One of my favorite things to do is talk about spooky middle grade books! So welcome to my interview with author Dianne Salerni and her latest book release ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS.
by Dianne Salerni
It’s 1898 in New York City and ghosts exist among humans.
When an unusual spirit takes up residence at their aunt’s house, thirteen-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt and her cousin Alice are suspicious. The girls don’t get along, but they know something is not right. This ghost is more than a pesky nuisance. The authorities claim he’s safe to be around, even as his mischievous behavior grows stranger and more menacing. Could their aunt and her unborn child be in danger?
Meanwhile, Eleanor and Alice discover a vengeful ghost in the house where Alice was born and her mother died. Is someone else haunting the family? Introverted Eleanor and unruly Alice develop an unlikely friendship as they explore the family’s dark, complicated history.
A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION
It’s wonderful to chat with you again, Dianne! Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. How about we begin by you telling our readers a bit about your two main characters, Eleanor and Alice.
Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt were both touched by tragedy when very young. Eleanor was orphaned by the age of eight and thereafter lived with an oppressive grandmother. Alice’s mother died shortly after her birth, and Alice thereafter viewed herself as an extra appendage in a large family consisting of an acerbic step-mother, five half-siblings, and a distant father.
Both girls felt abandoned, unloved, and unworthy. However, this manifested differently in the two girls. While Eleanor was introverted, awkward, and tried to blend into the wallpaper, Alice acted out in so many outlandish ways that relations described her as a guttersnipe, a hellion, and a wild animal put into good clothes.
I will say that I loved how you portrayed the girls so differently. Yet, as the story moves forward, their similarities also come to a ghostly light.👻
What five words best describes Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghost?
Feisty females versus deceitful ghosts.
Ooh . . . perfect!
Like most of your books, Eleanor’s story is grounded in historical elements. How do you see the value in history and its importance to stories like Eleanor’s?
Every time we remember that historical people were no different from people today – in temperament, in complexity, in motivation – we learn more about ourselves and our future. In fact, the appeal of the musical Hamilton is in how it humanizes people who have otherwise been reduced to icons by the weight of U.S. history. So, when we look at an inspirational American figure like Eleanor Roosevelt and remember that she was once a neglected, insecure adolescent, I pray that it gives hope to the neglected and insecure adolescents of today.
You share this really cool ghost or entity lamp in the book. Please tell the readers about it.
The Edison Lamp is a made-up invention in my alternate history. It detects the “eruption” of a ghost in a house, which seems like the sort of practical device Thomas Edison would invent in this alternate reality. The timely detection of a new haunting is essential for survival, because some ghosts are deadly. Consider the Edison Lamp the equivalent to a smoke alarm or CO2 detector.
This was one of my favorite elements of the book! It’s super cool.
Did you discover any other eerie gadgets from the past?
In approximately 1901, Nikola Tesla invented a very basic radio receiver that was open to a wide range of frequencies. (For real, not just in my alternate history.) Apparently, the noises he picked up on this receiver disturbed him. He wrote, “My first observations positively terrified me as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural, and I was alone in my laboratory at night.”
Tesla historians later dubbed this device a “spirit radio.” I borrowed this invention for Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts, although I had to move the invention to 1898 and couldn’t call it a “spirit radio,” since radios hadn’t been invented yet.
“What is that?” Alice wants to know.
“A spirit telegraph,” Miss Bly says jokingly.
“It’s a means of hearing what the house has to say,” Tesla corrects her.
I remember reading something years ago about a “spirit radio”. Like I mentioned – super cool. You inserted a fun and effective ‘ghost world’ into your real-world building. Would you share how you made it all fit together?
