her dad runs a ghost-tour business, showing tourists around the most haunted parts of Chicago on his bus. When she gets asked to help her dad with one of his tours she begrudgingly goes along. At the end of the tour she sees a dripping wet boy with a sad face sitting in the back of the bus, but nobody else seems to notice him. Claire thinks that she was imagining things and that maybe it was just her dad’s ghost stories playing on her mind. But then the scratching starts. Claire hears voices whispering to her and scary things start happening at home and at school. Claire is being haunted and she needs to find out who her ghost is before he drives her crazy.

Scritch Scratch is a super creepy, spine-tingly story that keeps you turning the pages. It is one of the best ghost stories for kids that I’ve read. Lindsay takes readers on their own ghost tour of Chicago, introducing you to some of the places around the city that have seen great tragedies. I knew very little about Chicago when I first picked the book up but became really interested in the history of the city. After I finished the story and discovered the truth of the ghost boy I had to find out more about some of the events of the story. Connecting the story to real events made the story have more of an emotional impact and made the story even creepier because the ghost could have been someone who existed in real life. I remember becoming completely obsessed about the Titanic after watching the movie when I was younger, reading everything I could about the disaster. I think Scritch Scratch will do the same for kids, leaving them wanting to find out more about the real places and events from this story.

It is more than just a ghost story though. It’s also a story about navigating friendships. Claire’s best friend Casley has started to hang out with another girl, Emily, and Claire strongly dislikes Emily. Claire thinks Emily is stealing her best friend away and changing her. When Claire needs Casley the most though she has to push through her jealousy. Claire needs her friends’ help to discover the truth about the ghost boy and stop her haunting.

The cover artist, Jana Heiderdorf, and cover designer, Nicole Hower, have done a brilliant job of capturing the tone of the story in the cover. It is a cover that tells kids straight away that this is a spooky story and they’re going to be scared.

Get a copy of Scritch Scratch and be prepared to be up all night with the lights on.

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke is a spooky, historical tale that is perfectly formed. At just 75 pages readers can gobble it up in one bite and it is ideal for reluctant readers who need a short but engaging story. It would also make a great read aloud for Years 5-8.

Elsie lives in the port town of Lyttelton in 1884. She spends her days fishing and exploring. It is one day while she is fishing that she meets brothers Davie and Archie. They have come to Lyttelton on the train from Christchurch but have no money to take the train back again. They decide to walk back over the hill on the Bridle Path, the path carved over the hill by the early settlers. However, the weather closes in and the boys both die on the hill. One year later Elsie is haunted by the memory of the brothers and a feeling of guilt because she didn’t stop the boys from leaving. When Elsie misses the train to Christchurch and a chance to meet her new cousin, she decides to face her fears and make the trek over the Bridle Path. Do the brothers haunt the hills? Elsie will find out when she faces her own challenge on the hills.

I loved this story as an adult and I know I would have loved it as a kid. Growing up in Christchurch I studied the early settlers in primary school and even had a field trip walking over the Bridle Path to Lyttelton. The places in the story are so familiar to me yet quite different, given the time that the story is set. You don’t need to be familiar with the setting though to appreciate the story. The fact that the story is inspired by real events makes a chill go down my spine and loads of kids love spooky stories. Bill includes newspaper clippings from 1883 in the story and details of the real events in his author’s note.

Bill incorporates te ao Maori in to the story too. Through Elsie’s father, who is Maori and living at Rapaki (just around the bay from Lyttelton), we learn about the Maori stories of the area, including the stories of the patupaiarehe, the wicked fairies that live in the clouds on the hills.

I found myself comparing the events of the story with how it would be different if the story was set today. The children in the story have a lot more freedom than children today. Elsie’s Mum is happy for her to walk over the hills by herself, and Davie and Archie walk from the centre of town and catch a train through to Lyttelton with no adult with them. Getting from one place to another easily is something we take for granted these days too. I couldn’t imagine walking from Lyttelton, over the Bridle Path, and all the way to the middle of Christchurch city, but that’s what Davie and Archie were going to do. If you were stuck in bad weather on the hills today you would just get out your cell phone and call for help but in 1884 you were on your own. You had to stay where you were or carry on. These would be some great talking points to discuss if you were sharing the story with a class.

