Tag Archives: spooky

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.

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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.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – James Foley

 

Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley

www.jamesfoley.com.au/books/my-dead-bunny

MDB_cover-1000px

I have never owned a rabbit, let alone a zombified one, so when I began working on ‘My Dead Bunny’ I had no idea how to approach the character of Bunny Brad. I knew plenty about zombies, having watched all of the Walking Dead and the original Romero film Night of The Living Dead; but I didn’t know how to draw a decent rabbit (or, as this book required, an indecent one).

In addition, I wasn’t sure what illustration style would suit the book; in the first few pages I needed to show a live rabbit being electrocuted, then coming back as a zombie, and I needed to accomplish this without making the audience want to stop reading, close the book, and burn it immediately. As you would expect, it was a challenge bringing a dead bunny to life.

I always start a book by developing the main character. This inevitably involves experimenting with style at the same time. Once the main character design has settled, it informs the style of the whole book; everything else forms around it.

I read the first draft for ‘My Dead Bunny’ and was instantly hooked. Then I was perplexed. How would I draw Bunny Brad? I realised I needed to answer three questions:

  1. How ‘undead’ would he be? (i.e. would Bunny Brad still look relatively alive, or would he look obviously undead?)
  2. How much sentience would he have? (i.e. would Bunny Brad appear to be conscious of his actions and intentionally evil, or would he be acting out of unconscious zombie impulses?)
  3. How real would he look? (i.e. would Bunny Brad have realistic proportions, or would he appear more cartoony?)

I wrote these three questions down in my sketchbook, and tried a few drawings.

20130615-MDB-first-sketches

The brain worm was there from the start, as was the idea to have Bunny Brad appear at the narrator’s bedroom door casting a long shadow.  But that’s about all in these sketches that looks familiar.

At this point I realised I needed to look at reference photos of actual rabbits, so that I could clarify what features I needed to include. I soon found another challenge; how could I take a rabbit’s features and zombify them? Rabbits look very alert, anxious and cuddly, whereas zombies need to look slow, dim-witted and creepy. How could I draw a zombified rabbit and still have it seem like a rabbit?

I tried many many options over many many months. Here are some of those designs.

random-sketches

The publishers (god bless them) were very patient and supportive, rejecting options that were too cute and/or not strong enough. After many rejected character designs I was feeling very frustrated, so I sat on my studio floor with a big sheet of paper and a sharpie, and drew some ridiculous zombie rabbits that I thought the publisher would hate. ‘Let’s see what they think of these!’ I thought. I sent the sketches off with a devilish glint in my eye.

20140215-bunny sketches

The publisher emailed me back almost immediately. ‘We love them!’ they said. ‘More of these, please!’

I felt surprised, then relieved. The character had finally clicked, and so had the style. Bunny Brad shifted a bit from that sketch to the final version, but he was basically there, and the rest of the book flowed quite easily once he was in place.

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;  RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;
RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

It’s always the case that I spend at least half of the creative process experimenting and planning. Quite often there’s a point where it seems like it’s never going to work – that the character is never going to settle and the book won’t go anywhere. I’m so glad Bunny Brad eventually turned up! He’s been a heap of fun to work with (if a bit nibbly).

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley is available now from Walker Books Australia.  Grab a copy now from your library or bookshop.

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My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley

So you like picture books about cute bunny rabbits who nibble on carrots or deliver chocolate eggs in a basket?  Well this is definitely not the picture book for you.  However, if you like picture books about gross, stinky, horrible creatures then this book is absolutely perfect for you.  Meet Brad the zombie bunny in Sigi Cohen and James Foley’s new picture book, My Dead Bunny.

MDB_cover-1000px

We first meet Brad when he is visiting his owner in bed one night and we’re told of how Brad came to be dead.  Brad was just a normal, cute, fluffy bunny until the day he decided to chew through the TV cord and got electrocuted. The family bury him but the boy misses him and decides to dig him up and check on him.  This is when Brad starts to cause a panic, scaring everyone silly, stinking up the house and making a mess.  The situation gets so bad that the boy and his friends have to come up with a plan to deal with dead Bunny Brad.  Will their plan just cause more problems instead?

I absolutely love this picture book!  It is creepy, disgusting and absolutely hilarious.  It’s completely the opposite of those cutesy picture books about bunny rabbits and it will appeal hugely to boys.  You would have to make sure you knew your audience when reading it aloud, as you wouldn’t want to traumatise a kid whose beloved pet had just died.

