2022 Middlegrade Spooktacular!
Updated: Oct 7
It's September 30, and it's a big day for me in a couple of ways. First and FINALLY, today is the day Disney+ starts streaming "Hocus Pocus 2" , the sequel to one of my favorite family movies of all time, "Hocus Pocus."
The original is from 1993, when my daughters were seven and nine. We all loved it when we took the kids to see it (even my husband) because it managed to be scary enough for kids, but not TOO scary; scary enough for young teens, but not TOO scary; and funny enough for grown-ups at the same time. Nearly 30 years later, we all still love the original, enough to watch it every October.
I found out when I wrote my first book that creating something that's "scary but not TOO scary" for older children, tweens and teens (and enjoyable for adults) is a dance of delicate balance.
Second, it's a big day because my debut middlegrade novel is among 20 chosen for the "2022 Middle-Grade Spooktacular," a celebration of "spooky" books written for children and tweens ages 9-13 and up. It's a "grassroots" campaign by 20 traditionally published and independent authors, all supporting each other to get good spooky stories out to readers.
A "spooky" story is different than a "horror" story. Spooky stories will give you chills and frights but generally the main characters survive. Horror stories will give you nightmares -- and most, or sometimes ALL, of the main characters are goners. If you're looking for some spooky, scary-but-not-TOO-scary books for an upper elementary or middlegrade/middle school student you love this Halloween season, here are the 20 books featured in the 2022 Middle-Grade Spooktacular: The Pack, the Dare, and The Draugar by T.J. Hendrix (Me!)
Harmony O’Rourke's mom has moved them to a new town. Again. Worse, Harmony has been shipped off to an "academic" summer camp in the redwoods. But it turns out Camp Coho is a screening tool for a secret magical order looking for the next generation of forest guardians. A late-night adventure lands Harmony and four other campers in training sessions for promising apprentices.
Soon they're studying ancient languages and learning spells for flying, floating and self-defense. Then Harmony’s mother goes missing back home, and it turns out she may not be what she seems. Harmony and her friends decide to use their new skills to do their own detective work. Can five soon-to-be-seventh graders untangle the mystery of Harmony's parentage and rescue her missing mother before it's too late? Adventure, terror, family secrets and ancient powers: it's all waiting for them in the forest.
Five soon-to-be seventh graders. One shapeshifting Guardian Hound. Monsters. And a mystery that will change one life. Summer Camp just got a lot more interesting. The fast-paced book offers a new twist on summer camp stories for readers who loved The Magic Treehouse when they were younger, or love the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books now. Find out more about The Pack, The Dare, and The Draugar
The Hummingbird Coven by Augusta Owens
Amelia doesn’t want to be a witch. Ever since her grandmother’s death, Amelia has noticed odd things happening around her. When her home is attacked by two strange girls, Amelia and her best friend, Sam, find themselves thrown into a new reality where witchcraft—and witches—are real. Offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Amelia must decide between the familiarity of her old life and this new and exciting world filled with magic, unaware of a looming force threatening her and her friends from the shadows.
Spell Sweeper by Lee Edward Fodi
Featuring a failed young wizard and her cleanup crew, this delightfully dysfunctional middle grade fantasy is an imaginative twist on magic school that’s perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The School for Good and Evil.
Cara Moone is a wizard—but she’s basically flunked out of wizard school. Now she’s in training to be a MOP, also known as Magical Occurrence Purger, also known as it’s Cara’s job to sweep up the hazardous dust a real wizard’s spells leave behind.
A real wizard, that is, like Harlee Wu, the so-called Chosen One destined to save the magical world. But when one of Harlee’s spells goes awry and leaves behind a rift in the fabric of magic itself, it'll take more than magic to clean up the mess. Luckily, messes are kind of Cara’s thing. Magic is messy—and fantastically fun—in this underdog story packed with humor, adventure, and attitude.
Frances and the Monster by Refe Tuma
What would you do if you accidentally brought a monster to life and set him loose on your town? Frances Stenzel was just trying to prove her scientific worth to her parents so they would take her with them to their scientific symposiums for once—instead, she reawakened her great-grandfather’s secret and most terrible invention.
