Leave the Light On! Ghost Stories to Thrill and Chill

Book Links Sept. 2008 (vol. 18, no. 1)

Raise reading spirits with spine-tingling stories from beyond the grave.

By Angela Leeper

Upper elementary school through high school

Vampires have left their mark in recent books for teens, but nothing beats the building suspense and hair-raising fright of a ghost story. Some ghosts, such as the Jewish ghost who enters a ventriloquist after the Holocaust in Sid Fleischman’s The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, seek revenge, while others, like Joseph Bruchac’s Skeleton Man, are just downright scary. And while many ghosts, such as the 1903 coal miner with a missing leg in Peg Kehret’s The Ghost’s Grave, need the help of the living, the comical ghosts in Eva Ibbotson’s The Beasts of Clawstone Castle lend a hand—or at least their spirit—when they can. No matter the ghost’s motive, the books in this bibliography are sure to thrill and chill both younger and older readers.

Novels

All the Lovely Bad Ones: A Ghost Story. By Mary Downing Hahn. 2008. 192p. Clarion, $16 (9780618854677).
Gr. 4–7. Travis, 12, and his sister, Corey, 11, try to thrill visitors staying at their grandmother’s Vermont inn by pretending to be ghosts. In the process, they awaken the spirits of some mischievous children and their selfish caregiver and discover that the inn served as a corrupt poorhouse in the 1800s. If the siblings can find the bodies of the mistreated children, they can bring the truth to light and put the ghosts to rest. For more of the author’s ghost stories, see “ Talking with Mary Downing Hahn.”

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle. By Eva Ibbotson. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. 2006. 192p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525477198); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (9780142409312). Also available in an audio edition from Recorded Books.
Gr. 5–8. When Madlyn, 11, and Rollo, 9, are sent to stay with their eccentric great-aunt and great-uncle at their rundown castle, they find their relatives in danger of losing their Wild White cattle if more tourists do not arrive. The children hire frightening ghosts to make the castle more lucrative, but when the herd is stolen, Madlyn, Rollo, and the ghosts must find the cow-nappers. Full-page line drawings are scattered throughout. Ibbotson’s ghostly hilarity can also be found in The Haunting of Granite Falls (Dutton, 2004), The Great Ghost Rescue (Dutton, 2002), and Dial-a-Ghost (Dutton, 2001).

Billy Bones: Tales from the Secrets Closet. By Christopher Lincoln. Illus. by Avi Ofer. 2008. 304p. Little, Brown, $10.99 (9780316014731).
Gr. 3–5.  Billy lives with his skeleton parents in a closet in High Manners Manor, where they spend the afterlife filing and keeping the secrets of the manor’s unscrupulous occupants, the Biglums. When recently orphaned Millicent comes to stay with the Biglums, Billy befriends her and together the two discover ghosts, eerie creatures, and the biggest secret of all—Billy was once a Biglum. Kooky, not-so-spooky line drawings appear throughout.  

The Bone Collector’s Son. By Paul Yee. 2004. 144p. Marshall Cavendish, $15.95 (9780761452423).
Gr. 6–9. In 1907 Vancouver, Bing’s father exhumes the bones of deceased Chinese immigrants and ships them back to China. The teen despises his father’s job and fears the ghosts that haunt his father and the mansion where Bing finds a job as a houseboy. In this nontraditional novel that also depicts the racial prejudice of the time, the boy turns to his Chinese heritage to pacify the ghosts.

Cold in Summer. By Tracy Barrett. 2003. 208p. Holt, $16.95 (9780805070521).
Gr. 4–7. Seventh-grader Ariadne feels lonely after a move to a small Tennessee town, until she meets May Butler, an odd girl dressed in old-fashioned clothing. While working on a social studies project, she discovers that May is the ghost of a girl from the 1800s whose body was never found. May has aided people in need for decades, but now she wants Ariadne to find her missing body and bury it so that she may finally rest.

