Friday, October 30, 2015

Matt Bumpers' Ultra-Official Halloween Guide to De-Scaring

Matt Bumpers here with a Public Service Announcement.

Everyone knows that Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. The cobwebs, the ghouls, the candy...  But there is an affliction sweeping the nation, threatening to ruin Halloween for America's youth.

I should explain.

My kid brother, Charlie, is what you might call...a dorky chicken. He screams when lights go out unexpectedly, has nightmares from watching movies about vampires, and crosses the street when he sees a potentially haunted house. 

I'm sorry to report that this is not an isolated case. Dorkychickenitis is a growing concern, and this epidemic must be stamped out.

But I'll need your help.

I've compiled a fool-proof toolkit for use in de-scaring any Dorky Chickens you may encounter. Good luck.

Dorkychickenitis Patient Zero: Charles Bumpers

Matt Bumpers' Ultra-Official Guide to De-Scaring

1.     Tell a scary story.  Tell a little bit every night; make each night's episode a little more terrifying. With some luck, you'll have your patient laughing in the ghoulish face of fear by the time Halloween rolls around.
2.     Watch a scary movie.  Okay, this one's kind of the same as the scary story tip. Building up to scarier and scarier movies will eventually have your patient immune to the palest vampires and hairiest werewolves.
3.     Change the name of the scary thing.  I have my little sister, Mabel, to thank for this one. Charlie is terrified to watch a movie called The Shrieking Skull. Mabel thought the name was "Squeaking" instead of "Shrieking," making the movie laughable. Good on you, Mabel. Gold star.
Me, Matthew Bumpers, demonstrating Tip #1
4.     Watch something funny right after something scary.  This will help you forget about the scary thing and focus on the funny thing instead. Easy-peasy. 
5.     Focus on the funny aspects.  Look, I know scary. Scary stories, scary movies, whatever; they all have something in common. They're funny! Underneath the ghosts and goblins and blood and guts, there's always a joke. If you walk into a scary situation prepared to laugh, you will. 
6.     Embrace being scared.  C'mon, why do you think people keep making scary movies? They're fun! They give you the chance to scream, hide under the covers, and freak out your friends. Everyday life can get boring sometimes—getting scared is a great way to break up the monotony. 
7.     Pretend you’re not scared.  Basically: fake it 'til you make it. I wish Charlie would at least pretend he wasn't scared all the time.
8.     Be with friends.  Scary story + people to share it with = fun. That's just basic math.
9.     Realize it’s all fake.  You know what Halloween is about right? Getting scared. But at the end of the day, you know the stories, the monsters, and the ghouls aren't real.

Can you think of anything else?  Comment below if I missed any good tips.

Stay scary, people.

- Matt "Master of Horror" Bumpers

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Tell a Scary Story

There’s no better time in the year than Halloween for sharing scary stories. And there are SO MANY scary stories out there; in fact, there are entire books and movies and magazines dedicated to them.

It may seem like spinning a spooky yarn ought to be easy as pumpkin pie, but, like tight rope walking, writing a children's book (Am I right, guys?), and drinking black coffee, telling a scary story is a skill that must be honed with years of careful study.

But, since Halloween is just a few days away, consider this our Scary Story Bootcamp.


The only true necessity is a flashlight. Shine it under your face in the dark and give your audience a ghoulish grin. Works every time.

Other props might be things like a scary mask, a storyteller's costume (cape? top hat? pipe?), maybe some fake snakes or bugs, or spooky music to play in the background.


You might think the setting in which you tell your creepy tale story isn't important. Wrong. Atmosphere is vital. Here are some tips on working your audience into maximum fright before you even open your mouth.

  • Indoors: 
    • Make a blanket or pillow-fort. First off, they're awesome. Second, they'll hide all the light from outside the fort, leaving your flashlight as the only source of light. And third, forts are awesome.
  • Outdoors: 
    • Do you have an outdoor fire pit? The eerie light will flicker; the fire will crackle; and creatures of the night will skulk and slither in the shadows just out of sight...
The Story: 

You've selected your setting and collected your props; now it's time for the main event.

Speaking in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking. Practicing before is always an option, especially if you aren’t too familiar with the story.  Adding changes in the tone and volume of your voice throughout can also enhance the story and get children more intrigued in what happens next. But just remember: it's important to seem confident in the story you're telling. Whatever the story is, it is true. If you believe it, your audience will believe it too.

