Halloween Middle Grade Picks!

Halloween is here and to celebrate we have a host of stories from Harper's Middle Grade line of books!  Our friend Deanna is here to give you a whole stack of mini reviews!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
Wow! What great descriptions and use of vocabulary! I love the descriptions and use of wordage. The story is very well-described, well thought-out, and quite engaging.
I had heard of the film several years ago but didn't see it, not realizing there was a book. Though the story is written for the audience of adolescents and older, I would have been one terrified child/teenager if I had read this then. Even as an adult, my skin got a little tingly.
However, it is a lovely story with a good lesson in bravery. I like, too, that it is written for his daughters, based on where he used to live.


Gravediggers: Mountain of BonesGravediggers: Mountain of Bones by Christopher Krovatin

Ian was the one who chased the majestic buck into the forest. Kendra and PJ followed him. They all hoped to return to the hiking trail before anyone noticed they were gone. However, the mountain had other plans for them: dark, sinister plans that only nightmares are made of.

This was probably my least favorite story out of the mix. While I liked the bonding of the three students and the change in voice as each of the three narrate the story, I'm not really into zombies or totem pools and the like. Each character's voice is believable--the jock, the nerd, the outcast.
Overall, not a bad story. Not as scary as I thought it would be, and the chapters end with a good cliff hanger. It would be fine for upper elementary readers.

The Whispering House by Rebecca Wade
The Whispering House
Maisie Holt.

This is her book.

It's an old house, one her family plans to stay in for only a short while; but for Hannah Price, secrets soon come creeping out of every corner of Cowleigh Lodge.

First there's the old and dusty book of children's fairy tales that belonged to a young girl named Maisie. Hannah learns that the girl died mysteriously at age eleven in this very house nearly 140 years ago.

Then, when Hannah draws a portrait of Maisie, things begin to fall apart. The house seems to be reverting to its nineteenth-century form, and Hannah's not sure whether it or Maisie herself is sending her messages. Hannah must solve the mystery of Maisie's death, because if she doesn't help her, Maisie may never leave Hannah alone. . . .

I found myself a little confused with some of the references in the story...is this the second of a series?  With all the references of the happenings at the museum, I felt as though I missed something.

The story has an interesting plot, a little creepy, and all (I think) loose ends tied up. It's hard to write much more, however, as little impression was left on me.

Always October by Bruce Coville
Always OctoberNo doubt about it, little brothers can be monsters. When sixth grader Jake Doolittle finds a baby on the doorstep and his mother decides to keep it, those words are more than just an expression. Instead, they perfectly describe the way his new little brother, LD, sprouts pointy ears, thick fur, and "fangs" in moonlight.

Not only is LD a monster. . . . "other" monsters have plans for him. But together with his friend "Weird Lily" Carker, Jake isn't about to let anything happen to the baby. The little guy is still his brother, even if it turns out that LD may be the key to saving the world--or destroying it.

Soon Jake and Lily are on a perilous quest through Always October, a world populated with monsters ranging from the venomous to the ridiculous. Master of comic suspense Bruce Coville presents a tale of ominous dangers and hairbreadth escapes, of the conflict between forces of dark and light, and of the lengths to which one boy will go to save his brother--monster or not.

I like fantasy stories...I love using the imagination.  Mr. Coville certainly used his in this story.  Transformations, monsters, codes, and things that go bump in the night; definitely a Scary story in the making.
While I understand that the story is written for intermediate readers and also being narrated first person middle schoolers, but Mr. Coville's writing style is that of a 5th grader. The beginning sounds like something my students would have written when they were 10. 

Though imaginative and creative,it is simply a forgettable story...one to be read around this time of the year and then traded in for better-written plots.

Invisible Inkling:Dangerous Pumpkins by Emily Jenkins

Invisible Inkling: Dangerous Pumpkins
It's Halloween. Fourth grader Hank Wolowitz "hates" Halloween. Every year his older sister, Nadia, scares him half to death.

This year might be different, though. After all, Hank's the only kid in Brooklyn--probably the only kid in North America--with an invisible bandapat living in his laundry basket. And Invisible Inkling "loves" Halloween. Pumpkins are his favorite food.

But Hank has serious trouble stopping Inkling from devouring every jack-o'-lantern in their neighborhood. And that's not his only problem: Will he figure out a cool costume? Will he survive the small army of ballerinas roaming the hallways of his building? Will Hank ever get revenge on Nadia?

Inkling has long since stopped listening to Hank's worries.

Inkling is taking action.

This is a sweet story. Perfect for a third or fourth grade reader, the emotions run deep with poor Hank and the rejection and isolation he feels. Sprinkled in with a bit of humor with the Bandapat and nice resolution, Dangerous Pumpkins held me the whole way through and left me feeling satisfied and pleased with what I read. Well done, Ms.Jenkins!

Scary School: Monsters on the March by Derek the Ghost
Monsters on the March (Scary School, #2)As winners of last year's Ghoul Games, the students of Scary School are off to Monster Forest. School may be scary, but the forest has a few frights of its own, including:

Bearodactyls—so terrifying we can't even show you pictures of them
Princess Zogette, the Monster King's toad-faced daughter, who falls for Charles Nukid . . . hard
Captain Pigbeard, fearsome leader of the Monster-Pirates and Princess Zogette's fiancÉ (well, former fiancÉ, thanks to Charles)
And when Zogette follows Charles to Scary School, the Monster King and Captain Pigbeard raise their armies and chase after her. But the monsters have no idea who—or what—they're dealing with.

In this clever, funny sequel to the frighteningly hilarious Scary School, Charles, Penny Possum, Dr. Dragonbreath, and all the students and teachers prove that scary monsters are no match for Scary School!

Monsters on the March has a Harry Potter feel to it with a less coherent story line and more creativity than I like to try imagining while I read. The characters are interesting, especially Charles nuked (could never resist a nerd),but I found I began losing interest soon into the story. Perhaps it is all a bit more weird than I like? 
though that is my opinion, it's actually a light-hearted book with memorable characters that will leave 4th graders laughing and perhaps even dressing up like Charles for fun. It reminds me much of the Wayside School books from Louis Sachar. I never really got into them as a youngster, but young readers who like those books will like this.

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