Focus On Four is a feature where I highlight four books on a particular theme or topic.
It’s time to get in the mood for spooky but not too spooky with these middle grade books.
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.”Summary From Goodreads
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.
But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.
Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.Summary From Goodreads
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?
When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.Summary From Goodreads
Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro
Deep within the enchanted woods in the town of Watch Hollow stands the once-grand Blackford House, whose halls hold a magical secret: a giant cuckoo clock that does much more than tell time. But when the clock’s gears cease to turn, an evil presence lurking among the trees begins to come out of the shadows.
When Lucy and Oliver Tinker arrive in Watch Hollow, they have no idea that anything is wrong. A mysterious stranger has made their father an offer that’s too good for him to refuse. All Mr. Tinker needs to do is fix the clock at Blackford House and fistfuls of gold coins are his to keep.
It doesn’t take long, however, for the children to realize that there is more to Blackford House than meets the eye. And before they can entirely understand the strange world they’ve stumbled into, Lucy and Oliver must join forces with a host of magical clock animals to defeat the Garr—a vicious monster that not only wants Blackford House for itself, but also seeks to destroy everything the Tinkers hold dear.Summary From Goodreads