Before it can destroy the town, she sets off after it, with her pet chimp and sarcastic robot tutor by her side. But monster-hunting isn’t easy, and she’ll have to face a persistent constable, angry locals, and an unexpected friendship ahead—all while the trail for the monster goes cold and time is running out before her science career, and the city itself, are doomed forever.
Full of thrills and heart alike, Frances and the Monster takes readers through winding streets and over perilous rooftops, with wily monsters, unpredictable twists, and powerful friendships waiting along the way. Adventurous and charming, this middle grade twist on Frankenstein is perfect for fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and the Greenglass House series.
An Eye for Magic by Jaz Laverick
All her life, Abigail has felt like a disappointment. Her magic, if it even is magic, is different and strange, and it causes her nothing but heartache. Every famous university and court mage this side of the Capital has tested her... but she can't even light a candlestick! Are the things she sees just figments of her imagination? Is Abigail simply mad? She's left with one final test to find out for certain: the common city guild test.
Dive into the first Abigail Tally novel, where gods, spirits, and catkings bandy about, where magic, murder, and sleuthing are a walk in the district — and a healthy bit of sassy commentary never killed anyone... yet.
Arthur Blackwood's Scary Stories for Kids Who Like Scary Stories by Amanda Luzzader
I am Arthur Blackwood and I invite you to read this dark series of horror stories for kids. But wait! Don’t accept my invitation yet. Are you easily frightened? This collection of scary stories is not for wimpy kids or the faint-hearted. You’ve been warned! However, if you crave classic stories of night beasts and demons, and if you seek tales of haunted history and Halloween terror, then step right this way. These books are for you.
Beware! In this volume, you’ll encounter creepy spiders, a haunted museum, monstrous secrets, a witch who is not to be trifled with, beasts lurking in darkness, and a boy who’s not quite sure if he’s himself or somebody else. One more word of advice: bring all the gasps, startles, and terrified screams you can find. You’re going to need them. Readers who enjoy this story can find more ghostly chills in Luzzader's book Hannah Saves the World.
The Legend of the Mean Mother by B. Jane Turnquest
Most children have said or thought that their mother was mean. I hope you are not one of those children. This is a thrilling and sinister tale of a mother who was oddly unmotherly. For discipline, she did not shout, squabble, spank, nor did she suspend privileges. Those methods to correct and reform she considered were merely too temporary, too forgettable, to bring about any real and lasting change in behavior.
The way she improved upon the behavior of her children was unending. She stirred them to do what she wanted by putting chilling ideas, haunting scenarios and horrific consequences in their minds -- that lasted, lingered and disturbed. A spooky, chilling, thrilling, campfire-slumber party Halloween haunting tale. Readers who enjoy The Mean Mother can find more chills in Turnquest's telling of the Bahamian folktale The Stepmother, Little Grace and the Fig Tree.
The Ipswich Witch by Robinne Weiss
A weekend at the beach goes terribly wrong when Pearl and Otto's parents disappear. The kindly Miss Brisket, owner of the Bed and Breakfast where they are staying, assures them everything is fine, but strange things start happening.
Soon the children are in a race against time to save both their parents and Miss Brisket from the local witches' coven.
Cinderskella by Amie Borst Book 1, Scarily Ever Laughter series
Middle school is scary. So are skeleton girls. Cindy might appear to be your average twelve year old, but since her mother's death she has a secret. Every night she turns into a boney, white skeleton. As if that wasn't bad enough, Cindy's dad is afraid of her. She has an evil stepmother who makes her do crazy chores, some of them with a toothbrush. And then there's the werewolf who intends to make Cindy his midnight snack.
The Spring Fling dance is fast approaching and Ethan, the cutest boy in sixth grade, doesn't seem to know Cindy exists. She doesn't think letting Ethan know she's a cursed skeleton-girl is the best way to introduce herself. Determined to break the curse, Cindy travels to the Underworld where things aren't quite what they seem, including Mr. Death, the strange and creepy undertaker.
With a jar of pickled pig's feet, a wacky fortuneteller, and a cranky skeleton mouse, Cindy is afraid this curse has really gotten under her skin.
Tales of a Sixth-Grade Werecat by A.M. Deese
No one ever expects to transform into a werecat on the last day of summer.
