Many people, children and adults, love Halloween. Decorations, costumes, and of course candy make for a fun holiday. But ghost stories can also be a way to get young people interested in history, even if they think they don’t care about the past.
Some ghost stories have historical settings, but many features contemporary characters – except, of course, for the ghost. While a ghost could theoretically arise from a recent death, they are often decades or even centuries old. (In children’s books, this provides some distance from the emotions of death. A hundred-year-old ghost can be a fun fantasy in a way the recent ghost of a loved one would not be.)
In many ghost stories, the ghost is a rather vague presence, perhaps more a series of strange happenings to add mystery and chills. The ghost may be an ordinary person from a few decades prior, and not really bring in any history. Sometimes novels with “ghost” in the title don’t even have real ghosts. However, a few titles have ghosts strongly rooted in history. These spectral figures provide a glimpse of the past, without requiring the reader to be totally immersed in the historical setting.
Here are a few middle grade ghost novels to consider for young readers who like thrills and chills.
The Ghost Wore Gray, book 2 of The Nina Tanleven Mysteries, by Bruce Coville: Nina and her friend Chris meet the ghost of a Confederate soldier. What is he doing hunting a hotel in New York State? A mystery as well as a ghost story, this fun novel touches on both the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.
Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck: While it’s set in 1913, the humor, chills, and spunky heroine will appeal to contemporary readers. Blossom Culp has visions, and here they connect her to the sinking of the Titanic.
The Ghost’s Grave, by Peg Kehret: A summer visiting his aunt in small-town Washington state turns into an exciting adventure when Josh meets the ghost of a coal miner who died in 1903. The mystery is stronger than the historical element, but it's a fun read.
Lady Margaret’s Ghost: A Felicity Mystery (American Girl Mysteries), by Elizabeth McDavid Jones: Set in the 1770s, this mystery will especially appeal to young horse lovers because of scenes of horses and horse racing.
In my Haunted series, thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical modern kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids help investigate a hundred-year-old tragedy in Colorado silver mining country. The Riverboat Phantom puts them on the Mississippi River on an antique riverboat. For The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania travel to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine.
While ghost stories are seldom the most historical of historical fiction, they can be a bridge for young readers who prefer the paranormal to the historical.
What other middle grade ghost stories can you think of that use realistic historical elements?
Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 30+ traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.