Guest Post: What Scares Martha Mihalick

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Martha Mihalick, editor at Greenwillow Books

What scares me? Well, to be frank, a lot of things. I’m kind of a wimp. I don’t even watch many horror movies anymore because I freak myself out.

But I’ve always loved a good, creepy, chilling ghost story. The kind that makes the back of your neck prickle in that deliciously scary way. And I went through quite a ghost story phase back when I was around ten years old. Bruce Coville’s The Ghost in the Third Row, the many Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Haunting with Louisa trilogy (did anyone else ever read those?) and, of course, almost everything Mary Downing Hahn ever wrote. And the book that is the scariest of all—I’m talking from childhood through now—is Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Till Helen Comes.

I checked this book out of the library so many times that my name practically filled up the check-out card. I couldn’t get enough of the perfect scariness of it. It’s about a ghost. And it’s about a family—one with a creepy stepsister who always gets her way and blames everything on the older girl. So not only are we dealing with a ghost who scrawls on walls, who wants to drown young girls in a pond, but a main character who no one believes because they are all on the younger girl’s side. Knowing that something is true, that something bad is looming, and not being able to do anything about it: that’s even scarier than simply seeing a ghost.

I reread it a few years ago after maybe 15 years away from it. And let me tell you, it still gives me the creeps.

Martha isn’t the only one who’s scared by Wait Till Helen Comes! Check out what author Kiersten White said about the book in her guest blog.

Martha Mihalick is an editor at Greenwillow Books. In her nearly ten years at Greenwillow, she has worked with many acclaimed authors and artists, including Kevin Henkes, Lynne Rae Perkins, Megan Whalen Turner, Peter Sis, and Naomi Shihab Nye. She edits books spanning all age ranges, from picture books to edgy teen novels. Some recent books she has edited include Entwined by Heather Dixon, Nightspell by Leah Cypess, A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford, and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

Visit Martha at

Follow @MarthaMihalick on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

20 responses to “Guest Post: What Scares Martha Mihalick”

  1. Oooh, the part about no one believing the girl scares me the most. That’s the worst feeling as a kid, when adults don’t believe you and i love when children’s books play into that feeling. That’s what I love about the Lemony Snicket books…


  2. We loved the Scary Stories series when I was in middle school. We used to take them on field trips- especially the ones that went into dark- and read them aloud on the back of the bus. Unfortunately, there was always that one kid, not really part of the group, who would get too scared and go crying to the teachers. It happened so many times we weren’t allowed to bring the books with us anymore.



  3. Oh my goodness. I don’t do horror as a general rule because I don’t enjoy being scared (and I am a huge, huge scaredy cat) but I read Wait Til Helen Comes a few times as a kid and it freaked me out. I actually remember the twist about the two moms more than any individual pieces of the book, and the whole thing sure didn’t help with my borderline irrational fear of fire.

    Side note: Bruce Coville is definitely my favorite MG author and honestly one of my favorite authors of all time. He was a HUGE influence on me as a reader (and later as a writer). I probably read The Ghost in the Third Row about 15 times as a kid, though it didn’t really spook me. Neither did The Ghost Wore Gray — but when I reread it a few years ago, it actually made me cry. I think it has one of the best endings of any book I’ve ever read. (Then there was The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed, which I didn’t read until I was an adult, and I figured hey, a MG book probably wouldn’t scare me. WRONG. The last book in that series is TERRIFYING.)

    Aaaand now I will stop babbling in Nova’s comments.


  4. I can’t believe I haven’t read this book yet. I bought it for my then-8-year-old, and she STILL talks about it two years later. “I couldn’t read it at night because I got too freaked out, but it was super good!”


  5. That is really scary – the thought that no one believes you. I think that would make a person crazy very quickly. Especially when you’re a kid and feel like adults don’t ever take you seriously!


  6. This was seriously my favorite ghost story from about . . . oh, I don’t even know how old I was when I first found it, but I was still rereading it in high school. It’s been a long time, and I’m sort of afraid to read it again now as an adult. Maybe I’ll get it for my nine-year-old . . . I wonder if I can find the old cover at a used book store or something.


  7. I should read this. I don’t remember reading when I was younger. There was a ghost named Helen who haunted my college campus.


  8. I read this one years ago, but I don’t remember it too much… I will have to fix that. But I agree, knowing something is wrong and no one believing you, and maybe even questioning your own sanity, is one of the things that does freak me out.


  9. I read ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES by Hahn…I can see how her books could scare the bejeebers out of a kid. Unfortunately, I read THE EXORCIST when I was 12…my mom was very blase about what I read when I was a kid…and seriously, I was NEVER the same. The movie didn’t come close to what I’d imagined. (My palms are sorta sweating as I type this. 😉


  10. I am always the last person to know something so I feel awkward posting this information here. But if the news fits.. ah… share it. WAIT TILL HELEN COMES– the movie– is in production right now and scheduled for a 2012 release. Jennifer Love Hewitt is the director of the film. I learned this tidbit somewhere, sometime on Huffington Post. I made a rather snarky comment about Hewitt, who, I admit is not a favorite actress because of something snarky SHE did to a friend of mine in a hotel elevator. In response, a Huff Post poster called me Bitter WriterRoss. Nice.

    Sticks and stones may freak out my bones but names will never scare me. 😉

    What scares me: rodents. Real life or the fictional kind. (At least my fears are consistent.)

    Happy Helen-ween!

    -Pamela Ross


  11. I’ve actually never read this, but I love scary ghost stories. I’m a little obsessed with paranormal television and YA…. And isn’t it so fun to revisit the books we found terrifying in our childhood? I always found Christopher Pike’s thrillers especially creepy! This post makes me want to dive into them again this Halloween weekend.


  12. I haven’t read Wait Till Helen Comes yet, but I’ve read and loved other books by the author, so I really need to. Ghost stories scare me the most, because they’re the ones that seem the most real.


  13. The stories where you know something is there and it can hurt you or others and not being able to do anything about it always completely frustrate me. It gets to the point where you want to help them, but obviously you can’t because you’re not a character in the book. Frustrating.


  14. I never met a Mary Downing Hahn book I didn’t like–when I was teaching 5th grade we did an author study/literature circle unit using her books. We had four or five copies of 5 or 6 different titles, and there was a book to please every kid in the class–seriously, they all found a book that they liked!


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