But how do you pick one?

The best thing to do is to learn a few on your own, improve them, and then swap them with your friends. Pretty soon you'll have a good collection built up! Becoming familiar with some classic scary stories that originate from folklore in Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can always be a good place to get some ideas; but here are also a few tried and trues to get you started:

Not Very Scary/Kinda Funny:
Moderately Scary:
Super Scary/Proceed with Caution: 
The Best Original Scary Story Ever:

Okay, that last one might be biased, but it is a great spooky story and you can read it (or hear it!) yourself in Bill Harley's third Charlie Bumpers book, Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull!

Did we miss any of your favorite stories? Have you made up an awesome one that you'd like to share? Do you have any more tips on how to tell them? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Book Wednesday: Finder, Coal Mine Dog written by Alison Hart and illustrated by Michael Montgomery

Finder is a tawny-colored dog who just wants to please his new owner, Uncle George, and his friend, Thomas. He knows his job is to be a hunting dog, but he can’t help from running away from the dangerous animals he is supposed to be searching for; he also hates the sound of guns and the smell of blood.

Fortunately, Thomas and Finder are able to help each other out. Uncle George tells Thomas that instead of going to school next fall, he will be heading down to the mines to earn his keep now that both of his parents are dead. Thomas knows that there is no way out of his current predicament—despite his desire to go to school—and soon realizes that Finder may be able to find a job in the mines too.

Finder’s job is to pull the sledge to the coal car, but one day, his role in the mines becomes much more important; he is able to smell smoke and warn Thomas and the other miners of imminent danger.

Finder, Coal Mine Dog transforms the events from the 1909 Cherry Mining Disaster into page-turning chaos. Finder becomes a crucial piece in this story’s history, as he is the one who ultimately helps lead Thomas to safety and also the one who helps find those still trapped in the mine. In reality, 259 men and boys died in this disaster, and Cherry, Illinois commemorated the centennial anniversary of this horrific event six years ago. The mining laws in Illinois were changed as a direct result of the lives that could have been spared in this disaster, and Finder, Coal Mine Dog helps solidify the miners’ spot in history.

Click here for the full summary of Finder, Coal Mine Dog

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Countdown to Halloween!

The best way to wait for Halloween is obviously with picture books and fun arts and crafts! Check out our Halloween-related book round up featuring all of your favorite characters, monsters, and ghouls—good ones and scary ones alike!

Written by Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
A boy’s dread of things that go bump in the night fills his head with monstrous thoughts. So when he is separated from his older brothers on Halloween night and finds himself alone on Monster Street, he fears the worst! Lightning flashes. Bats flap overhead. Doors squeak open. Hairy arms and tentacles drop spiders into his sack. The boy is relieved when he finally meets up with another trick-or-treater. That is, until his new friend removes his mask... 

Written by Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
What do you dread eating the most? For the hero of this story, it's peas. A young boy thinks he's discovered a way to avoid eating his peas—he makes a bargain with a fiendishly funny monster. First the deal is simple: the monster will eat the boy's peas in exchange for his soccer ball. But with each new encounter, the monster's demands escalate. Eventually, our hero faces a daunting decision—can he conquer his loathing for peas or will he lose his most prized possession?

Written by Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrated by Bill Mayer
A math-phobic boy faces another dreaded evening of multiplication when a monster suddenly appears in his room and offers him a deal he cannot refuse. After a quick signature on a contract, the boy’s problems are solved, and his homework is ready to turn in the next day. At first, everything adds up perfectly. But when the boy’s math knowledge is tested at school, his troubles begin to multiply. What did the fine print on that contract read?

Written by Kevin Shortsleeve
Illustrated by Michael Austin
Come along with Professor LeGrand as he warns readers about the outrageous habits and appalling behavior of thirteen mischievous monsters whom the creature teacher hopes the readers never have to meet. There's the Scarce Sissyfoos, Mess Monsters, and the Hedge-Standing Snit, just to name a few!

Written and illustrated by Richard Keep
At dusk on the holiday known as Day of the Dead, a Mexican family has set out fiesta offerings in the graveyard in hopes that departed loved ones may return to visit. Graveyard skeletons shake, rattle, and roll in this spirited Day of the Dead celebration.

