Posts Tagged spooky middle grade books

TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT ~ An Interview With Author Dan Poblocki

Welcome to my interview with Author Dan Poblocki and his latest release *cue booming voice* TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. This book has it all – an endearing main character, a creepy attic, and a suspense-filled world made up of multiple tales!

**Make sure you scroll to the end of this interview to enter for your chance to win your very own copy of this book!



Publisher: Penguin Random House

Release Date: August 16, 2022

Amelia is cleaning out her grandmother’s attic when she stumbles across a book: Tales to Keep You Up at Night. But when she goes to the library to return it, she’s told that the book never belonged there. Curious, she starts to read the stories: tales of strange incidents in nearby towns, journal entries chronicling endless, twisting pumpkin vines, birthday parties gone awry, and cursed tarot decks. At the center of the stories lies a family of witches. And witches, she’s told, can look like anyone. As elements from the stories begin to come to life around her, and their eerie connections become clear, Amelia begins to realize that she may be in a spooky story of her own.

TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT is the perfect nextread for fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark!. An excellent addition to Halloween round ups, middle grade readers will be glued to the pages, up way past their bedtimes, reading with flashlights, as they explore each of these interconnected stories. With frightening artwork at the start of each chapter, this book keeps readers engaged and terrified from beginning to end.


Hello Dan! It’s wonderful to have you join us. I am a huge fan of spooky books, so when I saw this book I knew I just had to chat with you about it. How about we start with – Can you describe Tales To Keep You Up At Night in five words?

Five words? I’ll try. How about these: Amelia’s tales comes to life!

Haha! It sure does.

Share a few insights into the story world you’ve created for your main character Amelia.

Amelia’s world is very much based on my own childhood growing up in the northeastern US. There was a time when my friends and I would ride bikes around our neighborhoods after school, occasionally pausing to relay some kind of legend to one another about some particular place we’d stumbled upon. Ravines. Deep forests. Strangers in grumbling cars. Spooky old houses. All of these elements felt like classic elements of scary tales, so I used them to fill Amelia’s world and set the stage.

Ooh . . . I think we might have lived in similar neighborhoods.

Tales To Keep You Up At Night is like a story – well, more like a bunch of stories – within the main story. How did keep all the details that weave the inner stories to the main story straight?

I use writing software called Scrivener, which allows me to sort each chapter into its own file. While I was writing one story, the software allowed me to pull up the other stories. This helped me remember what was what. Also, keeping lists and notes of which characters appeared in each tale helped me keep things straight. It was a challenge!

That’s a fantastic writing tool. I’m sure some of our writing readers use it.

Okay, random question: Picture Amelia standing in a grocery store. What three snacky foods will she purchase to eat while she’s reading from the old book in the attic?

Mmm. Snacks and devouring a book go hand in hand. Amelia’s the type who would probably grab a pack of strawberry Twizzlers, some chocolate milk, and maybe some Teddy Grahams or a bunch of grapes. 🥛


Why will middle grade readers relate to Amelia and Tales To Keep You Up At Night?

I hope that the readers will see themselves in Amelia in the way she cares for and worries about her family. This part of her personality is what drives her to do what she does, to fight for them, and to try and survive the scary troubles that arise.

Aw, she definitely will touch the hearts of readers.💚💚💚

What do you hope readers will take with them after reading this tale?

A whole bunch of different ideas. But most important: To look closer. To question what’s presented as the Absolute Truth.


What is it about writing stories that moves you to keep writing?

My brain just keeps demanding I put my ideas on the page, and so far, I’ve listened.

Were you a reader as a kid?

I liked reading. But even more, I loved exploring book stores and the library. All the possibilities of the worlds on the shelves made me curious. Early on, what I loved most were comic strips: Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, The Family Circus. Anything that gave me a sense of accomplishment. This is kind of why I wanted to write in the short-story format – to appeal to readers (like myself) who might feel intimidated by longer work, but whose attention would be rewarded if they choose to read ALL the stories.

Did you have any favorite books to read when you were a kid?

I loved books by John Bellairs, Mary Downing Hahn, Bruce Coville, Shel Silverstein, and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Favorites include The House With a Clock in Its Walls, Wait Till Helen Comes, The Monster’s Ring, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Headless Cupid. Then, of course, came RL Stine and Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan – whose books were like candy. I ate them right up.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to share with librarians, teachers, and parents of how to encourage a love of reading in their middle grader?

