Trick or Treat with Rachel Kolar!
Welcome to #SeasonsOfKidLit, humans, geese, and ghosts, too! Do you remember all your favorite Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes? Rachel Kolar does, and she's added a unique and spooky twist to them. You're in for a quite a treat as she's here today with her spook-filled book, Mother Ghost, Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters (illustrated by Roland Garrigue). Her book is sure to fill you with both laughter and terror, too! Want to know more about Rachel and all the fun and frightening rhymes she's spun? Read on...
Q: Hi, Rachel. Thank you for joining #SeasonsOfKidLit! I’m excited to have you and talk about your spooky picture book: Mother Ghost, Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters. Your book is filled with fun and is perfect for spooky season! Can you share a little about yourself and about your love for horror writing?
A: Absolutely! When I was a kid, I loved all things spooky–reading Goosebumps, watching Are You Afraid of the Dark, going to stores at Halloween and trying on the scariest masks, anything that gave me the shivers. I know the 90s cliche was that kids came to bookstores and read the comic books without buying them, but I would always come and read books of ghost stories! Since I’m so into reading and watching horror, it only makes sense that creepy stuff would capture my writer imagination; if I asked myself what the story was in any situation, I would usually answer myself with “a monster, of course.” In first grade, I wrote my very first story about a Casper-like friendly ghost from a family of scary ghosts, and when I finally had a story published twenty years later, it was reimagining a dying mall near my apartment as a secret feeding ground for vampires. To quote Stephen King, “I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that’s all.”
Q: What gave you the idea to turn the well-known Mother Goose Rhymes into a fun and frightening read for kids?
A: When my oldest son was two or three, he was obsessed with Mother Goose. We had the edition with Scott Gustafson’s gorgeous illustrations, and every day, he would beg us to read it cover to cover and then run around yelling “Butcher! Baker! Maker!” He also loved Halloween as much as I do, so when October rolled around, I started making up silly Halloween versions of the rhymes to make him laugh–I think “Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary” was the first. It was just a fun way for us to play together, but my husband suggested that I try to get them published. I was taken aback because I had always thought of myself as an adult writer, but these poems were such a joy to write–and I’ve always loved rhyming! It seemed logical to write an unlucky thirteen of them, so I tinkered with a few favorite nursery rhymes to see which ones lent themselves to the spooky treatment. I am absolutely over the witchy full moon that I could combine my love of Halloween, silly rhymes, and making kids laugh into a single book.
Q: What are some of Mother Goose's Rhymes that you wrote with a terrifyingly fun twist?
A: It was really interesting to see which rhymes worked well for a Mother Ghost rewrite and which didn’t. My goal with each of these wasn’t just to replace well-known nursery rhyme characters with ghouls and goblins, but also to put some kind of mischievous Halloween spin on the entire rhyme. In “Mary Had a Little Ghost,” she doesn’t just have a ghost rather than a lamb; instead of making the children laugh and play, her ghost makes scream and run away. Wee Willie Werewolf makes sure the monsters are tucked away at sunrise rather than at eight o’clock. And as for Zombie Miss Muffet . . . well, I don’t want to spoil what she does with that spider, but it’s always my favorite part at school and library visits!
A few of them ended up on the cutting room floor because they just didn’t have that twist. I couldn’t believe how fast I was blazing through my new version of “The Queen of Hearts” before realizing that it was because I hadn’t done anything but replace “hearts” and “tarts” with “ghosts” and “toast.” I never did come up with any kind of quirky thing for the king of ghosts to do to the knave for stealing toast, so that wasn’t one of the thirteen. I’m so happy with the ones that worked, though.
Q: What makes Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters the perfect read for spooky season?
A: My biggest goal was to write something that would be spooky for Halloween-loving kids without genuinely scaring them. We’re a family that loves the macabre–our Halloween decorations are lavish enough that some of the neighborhood kids dare each other to get close to them–but I know that not every kid is as into scares as mine are. When these rhymes were just for my son and me, there were references to the monsters doing scary things; there was a line about the vampire version of Little Boy Blue drinking blood, for instance. But I knew that other kids might not be the fun kind of scared if they thought the monsters might hurt them, so I made sure that they have a playful Halloween aesthetic but don’t actually do anything mean. When my amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, asked me if I had a specific vision for my illustrations, I said that I wanted them to be spooky without being scary, and Roland Garrigue absolutely knocked it out of the park in that regard. This is an offbeat, eerie, Halloweeny read that might give your kids the shivers, but shouldn’t make them sleep with a nightlight afterwards.
Q: Now, for a super serious question: what's your favorite monster of all and why?
A: I. Love. Vampires. I always have and always will. One of my first forays into horror was the Classic Chillers edition of Dracula, and I read Nancy Garden’s My Sister, the Vampire every Halloween with almost religious devotion. (Sadly, Garden’s book is out of print–it’s different from Sienna Mercer’s series of the same name.) The thing that simultaneously draws me to vampires and scares the pants off me is how alluring they are. Very few people want to get turned into a ghost or eaten by a zombie, but a common theme in vampire fiction is that part of the victim wants what the vampire is selling. Adult fiction usually puts an R-rated angle on that, but in My Sister, the Vampire there was the idea that one boy kind of wanted to become a vampire deep down because then he would be the fastest, strongest athlete in the world, and his sister kind of wanted it because she could use those animal control powers to summon strange and beautiful pets. That idea of a monster that makes you want to be its victim and then become a monster yourself . . . that grabbed my brain and never let go. Brr!
Thanks for joining us, Rachel! We're simply dying to read your book! bwahahaha! (Cue the spooky music.)
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
A: I’d like to leave a trick. If you’re writing a rhyming picture book, everything should sound as natural as it would if it were written in prose. Rhyming is easy to do but hard to do well–it took me two or three years to get all of the Mother Ghost rhymes exactly the way I wanted them–and one of the most common problems I see, even in published books, is authors using weird sentence construction or word choices in order to make a rhyme fit. Read your book aloud (after all, parents will have to do that every night!). Does anything sound forced or unnatural? No one says, “they shine in space, beyond us far” even if it does give you a rhyme with “star,” and if you haven’t used slang for the rest of the book, it’ll sound wrong to use “bro” as a rhyme for “glow.” If something sounds forced and you can’t come up with anything good to replace it, try rewriting the line that it rhymes with. Can you rework it so “glow” is in the center of the line instead of at the end so you get another rhyme word: “the candlelight glows soft and gold” instead of “the candles cast their golden glow?” Can you use a thesaurus: “shine,” “gleam,” or “light” rather than “glow?” When you’re done, your book should sound like it’s from a bizarre alternate universe where everyone speaks in rhyme but still uses natural word choice and sentence structure.
Thanks so much for the spook-tastic trick! Everyone, please leave a comment below to thank Rachel for stopping by.
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About Rachel Kolar:
Rachel Kolar is the author of Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters, as well as several science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories for adults. A graduate of Kenyon College, Rachel lives with her husband and children in the Baltimore/Washington area. When not writing, she enjoys hiking, playing overly complicated board games, and getting far too excited about Halloween.
For more about Rachel, check out the below links:
Website: Rachel Kolar | Dark Speculative Fiction for All Ages
To purchase Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters, or to leave a review, click here!