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What’s Write in Middle Grade Horror: Doll Bones & Serafina            

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Happy October, folks! It’s the best time of year. The world is so colorful and a magic seems to swirl around us with the wind. Unfortunately I’m not in my beloved New England and it’s still rather hot here in Florida. However, I can still practice fall properly with some Halloween scares.

In the movies, fleeting jump scenes and disgusting gore may do it for some, but in fiction the author won’t be as successful with these. The fiction writer needs to create horror that lingers, that haunts after one puts down the book. The writer should channel Poe and King and create a horrific atmosphere. But on this blog we like to talk kidlit so I want to focus on authors in the field that are scaring kids correctly.

I grew up on R.L. Stein and Mary Downing Hahn. Both are fantastic. But I wanted authors that are hot in middle school scares now and what I found was chilling. As I work on sprucing up my own frightening ideas, these books were very inspiring.

dollbonesFirst up is Doll Bones by Holly Black, a Newbery Honor book from 2013. Doll Bones is an adventure/friendship story. Three childhood friends travel to find the supposed resting place of The Queen so they can reunite her bones with her grave.

Holly Black does a whole lot right when it comes to scares. First off, the creepy porcelain doll in this book. Dolls are creepy, trust me. My freshman year in high school I sat in an auditorium and watched Ed and Lorraine Warren bring out Annabelle, the possessed Raggedy Ann doll, in a wood and glass box for our safety.

Besides her dull, black eyes, the bone china doll in Doll Bones called The Queen gets quite a bit scarier after this line, “Her clay was made from human bones. Little girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.” Excuse me a moment I may need some new pants, but seriously, that’s terrifying.

This tale is a whole lot more than just scares. I could relate to the main character, Zach, whose father threw out all his action figures because it was time to grow up. I can relate to someone having to give up imaginary play. But Zach, here’s the thing, you don’t have to. I still enjoy make believeJ.

“‘Well I’m not gonna talk to the blonde, so you better forget that idea. I don’t like the way she’s looking at me. She’s going to tell you that she’d never hurt anybody, but don’t listen. She’d hurt you, all right. She’d hurt you and she’d like it.’ None of them were blond. In fact, as far as Zach could tell, no one on the bus was blond.”

Another great line from the book. It comes from a crazy man on a bus. Guess who had blond hair…The Queen. Nothing better than a distressing threat to give you shivers.

serafinaThe second horrifying book I read, just came out in July. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. It is set in a mansion by the forest in the late 1800s. This story has a fairytale vibe and legend feel like Sleepy Hollow. The woods and night are magical, in them as the main character’s father says, one will find both dark and bright.

Serafina, a girl with 8 toes, who hides in the Biltmore Estate as the talented Chief Rat Catcher, faces off against an evil rotting, cloaked dude. It’s similar to the unique character of Ichabod Crane up against a headless horseman.

When the children start to disappear they may not know who Serafina is, but she knows she should be a good friend and that means being strong to save them. She also knows that sometimes to catch a rat, you have to act a rat and this leads to danger.

Besides, his disgusting smell, the rotting man opens his arms, pulls children to his chest, so the folds of his cloak can wrap around them like a boa constrictor and rattle like a rattle snake before the child screams one last time and disappears.

If that alone isn’t enough to make you hide under the covers, there is a lot of sneaking off in the dark, intense struggles, haunting tales of a lost village, and a truly spooky graveyard.

Besides the obvious fears, the children in these books face everyday fears of growing up, family issues, and being strong for others.

So as you sit down to write your own fearful tales make time to read some truly bloodcurdling ones yourself. Highlight or make note of the moments that really spooked you, figure out why they had such an effect, and then channel that. Happy Reading WWAT crew, I leave you with this spiny tingly epitaph from a grave in Serafina’s freaky graveyard.

“Our bed is lovely, dark and sweet. Come join us now and we shall meet.”

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