Took: A Ghost Story (paperback and ebook)

by Mary Downing Hahn

AR Level 4.3, 7 points


I finally downloaded Overdrive and connected it to my library card!  Yay!  Now I can read books the traditional way (by holding it and turning pages) and the newfangled technological way (by holding my iPhone and swiping to turn the pages).  The latter is especially handy for middle of the night feedings when I can’t turn on the light or hold the book with 2 hands.

Took: A Ghost Story isn’t really a ghost story, but it is a creepy one with a witch (“conjurer”), a scary doll, and a hog made out of various animal parts.  Daniel and Erica move to a small town with their parents after their family faces some financial struggles.  Their new house is an old run-down house near a forest on the outskirts of their community.  The kids are miserable in their new town, and Daniel and Erica hear scary stories about a witch and a little girl who went missing who happened to have lived in their house 50 years earlier.  Soon Erica goes missing, and Daniel has to be brave to bring her home.

What I like about this book is it is just scary enough to be entertaining and a page turner, but not so scary that kids (or I) wouldn’t want to read it.  It is also far-fetched enough that it wouldn’t give us nightmares or make us afraid of the dark, but it is also about real people and real problems that kids may be able to relate to in order to make it more realistic.  I loved ghost stories when I was younger, and I’d read Richard Peck and anything creepy I could get my hands on.  I also read Mary Downing Hahn, but not her scary stories.  I will have to see if I can get my hands on a copy of Daphne’s Book, because that was a memorable one for me.

What I didn’t like about this book wasn’t really something I didn’t like, but something that worried me about my students reading it.  There is a lot of discussion about Daniel and Erica’s parents’ vices, including smoking and drinking.  They’re also really mean to Daniel when they find out Erica is missing.  I felt really bad for Daniel, because it really did seem like they favored Erica, and I wouldn’t want that to make my students sad or trigger something in their own lives, because I know it is real.

Book 16 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)


Jade Green


Jade Green: a ghost story (hardcover)

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

AR Level 5.8, 5 points


Jade Green is about a girl named Judith who leaves her home in Ohio to live with her uncle and his cook after her parents die.  She is told to bring anything she wants, except anything green in color.  However, she brings a green picture frame with her mother’s picture in it.  She finds herself in a great living situation, with a kind uncle, motherly cook, exciting love interest, and the opportunity to work in a local hat shop, but, there are frightening unexplainable things that happen that Judith can’t explain, and she can’t confess that she brought something green into the house, for fear her uncle will throw her out.  In addition, she has a much older cousin whose advances are unwarranted and unwanted.  Judith soon learns there was a death in the house, a girl named Jade Green, who took her own life.  Judith has to keep her fears to herself while trying to survive this ghostly mystery.

What I liked about this book was that it was a creepy story.  I don’t usually like ghostly or creepy movies, but I do enjoy a scary book now and then, especially when I know my students have enjoyed it.  This had the drama and romance that good books (for sixth grade girls) normally have, but it had a ghost story to go along with it.  I read this book in less than 24 hours (and a very busy 24 hours), so it is also a quick and easy read, because I didn’t want to put it down until the mystery was solved.

What I didn’t like about this book was that some of the themes were a little too adult for my sixth graders, in my opinion.  Judith’s uncle Charles is a drinker, gambler, and visitor of ladies of the night.  He also touches Judith’s bodice inappropriately, asks for a kiss, and at the very end, we learn he tries to rape her.  The book never actually mentions the word rape, but he unbuckles his pants and pushes himself onto her, so a mature mind can connect the dots.  I think it may be appropriate for a middle schooler, though, and my sixth graders would be considered middle school in another district, so perhaps I am just too narrow minded and protective.

Book 6 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

A Monster Calls


A Monster Calls (paperback)

by Patrick Ness

AR Level 4.8, 5 points

Carnegie Medal (writing) and Kate Greenaway Medal (illustration)


This is the story of Conor and dealing with his mother’s illness, an unspecified, but late-stage cancer.  In the beginning, we learn two things:  1) his mother is very sick, but hopeful for his sake, and 2) Conor suffers from nightmares involving his mother.  However, a monstrous, personified yew tree visits him at 12:07 each night and starts telling Conor stories, and although it doesn’t seem like it, the stories help Conor deal with his mother’s failing health.

What I liked about this book was it gave us insight into what it is like for a 12 year-old boy to deal with something as big as a sick parent.  I’ve had students who got into trouble because of what was going on at home, much like Conor, but none of their situations were are serious as an ill parent.  It reminded me to think of what my students walk into class with in their “backpacks.”  I also loved the illustrations, which really enhanced the reading experience of this story.  I read that Jim Kay even used beetles to make the impressions in the illustrations, which adds to the creepiness.