Sigi Cohen and James Foley are a dream team for this book. Sigi Cohen’s rollicking rhyming text will have you laughing out loud as you read it.  I love his descriptions of zombie Bunny Brad, which are creepy and funny at the same time.  James Foley’s illustrations are delightfully creepy but hilarious.  James has used a very simple colour palette, mostly black and grey, with green and orange to add effect.  The green of zombie Brad really makes him stand out, compared to his living self which is grey.  James really makes zombie Brad look creepy and disgusting, with his pink, runny eyes, his horrible teeth, and the worm sticking out of his head.  James also uses different angles and shadows to add to the creepiness of the illustrations.  I even love James’ end papers of the book, which show Brad before and after his accident.

My Dead Bunny is a perfect picture book for older readers and younger readers who like a bit of a scare and a good laugh.

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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.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Lesley Gibbes

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 Lesley Gibbes, author of the award-winning book, Scary Night.  Lesley joins me on My Best Friends Are Books today to talk about her spooky picture book.

There’s no denying, I love all things scary! When I was a child I loved a good scare and nothing was scarier than the darkness of night. There’s something so deliciously terrifying about noises in the dark made by things you can’t see. My imagination would run wild and I loved it!

So of course, my first picture book just had to be set in the dead of the night when anything can happen. And in SCARY NIGHT when three friends, Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel set out on a mysterious night-time journey all sorts of scary things happen. Close your eyes and imagine snapping crocodiles, roaring bears, mountain cliff tops, graveyards, bats, spiders, castle ruins and rats. Are you brave enough to join the journey and find out just where the three friends are going? Go on, you won’t believe the surprise!

SCARY NIGHT has just the right amount of scare to give your kids a thrill with a reassuring ending that’s sure to have everyone celebrating. It was awarded Honour Book, by the Children’s Book Council of Australia for Early Childhood Book of the Year 2015 and is the perfect book for Halloween this October!

SCARY NIGHT written by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Working Title Press 2014. CBCA Honour Book 2015 Early Childhood Book of the Year. Shortlisted Speech Pathology Australia, Book of the Year (3-5 years) 2015.  You can visit Lesley Gibbes at www.lesleygibbes.com

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Beware – Seriously Spooky Month is here!

I love spooky books for kids and teens!  If it’s got ghosts, witches, vampires (non-sparkly ones), zombies or anything supernatural I’ll read it.  So I’ve decided to dedicate a whole month to spooky stories.

Throughout Seriously Spooky Month in October I’m highlighting my favourite spooky and scary books for kids of all ages, from picture books right through to YA.  I’m also very excited to have some wonderful guest posts from authors and illustrators who create spooky books for kids, including Barry Hutchison, Chris Priestly, Gareth P. Jones, R.L. Stedman, Sue Copsey and James Foley.

Scare your socks off this October and join me for some Seriously Spooky reads!

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Fur-ightfully Funny Adventures from Beyond the Grave

When Joe Edmunds makes a wish on an Egyptian amulet, little does he know that he has volunteered to guide and defend the undead pet inhabitants of his town…

If you know a young reader who likes adventure stories that are a bit spooky and really funny, then I’ve got a new series for you!  Undead Pets by Sam Hay is an awesome new series for 7+ featuring zombie animals and ‘pets with one last thing to do before they pass to the other side.’  As well as a great story (that boys especially will love) the books are illustrated throughout by Simon Cooper.  I especially like the cartoons that describe how each of the pets die.  I reckon the covers are terrific and are sure to jump off the shelves.  Young readers will get hooked on Undead Pets and they’ll gobble them up in no time.  They’re stand alone adventures so kids can start with any of the books.

Read all about the different books in the series below and watch the cool book trailer.

Return of the Hungry Hamster

Dumpling the hamster came to a dusty end inside a vacuum cleaner … but he suspects that his owner Oliver’s parents never admitted to their son that they were to blame for Dumpling’s demise. Now the hamster needs Joe’s help to reveal the truth – but there’s a furry surprise awaiting them at Oliver’s house…

Revenge of the Phantom Furball

Disaster strikes when Bonsai the pug chases Pickle the cat into the street, where she is flattened by a car. But the fact that Pickle has (almost) shuffled off her mortal coil isn’t her biggest concern; she is worried that Bonsai will pursue her sister Pebble into an early grave too, unless she and Joe teach the dog a lesson…

Night of the Howling Hound

Joe is off on a school trip to an adventure camp, and he can’t wait to put Uncle Charlie’s survival tips into practice! But it’s not long before he’s visited by Dexter, a scruffy-looking dog, with a howling tale of woe. Dexter doesn’t want his owner feeling guilty for his death, but it’ll be hard for Joe to intervene this time – it turns out that the owner is Joe’s headmaster, the dreaded Mr Hill!

