Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

Hello, Ally Malinenko! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Ghost Girl has a cover that all you need to do is hold up the book in front of students (virtually or in person) and the waiting list grows by the second.

Let’s pretend you’re in a fifth-grade classroom sharing the cover for the first time. Take the fifth graders on a tour of the cover.

Ally Malinenko: Thanks Mr. Schu! I think one of my favorite things about the cover is seeing Zee and Elijah and Nellie in illustrator Maike Plenzke and designer David DeWitt’s full vivid beautiful color. One of the weird things about being a writer is that these characters live in your head for a long long time and to see them illustrated and brought to life by someone else is just amazing. Also the cover is one of those “pinch me this is really happening” moments of a publishing journey.

The scene that Maike chose is also my favorite part of the book – the most spookiest part when they go into the woods to find a ghost – so I was super excited that was what she chose to illustrate. And I think one of the best parts is what is hidden just above the title. Do you see it?

One of my other favorite parts are the eyes that are drawn onto the trees but I’m not going to tell you who or why they’re there! Just know, they’re watching!

Thank you for that super-duper cover tour! How would you booktalk Ghost Girl to that same group of fifth graders? 

Ally Malinenko: Ghost Girl tells the story of three troubled kids coming together to save their families from a demon masquerading as a savior. 

You see, Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend Elijah believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

A perfect booktalk, Ally!

Please finish the following sentence starters: 

Knobb's Ferry is a small town very much based on where I grew up. I live in Brooklyn now, and while I love New York City, growing up in a small town was amazing. I had my run of the woods, which also factors into this story, and the relationship between Zee and Elijah is very much based on my childhood best friend. I miss the mountains and the stars in the Hudson Valley. But for Zee, Knobb’s Ferry is boring as boring can be. The only cool place is that big old cemetery where she and Elijah go exploring

There were so many amazing parts of this writing journey. Zee, as a character has been bouncing around in my head for a long time. I could just never find the right story for her. A story where she can be loud and strong but also make mistakes and learn from them. Aside from giving Zee a story to live in, I think the other part of this journey that I have enjoyed so much is pulling so many things from my own childhood friendships and dropping those in. It truly made this spooky little ghost story the story of my heart. 

Story is pure magic. Storytelling is bottled empathy. It teaches us who we are, and who we want to be. It reminds us of our better selves. It helps us dream of new worlds and how we mark different stages of our lives. It teaches us to care for each other – and in this current day and age that is a crucial, precious thing. And on a scientific level, your brain is literally wired to hear stories. It is what we crave. People are all connected in this giant web of empathy and stories are our shared language. Stories take us into the experiences of others, shedding light on different cultures and broadening our world view. Honestly, there is nothing that story telling can’t do.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…why a ghost story? I think something that gets left out of a lot of conversation about children’s literature is the fact that they know the world is a scary place. They know scary things can and do happen. The point of writing spooky books is that they acknowledge that fear, shedding light on it in a way that is tangible and can be deconstructed. Spooky books are like a playground where kids can dance with their fears. When kids read spooky books, they get to be the hero. They get to see the monster vanquished. They get to conquer their fear. Ghost Girl is very much a ghost story with all the appropriate thrills but in there, I also touch on real world scary things. Things like bullying and consent. Things like managing when your parent has a mental health condition. I want the kids who don’t have it easy to see themselves here. See that they’re going to be okay. That like the characters in my story, they’re going to win. Spooky books show a way though those feelings and that is important any time of the year, not just at Halloween.

Look for Ghost Girl on August 10, 2021.

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Like Zee, she loves a good ghost story the most. When she’s not telling stories, she’s traveling as much of this world as possible.


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