Cindy: I just retired from almost four decades as a middle school librarian and I’ve been reading Mary Downing Hahn books for almost as long—her first book was published in 1979, the year I graduated from high school—and now that I’ve made us both feel old, let’s move on. My students have remained big fans throughout my career. Wait Till Helen Comes has always been a favorite booktalk of mine, and even before the fabulous new cover art it’s gotten in recent years, the book had brisk circulation. Hahn’s new book, The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales (Clarion, 2020) is her first collection of short stories and with its arrival, I realized that we’d never blogged one of her books. I was equally surprised to read in her afterword that she was afraid of everything as a child never read scary stories and wouldn’t have gone near WTHC if she’d seen it as a ten-year-old. Certainly, she’s channeled that fear into an ability to bring just-right frights to her young readers. The title story in this collection is a “Monkey’s Paw” tale of a sort for a younger audience. Be careful what you ask for…you may not be able to get rid of it. In this case, though, a toxic teacher eventually gets her due. In some of the ten stories, it is our young protagonists, instead, that are forever cursed by their interactions with the supernatural in these tales. For young writers, in the Afterward, Hahn includes a story she originally wrote in high school. The story eventually was reworked into “Trouble Afoot” for Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters, and it is reprinted in this book. Her comments about her teacher’s B- grade and then her own later assessment that it should have gotten a C+ made me laugh. “Were adjectives on sale cheap that year?” It will be fun for readers to compare the two stories and maybe they will be inspired to work on their own B- story. Thank you, Mary Downing Hahn, for decades of scary stories; I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say so. My students and I are grateful.
Lynn: As Cindy says, our middle school students seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for scary (but not too scary) books and Mary Downing Hahn was always our go-to author. But did I mention our readers were always wanting MORE books. So I am happy to say that we have some new offerings to help fill the scary book demand. Thirteens (Penguin/Viking, 2020) by Kate Alice Marshall is a great choice for the kids looking for a shivery read.
Eleanor has just moved to Eden Eld to live with her Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ben. Just about to turn 13, Eleanor has just survived a house fire that seems to have been set by her own mother who then disappeared. Eleanor wants desperately to be normal, to settle in here, and try to forget her past, which includes sightings of strange monsters. Lovely Eden Eld seems like a picture postcard town but Eleanor’s mother had warned her to NEVER go there and right from the start Eleanor senses that something is very wrong.
Eleanor is immediately befriended by two schoolmates, Pip, daughter of her new school’s headmistress, and Otto, who has a love of research, marshaling facts, and logical analysis. But it quickly becomes clear that Eleanor’s new friends can also see the monsters and that something is deeply wrong in Eden Eld.
This is a deliciously scary start to a series. It is packed with all the elements readers will love: Odd sightings, a huge mansion bulging with cleverly planted clues, a menacing stranger, palindromes, and a crisis coming to a head just at Halloween! Be prepared for a gigantic cliff-hanger which will have readers begging for the next installment.