Goldfish from Beyond the Grave

Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?

Rise of the Zombie Rabbit

Fluffy’s owner, Olivia, lost a necklace in her back garden and she’s going to get in big trouble if it isn’t found. Fluffy can’t bear to see her owner in distress and she demands that Joe finds the necklace – now! Can Joe do what Fluffy wants or will the undead pet be hopping around forever?

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My Favourite Seriously Spooky Authors for Halloween

Some of my favourite stories are ones that creep me out and send a chill down my spine.  When I was a kid there weren’t many authors who wrote horror stories or ghost stories.  R.L. Stine’s books were about the creepiest I could find and he’s still writing them today.

If you like horror stories, ghost stories or stories about the supernatural there are now lots of authors who write these stories.  My favourite seriously spooky authors are:

I also have to add Michelle Harrison, even though she writes all sorts of books.  Her recent book, Unrest is one of the creepiest books for kids or teens that I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it!

Who are your favourite spooky authors or spooky books?

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Unrest by Michelle Harrison

Have you ever read a book that sent chills down your spine and made you want to sleep with the light on?  I’ve never read anything as haunting and spine-tingling as Unrest by Michelle Harrison.

Seventeen-year-old Elliott hasn’t slept properly for six months. Not since the accident that nearly killed him. Now he is afraid to go to sleep. Sometimes he wakes to find himself paralysed, unable to move a muscle, while shadowy figures move around him. Other times he is the one moving around, while his body lies asleep on the bed. According to his doctor, sleep paralysis and out of body experiences are harmless – but to Elliot they’re terrifying.

Convinced that his brush with death has opened up connections with the spirit world, Elliott secures a live-in job at one of England’s most haunted locations, determined to find out the truth. There he finds Sebastian, the ghost of a long-dead servant boy hanged for stealing bread. He also meets the living, breathing Ophelia, a girl with secrets of her own. She and Elliott grow closer, but things take a terrifying turn when Elliott discovers Sebastian is occupying his body when he leaves it. And the more time Sebastian spends inhabiting a living body, the more resistant he becomes to giving it back. Worse, he seems to have an unhealthy interest in Ophelia. Unless Elliott can lay Sebastian’s spirit to rest, he risks being possessed by him for ever, and losing the girl of his dreams…

Unrest is one of the creepiest books I’ve read, and Michelle Harrison had me considering leaving the light on at night.  It should come with a warning: Do not read at night!  Michelle’s writing is so descriptive that you feel like you’re in the room with Elliot, seeing and feeling everything that he does.  Michelle mentions in the author note that Elliot’s experiences are based on those of one of her relatives, and it is knowing that her story is based on fact that makes it even scarier.  One thing that I especially like about her writing was the way that she builds up tension, making you feel very on-edge as you read.  There are several strands of the story that Michelle weaves together like the Witch’s Ladder that becomes an important symbol for Elliot.

I thought both Elliot and Ophelia were really interesting characters.  Elliot has no idea why these horrible things keep happening to him while he is asleep and he has to deal with it by himself as nobody else believes him.  You experience everything that Elliot does because you’re inside his head and you empathize with him because you wouldn’t want to be in his situation.  I don’t think I’d be particularly sane if I woke each night to find myself paralysed and a dripping ghost was sitting on my chest.  Ophelia was a character that really grew on me.  At first, she’s quite snobbish and doesn’t want anything to do with Elliot.  She seems to have put barriers up to everyone and doesn’t want to get close to anyone (with good reason as we later find out).  As Elliot gets to know Ophelia he starts to break down her barriers and she becomes someone he can confide in.  The more I found out about Ophelia the more I liked her, and so does Elliot.

Unrest has the most shocking, unexpected ending of any book that I’ve read (I wasn’t even sure it would end on a positive note).  When I finished I could finally take a breath and marvel at the spine-tingling story Michelle had just told me.  If you like to be scared by the words on a page, you can’t go past Unrest.

5 out of 5 stars

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