The Crossroads. By Chris Grabenstein. 2008. 336p. Random, $16.99 (9780375846977). Also available in an audio edition from Listening Library.
Gr. 5–8. Uprooted after his mother’s death and his father’s remarriage, 11-year-old Zack Jennings finds himself living near an ill-fated crossroads that is home to the spirit of a crazed killer and a number of ghosts that prey on passing motorists. An absorbing psychological thriller (the ghost of Zack’s malevolent mother plays a part), as well as a ghost story, the narrative switches points of view among humans, trees, and ghosts.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk. By Sid Fleischman. 2007. 180p. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780061344459).
Gr. 6–9. One night while performing in Europe, Freddie, a floundering, former-GI ventriloquist, meets Avrom Amos Poliakov, a sharp-tongued dybbuk, or wandering Jewish ghost, who offers to speak through Freddie’s dummy and make his act a success. In exchange, Freddie will help Avrom seek revenge on the SS colonel who killed him and bring remembrance to Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust.

Ghost Letters. By Stephen Alter. 2008. 240p. Bloomsbury, $16.95 (9781582347394).
Gr. 4–7. While staying with his grandfather in a Massachusetts coastal town, Gil, along with his new friend, Nargis, discovers an antique bottle that allows the two to correspond with a nineteenth-century calligrapher’s apprentice in India. With the help of a ghostly postman, the three children may be able to deliver letters that were never received, save a captured boy, and change the course of history. Also see Alter’s The Phantom Isles (Bloomsbury, 2007), which features ghosts imprisoned in books.

Ghost Ship. By Dietlof Reiche. 2005. 256p. Scholastic, $16.95 (9780439597043); paper, $5.99 (9780439597050). Also available in an audio edition from Blackstone Audio.
Gr. 5–8. After Vicki, 12, discovers a secret inside the figurehead of an old sailing ship that hangs in her father’s New England seaside restaurant, the bay inexplicably dries up and the lost 230-year-old ship returns. When ghostly battles break out between the quartermaster, who is Vicki’s ancestor, and the crew, the girl, along with vacationing Peter, must solve the mysteries of lost treasure and the ship’s curse.

The Ghost’s Grave. By Peg Kehret. 2005. 224p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525461623); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (9780142408193).
Gr. 5–8. Twelve-year-old Josh is reluctant to spend the summer with his eccentric aunt in Carbon City, Washington, until he encounters the one-legged ghost of Willie, an old coal miner who died in a 1903 disaster. The ghost convinces Josh to dig up the miner’s missing leg and reunite it with his body. When Josh finds a box of stolen cash along with Willie’s buried leg, he becomes a sleuth, foiling the owner of the cash and solving a local mystery.

The Ghosts of Kerfol. By Deborah Noyes. 2008. 176p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763630003).
Gr. 6–12. Inspired by Edith Wharton’s ghost story “Kerfol,” in which a Frenchwoman’s jealous husband is killed by a phantom pack of dogs, Noyes’ five original tales are set at the haunted Kerfol manor. Taking place at different points in time that lead up to the present, the short stories reveal that ghosts continue to roam the grounds of the estate, exacting revenge on unsuspecting visitors.

The Intruders. By E. E. Richardson. 2006. 196p. Delacorte, o.p.
Gr. 6–9. Tensions flare when Joel, his older sister, Cassie, and their future stepbrothers move into a rundown, neglected estate, but the four teens work through their bitterness when they all experience unexplained nightmares, hallucinations, and other events connected to the haunted house’s ghosts. Richardson employs classic ghost-story devices rather than gore to introduce the spirits and their mysterious identities.

Giving Up the Ghost. By Sheri Sinykin. 2007. 224p. Peachtree, $15.95 (9781561454235).
Gr. 5–8. Davia, 13, accompanies her parents to her family’s ancestral Louisiana plantation to help care for her terminally ill great-aunt Mari. She soon discovers that Emilie, a spoiled Creole teen from the nineteenth century who committed suicide, haunts the estate. Although Davia is fearful of death since her mother’s battle with cancer, she helps put Emilie to rest and comes to terms with Mari’s impending death.

Lost Boy. By Linda Newbery. 2008. 208p. Random/David Fickling, $15.99 (9780375845741).
Gr. 5–7. Nearly struck by a phantom car, 13-year-old Matt Lancaster lands on the same site in the Welsh countryside where Martin Lloyd, also 13, died in a car accident. Matt continues to feel the teen’s presence as he tries to piece together the truth about Martin’s accident, the legend of a 5-year-old boy lost in the hills years ago, and a farmer’s missing son.