Written and illustrated by Kevin Luthardt
When Edgar's family moves to a new town, everything seems strange and scary. The kids look different. They dress weird. They listen to bizarre music. They eat strange food. And the biggest, weirdest looking kid keeps staring at Edgar. What does he want? As Edgar soon learns, sometimes you have to rise above your fears to make a new friend. And sometimes that friend may be the last person - or alien - you'd expect.
Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Charlie and Tommy have big plans for Halloween. They're  going to trick-or-treat and sleep over at Alex's house. But when Charlie finds out that the entertainment at the party will be the "Scariest Horror Movies Ever," he is struck by panic. Charlie loves candy, he loves sleepovers with his friends, but he absolutely hates horror movies. Can Charlie face his fear of horror movies and enjoy Halloween?

Written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith
Claude and Sir Bobblysock join a dance troupe and head to the theater to perform their act. But being backstage gives them the heebie-jeebies! It's so dark and spooky...could the legend of the theater ghost be true?

Want to grab these spooky titles before All Hallows' Eve? You can find them at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & NobleFeeling inspired by some of our titles and looking to include some fun crafts in your Halloween plans? 


We thought this Monster Wreath would be the perfect addition to any Halloween décor; Baby Rabies has a simple tutorial for you to follow.


You could even create a paper monster for your own little monster to take on his or her trick-or-treating adventures! There are tons of ideas out there, but these examples from Crafts by Amanda look great for parents and children to do together!


Light the pathway to your door with these Glow in the Dark Lanterns to celebrate Día de los Muertos; you only need some glow-in-the-dark sticks, a black marker, some mason jars, and your creativity! Growing up Bilingual also gives more lantern ideas geared towards younger children, like using LED tea lights and plastic cups instead.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Teacher Tuesday with The Monster Who Ate My Peas

Grades K-3

This book brings kids face to face with one of their worst fears: vegetables. Author, Danny Schnitzlein draws from his own childhood aversion to peas in order to create a story that helps readers to examine their own fears.

The monster that helps get rid of the main character’s peas soon asks for something in return: his dog. The boy must decide which is more important to him.

Try this activity with your class after reading The Monster Who Ate My Peas together:
  • Ask students to draw a monster that has never been seen before.
  • Allow them to use markers, colored, pencils, crayons, pipe cleaners, buttons, pom poms, and glue to bring their monsters to life.
  • Then, ask students to write a story about the monster they created. What is the monster’s name? Was it always a monster? If not, how did it become a monster? Is the monster really evil or does it just look scary?
  • After they are done, let the students share the pictures of their monsters and give a summary of the monster’s background to the class.
  • Have fun!
Click here for the full summary of The Monster Who Ate My Peas and here for the full teacher's guide. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

YA Fall Round-up for Teen Read Week

Hey ya’ll! Today is the first day of Teen Read Week, a national initiative started by YALSA to get teens to become regular readers and library users. There are a ton of great YA books coming out this Fall from Peachtree and our publisher friends, and we want to share the titles we’re most excited about! Here are just a few:

By J.J. Johnson
Pub Date: October 1
Peachtree Publishers
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer has to force her family to realize she needs help for her eating disorder. But when she gets admitted into an eating disorder treatment unit, her experience isn’t quite what she expected. Punctuated by dark humor, gritty realism, and profound moments of self-discovery, Believarexic is a stereotype-defining exploration of belief and human connection.

By Emiko Jean
Pub Date: October 6
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
After Alice’s boyfriend dies trying to save her from a fire—a fire her twin sister set—Alice wants to seek vengeance. The problem: Alice is stuck in a mental ward, and her sister is in another wing a few miles away. But when Chase, a mysterious and charming patient, agrees to help Alice, will she actually go through with her plan? This book has murder, revenge, and suspense—everything you would want in a great psychological thriller. 
Evan comes across a mysterious hand-bound book his father had been reading before he suddenly passed away.  The book is a diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on an island in WWII. As Evan tries to find answers to questions about the diary, why his father had it, and why his grandfather doesn’t want him to read it, readers will become engrossed in this suspenseful, intergenerational mystery.

