Disney Publishing Worldwide has evolved from movie- and TV-related spinoff books to valuable, high-quality fiction.

These new books will appeal to middle-schoolers with a thirst for adventure. Also on slate are two books fraught with topical issues and emotion.

Tales From the Haunted Mansion: Volume 1, The Fearsome Foursome

By Amicus Arcane; Disney Press; 225 pages; $14.99

After grim, grinning ghosts come out to socialize, 8- to 12-year-olds will be thrilled to realize there’s a way to make the popular Disneyland Park attraction come to life. The Tales From the Haunted Mansion series, designed to look old and dusty like the books came from the mansion library, tells the story of each of the 999 ghosts of the mansion.

The Fearsome Foursome is first, with eerie, black-and-white illustrations and a delightfully sing-songy, but spooky writing style.

Told in the voice of mansion librarian and “Ghost Host”​ Amicus Arcane, the bone-chilling book introduces four kids who try to out-scare one another with frightening fictions of their own. Also intriguing are the ties to the ride — are those pictures really stretching? And what are the lyrics heard in each Doom Buggy?

This is a supercool book that makes reading really, really fun, Disney’s creepy volume is nearly — but not quite as much — fun as the ride itself.

For Magnus Chase: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds

By Rick Riordan; Disney/Hyperion; 176 pages; $9.99

Subtitled “Your Introduction to Deities, Mythical Beings & Fantastic Creatures,”​ For Magnus Chase: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds is an official Rick Riordan Companion Book is an easy-to-understand guide to the mythical beings, creatures, and gods and goddesses of the nine Norse worlds.

Kids who are interested in fantasy and mythology — and especially Riordan novels — will learn the differences between Valkyries, Sleipnir, Surt and Fenrir Wolf and all the other gods, goddesses and mythical beings of the hidden worlds.

Riordan’s most recent novel is The Hidden Oracle, the story of a Greek god sent to Earth to live as a mortal teen. But The Hotel Valhalla Guide brings readers enlightenment and entertainment, and is a primer for all things dwarf and elfish.

Serafina and the Twisted Staff

By Robert Beatty; Disney/Hyperion; 370 pages; $17.99

Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a homage to nature set near North Carolina’s real Biltmore Estate, and the sequel to the popular children’s novel, Serafina and the Black Cloak. It is genius, for sure.

Author Robert Beatty spins an amazingly adventurous follow-up to his New York Times best-seller. We learn what happens to Serafina after she defeats the man in the black cloak. She now visits her mother daily in the forest near the Biltmore, but finds herself too wild for the formally dressed women there and too human to fully join her wolf kin.

With someone wreaking havoc on the estate, Serafina finds the evil infecting the Biltmore and discovers it could seriously damage the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Written with magic, breathtaking beauty, this story about the all too human struggle between two selves is an enthralling tale for middle-schoolers that’s Disney-worthy and reiterates the importance of respecting nature and history.

The Bone Sparrow

By Zana Fraillon; Disney/Hyperion; 228 pages; $16.99

Perhaps the most important book of this column — and of this year — is The Bone SparrowZana Fraillon’s thoughtful tale of a refugee boy is heartbreaking, but beautiful; sad, yet hopeful.

While Subhi, born in an Australian permanent-detention center, listens to the faraway whales and the stories of the birds, his imagination grows and grows. One night, he sees a scruffy girl on the other side of the wire mesh, who appears with a notebook full of her mother’s love songs and tragedies. The pair finds close friendship and comfort in these tales, and through their relationship, they may find freedom.

A kind, gorgeously penned look at a societal woe that breaks hearts, but not love, The Bone Sparrow is also a profound look at the power of friendship.


By Ami Polonsky; Disney/Hyperion; 244 pages; $16.99

Another important tale from Disney, Threads is inspired by real-life. It’s the story of an American girl who finds a note written by a Chinese girl who was forced to work in a factory in Beijing.

Ami Polonsky brings the story to a middle-school level, as 12-year-old Clara finds this desperate note in a purse at Bellman’s department store. It reads, “To whom it may concern: Please, we need help!”​ written by 13-year-old Yuming, who is losing hope.

The lives of these two girls intersect. This story about loss, hope and recovery is absorbing and thrilling, and should empower kids to act when they sense injustice. It’s also a very timely reminder of what children in some other parts of the world have to endure.

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.