Thursday, October 19, 2017


This is the time of year when lists of recommended spooky titles appear.  I usually ignore them.  I hate to be scared.  I don’t watch horror movies or step into haunted houses.  But last month I was going for a train ride and I wanted — needed — a book to read on the way.  So I quickly grabbed one of my children’s old books, The Old Willis Place, a ghost story, by Mary Downing Hahn.  The title was definitely not my thing, but I was in a hurry.  Besides, if middle school kids could read this book, so could I, right?

Surprisingly, yes.

Of course, the book included some spine-tingling moments and themes.  But, all in all, it was actually not too different from the stories I like to read and write.  It was about love of family and friends.  It was about forgiveness and understanding.  And it got me thinking: what other good books am I missing out on by avoiding stories with supernatural themes?  So I read two more:  The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh.  Again, a few edge-of-your-seat scenes, but, in the end, very well-written and satisfying stories that tugged at the heartstrings and addressed thought-provoking issues.

It felt good to venture out of my comfort zone and find myself pleasantly surprised at the result.  After all, books are meant to expand our minds and open our hearts to new ideas and feelings.  How can we keep growing if we park ourselves in one genre and never explore anything else?  The same could be said about our writing.  This summer I took an excellent on-line picture book writing class offered by the Children’s Book Academy.  I learned so much about the craft of writing picture books.  Specifically, I learned that writing picture books is very different from writing middle grade books.  I’m glad to have broadened my knowledge and skills, and I look forward to continuing my growth as a writer.  I might even take a stab at poetry next.

Nevertheless, it’s also important to know your limitations.  I will continue to read and enjoy middle grade ghost stories, but I probably won’t write any.  And I have no plans to ever visit a haunted house or watch a horror movie.  After all, a person can only grow so much.


  1. Good for you! I LOVE scary books, so this wouldn't be out of my comfort zone. Reading something like Lord of the Rings would be out of my comfort zone.

  2. A good middle grade one I've read recently is The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street. Just the right amount of creepiness.

  3. I haven't read The Old Willis Place, but I really enjoyed both Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies and Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters! (The Jumbies sequel--Rise of the Jumbies--is terrific, by the way.)
    One series that is truly scary at times but also really wonderful is Jonathan Stroud's "Lockwood & Co." series, about kids fighting ghosts in an alternative, rather old-fashioned England. Like the books you mention, these are stories that may be about frightening things, but that bring an enormous amount of heart into the adventure.

    1. I definitely plan to check out Rise of the Jumbies. Thanks for the other suggestions, too!

  4. I actually like scary stories. (Scary movies, not so much.) With stories, I can control the level of horror in the mind pictures I create.
    I applaud you for reading out of your comfort zone, and for continuing to grow as a writer, Hilda.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!