Felix Woolfe is tired of the teasing and name calling from Ethan, his arch nemesis since the third grade. But this year will be different because Felix is determined to enter sixth grade with a clean slate since accepting Ethan's dare will prove once and for all he's no scaredy-cat.
And when that dare is to enter the home of the town witch, you do it...right? Felix gets more than he bargained for when his dare leads to a transformation, complete with healing powers, super speed, and...a tail? Felix proves he's no scaredy-cat but is he ready to pay the price? Will his newfound abilities help him stop Ethan or will sixth grade be the worst year of his life? Find out more about Tales of a Sixth-Grade Werecat
Inglestone Manor by S.S. Saywick
It seems the war will never end. When Lizzy and her brother and sister are evacuated to the village of Inglestone, they find their new home strange. Under the shadow of the ruined Inglestone Manor, they meet Dorothy Inglestone, the last of her line, and the ever-watchful Mr. and Mrs. Gains.
When they are told of a treasure hidden in a ruin manor, they can’t resist trying to find it. In their hunt, they come across a strange boy roaming the ruins. Not only is he wanted by the police, but he is also wanted by the Gains. Can the Allens keep a secret and not betray the boy? Before long, their loyalties will be tested.
Find out more about Inglestone Manor
The Munchkins by Candace Zee
Thirteen extraordinary children with mysterious powers. Their loving and protective father. And a sociopathic neighbor who knows them better than they know themselves.
When Capricorn Munch and her twelve siblings appear outside a children’s home, no one, including themselves, knows who they are or where they came from. At ten years old they stop aging, as she and her siblings develop powers that gift them with incredible abilities, like healing wounds and manifesting objects. They keep these powers secret and their adoptive father restricts their use. Capricorn strives to live a normal life, blissfully playing with her favorite sisters, witty and bold Allie, empathic and wise Breezy, and giddy and sweet Hazy.
But now a sudden threat has intruded on their carefree lives: Their next-door neighbor, a man who calls himself Big Boss. Capricorn watches fretfully as Big Boss encroaches on her family like a malevolent force, feeding hostility between her siblings and causing them to be reckless with their powers. Capricorn knows Big Boss is plotting something sinister and can only pray it doesn’t end in ultimate doom for her and her family.
Winner of the Gold Award, Teen Category, 2021-2022 Reader Views Literary Awards; 2021 Story Monsters Tween Novels Approved Award; 16th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist in Juvenile Fiction.
The Prison for the Magically Cursed by Brett Perkins
Possessing a magical Curse is a criminal offense, making every day a challenge for thirteen-year-old Mason Davis. Blowing up the Christmas tree, tearing off the car door, giving the neighbors’ dog three heads—his unpredictable power changes every twelve hours, and he has no idea what it will conjure next. Mason yearns for a normal life, but when the authorities pay the Davis family an unexpected visit, he is exposed and hauled away to a prison for the Magically Cursed.
As he plans his escape from the gloomy corridors, Mason comes face-to-face with a terrifying truth: someone dangerous knew his secret all along. With help from a shape-shifting boy, and a girl with secrets tattooed on her skin, Mason uncovers an ominous prophecy that is either the key to their freedom or the end of Mason and The Cursed forever.
The Last Gatekeeper by Elena Jagar
Book 2, Fairy Tunnels Series
A family secret. A terrifying beast. A mysterious tunnel. Spending the summer in a spooky mansion with her mean aunt isn't Maia's idea of fun. Especially when strange and dangerous incidents follow her from day one.
Something eerie is happening in this small town: a giant hound with glowing eyes stalks her, and a ghost girl shows up to warn her of danger. When Maia stumbles into a Fairy Tunnel and narrowly escapes becoming prisoner of the Fairies, she learns the townspeople are in grave danger and uncovering her family's secret past is key to saving them. Allies come forth to help with her quest, but can she trust her new friends when she suspects none of them are what they appear?
Filled with magic and adventure, the book will delight middle-grade readers at every turn of the page.
Sharptooth by Mika Horvath
Sharptooth runs through the forest under the light of the moon and spends each day hiding from the sun in the burnt ruins of her family home. One night she braves the cobblestone streets of the nearby town and stumbles upon a silver-haired girl in a walled garden.
