On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave

3.2 4
by Candace Fleming

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"Positively tailor-made for reading—or reading aloud—by flashlight," declares Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The phenomenally versatile, award-winning author Candace Fleming gives teen and older tween readers ten ghost stories sure to send chills up their spines. Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes


"Positively tailor-made for reading—or reading aloud—by flashlight," declares Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The phenomenally versatile, award-winning author Candace Fleming gives teen and older tween readers ten ghost stories sure to send chills up their spines. Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes place during a different time period from the 1860s to the present, and ends with the narrator's death. Some teens die heroically, others ironically, but all due to supernatural causes. Readers will meet walking corpses and witness demonic posession, all against the backdrop of Chicago's rich history—the Great Depression, the World's Fair, Al Capone and his fellow gangsters.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
That all the stories here are about a death forces certain similarities, but each one is made new by the particularities of its deceased narrator. It made me think about the ways all stories are retold, and how the most successful stories are those that manage to give us that jolt of surprise alongside a resonance of the familiar that echoes all the way down to our bones.
—Holly Black
Publishers Weekly
Dead men may tell no tales, but dead teenagers do. In this clever collection of ghost stories, 16-year-old Mike Kowalski discovers an abandoned cemetery for teenagers where nine 15- to 17-year-old ghosts tell him how they died. The stories span 100-odd years and give a colorful survey of Chicago through the decades and across classes (“Back in those days, Chicago was lousy with funeral homes, what with all them gangsters running around”). Fleming has been rightly praised for her children’s nonfiction (Amelia Lost; The Great and Only Barnum), and underneath this group of chill-inducing tales lays a wealth of detail about Chicago’s historical immigrant communities, criminal underbelly, the 1893 World’s Fair, and more. (Sneaky!) They also span horror subgenres that include campy ’50s science fiction, gothic (“Lily,” starring a lovelorn high school student in 1999, is a faithful homage to “The Monkey’s Paw”), and wry Hitchcockian suspense; Fleming brings plenty of humor, too. The genre-flipping and varied narrative voices prevent any sense of monotony. A welcoming and well-written introduction to many styles of horror. Ages 11–14. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews Best of Children's Books 2012

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2012:
“Light on explicit grue but well endowed with macabre detail and leavening dashes of humor.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2012:
“A welcoming and well-written introduction to many styles of horror.”

Kirkus Reviews
Nine creepy tales told by dead teens and positively tailor-made for reading--or reading aloud--by flashlight. Fleming uses a version of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" as a frame story and draws inspiration from several classic horror shorts, monster movies and actual locales and incidents. Within this frame, she sends a teenager into a remote cemetery where ghostly young people regale him with the ghastly circumstances of their demises. These range from being sucked into a magical mirror to being partially eaten by a mutant rubber ducky, from being brained by a falling stone gargoyle at an abandoned asylum to drowning in a car driven by a demonic hood ornament. Tasty elements include a malign monkey's paw purchased at a flea market, a spider crawling out of a corpse's mouth and a crazed florist who collects the heads of famous gangsters. Amid these, the author tucks in period details, offers one story written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe ("As I pondered the wallpaper, its patterns seemed to crawl deep inside me, revealing dark secrets… No!") and caps the collection with perceptive comments on her themes and sources. Light on explicit grue but well endowed with macabre detail and leavening dashes of humor. (Horror/short stories. 10-13)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—On a foggy Chicago night, Mike Kowalski finds himself in a forgotten graveyard dedicated to teenagers whose lives were cut short. Thinking he's going to die, he soon learns that the ghostly specters closing in on him only want to tell him how they met their demises. So begins this collection of stories, each ghost stepping up to relay his or her journey from life to death. According to the author's notes, some of the stories are loosely based on old tales, like W. W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw," while others are original creations. Some are realistic and tragic, while others are steeped in fantasy and colorful embellishment. Fleming's writing style is effective as she switches from character to character, volleying from the 1800s to the present, giving each ghost its own unique voice in its own historically accurate setting. However, the execution is unsuccessful. As Mike listens to each story, he is utterly uninvolved. Each one ends repetitively with the next ghost stepping up basically saying, "You think that's bad; Just listen to my story!" trying to top the previous tale. This gets monotonous, and since Mike is so passive, readers begin to lose focus about the point of the stories. The book ends with Mike driving home late at night, having supposedly learned a big life lesson. The problem is, knowing virtually nothing about him, who's to say he needed to learn a lesson anyway? This collection feels empty; it's unfortunate that some of the more interesting tales, like Evelyn's story of living in her twin's shadow during the time of the Chicago World's Fair, weren't more fully fleshed out, with some substance and depth.—Lauren Newman, Northern Burlington County Regional Middle School, Columbus, NJ

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)
720L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


It was after midnight, and Mike Kowalski was driving fast—too fast—down County Line Road. He glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned.