By Marina Gessner
Pub Date: October 20
GP Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Deferring her college acceptance to the dismay of her parents, McKenna is set on hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, even after her best friend backs out. While on the Trail she forms a relationship with Sam, a high school dropout escaping his abusive father. After following Sam’s suggestion to go off the trail for some extra adventure, the two find themselves lost and in danger. Romance and the wilderness, all wrapped up into one good adventure novel!
Becca and Johnny are brought together by a car accident that kills Johnny’s mother and Becca’s twin sister.  Even though the crash is ruled an accident, Becca and Johnny are not so easily convinced.  Both blinded by their emotions, how far are they willing to go to find the truth and get retribution? This compelling story is bound to keep you on the edge of your seat!
Twelve-year-old Jack and his parents welcome Joseph into their family as a foster child. Recently released from incarceration and wrestling with his troubled past, fourteen-year-old Joseph is determined to find his baby daughter Jupiter, whom he has never met.  This powerful story of friendship and second chances will leave you reaching for a second box of tissues.

Are you starving for more recommendations? Take a look at the Teens’ Top Ten ListRead any good YA books lately that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Book Wednesday: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

In this semi-autobiographical work, J.J. Johnson tells readers about her own experiences of being hospitalized for an eating disorder. She battles alcoholism, anorexia, bulimia, and more, but beyond that, Jennifer must also convince her own parents that she is in fact sick.

Jennifer enjoys watching Star Trek, dancing at the Y, drawing and painting, and going to the movies, yet she is plagued by a constant need to please others and to look “thin.” Jennifer’s story is a challenging one, but it provides relatable concepts for adolescent girls who have ever dealt with body issues or low self esteem. At one of her low points in the hospital, Jennifer hopes to one day become a grown, healthy woman who can look back on her current circumstances and help make sense of them. She realizes then that despite her challenges, Jennifer must learn to hope, and above all, she must learn to believe.

The format of the book itself echoes Jennifer’s constant battles. The pages begin in blank verse with short, choppy sentences that reflect Jennifer’s conflicting thoughts. The text itself is also a shadow of the black text typically found in books; thus reflecting Jennifer’s own feelings of emptiness. However, as her story progresses, blank verse melts into prose and the text on each page darkens to its normal color. Jennifer is regaining control over her mind and of her body; therefore, the book does too. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teacher Tuesday with Three Hens and a Peacock

Grades K-3

When a new peacock shows up at the farm, three hens become jealous of the attention this newcomer receives. Peacock graciously tries to trade places with the hens by sitting in the hen house while they strut outside, trying to attract customers, but it is no use. Each is meant for their own job and they cannot try to be something they are not.

Try this activity with your class after reading Three Hens and a Peacock in order to emphasize vocabulary while also learning that it is okay to be different from one another.
  •  Read through Three Hens and a Peacock aloud a second time.
  • This time, have the students raise their hands when they hear an interesting word, or one they don’t understand.
  • Place those words on a list and try to define by using context clues.
  • Discuss correct meanings for each word.
  • Words to look out for: cud, quart, peacock, fancy, shrieking, eventually, folks, admire, booming, brewing, lazy, moped, glamorous, bangles, gussied up, strutted, flocked, cramped, trudged, exhausted, and stellar

Click here for the full summary of Three Hens and a Peacock and here for the complete teacher’s guide. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Brunch with J.J. Johnson

Good morning! For today's Sunday Brunch, we're discussing eating disorders, recovery, and writing the young adult novel Believarexic with author J.J. Johnson.

What inspires you to write?

I write because I have a perplexing, deep-seating need to make stuff up.  I get to inhabit different worlds all day, yet still show up and have dinner with my family. Plus it's a rationale for eavesdropping, snooping, and investigating.  I get to call it "research."

What made you write Believarexic?

My editor and I were kicking around ideas for my next novel. I told her I still had all my old journals and letters from when I stayed at an in-patient Eating Disorder Unit (EDU), and I could use them to write a book. I don't think either of us had any idea what it would lead to, or how difficult the process would be.

There have been so many books written about characters with eating disorders. What do you hope Believarexic adds to the discussion?

First, the name itself points to the fact that eating disorders are about so much more than disordered eating. They are about belief in ourselves and our connections to others.

Second, Believarexic is 100 percent focused on recovery, I've seen a lot of young adult novels and memoirs that are much more focused on the illness stage of the disorder; these books subsequently read like how-to manuals for eating disorders. I was very, very careful not to do that with Believarexic. I never mention specific weights—whether diet "target" weights or maintenance ranges, nor do I discuss tricks for purging or restricting food.

Additionally, I think the in-patient setting is a fascinating world, and add to that: the 1980s! Who doesn't love the 80s?

How do you think eating disorder treatment has changed over the years since you completed treatment?