The Ghost on the Hill is a fantastic addition to a school library or as a class set of books. The Cuba Press have even created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book that you can find here.

Storm by Nicola Skinner

This was such an unexpected marvel of a book! Just when I thought it was one kind of story it would morph in to something else and I was never sure where it would go next. It’s a really fresh, unique story that is hard to sum up and I loved every minute of it. The ending was perfect and made me want to start it again straight away.

The general gist of the story is Frankie (and the rest of her small English seaside village) dies in a tsunami, she wakes in her house as a ghost, takes a sleeping potion and wakes 100 years later and becomes a stranger in her own house (which becomes a tourist attraction). I don’t want to spoil what happens next though.

I completely loved this book (it would be in my top 5 of 2020 so far) and now need to read Nicola Skinner’s first book, Bloom. Storm would be perfect for fans of Ross Welford.

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – R.L. Stedman

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by R.L. Stedman, award-winning author of A Necklace of Souls, A Skillful Warrior, and her new book, The Prankster and the Ghost.  She joins me talk about the inspiration for her great new book.

Perhaps places have memories. Like an old camera, or a computer. They fill up with fragments of the things that have taken place inside them. I don’t know if that is right or not, but I used that idea when I was writing The Prankster and the Ghost.

Most of the spooky things in Prankster are totally made up: the ghost school is not real, nor the Inspector. And the secret government agency she works for (BUMP) is, as far as I know, total fiction. But there is actually a real ghost story in Prankster.

I based this story on something that happened to a lady I worked with. Let’s call her Belinda. This is what really happened:

Belinda was on holiday in Scotland, and like lots of visitors, she went on a tour of Edinburgh Castle. She was enjoying herself, looking at the old rooms and the armour and so on. Until she reached the Great Hall. Then, quite suddenly, she felt weird. It was a hot day, and the room was crowded, and something was just not right. Beside a piano stood a woman in a long woolen dress. She looked at Belinda out of dark eyes. Belinda felt sick.

‘What is it?’ asked her husband.

Belinda pointed. ‘That woman, over there. By the piano.’

Her husband looked around. ‘What woman?’

‘In the black dress. We have to get out of here.’

Once they were outside the sickness faded and her husband laughed. ‘You’re imagining things! There was no one there.’

The tour guide came over. ‘Are you okay? You looked really pale.’

When Belinda told her what she’d seen, the tour guide nodded. ‘Plenty of people see that lady. I’ve never seen her myself. But yes, usually they don’t like it.’

‘Who is she?’ Belinda asked.

‘Oh, just one of the ghosts. There’s lots of them here.’ The tour guide made it sound like Belinda had seen something quite ordinary, like a chair or a table.

But Belinda had never met a ghost before – and she never wants to again.

Stories like the one Belinda told made me think that ghosts are maybe just part of a place: like a memory. So who knows – perhaps, one day in the future, people living in my house might see me typing on a computer keyboard. They might think I’m a ghost! I’ll have to try not to scare them.

Boo!

Chris Priestely’s Tales of Terror

Chris Priestley is one of my favourite seriously spooky authors.  He specialises in spine-tingling short stories and has published several collections of his Tales of Terror, which are absolutely terrific.  These are definitely stories that you want to read with the lights on!  Chris has also written several novels, including Mister Creecher, The Dead of Winter and Through Dead Eyes (which I reviewed here on the blog).

To find out more about Chris’ books take a look at his website – www.chrispriestleybooks.com

Check out the book trailer for the Tales of Terror series and make sure you grab one of Chris’ seriously spooky books.

The Prankster and the Ghost by R.L. Stedman

I’ve been a fan of R.L. Stedman’s since I read her debut YA novel, A Necklace of Souls, when it was first released.  I absolutely loved her dark, gripping fantasy story and it reignited my love of fantasy.  You can read my review of A Necklace of Souls from 2013 here on the blog.  Since writing A Necklace of Souls, R.L. Stedman has gone on to write a sequel, called A Skillful Warrior, and a standalone YA novel, called Inner Fire.  She has just released her new book, aimed at younger readers, called The Prankster and the Ghost and it’s a terrific read.

