J Horror

ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES by Mary Downing Hahn

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Corey and Travis are bad.  Not evil, but mischievous.  They were “not invited back” to summer camp as a result of all of the pranks they pulled last year, so instead their parents send them to spend the summer at their grandmother’s bed and breakfast inn in Vermont.  They are afraid the summer may be boring until they find out that the inn is supposed to be haunted.  Their grandmother insists that all of the ghost stories are nonsense, but Corey and Travis realize they could have a lot of fun pretending to be ghosts and frightening the guests.  That is, until they accidentally wake the real ghosts from their sleep. . . .

Mary Downing Hahn excels at writing creepy ghost stories with a historical twist.  In this particular story, the realistic depiction of a nineteenth century poor farm is perhaps more horrifying than the ghosts themselves.  A great scary story with an interesting history behind it.  I highly recommend it!

WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn

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Molly genuinely wants to be friends with her stepsister, Heather.  When the whole family moves out to an isolated home in the country, Molly hopes that she and her new little sister will be able to do things together–or at least get along.  But Heather is spoiled and self-absorbed and shows no interest in getting along with Molly or her brother, Michael.  In fact, she seems determined to get them in trouble with their mother and stepfather whenever possible.  As they get settled into their new house, however, Heather’s torments become more sinister.  She begins threatening Molly with an imaginary friend called Helen, and Molly begins to suspect that Helen is not as imaginary as her parents believe.  With her parents blaming her for the destruction that Helen causes, it is all up to Molly to figure out who or what Helen is and to protect Heather from her new “friend.”

Mary Downing Hahn has written some great ghost stories for children.  Wait Till Helen Comes is one of my favorites.  It is scary and suspenseful without relying on the shock value of grotesque content.  Elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy ghost stories should definitely check this one out!

If you liked Wait Till Helen Comes, you might like The Seer of Shadows by Avi.


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Horace Carpetine’s parents were somewhat radical in the late nineteenth century.  They raised their son to value the equality of all people–black or white, male or female–and to pursue the rational truth of science.  When Horace becomes apprenticed to a photographer, however, he soon finds all of his values challenged.  His master insists that he help fabricate a ghost photograph to swindle a wealthy client, a deception that troubles Horace at first, but once the apprentice realizes that he has somehow called a real ghost out of the photograph, his misgivings turn to terror.  Together with his friend Pegg–the wealthy client’s African-American serving girl–Horace tries to uncover the truth about the ghost-girl’s past and find a way to stop her from reaping revenge on those who wronged her.

This ghost story is a fun read for anyone who likes historical fiction with a bit of a fear factor.  It isn’t too terrifying–partly because the historical setting makes it seem fairly removed from the realm of modern possibility–but it is certainly creepy!  I would definitely recommend it to upper elementary readers who enjoy ghost stories and are looking to branch out beyond Mary Downing Hahn and Alvin Schwartz.


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The man Jack had always completed his assignments thoroughly and efficiently.  His knife dispatched the man, the woman, and the little girl before even a scream could pass their lips.  So it comes as a great surprise to him when he discovers that the toddler has somehow escaped into the night.  The man Jack follows the little boy’s scent up the hill and into the graveyard, but there he loses the trail as a mysterious, black-velvet-clad man named Silas escorts him from the graveyard, persuading him that he never saw the child there in the first place.  The inhabitants of the graveyard, the ghosts of all of those laid to rest within its gates over the centuries, offer the child their protection.  The ghosts Master and Mistress Owens adopt the child, whom they name Nobody (Bod), and Silas, who is neither living nor dead and can therefore leave the graveyard to procure food for the child, agrees to be his guardian.  Bod is given the freedom of the graveyard, seeing as the dead see, moving through walls, fading into shadow, and exploring worlds on the border between life and death.  He grows up safe inside the graveyard, but outside its gates, the man Jack has not abandoned his search for child.

The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Medal, which is somewhat surprising given the book’s subject matter–the dark, fantastical world stands out from typical Newbery winners–but fully deserved.  Gaiman builds a vivid world in the graveyard and explores themes of life, death, family and friendship, love and loyalty, identity, and morality.  He weaves these themes into his brilliantly imagined storyline, which keeps readers engaged in characters and plot from beginning to end.  Fair warning: you will reach a point in the story where you will become unable to put this book down.  Plan your time accordingly.

I highly recommed this book for upper elementary, teen, and adult readers who can handle dark fantasy and murder mysteries. I also cannot recommend highly enough Neil Gaiman’s audio book performance of this book!  It is one of my top two favorite audiobooks of all time–an absolutely stunning performance.  It is great to listen to, whether you are experiencing the book for the first time or reading it again.  You should definitely check the audio book out!