Thursday, September 03, 2015

HooDoo, Took, and Kidlitcon Horror Panel

Will you be anywhere near Baltimore on 9-10 October?

That's where I'll be, attending Kidlitcon and moderating a panel of middle grade horror writers! Dan Poblocki (The Book of Bad Things), Tracy Baptiste (The Jumbies) Mary Downing Hahn,and Ronald L. Smith will all be sharing their insights!

From the Kidlitcon program, here's the description.
"Middle School can be a scary place, and there are scary books aplenty for readers 9-12. But what is too much for one reader is just right for another. If you are in the business of recommending horror books to kids, this is a panel for you! The panelists will talk about the unease that some people feel about books written for middle grade kids that are actually scary, and how reviewers can communicate levels of scariness to gate-keepers; the ways that horror can get at some of the anxieties of kids beginning to learn about themselves and the world; and the sensitivities and empathy often found in horror fiction, buried beneath the fanged weirdness."

So, for Mystery Thursday, here are two new horror books!

22096152Smith, Ronald L. Hoodoo
September 1st 2015 by Clarion Books
E ARC from

Hoodoo's family all know much more about practicing folk magic than he does, but they don't seem to want to teach him very much. Mama Frances and Aunt Jelly take care of Hoodoo (his father left the family, and his mother is dead), but keep much of his background from him even after a crow talks to him! When he and his friend Bunny go to the fair on the day that "colored people" are allowed to go, he consults a fortune teller who gives him some insight-- there is a creepy Stranger in town of whom Hoodoo is wary, and Mrs. Snuff tells him his family is in danger, but doesn't give him many details. He visits her home and finds a book of magical information that explains some of the phrases he has heard. "Mandragore" is  a talisman, the left hand of a man hanged for murder. The Stranger wants this, and because of a collection of family circumstances, Hoodoo has one. When the Stranger is responsible for the death of someone close to Hoodoo, he decides that even though killing is wrong, he must do away with the force of evil that has come to his town, and in doing so, begins to understand more about the powers that have come to him through his family. (Sorry about the lack of details, but there are some twists that I don't want to give away!)
Strengths: It would never have occurred to me to read about demons, but my students like book such as Darren Shan's Demonata series, so they will find the Stranger appealing. This takes a while to build the suspense, but once the secret is revealed and Hoodoo embarks on his mission, this gets good and creepy.The Alabama setting, and information about this place in the world in the 1930s is interesting. Hoodoo and his family are likable characters, and it's easy to suspend disbelief when it comes to the magic. This would go nicely with Serafina and the Black Cloak.
Weaknesses: The beginning of the book is not as scary as the end, and my readers like books to embrace whatever tone they intend to take from the beginning. I was annoyed by Hoodoo's repeated use of "if you didn't know" when defining items, but that didn't continue for too long. This would have been more successful for me if Hoodoo had known more of the details of his family's magic, and of the severity of the situation facing him. I have a feeling that if Mama Frances had explained it earlier on, she would have made it seem really creepy!
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Lois Duncan's books, and that's about as creepy as middle grade needs to get!

23719217Hahn, Mary Downing. Took: A Ghost Story
September 15th 2015 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Daniel's father loses his corporate job in Connecticut, his family decides to move to rural West Virginia where the cost of living will be lower. Neither Daniel or his younger sister Erica are thrilled with this, especially when the children at school make fun of their east coast ways and also the fact that they have moved into a "creepy" house. Erica spends a lot of time talking to her doll, Little Erica, and the parents have trouble finding jobs. Daniel is in a bad mood, and when he gets picked on and children torment him about the disappearance of a young girl, Selene, years ago, he decides to investigate. With the help of Brody, a local who is at least sympathetic, he finds Old Auntie's house on the top of the hill. It has been abandoned, but Brody claims that at night Old Auntie, a conjure woman,  reappears with her nightmare, skeleton hog, Bloody Bones. Erica retreats further and further into herself, talking to her doll, and after a fight with Daniel, disappears into the woods. No one believes Daniel that she has been taken by a creepy spirit, but when he manages to bring back a dirty and disheveled Selene, the O'Neill's recognize her as their daughter's friend who disappeared fifty years ago. Daniel is afraid that Old Auntie will keep Erica for fifty years, so he tries everything he can to rescue her, but he is up against powerful magic and powerful evil.

The chapters told from Old Auntie's perspective, printed in an old-fashioned and attractive font, are chilling. Old Auntie is completely mad, and these chapters make her feel very real, a great contrast to the understandable doubt that Daniel faces when he tells the adults in his life. While the local people are afraid of the house, and of being in the woods at night, and they acknowledge that Selene went missing, there is still an air of uncertainty that their fears are real. This is a brilliant ploy, since many people (myself included!) don't believe in ghosts. Perhaps we should!

Daniel's relationship with his sister undergoes a dramatic change once they move. His parents are busy with settling in, worrying about money, and looking for work, so they don't notice. Again, this adds to the general air of uncertainty; Daniel knows there is a problem, based on what he is seeing, but is he really imagining it? He doubts himself.

The West Virginian setting also unsettles Daniel by introducing him to local legends and history unlike anything he has ever encountered in his life in Connecticut. The fact that most of the students don't accept him gives him few allies to back him up, but relying on Brody, as well as the O'Neills and a kindly bus driver, gives him just enough information and support to save his sister.

For fans of Hahn's Deep and Dark and Dangerous or All the Lovely Bad Ones, or other spooky paranormal tales such as Kehret's The Ghost's Grave, Took will be a spine-tingling book that is best read in broad daylight. For readers who love the sub-genre of creepy doll books (Like Alender's Bad Girls Don't Die), Took will add a brand new creepiness factor to the American Girl Doll catalog!


  1. Congrats on being the moderator for the middle grade horror panel! Should be fun. I wish I could be there to hear this piece on how "reviewers can communicate levels of scariness to gate-keepers."

  2. I forgot about the "in case you didn't know" when I did my review but agree, it was super annoying...especially when there were several on the same page.