Lyssa’s parents couldn’t stand to see her wither away, so they have left her with only a maid for company. She thinks her unusual new friend is just the thing to distract her in her final days…but Sharptooth has other plans. When Lyssa’s parents return with a dangerous stranger, the girls will risk everything to seize control of their destinies and create a new future together. For Sharptooth and Lyssa, this is just the beginning.
Beyond The Doors by Clay Kelly Book 1, Beyond the Doors Trilogy
Hazel Benedict wishes she could make a difference in a world torn apart by war. But what difference can a Thirteen-year-old WWII evacuee make when she’s been sent from England to a strange mansion in the Canadian woods?
All the difference in the world if you are a Ranger–– a rare teen who can access other worlds through a corridor with no end. Hazel and her new companions will have to navigate those worlds and stay one step ahead of the elusive and sinister foe who threatens to tear the worlds apart. To succeed, the Rangers will need bravery, friendship, excellent sandwiches and one extraordinary possum! Hazel never could have guessed the difference she would make...beyond the doors.
The Amulet of Scion by J.T. Grobler
A broken promise, a crime she didn't commit, a race against time.
At a fossil park, a professor’s relics go on display - a golden cat, a witch’s broom, mysterious twig-people. 12-year-old Bailee Paxton enters, and reveals a secret she swore to her mom she’d keep. When Bailee hands her amulet to the professor for appraisal, it glows the moment he touches it. Before long, he’s found unconscious, and his relics are missing. Caught on camera arguing with him, she becomes the prime suspect. Soon, talk of robbery and witchcraft drift around the seaside town. All Bailee knows for sure is legend implies that the women who made her amulet also made the professor’s twig-people. Some say they were sisters, others say witches, yet everyone agrees - they want their heirlooms back! But Bailee’s amulet is ancient, so they surely can’t still be alive. Or can they?
What choice does she have but to investigate? Why was her amulet supposed to remain secret? Where did her mother get it from? And if she knew it was dangerous, why would she give it to a child? Meanwhile, someone… or something spies on her from the shadows. ‘When the amulet calls, and the third sun falls, a heartbeat stalls.’
For readers who enjoy a combination of mystery and magic. Not too scary for grownups, either.
The Trail of the Ghost Bunny by Linda Joy Singleton This is Book 6, The Curious Cat Spy Club series
Kelsey and her family have moved into an abandoned B&B that they're fixing up. It's a beautiful place and it even comes with its own bunny…but it also seems to come with its own ghost. With the help of their new bunny friend, Kelsey and her friends and CCSC clubmates Becca and Leo investigate the true source of the mysterious on-goings at the B&B.
The story closes out the series in a satisfying way, and includes a very light ghost plot that feels seasonally appropriate. And animal fans will be thrilled to see plenty new animal capers, including the return of the lovable dogs from Book 5, Dog-Gone Danger.
The Stone Traveller by Roslyn Muir
Book 2, The Chimera's Apprentice series
Kyra Murch struggles to adjust to life with her parents on Antiica and to the difficult task of controlling the chimera. As the humans and Raturro move closer to war, Kyra learns that rebel leader Majellan is after Mercy; she is no longer safe in Deep Nestling.
Kyra takes her to the Armory, but Mercy’s not safe there either. Reunited with Coyne, the three friends seek out a distant nestling, Deep Wending, and hope the unusual Raturro they encounter there will allow Mercy refuge. After a run-in with huge serpents, the trio embark on a difficult journey to save one of their new friends but instead insult the Raturro by breaking an important tradition.
Kyra and her friends must attempt to outwit Majellan before he closes in on them and forces Kyra to make a terrible choice: avert a war or save herself and her friends. Will Kyra stop Majellan once and for all? Find out more about The Stone Traveller
T.J. Hendrix is an award-winning journalist and writer. She lives in California wine country with her husband and rescue Beagle, Maggie. When she's not working on the sequel to "The Pack, The Dare and The Drauger" or playing with her grand-dogs or grand-daughters, she is creating a gruesome internet browser history by researching folk tales about magic, ghosts, monsters, the fae, shapeshifters, haunted houses, and more.