The best books for young readers that treat the supernatural with a clever sense of humor

Who am I?

I'd like to claim that my expertise in these matters stems from the fact that I am a supernatural entity—and a funny one at that. But my origin’s more mundane; when I was growing up on a corn & soybean farm miles outside of a rural village, I became a voracious reader. I was always intrigued by writers who could explore a world outside the bounds of reality and do it with style. Over the years, I’ve been a short-order cook, a corn detasseler, a summer camp counselor, a college professor, and a middle-grade author, and I’ve learned that you can find a little magic anywhere if you look hard enough.

I wrote...

Maybe There Are Witches

By Jude Atwood,

Book cover of Maybe There Are Witches

What is my book about?

After moving to the tiny village of Biskopskulla, middle school student Clara Hutchins discovers that one of her ancestors was hanged there as a witch in the 1800s. When she finds an ancient diary, Clara is even able to read the rambling thoughts of her long-dead relative. But when the book’s predictions about Clara’s own life start coming true, she wonders if those 19th-century villagers had a point: maybe her great-great-great-grandmother really did have unearthly abilities.

Now, Clara and two of the weirdest boys in school must decipher the messages of a murdered witch to prevent a deadly catastrophe. But as they quest through historic cemeteries, backcountry libraries, and high-octane scholastic bowl tournaments, something sinister is lurking, watching, and waiting…

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The books I picked & why

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Why did I love this book?

A charming, thrilling story about a boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by the spectral inhabitants there, this book initially seems to be a series of short stories about Nobody “Bod” Owens, but as it progresses it resonates with all the elements of an epic coming-of-age tale.

Witty British humor is peppered throughout; at one point, Bod is abducted by ghouls with names like “the Duke of Westminster,” “the 33rd President of the United States,” and “the writer Victor Hugo.”

Even when writing for middle-graders, Gaiman trusts his reader. There’s an art in not spelling everything out, in letting some questions go unanswered while dropping clues about the bigger picture, and Gaiman handles these choices like a master magician.

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Graveyard Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

Book cover of The Thief Knot: A Greenglass House Story

Why did I love this book?

In this standalone addition to the Greenglass House series, Kate Milford has built a world of cozy and adventurous specificity.

It’s set mostly in the Liberty of Gammerbund, a walled municipality within the city of Nagspeake, a New England-ish coastal community populated by lots of former smugglers and pirates. Marzana and her friend Nialla learn that a girl from a neighboring school has been kidnapped, and they believe she sent a coded message using a book from a series they read obsessively. Marzana puts together a group of plucky kids (including one ghost) to solve the crime.

The setting is so lovingly created—with secret passages, architecture that modifies itself, and a magical, perpetually vacant “Glass Museum and Radioactive Teashop”—discerning readers will savor every minute of the mystery.

By Kate Milford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thief Knot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana's parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she's been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills - including the ghost of a ship captain's daughter - and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are - and where they're…

Figgs & Phantoms

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of Figgs & Phantoms

Why did I love this book?

I loved Ellen Raskin’s much-lauded The Westing Game when I was nine years old, but I never got around to reading her 1974 middle-grade book Figgs & Phantoms, until recently. It’s a weird and whimsical story about family and grief with a magical realist touch.

Once a month, Mona Lisa Newton stands on the shoulders of her diminutive Uncle Florence Figg and dons a cloak to form the “Figg-Newton giant” so they can reach the rare not-for-sale books on the top shelf of a local bookstore. Their family has its own private mythology, including a version of heaven called Capri, and when a death occurs, Mona is determined to follow the clues and find it.

The text and illustrations manifest Raskin’s wry sense of humor, though some of the book’s mature themes might be too much for younger readers.

By Ellen Raskin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Figgs & Phantoms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Newbery Award-winning author of THE WESTING GAME, more clever riddles and wordplay, clues to be found, and mysteries to be solved!

A Newbery Honor book

The Amazing Dancing Figgs!
While Mona hates all the attention her eccentric relatives bring to her in town, there is one Figg family member she likes: her Uncle Florence, the book dealer. But Uncle Florence keeps hinting that he's going to find his way to Capri, the Figg family heaven. And that means leaving Mona behind. Can Mona find Capri before it's too late, or will she learn that things are seldom what…

Book cover of Freddie vs. the Family Curse

Why did I love this book?

Twelve-year-old Freddie Ruiz believes he is the victim of a multi-generational family curse: whenever the pressure’s on, he’s likely to stumble, fall, or embarrass himself.

When he finds an old amulet in the garage, he unwittingly releases the ghost of his great-granduncle, and now the curse gets worse: Freddie has just seven days to reverse it if he wants to survive!

A winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, this book also makes powerful references to Filipino history that help ground the fantasy events in the real world. It’s full of nice moments—I giggled when I saw that Chapter 13 was crossed out (“too unlucky!”) and replaced with Chapter 14—and there’s great warmth in the scenes between Freddie and his various family members.

By Tracy Badua,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freddie vs. the Family Curse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


In this thrilling and hilarious middle grade adventure, a young Filipino-American boy must team up with his ancestor to break the curse that's haunted their family for generations . . . or be trapped in an amulet forever.

Freddie Ruiz is cursed.

While other people may have bad days, Freddie and his family have had bad generations: from bird poop splatting on him during picture day to the many tumbles and trips that earned him the nickname Faceplant Freddie. He's learned to lay low and keep himself out of trouble-which means:


Camp Midnight

By Steven T. Seagle, Jason Adam Katzenstein (artist),

Book cover of Camp Midnight

Why did I love this book?

In this graphic novel, Skye is a girl who would rather go with her mom to Rwanda than attend the summer camp her dad and stepmom have selected.

She’s determined not to have fun, even after (or especially after) she realizes she got on the wrong bus and is now at a camp for kids who reveal their “true” monster selves only when it’s safe to do so. But even when Skye is in way over her head, she never lets up on the snark.

Seagle’s dialogue keeps the lessons and serious stuff from sounding trite by framing it all in a steady stream of sarcasm and unexpected cultural references. Katzenstein’s art is filled with clever visual gags. (At one point, as Skye is faking tears, she’s holding an Oscar statuette.)

By Steven T. Seagle, Jason Adam Katzenstein (artist),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Camp Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ben 10 and Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle returns to comics with New Yorker Magazine cartoonist Jason Adam Katzenstein for a new graphic novel!

Reluctant Skye is accidentally sent to the wrong summer camp. Not wanting to please her "step monster," Skye is dead-set on not fitting in. That won't be a problem, as everyone at Camp Midnight-with the exception of fellow camper and fast-friend Mia-is a full-fledged monster! The perfect book for fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile, but wish it had more bowls of gooey eyeballs.

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