Stuck in a hospital bed, unable to move, Tayla decides to leave his body. But floating around intensive care is kind of boring, although being invisible means he can do some cool practical jokes…Until the inspector arrives, that is. Jamie, newly arrived from Scotland, is lonely. No-one can understand his accent and all his practical jokes are going wrong. Plus, his new school is seriously weird. Perhaps it’s haunted.

The Prankster and the Ghost is a fun, spooky story, packed with ghosts, practical jokes, and a whole lot of heart. It’s also a story about friendship and how good friends can help you through tough times, whether it’s moving countries to live on the other side of the world or grieving for a loved one. Young readers, especially boys are going to lap up this story, with all the pranks that Tayla and Jamie like to play.

The story starts off with a bang (literally) when the car that Tayla’s dad is driving crashes and Tayla wakes up in hospital to find himself floating over his body. As Tayla is coming to terms with the events of the crash a strange woman called Mrs Myrtle Mannering (or the Inspector) turns up at the hospital looking for him.  She is an inspector from the Bureau of Unexplained and Malicious Phenomena, or BUMP, and she tells Tayla that he is stuck between his body and death.  Mrs Mannering explains that the best thing for Tayla to do until his mum gets better and his body heals is to go to a special school, a school of ghosts. This is where he meets Jamie, a boy from Scotland, who has just moved to New Zealand with his parents and two annoying sisters.  Jamie loves pranks just as much as Tayla and luckily he can see ghosts (or boys who are in between life and death).  With the help of Jamie and some ghostly children Tayla tries to get his old life back.

I especially loved the ghostly elements of the story.  I really like the idea of BUMP and  I could imagine Jamie growing up to have a job in BUMP, helping other ghosts just like Tayla.  The idea of a school for ghosts is really cool too.  There are ghost children from different periods of time and an old fashioned ghost teacher who becomes obsessed with modern technology.

One of the cool added extras in this book is the list of jokes from the story that R.L. Stedman has put in the back of the book. There are jokes involving cling film and a toilet, itching powder and stink bombs. She challenges readers to find all the jokes that happen in the book, but suggests that if you do try them you might want to tell an adult first.

Grab a copy of The Prankster and the Ghost in paperback or eBook now.  Check out Rachel Stedman’s website for details about where to buy the book.

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Jack Heath

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Jack Heath, author of the seriously spooky Scream series.  Jack joins me today to talk about why he loves scary stories and what led him to write books about spider armies, venus fly-traps and haunted books.  Thanks for joining me Jack!

The weirdness makes it seem real

When I heard Scholastic was looking for someone to write a horror series for kids, I stuck my hand up so fast that I ruptured my rotator cuff. I had loved scary stories since I was in nappies (which is a very convenient time to discover the horror genre, by the way).

My life as a reader began with picture books like Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg and Stephen Gammel, which led me to The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight by R. L. Stine, which in turn led me to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After that I discovered Crew’s 13, an anthology of horror stories (edited by Gary Crew) which included The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs. After falling in love with Frankenstein I later discovered Stephen King, and…

Pardon me. I got lost down memory lane for a second there. Where was I? Oh yes, the Scream series. I was told to write four books.

‘About what?’ I asked.

‘Something scary,’ I was told.

I’m not a brave person, so it wasn’t hard to find four things which frightened me. I started with the obvious – spiders. Big ones. I thought about the zoo in Singapore where I was invited to hold a tarantula, and I channeled all that skin-crawling terror into The Spider Army.

the-spider-armyI remembered having a Venus flytrap in my room as a kid, and uneasily watching it sit, perfectly still, mouth open, fangs wide, just waiting for an unwary fly to make one false step. This became the tingling spine of The Human Flytrap. (I was delighted to discover that the first edition literally screamed at readers when they opened the cover.)

I thought back to a holiday in Queensland when my brother and I found ourselves surrounded by lemon sharks. Being immersed in dark water, unable to scream and too frightened to move as these otherworldly creatures whipped past gave me the inspiration for The Squid Slayer.