I started with the children’s primer, Types of Ghosts and How They Fade, which was the very first thing I wrote when I started brainstorming this book. It describes the types of ghosts: Friendly, Unaware, and Vengeful. Since my premise is that ghosts are part of ordinary life, I set about weaving ghosts into the fabric of this world. Ex: a nursery rhyme to teach the children the types of ghosts, technology to detect ghosts, ghosts inserted into well-known literature (I tweaked Great Expectations), government agencies to deal with hauntings, ghosts inserted into historical events (Was the U.S.S. Maine destroyed by a Vengeful?), and even a branch of law enforcement called SWAT teams – Supernatural Weapons and Tactics.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
In question #6, I described what was necessary to weave ghosts into this world. This book contains interstitial material – text between the chapters – consisting of newspaper articles and ads, letters, and census tables. Earlier versions went a little overboard. I included extra world-building interstitial material like textbook excerpts, slightly altered contemporary literature, etc. But it was too much.
The hardest part was letting go of all the world-building content that didn’t enhance or advance the story – no matter how clever (sob!) it was.
Ooh, I hope you saved that WB content for another story!
For Our Teachers and Authors🎒
As a former schoolteacher, what do you see as the greatest challenge for students, today?
This year, it’s the same as it is for the rest of us – grief for the loss of our lives before the pandemic. Extroverts are feeling it the worst, I believe. But even introverts—like me and Eleanor—are feeling the loss of everything we hoped to do and can’t. Whatever we can do to encourage and maintain personal connections with even the shyest of us students is more essential than ever.
With the current educational challenges facing teachers and parents, how can they encourage middle schoolers to engage in more independent reading and writing?
Authors have been available to readers online since the advent of social media, and many readers (on their own or encouraged by teachers) have used this opportunity to connect. But others have not, simply through lack of time. Now that so much of the educational experience is, by necessity, online, why not make use of that opportunity? If authors are offering virtual visits and online workshops, schedule them! If there are writing opportunities – contests, NaNoWriMo, seminars – help students connect with them.
Inquiring Minds Want To Know
From your personal experience, what middle grade book is a must read?
With a publication date of 2000, it’s getting dated, but during my last ten years of teaching, I read No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman aloud to both my reading classes at the beginning of every year. Written in 4 different POVs (including an adult – gasp! – isn’t that forbidden in MG books?!), it’s not only an opportunity for POV discussion but also a remarkably funny mystery and scathing review on classic literature. In the words of protagonist Wallace Wallace:“The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”
*Note to self – No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
Have to ask: do YOU believe in ghosts?
I didn’t. I was a big skeptic, until I took a ghost hunting class from my local community college, went on a field trip to a supposedly haunted house, and came back with an unexplained voice on my audio recording. Nobody else who was present recorded this voice. The other recordings registered silence while mine – and only mine – includes a ghostly but humorous message.
You can hear the whole story AND the ghost voice on my YouTube video: https://tinyurl.com/yxnhjgja
Whoa . . . Everyone, you can head over to watch right after our last question. I know I’m going to check it out.
Lastly, what can readers expect to see from you next?🔮
My next book, Jadie in Five Dimensions, will be published in the fall of 2021 from Holiday House. It’s a twisty, multi-dimensional sci-fi adventure based on the premise that our 3-dimensional universe exists inside a larger 4-dimensional universe, the way Russian dolls nest together.
Jadie Martin, an abandoned infant, was rescued from certain death by benevolent beings from the fourth dimension and placed into a loving adoptive family. Now age 13, Jadie serves as an Agent for the four-dimensional Overseers, performing missions calculated to guide her world toward a brighter future.
Except — when Jadie switches assignments with another Agent, she discovers her origin story is a lie. Her birth family has suffered multiple tragedies engineered from 4-space, including the loss of their baby girl. Now doubting her benefactors, Jadie anonymously observes her long-lost family. Why are they important? What are the true intentions of the Overseers? And what will huge, all-powerful four-dimensional beings do to a small rebellious human girl when they realize she’s interfering with their plans?
This sounds so exciting! Can’t wait to read. Thank you so much for joining us and for sharing Eleanor and Alice’s story with us.
If you’d like to read about another #spookymg book, you can go HERE.
About The Author✒️
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of middle grade and YA novels, including Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, The Eighth Day Series, The Caged Graves, and We Hear the Dead. Her seventh book, Jadie in Five Dimensions, will release in the fall of 2021. Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER