Interview: Kim Ventrella


First off, Kim, thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate the release of Bone Hollow and to chat about the book. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thanks! I’m so excited to be here. First off, can I just say that the whole MG Book Village crew is totally amazing! Second, a little about me. I’m a lover of weird, whimsical stories of all kinds. And dogs! My dog is definitely my best friend! 🙂 I’ve held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but my favorite job title is author. My first book, Skeleton Tree, came out in 2017, and I’m super excited for the release of Bone Hollow!

Okay, on to the book – Bone Hollow. Can you tell us a little about it? 

As you can probably tell from the titles, Skeleton Tree and Bone Hollow share a similar aesthetic. They are set in the same world, but Bone Hollow is actually a stand-alone novel featuring a brand-new set of characters.

In Bone Hollow, readers will meet 12-year-old Gabe and his dog, Ollie. Gabe does his best to please his guardian, Miss Cleo, even if she does prefer her prize-winning chickens to him or his dog. When Miss Cleo’s favorite chicken gets stuck on the roof during a storm, Gabe knows he has no choice but to rescue it. It’s either that, or get kicked out of Miss Cleo’s house for good.

He climbs up, despite the wind, and the rain and the angry clouds that are just about screaming, Tornado!

Next thing Gabe knows, he’s falling.

He wakes up in a room full of tearful neighbors. It’s almost as if they think he’s dead. But Gabe’s not dead. He feels fine! So why do they insist on holding a funeral? And why does everyone scream in terror when Gabe shows up for his own candlelight vigil?

Scared and bewildered, Gabe flees with Ollie, the only creature who doesn’t tremble at the sight of him. When a mysterious girl named Wynne offers to let Gabe stay at her cozy house in a misty clearing, he gratefully accepts. Yet Wynne disappears from Bone Hollow for long stretches of time, and when a suspicious Gabe follows her, he makes a mind-blowing discovery. Wynne is Death and has been for over a century. Even more shocking . . . she’s convinced that Gabe is destined to replace her.

Your books tend to have spooky elements—all these bones and skeletons. Would you describe your books as scary?

I love, love scary stories! But I like to think of Skeleton Tree and Bone Hollow as spooky, rather than scary. They certainly have macabre elements, but they fit much more in the arena of magical realism or contemporary fantasy than horror. I love to sprinkle a little spookiness into heartfelt, sometimes sad, stories that focus on characters going through difficult times, but ultimately coming out with a renewed sense of hope in the end.

I do have a scary story coming out though, yay! Jonathan Maberry is editing a reboot of the Scary Stories franchise, called New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (set to release in 2020), and I am super excited to have a very scary short story in that collection called ‘Jingle Jangle.’

You helped launch Spooky Middle Grade, a “ghoulish group of middle grade authors that believe spooky books can be read all year long.” How did that all come about?

It was a dark and stormy night. Thirteen strangers arrived at a haunted mansion… Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite so dramatic. Basically, I stumbled upon a Facebook ‘support’ group that had just been created for spooky MG authors. I joined, we started talking, we all got really excited about spreading the joy of spooky stories, and the rest is history. My favorite part of the group is that we’ve found a meaningful way to connect with students through our free Skype visits, and I feel like we’re having a positive impact and hopefully inspiring a whole new generation of spooky writers.

Can you tell us about the multiple-person Skype visits the Spooky MG crew offers, and also how interested educators and librarians can set one up?

Absolutely! I have teamed up with, at last count, thirteen spooky middle grade authors to offer free Skype Q&As to schools across the country. We have done over fifty since November! The response has been tremendous. Each Skype visit features four spooky authors, and we answer students’ burning questions about writing, publishing, our pets. You name it. Bonus feature: if your students have leftover questions, we’ll answer those in a video on our new YouTube channel. To sign up for your free Skype (or Google Hangout), head over to


Speaking of librarians – before you became a full-time writer, you were a children’s service manager for a public library system, right? Did that work inform or influence your work as an author in any way?

I was! I have been a children’s and/or teen librarian for most of the past ten years (when I wasn’t in the Peace Corps 🙂 ). My favorite part of being a librarian was actually leading programs for young people, because I got to do everything from science experiments, to Doctor Who parties, to Minecraft Club and on and on. It was the perfect outlet for my artsy side, and, of course, I also had the pleasure of connecting young people to great books. In terms of informing my work, being a librarian definitely helped me build a strong knowledge of children’s literature, and it also gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what gets kids excited about reading.

Before I let you go, let’s get back to the new book, and to a few of the questions I try to ask all our guests. What do you hope your readers – in particular the young ones – take away from Bone Hollow?

Mostly, I hope they enjoy traveling along with Gabe and Ollie as they enter the mysterious world of Bone Hollow. On a more serious note, I’m always wanting readers to come away with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death. Like with Skeleton Tree, I’ve tried to create an engaging fantasy world filled with humor, whimsy and many light touches, but I’m also wanting to explore darker topics to show that there can be light and beauty there as well. Loss is one of those things that even very young children encounter, often with the loss of a pet or grandparent, and one of my goals is to help young readers develop a framework for processing their feelings surrounding death that acknowledges the sadness, but also opens the door to hope.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add Bone Hollow to their classroom libraries?

I strive to always make myself available to teachers and librarians in any way I can. I love connecting with students and, if you have an idea for a way that we can collaborate, please, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

Readers can visit my website:




One final thing: to celebrate my book birthday, I’m having a BIG giveaway for teachers and librarians! To enter to win a classroom set of Skeleton Tree and 5 copies of Bone Hollow, head over to my Twitter account!

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IMG_4560.jpgKIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.


Magical Realism in Middle Grade


Magical realism is a flourishing sub-genre of middle grade literature, but what does it mean, how is it different from standard fantasy and why is it so appealing to young readers and not-so-young authors alike? My first introduction to magical realism came in college when I became enamored with the works of Congolese author Sony Lab’ou Tansi; although, at the time, I wrote a paper outlining how his brand of magical storytelling differed from the classic magical realism tradition of Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Nowadays, my thoughts on the subject are not quite so lofty.

Middle grade authors have developed their own version of magical realism, which, of course, varies just as much as previous iterations. Today I’m going to share my specific understanding of the sub-genre and how I have used everyday magic as a tool to develop my characters’ emotional journeys.

First, a definition. I like to define magical realism in middle grade as a story that takes place in an everyday setting with just a hint of magic. However, we need to take the definition a few steps farther to really understand magical realism, especially if we want to differentiate it from contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy, which are also fantasy stories that take place in everyday settings. One of the key differences here is that with contemporary or urban fantasy, the fantasy element is generally a force that characters must strive to overcome. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer; the beasties are primarily there to drive the plot forward and give Buffy landmarks on her hero’s journey.

In magical realism, the fantasy element serves a different purpose. It is generally there in order to spark or highlight an emotional change in the main character. Think of the magic as a spiritual guide, leading the character on a journey of self-discovery. The magical element is often symbolic of a larger idea. For a concrete example, let’s take a look at my first book, Skeleton Tree.


In Skeleton Tree, the main character, Stanly, discovers a finger bone in his backyard. He hopes to dig up the bones and photograph them in order to win a contest, but the bones have other ideas. They start to grow, first into a bony hand reaching up into the sky, and then into a full-sized skeleton that only children and a few special adults can see. The only person who doesn’t find the skeleton creepy is Stanly’s little sister, Miren. She wants to be best friends with the skeleton, that she names Princy, but when she starts to get sick more often than usual, Stanly worries that maybe the skeleton isn’t as friendly as Miren thinks.

Spoiler alert:  as you probably guessed, Princy represents Death in the story. As Stanly’s relationship with Princy changes and grows throughout the course of the book, so does Stanly’s understanding of Death. By the end, he realizes that, “maybe death [isn’t] all worms and nothingness. Maybe, sometimes, there [is] mystery and whimsy and dancing shadow puppets, too. The kind that [need] both light and dark to be seen” (154-155 Skeleton Tree). The magic serves the purpose of guiding both the character and the reader on an emotional journey that might be more difficult to conceptualize without a physical manifestation of a complex topic, in this case Princy as the physical manifestation of Death.


This is one of the reasons why I think magical realism works so well in middle grade. Not only can it give young readers a concrete way to visualize and understand fuzzy existential topics, but, using light magic, often with a big dose of whimsy, is also a great way to ease readers into a conversation about dark or difficult topics, like death in Skeleton Tree or homelessness in Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw.

Another characteristic that differentiates magical realism from contemporary or urban fantasy is that authors of magical realism usually make no attempt to explain the magic. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, we learn an entire mythology surrounding slayers and demons that, while still fantastical, explains the world in a way that viewers and characters in the show are willing to accept. On the other hand, in magical realism, the author makes little or no attempt to explain, because it’s not about developing a larger fantasy world or a plausible system of magic, it’s about taking the character on a specific emotional journey. Once the journey is over, the magic often disappears or goes away until it is needed by a future character looking to undertake a similar emotional journey.

Hopefully this article has given you a greater understanding of magical realism in middle grade literature and has inspired you to go out and read, or even write, some magical middle grade in 2019.



Kim Ventrella is the author of the middle grade novels SKELETON TREE and BONE HOLLOW (coming 2/26/2019). Her short story, ‘Jingle Jangle,’ will appear in the NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology releasing in 2020. Her works tackle tough topics with big doses of whimsy, hope and, of course, magic.