I am not an expert in current methodologies at all, but I do read about treatment approaches for my own curiosity and interest. From what I gather, a lot has changed, but some things are the same.

In terms of treatment of adolescents, The Maudsley Approach fascinates me. It keeps restrictive-type eating disorder patients at home, and centers care within the family. This is the diametric opposite of my experience of treatment in the late 1980s. At that time, there was a de-facto assumption that patients were dysfunctionally "enmeshed" with our families—especially our mothers. You have to appreciate the irony.

Some things have stayed the same. The emphasis on re-feeding and achieving a healthy weight remains, as does the need for individual and family therapy, good nutrition education, and healthy coping strategies.

Music plays such a key role in this book. Was music a type of therapy for you?

I wouldn't say that music was therapy for me, but it was important. There's a scene with Nurse Chuck going through my cassette tapes, and that really happened. Songs from that time take me right back, instantly. More generally, I think music is a touchstone during adolescence, more than any other time of life. It was for me, at least.

Nurse Ratched was such a despised character in your book. When you look back on her as an adult, what are your feelings?

Nurse Ratched is a combination of two nurses from the hospital. One was the head of the unit and actively anorexic (she was hospitalized shortly after I left the hospital). The other nurse was a compulsive cleaner who, for whatever reason, just seemed to hate me. We rubbed each other the wrong way, to put it mildly.

Looking back as an adult, I know both these women were human and struggling with their own issues. I hope they got the help they needed. But the thing about a psychiatric hospital is that there is a massive, and crucial, power differential between staff and patients. In my experience, staff can, and sometimes did, use that power to make patients miserable.

What what do you know? The thing about being a writer is that there is a massive power differential between a writer and her characters. I get to vilify as much as I want. But you already know the difference. A novel is not a real psychiatric hospital. It's make-believe. No actual humans were mistreated in the writing of this novel.

Do you still struggle with your eating disorder?

I call myself 99 percent recovered from bulimarexia—and believarexia.  At times, I still struggle with body image, but my actual disorder is in healthy remission. I have had relapses, though.

I had an acute, but short, relapse my senior year of high school, and another longer relapse when I entered motherhood at age thirty. That one was a doozie. About a year after giving birth, I started purging for the first time in more than a decade. It wasn't every day; the eating disorder had morphed from the violent, intense monster of my teen years into a chronically nagging, niggling critic. It persisted for nearly five years. What made it worse was how entirely unprepared I was for a relapse. I'd thought I was completely done with disordered eating. I wish someone could have warned me. I was disappointed in myself, depressed, and deeply ashamed.

I'm pleased—and relieved—to say I'm in good health again, after a few ugly wake-up calls. One of those nasty calls was a messed up esophagus. Due to accumulated years of purging and mistreatment, I now live with strictures and valve issues; sometimes food gets stuck on the way down, and sometimes it even comes right back up. And not because I want it to anymore.

Another change in perspective came as a result of two fluke accidents resulting in concussions. Ensuing post-concussion syndrome left me weak, confused, and debilitated for many months. It brought into start relief the absolute blessing that good health is.

Are you involved in eating disorder causes?

Not formally. For many years, I spoke in high schools, colleges, and with EDU patients about my recovery. In graduate school (where I studied adolescent risk and prevention), I reached out to and learned from some amazing leaders in eating disordered treatment, and subsequently did some work with teens around the issue. And I continually address eating disorder awareness and body honesty in my books, interviews, and public appearances.

What are  your keys to recovery?

A shift in perspective, a supportive safety net of family and friends, a commitment to good health, and no more secrets: these were the foundations on which I re-built my recovery. There's so much more to life than whether my tummy is flabby. My tummy is flabby. It always will be. But you know what else? My heart is full, my brain is functioning, my soul is solid, and my smile still works great.

What is your advice for readers who might be struggling with similar disorders?

PLEASE GET HELP. If your eating is disordered enough to interfere with the enjoyment of your life, or affecting your relationships, then your eating is disordered enough to need help. The end. Full stop. No arguments.

Recovery is possible. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

Say something to someone. Write a note. Send an email. Make a phone call. Don't stop reaching out until you get the help you need.

Take that leap of faith. Trust that you'll grow wings when you do.

I'll be right here cheering for you.  

Believarexic is now available to buy! Check out more information about Believarexic here, and more about JJ Johnson on her website. Don't miss our New Book Wednesday post about Believarexic on October 14!