With Halloween creeping quickly around the corner, young readers with a penchant for spine tingles might want a spooky sampling of appropriate reads this fall.
Simon & Schuster serve up two middle grade novels that offer mystery, magic, suspense, and the supernatural.
‘The Griffins of Castle Cary’
In “The Griffins of Castle Cary” (2019, ages 8 to 12, $17.99) by Heather Shumaker, the three Griffin children — Meg (11), Will (10), and Ariel (5) — visit their Aunt Effie in England while their parents attend a conference. The weeklong adventure they expect turns out to be far more adventurous when the ghost lore they soon learn of seems to follow them. Aunt Effie thinks ghosts are nonsense, but a nearby neighbor, Shep, is the only adult they can turn to when things turn from lore to horror.
While Meg and Will investigate and seek out the well-known Manor Ghost, paying no attention to their little sister, Ariel, and her newfound “imaginary” friend, Kay Kay, it turns out there are more ghosts than one and both have their longings set on young Ariel. It becomes up to Meg and Will to save her.
Shumaker wrote this debut novel after an inspired trip to England. She lives in Michigan.
‘The Girl and the Witch’s Garden’
In Erin Bowman’s “The Girl and the Witch’s Garden” (2020, ages 8 to 12, $17.99), Piper Peavey is sent to her mysterious grandmother’s mansion as her father is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, which, sadly, doesn’t seem to be working. Piper’s mother, Sophia, has been absent from Piper’s life, seemingly by choice after divorcing Piper’s father when Piper was 5 years old. Sophia, once a well-respected scientist, became obsessed with strange going-ons at Mallory Estate — “metaphysical anomalies,” she called them. So obsessed that she had no more room in her life for Piper and her father.
This wound has been carried by Piper all of her life, but now she is going to be reunited with her mother at the mansion. Her childish hopes that her mother will again be a loving force in her life is crumpled instantly when the mansion door is opened by three foster children, all of whom are hoping to be adopted by Sophia. Although this brings on more pain for Piper, she soon learns that the children are “magis” with a special magical gift or “affinity,” and that Sophia is using them to uncover the hidden elixir of life in the dead and dreary garden on the estate.
The foster children believe Piper has an affinity also and, once it is discovered, Piper does all she can to help her new friends and claim the elixir for her ailing father. Readers who love magic portals and hidden worlds will love this book.
‘FEAST of Peas’
Lastly, for the younger set, “Feast of Peas” (2020, Peachtree Publishers, ages 4 to 8, $17.99), written by Kashmira Sheth and illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler, is a delightful taste of India with the combination of richly textured language from Sheth and the humorous and captivating illustrations of Ebbeler, a team paired together on past Peachtree picture books.
When Jiva sets out to plant his garden, he sings and dances, awaiting the happy day when his precious pea seeds develop into sweet, tasty, and tender pods that will provide a delicious feast. Yet, just when they are nearly ready to harvest, they vanish! Not once, but twice! His friend, Ruvji, insists that it is a hungry ghost thieving from him, but when the “ghost” is outsmarted by Jiva who uncovers the mystery, Jiva is shown to be a very forgiving and generous friend.
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Teachers and parents can access a very well-done Teacher’s Guide on “Feast of Peas” and many other Peachtree selections on its website at peachtree-online.com.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.