Tag Archives: short stories

Guest Post: On Writing Short, Scary Stories for Children

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I love the world of children’s literature. Over the years I have written picture books, activity books, middle grade, YA, biographies, and nonfiction. My favourite genre is scary short stories for middle grade and YA. Picture book author, Mem Fox, once said, “Writing for children is like writing War and Peace in haiku.” I think that’s hilarious but true. A short story obliges the writer to develop characters and plot concisely, while still telling a tale that is fun to read.

When writing a scary story I’m careful to choose a theme that young readers can relate to, and to frame it from a child’s point of view. I usually begin by sketching out the plot beginning to end. Rules can always be bent, but in general, a short story has the typical structure of any work of fiction including the opening, conflict, rising action, climax and resolution, all in about 2500 words or less. The first step is to get everything on paper. The next step is to craft it.

Author Kurt Vonnegut suggested that a short story should begin as close to the end as possible. That’s good advice. A long, drawn out opening won’t hook a reader. The first line should immediately invite the child to enter the world in which the story takes place. Because economy of words is a plus, my goal is to use the most effective language to create the tone and mood quickly. In most scary tales the setting is a character in itself, but I try to find ways to show it without lengthy description.

Each sentence should move the action forward or reveal something about the characters. Still, short doesn’t mean simplistic. It’s essential to give the character a good reason to go into the creepy basement or sneak out to the amusement park at night! If his or her behaviour isn’t believable then the story won’t ring true. For young readers, the main character should succeed or not based on their own choices and decisions. No fair having someone or something else rescue them at the last moment.

Finally, good writing is rewriting so the last stage of crafting a short story is editing. This is the time to be certain that every sentence serves a purpose and every word is as precise as possible to deliver the spooky thrills and chills the reader is anticipating!


 

About the Author: Q.L. Pearce is the author of over 150 books for children, including YA and Middle Grade fiction and non-fiction. She specialises in scary stories, which is evident in her hit series Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Carter G. Woodson gold medal and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. Her multi-award winning book, Red Bird Sings received praise from Publisher’s Weekly, the School Library Journal, and the Library Media Connection.

 

Find out more about Q.L. on her

 

New Reviewers – Basil and Coco (and L)

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My ten year old daughter loves to read. She often supplies me with her opinions on books and suggests books for me to read. Over the last year or so, she has also become more interested in reviewing books. Rather than write her reviews up on the blog, we are trying video reviews. She’s a little shy though, so her reviews will be expressed through Coco Cat and Basil Bear.

We had a lot of fun making these videos! L is keen to make more, and is already working on her next review.

Have a look at our first two videos on YouTube, Introducing Basil and Coco and Basil and Coco Review Mudpuddle Farm.

More videos to come!

D is for Dudley & Other Nature Tales by Ron Chandler

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dudleycoverD is for Dudley & Other Nature Tales by Ron Chandler, paperback, 74 pages, published in 2015.

D is for Dudley & Other Nature Tales is a collection of short stories, mostly about animals and the environment.

The first couple of stories in the book were too short and lacked substance. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the book, but I continued hoping to find that the other stories were better. There wasn’t one I liked much until about half way through the book, with the title story, “D is for Dudley”. It was a little unbelievable, I would definitely be suspicious if my kids volunteered to do the washing!, but I liked the theme. Striving to protect the environment and animals it contains, is quite noble, and these kids do their best to save the extremely large terrapin from hunters within the bay.

The best story in this collection was by far “Chicken Feathers”. It is the story of a young girl who grooms a rooster for the county fair. She is competing against her much older and more experienced neighbour. Despite her young age, she believes in her ability to win, and even when her rooster is looking scraggly, she doesn’t lose heart, she tries even harder to get him in shape. This is a lovely lesson showing that determination and persistence are often rewarded. The only downside to this tale is a slight undertone of racism.

It states in the blurb on the back of the book that the stories “celebrate nature”, but these stories don’t so much do that as they do showcase humanity’s depravities. Throughout the book there were people behaving badly. There were alcoholic parents, bickering couples, dog fighters, hunters, and animal abusers. I found most of the stories to be very depressing and often distasteful. One story made an offhand comment about a twelve year old girl skipping meals to stay skinny. This is not only awful and inappropriate, it also had no relevance to the story. In another tale a boy looked a girl over from her toes to her shoulders in an appreciative way. Again, this was an unnecessary addition to the story, and it’s quite sexist, it’s as if she had no face. There are also girls being told that they will want to dress up and go to balls, instead of doing “tomboy” things. I found there to be a sexist vibe throughout the book, which was disappointing. I also felt that hunting for sport, which is something I’m opposed to, was condoned as a suitable activity for kids.

This book is aimed at kids aged 8 to 12, but I really can’t recommend it to anyone. Even aside from the sexism throughout the book, most of the stories weren’t particularly good. They all lacked description and depth, and sometimes even a clear direction. Since I was expecting a book full of the gloriousness that is nature, I found this to be very disappointing indeed.

