Review of "The Griffins of Castle Cary" and interview with author Heather Shumaker
The Griffins of Castle Cary by Heather Shumaker is a delightful ghost story with high stakes for the characters that I love in a middle-grade tale. A trio of American siblings travel to the English countryside to spend a week with their aunt who lives in a small cottage on the grounds of a Mendip Manor and the ruins of Castle Cary—long believed to be haunted. As they explore their temporary home and make some new (rather odd) friends, strange happenings put everyone on edge. The climatic moments of this story are fabulously told! (But I won’t give anything away!)
Kudos to Shumaker for not shying away from the scary parts that keep everyone (even adults) turning the page. I adore the characters in this story from big sister Meg, to middle-sibling Will and younger sister Ariel. They are presented to the reader with such clear description and emotion that I was drawn in from the very start. The adult characters are equally fun. (Personally, I want an Aunt Effie now, too!) This would be a great addition to any middle-grade collection.
ABOUT THE BOOK: A charming, adventure-filled debut novel that’s perfect for fans of The Penderwicks series.
Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin are off on an adventure! They can’t wait to spend a week visiting their eccentric aunt and her giant, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog in England. But when they finally arrive, they’re faced with a few local secrets that stir up more than a little trouble.
Add in some very peculiar lights, strange new friends, a police chase and some stampeding sheep, and the Griffin kids are in over their heads—literally. Apparently, this town has a ghost problem and the three children must race to solve the mystery before the ghosts take something that doesn’t belong to them.
Buy your copy today! All the purchase links can be found HERE.
I’m so pleased to share an interview with Heather Shumaker, the author of The Griffins of Castle Cary. Congratulations on the debut of your first fiction book. I’ve always enjoyed your nonfiction. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey from writing nonfiction to the publication of this beautiful tale? And was the switch to fiction challenging?
I’ve always wanted to write children’s fiction, ever since I was four, so this feels like coming home. I sort of came in the back door to writing novels by starting with adult nonfiction. In retrospect, that’s been helpful since it’s often easier to attract an agent and publisher with nonfiction. I didn’t plan it that way, though. I just wrote the books that wanted to be written. Now those books are children’s Middle Grade fiction!
Switching to fiction was daunting at first. I wanted someone to tell me how to do it, how to get started. But the ultimate teacher is the page. You try things, you try again. You read a lot. I made character sketches and sketched the setting, then I dove into writing chapters. All I really needed in the end was the confidence to get started and excellent critique partners.
Anything set in England is going to get my attention and adding in ghosts is just a plus for me! Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
Oh good! I love England, too. I lived in England for a year as a child and went to school there, plus I’ve always had family to visit in England, particularly this area of Somerset where the book is set. The story idea came to me while I was out cross-country skiing. The story came from a feeling, and the main characters and plot popped into my head all at once – including the ghosts!
I appreciated the sibling relationships of your main characters. (The push-pull of annoyances and affection and the frustration of the tagging-along little sister.) As the youngest in my family, I felt a particular fondness for Ariel. Did your own children or siblings help inspire these characters?
I’m the youngest, too. I’m not sure a particular family inspired them. I wanted to create a family that’s lovable but realistic. I love the “realness” of children in stories like E. Nesbit’s books. She always creates sibling groups that spring to life.
I love the full cover art!
There are some frightening moments in this book and often I find that while kids can handle reading scary scenes (within reason), many books shy away from this. How did you strike the balance of scary but not too scary?
I loved suspense in my adventure books as a kid. Just that bit of thrill—but not too much. To keep it at the right level, I made a point to add humor throughout the book to balance out the spooky. In fact, one of the laugh-out-loud scenes comes near the climax.
I think the scarier parts for adults reading this book are actually dealing with the deep feelings involved in some of the scenes, feelings like grief and loneliness. We want everyone to feel happy all the time. Kids aren’t always happy, and they appreciate reading stories where all feelings are recognized.
Would you be willing to share with readers the different types of jobs you’ve had? I always like to ask authors this, mainly because authors always seem to have had interesting job histories.
This is a fun one! I’ve worked in Antarctica, sailed on tall ships, worked on a llama ranch, burned prairies on a fire crew, and much more. I was a milkmaid on a historic farm one time, that’s where I met a ram named Caesar (who appears in the book).
Ha -- that's so funny that there's a real Caeser out there. You've had some cool jobs.
Your first nonfiction book came out a while ago, but if there’s anything that you wish you could go back and tell your “unpublished” self, what would that be?
Authors are human beings. Being an author is not out of reach. You can be one, too.
What sort of books do you like to read as an adult and what were some of your favorites as a child?
I read stacks of books every week, primarily fiction, and I switch between reading books for adults and Middle Grade fiction. The books waiting to be read spill on to a chair and the floor. My list of favorite children’s books is long, but The Trumpet of the Swan, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and Watership Down are right up there.
Can we look forward to another book from you in the coming months? I would love to read a story with these characters again . . . please tell me we might get to hang out with the Griffins again.
Oh, yes, I hope so. I am already writing two new middle grade books, one a sequel to the Griffins called “The Griffins and the Wild Hunt.”
Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your book(s)?
If you like books that have a sort of charming, wholesome family feel (like The Penderwicks or The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street), and you enjoy a bit of spookiness or magic, (like Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Auxier books), then you’ll probably enjoy the Griffins. I had children test read the book, and they said: “Keep going! Keep going! I was so excited. If there was a sequel, I would read it in a flash! It was gripping and just the right amount of scary.”
Super Six List:
Fav Pizza Topping: Black olives
Book You’re Reading Now: "The Journey of Little Charlie", by Christopher Paul Curtis
Coffee, Tea, or Both: Tea!
Fav Activity as a Child: Camping
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: South Pole, Antarctica
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: Canoe camping in Minnesota or Ontario
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Come visit me at my author website – heathershumaker.com
Thanks so much, Heather!