I’m not a librarian, teacher, or parent, but I have a distinct memory of being a middle grader. What I wanted at that time was access to books, all kinds of books, because I never knew what I might find myself in the mood for. Also, I loved when I was allowed to read what I wanted to read. I will say that I’ve gotten much mail from parents and teachers who’ve shared that kids who’ve never wanted to pick up a book before ended up LOVING some of mine. Scary stories can be a gateway for reluctant readers to step into worlds of literature, so maybe, start there!


Author Dan PoblockiDan Poblocki is the coauthor with Neil Patrick Harris of the #1 New York Times
bestselling series The Magic Misfits (writing under the penname Alec Azam). He’s also the author of The
Stone Child, The Nightmarys, and the Mysterious Four series. His recent books, The Ghost of Graylock
and The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe, were Junior Library Guild selections and made the American Library
Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2013 and 2014. Dan lives in Saugerties, New York, with
two scaredycats and a growing collection of very creepy toys.

About the illustrator: Marie Bergeron was born and raised in Montreal. After studying cinematography,
she attended École de Design. Her style is inspired by many things, including films and games,
contrasting a more graphic approach with organic strokes. Her clients have included Marvel Studios,
Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Fox Entertainment, and more.


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Enter for your chanced to WIN a copy of TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. Giveaway runs through August 24th. Winner will be announced on Twitter (and in the comments below) on August 25th. Good Luck!🍀🍀🍀And if you like spooky books, feel free to check out more HERE and HERE! Thank you for stopping by to support Dan. Your visits are always appreciated.

NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS: School Of Phantoms (Bk2), An Interview with Kory Merritt

Welcome to my interview with Author/Illustrator Kory Merritt and his latest release No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS!

Kory visited us back in October of 2020, where he introduced NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS (Bk1). At that time he also showcased his mighty artistic ability through some added drawings. You can find them HERE as well as book 1, No Place For Monsters.


School of Phantoms


No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS by Kory Merritt

In this spine-tingling follow-up to No Place for Monsters, which Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney called “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” a group of unlikely friends must band together to protect their town from the monsters that are threatening to destroy it.

The storm is coming. Who will survive?

It’s been months since Levi and Kat defeated the Boojum and rescued their town’s forgotten children. But now the strangeness has started again: hundreds of creepy snowmen pop up across town and a bizarre blizzard hits the day before spring break.

Being trapped in the school overnight by freak weather is bad enough. But an evil is lurking . . . one far worse than ice and wind. Worse than power outages. Even worse than being stuck with teachers and annoying classmates.

Something is roaming the darkened school halls. Something . . . hungry. Now it’s up to a small group of student survivors—along with some supernatural helpers—to uncover the cold-hearted menace before it takes the entire school.



Hi Kory! It’s wonderful to have you join us, again. If you would, give us a sneak peek into SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS in tweet-length and a hashtag?

Kids and teachers trapped overnight in a haunted school, told partly through illustrated “found footage.” #SpookyCartoonFoundFootage

Trapped in a haunted school overnight. I mean, what could go wrong?😱😱😱

What makes this follow-up book different from the first?PHANTOMS IMAGE

The overall presentation and format are different—much of it is told through “found footage” (views from phone cameras, school security footage, etc). So I think the illustrations are more ambitious and creative.

That’s pretty cool!

The story is also different in that it has a bigger cast of characters. It takes place in a school, so the view bounces back and forth between sixth graders, third graders, and teachers. The first book only had two or three main characters. This one has a bunch of different viewpoints.

What was your favorite part about continuing this story?

It was fun to experiment with the illustration format, and also set the new story in a school. I used to be an elementary art teacher, and sometimes wondered what it would be like to be trapped in the school overnight during a storm.

Care to share a #funfact about Phantom that you left out of the book itself?

My original draft had a scene set in the school library, where the library gets haunted and storybook characters come to life and attack the students. I tried to use mainly public domain book characters, but wanted the main library villain to be Greg Heffley from Wimpy Kid, who would get taken out with a single punch. My editor wisely convinced me to cut this chapter—it would have been a legal nightmare to include so many existing characters.