But my favourite of the four books was a bit meta. The horror stories I loved had something in common – the monsters weren’t based on existing myths. There were no werewolves, no witches, no vampires. Instead they unleashed something completely new and bizarre, and paradoxically, the weirdness of the creatures made them more believable.

I remembered all the times I’d been reading a scary book and I’d started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the terrifying events depicted within might actually be true. I tried to capture this sensation in The Haunted Book.

People have asked me if it’s appropriate to expose a nine-year old to the frightening stuff in the Scream series. I tell them that I read books just like these as a kid, and I turned out all right.

Then I go home to write more disturbing stories and then sleep – with the lights on.

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Rebecca Lim

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Rebecca Lim, the author of sixteen books for children and young adult readers, including The Astrologer’s Daughter and Afterlight.  Rebecca joins me to talk about why she writes ‘slightly freaky young adult novels.’ Thanks for joining me Rebecca!

In the opening of my latest novel, Afterlight, a little girl is lying in bed, about to fall asleep, when she looks up to see a man standing over her in the dark. He’s very tall. She can see what he looks like, even with the lights out, because he’s shining. And this is how she remembers feeling:

But he was real. Real as you. And I was terrified. But all he did was look down at me, lying with my blankets pulled right up to my eyes, looking back up at him.
Then I breathed in—just a trembly, choky flutter, the tiniest sound—and he was gone.

I write these slightly freaky young adult novels filled with archangels and demons, Norman knights, wronged ghosts and parentless children. In them, I try to make sense of questions like: Why do bad things happen to good people? What happens to human energy, human consciousness, after death? Are we ruled by fate or by our own free will? How does one bad past act reverberate into the future?

In order to do this, I’m quite happy to throw the “extraordinary” into the narrative mix because—even though I consider myself a very rational and logical person—I do believe there are things in this world that can’t be explained by known science. And, often, the worst monsters in our world are not supernatural, but decidedly “human”. So having a paranormal or supernatural narrative foil brings our humanity into sharp relief. Plus, as readers, who doesn’t want to believe that magic exists?

And I don’t often talk about this—2015 is probably my year for bringing this out in the open, finally—but the scene where the little girl sees the “shining” man actually did happen to me. I was about five, and I don’t think it was a case of “sleep paralysis”. I can quite clearly recall him looking down at me looking up at him, and I remember how terrified I was as I inched my hand towards my bedside lamp: because I knew that if I turned on the light, he would go. And he did. He looked like no one I knew or had ever seen on television. But, to this day, I can still remember what he looked like. And I’ve never thought it was a dream.

So that one tiny thing from my childhood has enabled me to walk with archangels along city streets and mountain switchbacks and follow the insistent spirit of a murdered woman down the alleyways and walking tracks of Melbourne. I never discount anything anyone tells me, and I read voraciously across all genres, because what do we really know? Not enough. Never enough.

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Sue Copsey

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by New Zealand author Sue Copsey.  Sue is the author of the Spooky Adventures series, which includes Young Nick’s Head and Ghosts of Tarawera.  Sue joins me today to talk about why she writes spooky stories for kids. Thanks for joining me Sue!

Here’s a question for you. Do you like scary books and movies?

Did you answer “yes”? Next question: Why do you like them?

Weird, isn’t it, how we enjoy being a little bit scared. The sort of scared when you can hug a cushion or the cat and know you’re not in any actual danger. Where you stick your fingers in your ears and squeeze your eyes shut … then open them just a tiny bit, or put your hands over your face but peep between your fingers.

05_Ghost of Nicks Head reduced

When you look over your shoulder and take a deep breath before turning the page of a ghost story.

Or maybe you’re reading a spooky story in bed, and you pull the covers right up to your chin, and keep glancing at the bedroom door to check that dark shadow really is just your dressing gown hanging on the hook. And before turning out the light, you make sure there’s nothing under the bed (except your dirty socks, and … oh, missing maths worksheet!).

When Zac asked me the question “Why do you write spooky stories for children?” I realised that the question I really needed to answer was, “Why do I love ghost stories so much?”