 

*I received this book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Willakaville: Baffling Ballads of Boisterous Braveness by Bald Guy (Mathew Heinecke)

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willakavilleBWillakaville: Baffling Ballads of Boisterous Braveness by Bald Guy (Mathew Heinecke), short stories, 124 pages, published in 2015.

Be chased by quicksand in Mexico, go on a quest in Snobbleland or eat candy in the sewer in this odd, yet funny collection of short stories. This is the second book of stories from Willakaville, where the weird and wacky happen often.

Overall I did enjoy this collection, the stranger the story, the better it was. There were gentle lessons through these stories, such as an anti-bullying message and believing in yourself. While all of the stories are unique and imaginative, there were a couple that stood out for me. “Souper Duper” was about a boy who gains superpowers by eating soup, and battles a supervillain, The Mad Milker. He used special milk from his cow as a weapon, which made me laugh. Another story saw a small girl go adventuring with a friendly snow monster that she created. This one really captured the imaginative ability of children. The exploration of the caves in Mexico was very exciting, and somewhat Indiana Jones-esque. I’d like to see more adventures like that in the future books.

The poems in this collection were good. There is one about scary things in the night, and another about making a big sandwich. These simple and fun poems are great for getting kids interested in poetry.

There were some spelling and syntax errors, nothing serious though. Except, in the middle of “Robot Insects”, when the main character Jerry is suddenly referred to as Jimmy for a few paragraphs.

These self-contained and easy to read stories are suitable for lower to middle primary school children. However, anyone can enjoy the humour of these stories. A third volume will be available from Willakaville soon.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett

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IMG_4945 (1)Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett, paperback collection of short stories, 339 pages, published by Corgi in 2015.

This is a delightful collection of short stories written by Terry Pratchett when he was a young man working as a journalist.

I read Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories with my eight year old daughter. She has marveled at my complete collection of Discworld novels, and wondered why I like them so much, so I thought it was time she discovered Pratchett too. This was a good book to get her started, and we enjoyed reading it together.

My favourite story was “Dok the Caveman”. Dok was a caveman inventor, always inventing something new, and often creating havoc with his new invention, but I loved his enthusiasm. It was a very funny story! My daughter liked the tales of the Carpet People, with their adventures among the fibres of the Rug.

Most of the stories were funny, with insights into the kinds of stories that Pratchett would produce later, but these really are his early work, when he was developing his style and perfecting his tale-telling abilities. I far prefer the Discworld novels, but Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a nice, easy to read kids book. My daughter would like to try some other Pratchett now, which makes me very happy!

There are black and white illustrations throughout the book which to me looked like the work of Quentin Blake, who illustrated Roald Dahl’s books. I was mistaken in this belief though, the illustrator is actually Mark Beech, he just has a very similar style, I guess. None the less, I liked the illustrations, and thought that they complemented the stories very well.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is suitable for primary school children and up. Many adult Pratchett fans will enjoy it too, just try not to compare it to the Discworld novels!

 

 

Willakaville: Amazing Adventures of Astronomical Awesomeness by Mathew Heinecke

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Willaka_frontcoverWillakaville: Amazing Adventures of Astronomical Awesomeness by Mathew Heinecke, e-book, 166 pages, published through CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in 2015.

Willakaville is a fictional town where many strange things occur. This is the first collection of short stories from Willakaville. Adventure, time travel, a Tomatozilla, banana men, giant squirrels, even a toilet paper thief, it’s all happening in Willakaville.

Some of the stories are long and some are short, but all are rather odd! Many of them made me laugh, but there were a couple that I found a bit boring. Some of the stories are just ridiculous, and those were the ones that I liked the best. It was very hard to pick a favourite story, though I’m leaning towards the one about the magic mayonnaise that had a very interesting effect on all those that ate it! There were plenty of lessons being learnt throughout the book too, such as not to be lazy or play too many computer games. Most of the stories feature different characters from Willakaville, but there is some overlap. The main characters of each story arepredominantly children.

The book also contained a few poems. I’ve found it hard to get my kids interested in poetry books, so this is a nice way to slip a few poems in without them really noticing! ‘Wish from a Fish’ and ‘This is a Cat…’ were both funny rhyming poems, which I enjoyed.

With it’s simple language, self-contained and easy to read stories, this book is suitable for lower to middle primary school children. Teenagers and adults can still enjoy the humour of these short stories, but I think kids will like it best. There is a second volume of Willakaville short stories available now, and hopefully more to come soon.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Quirky Tails by Paul Jennings

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IMG_2805Quirky Tails by Paul Jennings, paperback collection of short stories, 102 pages, published by Penguin Books Australia in 1987.

Quirky Tails is a short story collection from Paul Jennings, an author that I read and re-read as a child. Now the time has come to introduce this amazing author to my eldest daughter.

Quirky Tails is a collection of nine odd tales, all of which will entertain, amuse and surprise the reader. Each story within the collection can be read alone, but I found it hard to stop at just one! The stories are strange with a good twist at the end. Some are very funny and some are a bit spooky, but I liked them all.

Suitable for middle and upper primary school children through to early high school students, this book can be read again and again.