Chicken-hearted—that would be me. Okay, so I’m a little better as an adult. But as a middle-grader, I scared at the drop of a hat. Ghosts, monsters, things that went bump in the night—I didn’t want to read (or hear) about anything even remotely frightening. Otherwise, I saw strange shadows in the corners of my room at night and had to go to bed with all the lights on. Can anyone say overactive imagination? Yep, that was me.
So, in honor of Halloween this week—and because I know first-hand the trauma of being terrified by scary stories as a kid—I thought I'd take this opportunity to recommend a “scary” book that’s actually fairly light on the scare factor. It’s more suspenseful than anything else, and although it might get your spine tingling here and there, I don’t believe it ever crosses the line into full-blown scary. It’s the kind of story even I could have comfortably read as a kid, so I feel it might be a good option for youngsters who scare easily or perhaps aren’t quite ready for more intense storylines. Also, it’s just a really wonderful book—well-written and atmospheric with a unique and intriguing plot. I highly recommend it for all middle-grade readers, even those who might be a little sensitive to all things spooky.
The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell tells the story of 12-year-old Clara Dooley, who lives in a crumbling mansion owned by Mrs. Glendoveer, a magician’s widow. It even has an iron aviary in the garden, housing the magician’s old collection of birds. When Clara discovers that the Glendoveer children disappeared from the home in a decades-old kidnapping that was never solved, she sets off to do some investigating of her own. But what does this horrible kidnapping have to do with her? As if this wasn’t mystery enough, the mynah bird in the garden has started to talk, screeching out the name, “Elliot,” whatever that means…
Magic, mystery, and a touch of a ghost story give this book just the right touch of creepiness, but at its heart it’s a story of friendship, loyalty, and family more than anything else. Besides, the human bad guys are far worse than any of the “ghosts.” (Incidentally, I think The Aviary is a great example for middle-grade writers of how to effectively use suspense.)
Does anyone else have recommendations for “scary” books that would be appropriate for middle-graders who don’t like to be scared?