The Red Ghost. By Marion Dane Bauer. Illus. by Peter Ferguson. 2008. 96p. Random, $11.99 (9780375840814).
Gr. 2–4. In this clever ghost story, Jenna finds a doll at a neighbor’s garage sale that gives off what can only be described as bad vibes. When Jenna learns that the previous owner’s mother poured all her sadness and love into the doll, a clue to the doll’s vibrations emerges. Pencil illustrations nicely break up the text. Also see Bauer’s The Blue Ghost (Random, 2005) and The Green Ghost (Random, 2008).

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney. By Suzanne Harper. 2007. 368p. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780061131585); HarperTeen, paper, $8.99 (9780061131608).
Gr. 7–10. The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sparrow Delaney, 15, hides her psychic abilities, even going so far as to attend a new school away from the spiritualism hoopla of her Lily Dale, New York, home. Sparrow just wants to be normal, but she can’t deny her powers when she’s haunted by the missing brother of Jack, her moody yet handsome history partner, in this adventurous and romantic mystery.

The Seer of Shadows. By Avi. 2008. 208p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780060000158). Also available in an audio edition from Recorded Books.
Gr. 4–7. In 1872, Horace, 14, becomes an apprentice to an unscrupulous New York City photographer who hopes to swindle a wealthy socialite by taking “spirit photographs” of her recently deceased daughter. Horace befriends Pegg, an African American servant girl, who reveals that the dead daughter’s ghost seeks revenge and helps him discover a gift for drawing ghosts into this world through his photography.

Skeleton Man. By Joseph Bruchac. 2001. 128p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780060290757); HarperTrophy, paper, $4.99 (9780064408882). Also available in an audio edition from Recorded Books.
Gr. 4–8. When Molly’s parents disappear, she is claimed by a sinister “great-uncle” who resembles the skeleton man in the scary bedtime stories told by her Mohawk father. In this short, quick-paced narrative, the sixth-grader draws on the courage of her namesake, Molly Brant, an eighteenth-century Mohawk warrior, to save herself and her parents from the mysterious man. Their fears continue with The Return of the Skeleton Man (HarperCollins, 2006).

Story Collections

All Hallows’ Eve: 13 Stories. By Vivian Vande Velde. 2006. 240p. Harcourt, $17 (9780152055769).
Gr. 7–10. Ghosts, vampires, witches, and other supernatural beings cause twists and turns in the lives of teenagers on Halloween night in these 13 short stories.

Being Dead. By Vivian Vande Velde. 2001. 240p. Harcourt, $17 (9780152163204).
Gr. 7–10. Ghosts with unfinished business return with surprising and often dark results in this collection of seven short stories.

Darkness Creeping: Twenty Twisted Tales. By Neal Shusterman. 2007. 304p. Puffin, paper, $7.99 (9780142407219).
Gr. 5–9. This collection features previously published and new tales, some with ghouls, some with twists, and all with creepiness for reluctant readers.

Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories. By Paul Yee. Illus. by Harvey Chan. 2002. 104p. Groundwood, paper, $7.95 (9780888995872).
Gr. 6–12. These 10 short stories, drawn from ghost stories told among early Chinese immigrants to the United States and Canada, relate the immigrant experience and its loneliness, hard work, and broken dreams. An eerie full-page illustration at the start of each story captures this strange, unsettled world.

Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales. Edited by Deborah Noyes. 2004. 256p. Candlewick, paper, $7.99 (9780763627379).
Gr. 8–12. Following an introduction to the gothic tale genre are 10 short stories that play with the definition, by such YA writers as Neil Gaiman, Vivian Vande Velde, and Gregory Maguire.

Prom Nights from Hell. By Meg Cabot and others. 2007. 320p. HarperTeen, $16.99 (9780061253102); paper, $9.99 (9780061253096).
Gr. 9–12. Demons, vampires, zombies, and other uninvited supernatural guests wreak havoc on prom night in five short stories.