Ooh, super creepy and a bit funny!



I’m sure your main characters grow even more throughout this second book. How do they change from the PHANTOMS IMAGEend of the first book and how can young readers relate to those changes?

The main characters from the first book are back, but now they’re part of an ensemble and share equal “screen time” with a bunch of other characters. So we see a bunch of different personalities colliding as they’re forced into a strange and desperate situation.

New ensemble of characters? Ooh, please introduce them.

The story takes place mainly over one night of being trapped in a haunted school. There are new sixth grade characters, some primary grade students, and some faculty: Ms. Padilla the cunning science teacher, Mr. Chuck the burnt-out custodian. If you’ve ever gone to school, you should find something relatable.

Plus a whole bunch of new creatures get involved: some friendly, some not-so-friendly. Big spiders. Creepy snowmen. Monsters based on school subjects . . .

Oh, these are awesome!


Did you do any research for this second book? Do you do separate research or inspiration searching for your drawings as opposed to your writing work?

PHANTOMS MOVIE IMAGEResearch is important, but this book is set in a school and deals with strange creatures. I used to be a K-6 art teacher, and I’ve always loved strange real-life animals, so the writing was based around fields I’m already very familiar with.

For the illustrations: I wanted to capture the feel of a “found footage” movie. So I watched several found footage movies, including Blair Witch. I tried to replicate the shaky camera movements for certain illustrations.

For our illustrating writers, what are three of the most important pieces of advice you’d pass along to them?

I’m bad with advice—I can never think of anything original to say. I guess it’s pretty simple: 1. Gotta write and draw a LOT. You’ll look back at older work and be embarrassed by it, but staying productive lets you develop your style, so don’t worry about mistakes at first.

  1. Read a lot of books. Read a wide variety of books by a wide variety of writers/illustrators. Read outside your comfort zone—don’t just read the same thing over and over. Read comics and graphic novels, sure, but also read traditional prose with no illustrations—try to visualize scenes in your head as you read.
  2. Finish things. Lots of people want to write or draw stories and they start working on books, but lose interest or give up. Force yourself PHANTOMS CASTto finish projects. Even if it’s not what you hoped for, you at least developed your style during the process.

Really great advice, even if someone has heard some of it before. It never hurts to be reminded. 👍

Was there anything that surprised you about this story as you wrote it?

I realized that I like having big casts. Keeps things bouncing along.

Haha! But it keeps it interesting, right?


Any suggestions on how young student writers and/or illustrators can find inspiration when beginning a story . . . let’s say for an assignment in class?

I guess . . . think of something that is fun for you to write about. Not everyone likes writing—that’s fine. But I think it helps if you’re interested in the subject. I like animals and creatures, so I always want to include them in stories, and it motivates me to write and draw.

How can librarians and teachers use spooky stories such as this one in their classrooms and homes to encourage reluctant readers to engage in reading?

I’ve heard illustrated stories and comics/graphic novels can be gateways to all sorts of books and reading habits. You get a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a book, and I think illustrations can be a fast hook for pulling in readers—you simply open the cover, and here’s a glimpse of the world.

Obviously, there’s lots of spookiness going on throughout SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS. Why do you believe spooky stories are important for young readers to read?

My books are spooky but in a cartoonish way, for kids—I think sometimes it’s just fun to read a creepy story. Some excellent spooky stories, such as books by talented authors like Tananarive Due, can have deeper meanings and mirror real-life fears, and help readers cope through the fantasy.

Thank you for sharing your latest story with us, Kory! It looks and sounds amazing. Plus, what better time to share a story about being stuck in a haunted school for the night than during Halloween season!


Kory Self-Portrait

Kory Merritt is a former public school art teacher from western New York who enjoys reading weird stories, looking for strange wildlife, and drawing creepy monsters. In addition to teaching, Kory previously worked as an illustrator for the online game franchise Poptropica and its spin-off book series., Facebook: @korymerrittauthor, Twitter and Instagram: @koryjmerritt

ELEANOR, ALICE, & THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS ~ An Interview With Author Dianne Salerni

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.

The Book📚

Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt GhostsELEANOR, 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.



The Interview🎙️

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:

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 DayAuthor Dianne Salerni 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


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