What I didn’t like about this book was how heart-wrenchingly sad it was.  Be warned… A Monster Calls is a great book, but it took me awhile to stop crying after I finished.  It wasn’t just a few tears… it was full-blown sobbing.  Think The Fault in our Stars, but if it involved a scary monster, and not so teen-angsty.  I cannot imagine losing a parent, especially I had to watch my mom or dad suffer through a long, drawn-out illness.  But what killed me most was the mother having to say good-bye to her son, and realize she won’t get to see him grow up, and trust that he will be raised the way I would.  In the end, Conor’s mother held his hand, as well as her own mother’s hand.  Ugh… I don’t even want to think about it anymore.  Too sad.  BUT so well-written at the same time!

I picked up A Monster Calls, because my husband’s school is voting on which book to have all of their students read, and this is one of them.  They’ll have to spend a little extra on Kleenex.


Book 36 of 40 (year 2)



Coraline (paperback)

by Neil Gaiman

AR Level 5.1, 5 points


I found Coraline after Googling “quick reads for sixth graders” and came across it on a list.  I was looking for something entertaining and quick to fill the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations, 3 weeks with lots of other stuff going on.  I figured after Wonder, I’d need something a little lighter but just as engaging.

Coraline is a polite young girl finishing out her summer with her parents and odd neighbors.  She finds a key to an alternate reality where everyone has buttons sewn over their eyes, and she has to figure out a way to escape and return to her regular dismal time, which doesn’t seem so dreary after experiencing her Other Mother’s wrath.

What I liked about this book was that I enjoyed reading it aloud.  If you want to grab the attention of a bunch of sixth graders, this is it.  While it isn’t action-packed, it is creepy and haunting and suspenseful.  It reminded me a lot of Holly Black’s Doll Bones, but not ghostly.  More alternate reality and bizarre.  Not gory and bloody like Grimm, but definitely scary if it were to be made into an accurate movie.  Think Tim Burton.  (Let’s not talk about the actual movie, because then it won’t be as positive a review.)

What I didn’t like about this book was it dragged a bit at the end.  I couldn’t figure out the climax, but once I got to the picnic, it made sense.  I can’t say much about what I didn’t like, because it was a really good book!  My students loved it and wanted me to keep reading.

Book 25 of 40 (year 2)

Doll Bones


Doll Bones (hardcover)

by Holly Black

AR Level 5.4, 7 points


If this book was to be made into a movie, it would be a horror flick.  I’m not kidding.  It’s about a creepy doll that is made of ashes and bones of a dead little girl.  When people see the doll, they often see the little girl instead of the doll.  AND she comes to people in their dreams, and moves on her own while they’re sleeping.  Seriously?  A children’s book?  And a Newbery Honor book, to boot.  I’m not saying it’s not a good book.  I can totally see why it would be chosen as an Honor book.  It definitely garnered an emotional response from this reader!

So Zach, Poppy, and Alice play this game in a make-believe world, even though they’re kind of too old to be playing with dolls.  It’s just their thing.  They have a whole storyline and everything.  Poppy’s mom has this creepy doll, whom they call the Queen.  As it turns out, the Queen is made of bone-china, and comes to Poppy one night (in her dreams) and tells Poppy her story.  Basically, the doll is literally made out of a girl named Eleanor Kirchner, who died in 1895.  Her dad, who made china, cut her up and put her into his kiln to cremate her.  He then made the doll in her likeness (out of some of her ashes) and stuffed the rest of her ashes and bone fragments into the doll.  The kids go on a journey to bury her in her home town.  Poppy is most passionate about doing this, which she sees as an adventure similar to their stories they tell.  Alice goes along with it, even though her grandmother will freak out if she gets caught.  Zach goes, but is more cynical, until Eleanor actually comes to him in a dream and then destroys their campsite.

Yep- destroys their campsite.  And it’s all downhill from there, in terms of reading in dim lighting or by yourself at night or with any sort of doll in your house.  Seriously, it’s creepy.  It had my heart racing several times.  There’s this one library scene, the climax, I’d say… just read it for yourself.  I am totally NOT a horror movie kind of person.  I’m a huge wimpy wussy chicken.  I used to love the Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (Fear Street series, pre-Goosebumps) books, but now, I totally puss out if something is even remotely supernatural.

What I liked about this book was that it was sustainable.  There is more to this book than just a freaky ghost doll.  It is about friendship and what that means when you’re 12 or 13.  Plus, you really want to know what happened with Eleanor, and not just so she stops haunting your dreams.  Plus, when you find out later that people see her as a person and not a doll, you want to go back and reread situations they were in and read into them.  It’s weird.  It’s creepy.  It draws on your emotions, and I love any book that will make me think about it long after I finished the last page.

What I didn’t like about this book was the lack of character development.  I think I was nearly half way through before I could keep Alice and Poppy separate in my mind.  I’m huge on good, strong characters, and they were a little fuzzy and gray for me.  A student started this book before me, and she put it down, because she said there was too much description.  I could see that… I stuck it out, and it got good, though!  I hope Daniela picks it up again.  Okay, and the bathroom scene… kind of freaky for me.  Horror movie material.  It got my heart racing.

Book 11 of 52