The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural. Edited by Deborah Noyes. 2007. 272p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763629069).
Gr. 8–12. Notable YA writers, such as Annette Curtis Klause, M. T. Anderson, and Libba Bray, pen 10 horror stories featuring restless ghosts, vampires, and other undead creatures.

The Scary States of America. By Michael Teitelbaum. 2007. 416p. Delacorte, paper, $7.99 (9780385733311).
Gr. 4–7. Fictional tween blogger Jason Specter presents the stories of ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, and other paranormal activities, one for each state in the country, left by visitors to his Web site. 

Murders, Mysteries, and Mayhem—Ghostly Series

Gilda Joyce. By Jennifer Allison. Dutton. Individual titles, 336–52p., $12.99–$16.99; Puffin, paper, $6.99–$7.99.
Gr. 5–8. In Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator (2005), the 13-year-old sleuth invites herself to spend the summer with her mother’s distant cousin in his Victorian mansion in San Francisco. Gilda discovers that he has a daughter, Juliet, her own age and that Juliet is haunted by her aunt, who jumped to her death from the mansion’s tower. With the aid of outlandish disguises and antics, Gilda hones her psychic abilities and solves the family’s mystery. Her other investigations include Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake (2006) and Gilda Joyce: The Ghost Sonata (2007).

Ghost Mysteries. By Cynthia DeFelice. Farrar. Individual titles, 176–92p., $16; paper, $5.95.
Gr. 4–6. “Ghost magnet” Allie Nichols attracts spirits—a murdered girl, a young fire victim, a massacred Seneca girl, and even a ghost dog—who need her help. Along with her friend Dub, the sixth-grader solves the mysteries of the ghosts’ deaths in The Ghost of Fossil Glen (1998), The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs (2001), The Ghost of Cutler Creek (2004), and The Ghost of Poplar Point (2007).

Ghosthunters. By Cornelia Funke. Scholastic/Chicken House. Individual titles, 144–92p., $16.99; paper, $4.99. Selected titles also available in audio editions from Listening Library.
Gr. 3–5. In this chapter book series, more silly than scary, a trio of ghosthunters—enthusiastic but cautious nine-year-old Tom; his grandmother’s friend and energetic ghost expert, Hetty; and “averagely spooky ghost” Hugo—team up to catch and stop mischievous ghosts in Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost! (2006), Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost! (2006), Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom! (2007), and Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness! (2007).

Golden and Grey. By Louise Arnold. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry. Individual titles, 272–304p., $15.95–$16.99; Aladdin, paper, $5.99.
Gr. 4–6. Tom Golden, 11, and ghost Grey Arthur form a fierce bond in Golden and Grey: An Unremarkable Boy and a Rather Remarkable Ghost (2005) when they both utter, “Life isn’t fair,” at the same time. Grey decides to become Tom’s “Invisible Friend,” and his aid is quickly needed when a charlatan kidnaps Tom in order to have Grey fix a lottery. The boy and ghost continue their friendship and more ghostly missions in Golden and Grey: The Nightmares That Ghosts Have (2006) and Golden and Grey: A Good Day for Haunting (2008).

Lily Dale. By Wendy Corsi Staub. Walker. Individual titles, 240–88p., $15.95–$15.99; paper, $7.95–$7.99.
Gr. 8–10. In Lily Dale: Awakening (2007), Calla, 17, goes to live with her grandmother in the spiritualist community of Lily Dale, New York. As she encounters the ghost of a missing girl, experiences odd happenings, and discovers details about her mother’s death, the teen begins to accept that she shares her grandmother’s psychic abilities. This gift is put to use again in Lily Dale: Believing (2008) and Lily Dale: Connecting (2008).

Olivia Kidney. By Ellen Potter. Philomel. Individual titles, 144–336p., $15.99–$16.99; Puffin, paper, $5.99–$6.99. Selected titles also available in audio editions from Listening Library.
Gr. 5–8. In the offbeat Olivia Kidney (2003), the 12-year-old girl and her superintendent father move to a New York City apartment building. Lonely after her mother’s abandonment and brother’s death, Olivia ventures from apartment to apartment, meeting their unusual occupants, including a ghost. She encounters more ghosts and strange inhabitants in Olivia Kidney and the Exit Academy (2005) and Olivia Kidney and the Secret beneath the City (2007).

Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.