I grew up in England, where every town and village has its spooks, and I was always fascinated by these stories. On Halloween, my friends and I would dare each other to walk through the local churchyard, which was said to be haunted by the Grey Lady. We never saw her, but I won’t forget the terror of walking amongst the gravestones, eyes straight ahead and fixed on the far wall of the churchyard, muttering “it’s okay it’s okay” to myself. Once we had all walked the walk of terror, we would make our way to the village chip shop for a bag of hot chips (the end of October in England is cold – so cold) before making our way home down the dark, empty lane. (This was before trick or treating was a thing. Okay yes, that makes me quite old.)

But for me, it didn’t stop there. I wanted to know, who was the Grey Lady? Why was she haunting the churchyard? What was the story? And so it began. Behind every haunting is a tale of days gone by, of unsolved murders, revenge, tragedy, and slips in time. Rich pickings for an author!

So another question for you – do you like history? Are you yawning? Well you can stop that, because history is the coolest of subjects – really, it’s just another name for stories, and it should never be boring! I don’t think there’s enough history taught in New Zealand schools, so I like to include plenty of it in my stories. But how to make it interesting for you guys? Just add spooks!

GoT cover

There are plenty of ghost story opportunities in New Zealand history. The first book in my Spooky Adventures series is set at Young Nick’s Head on the East Coast. Interesting name don’t you think? Any idea why it’s called that? See – history can be intriguing! The second book was inspired by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. Did you know that a phantom waka warned of the eruption? And that local legend says it will appear again if the volcano reawakens? How could I not write a story about what would happen if two modern-days boys, out kayaking on the lake, happened to see the phantom canoe?

So I guess the answer to the question, why do I write ghost stories, is to give New Zealand kids a delicious scare – just enough to thrill, not enough for nightmares – and to teach them some of our history in such a way that it is fun, never boring.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Be sure to visit Sue Copsey’s website for more information about her books and ghostly facts and jokes – www.suecopsey.com

The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey

I love ghost stories, adventure stories, and stories set in New Zealand.  Sue Copsey has combined all of my favourite types of stories in to her explosive new book, The Ghosts of Tarawera. 

On holiday near Rotorua, Joe and Eddie are fascinated by the area’s bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Local volcanologist Rocky tells them about the Pink and White Terraces that existed on the lake where they’re staying, and how they were destroyed in the cataclysmic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. But Joe’s fascination turns to unease when strange sightings on the lake and dark rumblings from the Earth hint that the volcano is reawakening. Can he persuade Rocky, who puts his faith only in science, to sound a warning?

The Ghosts of Tarawera is an action-packed adventure with a good dose of spookiness.  Much like the pressure building inside a volcano, the suspense builds until it reaches its explosive conclusion.  There is a sense of impending doom right from the start which made me want to keep reading to find out how it all ended.  The front cover (which I love) suggests that an eruption will occur, but when, where and how you just don’t know.

The story is set around Rotorua in the modern day and follows Jo and Eddie who are on holiday with Jo’s family.  It reminded me of Elsie Locke’s Canoe in the Mist (which was set in 1886 at the time of the huge eruption of Mount Tarawera).  The ghostly waka that warned of the 1886 eruption appears in The Ghosts of Tarawera to warn Joe of the trouble that is brewing below them.  Sue also looks at how ghosts might use other ways to communicate in the age of smart phones.  Not only does Jo see the ghostly waka, he is also sent strange text messages and Facebook messages that are trying to tell him something.  I loved this idea!

Sue really emerses you in the setting.  There is a real sense of place in this book – you feel like you are there at Lake Rotomahana and you can almost smell the sulphur, hear the mud bubbling, hear the birds singing in the bush, and feel heat of the hot pool.  Sue made me want to visit Lake Rotomahana and see everything for myself, even with the fictional eruptions of the story.

I really like Sue’s characters.  The kids are very relatable and the adults are role models that the kids look up to. I especially like Rocky and Buzz, the two cool GNS geologists who are camped beside the lake investigating the Pink and White Terraces. They take Jo and Eddie under their wings and get their help with taking readings around the lake.  Thanks Sue for giving boys some great positive male role models in Rocky and Buzz!

This is something for everyone in Sue Copsey’s books.  They are perfect for fans of Des Hunt or anyone who just loves a good adventure story.

Make sure you check out Sue Copsey’s Seriously Spooky Guest Post about why she likes scary stories.