He was late.


His phone rang. It didn’t take ESP to know it was his mother. “She probably wants to get a jump start on her griping,” Mike muttered to himself.

Earlier that evening, she’d told him to be in by midnight “or else.”

“Midnight?” Mike had complained. “But I’m a junior!”

His mother had rolled her eyes. “After the stunt you pulled this week, you’re lucky to be allowed out at all, so I’ll reiterate—midnight, or else.”

Mike didn’t even want to think about what “or else” meant.

Ignoring the call, he mashed down the accelerator. Maybe if he was only a little late . . .

That was when the girl appeared in his headlights.

One minute there was nothing but country road flanked by the thick woods of the Cook County Forest Preserve, with its one-lane bridge over Salt Creek just ahead; the next minute there she was, stumbling down the center line.

Mike slammed on the brakes. The tires squealed as the car skidded.

But the girl never flinched. Eyes wide, unblinking even in the glare of the headlights, she raised her hands palms up, pleading . . . but for what?

Mike stuck his head out the driver’s-side window. The girl’s skin glowed marble white, and her long, dark hair, soaked, lay plastered against her skull. Her simple cotton dress was wet, too. Mike saw water dripping from the hem. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m cold.” Her voice was a whisper. “I need a ride home.”

Mike glanced at the clock again and grimaced. He’d rather have a root canal than experience the torture his mother was sure to have in store for him. Then again, what difference would a few more minutes make? He was already in trouble. Besides, he couldn’t leave her out here alone, could he? He leaned across the front seat and opened the passenger door. “Climb in.”

Wordlessly, the girl settled into the seat, and the car filled with the smell of lavender and wet leaves. Mike watched as she slipped off her shoes—a pair of old-fashioned black-and-white saddle shoes—and neatly laid them side by side on the floor of the car. “They’re brand-new,” she said. Then she folded her hands in her lap and waited.

“Where to?” asked Mike. The girl’s strange behavior was beginning to freak him out a little. Was she sick, or suffering from a concussion, or amnesia, or something? “Do you need a doctor?”

She pointed behind them.

Mike turned the car around, driving more slowly this time. “What’s your name?”

She looked straight ahead. “Carol Anne.”

“I’m Mike. Mike Kowalski.” Eyes still on the road, he extended his right hand.

She didn’t acknowledge the introduction, didn’t even look at him.

Mike drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, curiosity getting the best of him. “So, what happened back there?”

She let several long minutes pass before answering. “I was canoeing. On Hawthorn Lake.”

“After midnight? In October?”

She acted as if she hadn’t heard his question. “My canoe tipped. I couldn’t right it, and it was a long way to shore, too far to swim. All I could do was cling to the side and pray someone would find me. No one did.”

“So how’d you finally get to shore?”

She looked at him then, and in the green glow of the dashboard she appeared even paler, her skin almost translucent in its whiteness. “The current carried me in,” she answered, her voice sounding colder than the October lake. “I was in the water for a long, long time.”

Mike swallowed hard. “That’s awful.”

“Yes,” she said. Then she pointed. “Turn here.”

Mike made a left onto a narrow gravel road. The car bumped along for a few miles, tree branches scratching at its paint, rocks skittering beneath its tires. It never ceased to amaze him how rural some parts of the Chicago area could be. It was like cruising through the Wisconsin wilderness or someplace.

His phone rang again.

He ignored it.

They drove deeper and deeper into the woods.

“Here,” said Carol Anne at last. “Stop here.”

Mike braked. In the darkness, his headlights picked out a mailbox. It read MORRISSEY. Beside it he could just make out the start of a dirt driveway.

“Is this where you live? Is that your last name? Morrissey?”

“I’ll get out here,” said the girl. She opened the passenger door.

“But why?” argued Mike. “It’s dark. Let me drive you down to your house, make sure you get in all right.”

“You know my story now,” she said, climbing from the car. “But it’s not the only one. There are many of us.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Mike.

But she had already vanished.

“Carol Anne?” he called into the darkness. “Hey, Carol Anne?”

No one answered.

Reluctantly, he headed for home.

