Fall and YA mysteries…a perfect match.

ImageThe Ghost’s Grave

Peg Kehret

Puffin Books


Mysteries and fall seem to go together for me. Fall in Miami has more to do with settling in to the school year and the shortening of the afternoons than a change in temperature.  It isn’t a Halloween thing, I have never been one for trick-or-treating, scary door decorations or creepy costumes but hand me a suspense-filled story containing a ghost filled with discontent and I am hooked!

Enter The Ghost’s Grave by Peg Kehret.  Thanks to the recommendation feature on Amazon, my past searches for YA mysteries led me to this author.  I found Josh, the narrator, to be a glass-half-full kind of guy.  Initially, he is upset with his mom and stepdad when their work conflicted with his summer plans.  At the last minute he is sent to the small town of Carbon City near Seattle to stay with his stepdad’s Aunt Ethel. He is literally off the grid: no cell phone, Internet or TV, living in a house in the middle of the woods within walking distance of the cemetery. Creepy. Right?

Josh takes it in stride- no moping, whining or complaining.  He proves himself to be adventurous, kind hearted and brave as he meets the ghost of a coal miner in need of his help.  Little does he know what kind of trouble this will dig up!  Josh’s Aunt Ethel is an eccentric elderly woman who serves dinner for breakfast, talks to a peacock and welcomes Josh into her home.  He quickly slides in to Aunt Ethel’s daily routine and into her heart.

I recommend this novel to mystery lovers, and ghost lovers with a sense of humor. This novel is a fun read and will leave the reader happy to have met Josh, his aunt and their friends.


Help your reluctant readers reach out to their favorite writers-it may make them avid readers instead.


My first experience with the power of the Internet as a reader-to-writer-connection came about 10 years ago when my students read Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples.  This book is about a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan named Shabanu whose sister is about to be married.  She and her family live in the desert and raise camels.  The story is one of arranged marriages and customs that create a mountain of questions for American students today.  It is stunning in its simplicity of story, in its descriptions of the Pakistan deserts and that 13 year olds in the United States can identify with Shabanu, a character in a story that takes place a world away.

Two of my students, best friends, “found” Suzanne Fisher Staples via the Internet and emailed her asking if she would please come to our school.  They quickly received a reply that she would be happy to.  She told them to have their teacher contact her to discuss arrangements. These girls found me early the next morning and gave me her email address.  I emailed her, and I must say I was a little intimidated to be writing an award-winning author! It wasn’t done in my days as a teenager, or at that point, as an adult.  Writers were mysterious people we had little access to.

Staples did come to speak to our 400 7th graders, bringing with her beautiful slides of Pakistan’s Cholistan Desert and the camel that is she includes in the novel.

Students asked brilliant questions: “Is Shabanu a real person?” Actually,  she is a composite of many girls and women Staples met while she was a reporter in Pakistan.

“Why did you write the sequel to Shabanu in first person but not Shabanu?” It wasn’t something she realized she was doing initially. It was the way it needed to be told.

She signed every copy of Shabanu for every student and then sat down with one last student who wanted to be a writer and was already a prize-winning poet.  The student waited at the end of the line to meet Suzanne and said, “I want to talk business with you. I want to write.”

They talked for over an hour in the back of my classroom while her grandmother and her best friend waited outside. What Suzanne didn’t know at the time was that student’s mother was battling leukemia and she was living with her grandmother while her mother sought treatment out of state.  That girl and her best friend dropped in for a visit last year.  Her mom is doing well, she is in college and still writing and yes, that was one of the greatest days of her life.

Suzanne had lunch with the students who contacted her. Imagine! Dined with the families of the girls and spent the night at one family’s home.  Absolutely a dream come true for two of her biggest fans and their teacher.

All these years later, authors have web pages, Facebook pages, blogs, and even Youtube channels.  Kids have access that was unheard of 20 years ago.

Parents and and teachers need to take advantage of these resources and the access we have to our favorite authors.  Google your child’s favorite author and you’ll find all kinds of great stuff including “book trailers” for their books, interviews, web pages with contact information for teachers and readers.  If you know a reluctant reader, what better way to change that?

Really cool stuff I have found:

  • Roland Smith, author of Peak and MANY other high interest novels, giving a video tour of his home office where he does his writing. He also has a website with monthly contests and a Facebook Page too.
  • Neal Shusterman’s great website and a Facebook page where he posts contests and often asks readers to help him with character names.
  • Judy Bloom’s website.
  • Lois Lowry’s website with information on her final book in The Giver series.
  • Nonfiction author Russell Freedman’s interviews on Youtube.
  • Book trailers.
  • Skype visits

The Internet provides readers a look into the writing process, their favorite writer’s life and provides publishing information for new books.  Readers want to know about the life of their favorite writer, they want to identify with the writer and a web page provides the information.  These days, it isn’t always possible to email the author directly, but the website will have that information. If you have Facebook account and are willing to LIKE an author page, you can share the posts with your child.

Suzanne Fisher Staples’ visit was a once in a lifetime event for many of the students. Live and in person author visits many be hard to come by, but via the Internet, we have lots of alternatives. Does Suzanne Fisher Staples do marathon school visits like the one she did back in 2002?  Let me check her website….

Lois Lowry connects it all in ‘Son’ – Books – MiamiHerald.com

Lois Lowry connects it all in ‘Son’ – Books – MiamiHerald.com.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver and its sequels are tried and true favorites for kids.  As a matter of fact, she and her books have been a hot topic in my 7th grade classes as we discuss the hero’s journey in literature.

I can hardly wait to share this article from today’s paper about the 4th book in The Giver series!


School days, schools days… we are two weeks in and have already had a “hurricane day”…

School days, schools days… we are two weeks in and have already had a “hurricane day”…  You would think that would mean that I have a book recommendation ready, should have a book recommendation ready but, I have picked up several books and am reading them all at one time.

I should feel very productive but it only reinforces my thinking that I can’t really multi-task, it sounds good but ultimately means that I never finish anything I start.   So, I say all of this to ask you to please hang on and I’ll have something for you soon.

I will leave you with this informal survey of 100 language arts students:

THE Favorite Book on the required 7th grade summer reading list: Peak by Roland Smith.  It is an Everest adventure story with a heart warming ending.  🙂

More on the Pioneer Girl Project

Making this autobiography “readable” means enabling readers to understand what life was like at the time.

The Pioneer Girl Project

Today a copy of Barnaby Rudge arrived for me at the South Dakota Historical Society Press offices through interlibrary loan. No, it’s not my light reading for the morning coffee break. It’s for the Pioneer Girl Project. But what, you may ask, do Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens have to do with each other? Other than their mutual status as classic authors?

(If you can guess why this book is on my desk, you’re good.)

As we research, edit, and write annotations for Wilder’s Pioneer Girl, I am impressed by the breadth and depth of background it takes to understand a life. Even a normal person’s life. For isn’t that what makes Laura Ingalls Wilder special: that for most of her life, she was not a celebrity? To her contemporaries, she was literally the girl next door (or on the next quarter section), yet as an author, she…

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