He was already back on County Line Road when he noticed her shoes—that perfect pair of saddle shoes—sitting in a puddle on the floor mat.

Impulsively, he turned the car around and raced back toward the narrow gravel road and the even narrower dirt driveway with the mailbox marked MORRISSEY.

He found himself in front of a tired-looking farmhouse with a sagging front porch and peeling paint. In his headlights, long shadows from the surrounding trees gripped the colorless house. Every window was a dark hole, the family obviously asleep.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews Best of Children's Books 2012

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2012:
“Light on explicit grue but well endowed with macabre detail and leavening dashes of humor.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2012:
“A welcoming and well-written introduction to many styles of horror.”

Meet the Author

CANDACE FLEMING's recent nonfiction includes Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart; The Great and Only Barnum, a Washington Post Best Book and finalist for the ALA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults; and The Lincolns, winner of a Boston Globe­-Horn Book Award. She is also the author of The Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, and The Fabled Fourth Graders..., a Bank Street Best Book of the Year. Her picture books include Imogene's Last Stand, a New York Public Library Pick for Reading and Sharing; and Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, an ALA Notable Book. Learn more about the author and her upcoming titles at candacefleming.com.

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On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
sassykitts More than 1 year ago
Not at all what I expected... rambling, boring, could not get myself to finish it. Don't waste your money, even for kids.
BooksFirst More than 1 year ago
Fleming did an exceptional job creating intriguing characters and placing them within authentic historical settings. Her allusions to well-known stories (The Yellow Wallpaper, The Monkey's Paw, Romeo and Juliet, and others) add to the depth and impact of the writing. While each story is set in a separate place and time, Fleming skillfully connected them for a fascinating journey steeped in horror, humor, and history.
Falln2books More than 1 year ago
This book was a little too young for my tastes. That being said, the writing is phenomenal, and I really enjoyed the Chicago history incorporated in On the Day I Died. The main reason this book called to me on NetGalley is because it featured Chicago as a backdrop. I really enjoyed the idea of the short stories being linked together. It reminded me of those "scary" books I used to read when I was in junior high. That's one of the reasons I didn't give this book a higher rating, though. I felt like it was supposed to be scary, but it wasn't. The story begins with a present-day ghost story, and the stories that follow are all being told from various victims of death. They all died in different ways and in different time periods. I also liked how Fleming included a bit about the Urban Legends she pulled from in the end. This collection of stories is rich and well-rounded, to say the least. My favorite story was the depression era story. I love that time period in Chicago. Overall, I'd recommend this book to children ages 11-14. It reads for a younger audience than the YA that I'm used to. It may scare the kids a bit, but who doesn't love a good scare at that age? The stories are definitely suspenseful, and I think that if I wasn't as old as I am, then they would have scared me a bit. Nothing too horrifying, just some good clean, scary fun. If you have a kid who enjoys the tween scary stories, like I did when I was growing up, then they are sure to love this book!
Amabe421 More than 1 year ago
*rated 3.5 on blog. This was a great collection of stories of how each of these characters died. I liked how it was set up though. It wasn't like a typical anthology would be with just having the short stories in it. The short stories are being told to Mike who stumbles into this cemetery due to an event that happens. Each ghost is telling the story of the day that they died. After each story we are brought back to the present where Mike and some of the ghosts say a few things about the story they just heard before the next ghost tells their story. All of these ghosts died when they were teenagers, all around Mikes age. They all need to tell their stories. I am not going to go into each one, I will just give you an idea of what each story is about. The book starts off with Mike, who is the narrator. He is on his way home, but something unexpected happens which brings him to the graveyard. It is there that the stories begin. We first get to hear Gina's story, she was fifteen when she died. This was a story about a psycho kid really. The next story is about Johnnie, who insists that he got revenge and revenge got him. He was sixteen when he died. He lived during The Depression. He was a trouble maker, and in the end he feels like he got what he deserved. We move onto Scott after that who was seventeen when he died. His is a creepy ghost story from an insane asylum. Then David tells his story. He was fifteen when he died. This was a pretty crazy story to be quite honest. Evelyn, who was sixteen when she died is up next. Her story is about her and her twin sister who she absolutely hated. Lily's story is one about love and loss. Also evil magic. She was seventeen when she died. Rich was sixteen when he died. His is a story of evil possession. Edgars story is a bit odd, but creepy. He died when he was seventeen. And then there was Tracy who died when she was fifteen. This girl had a pretty rough life and it gets much more rough and scary weird on the day she dies. So I know that all of that didn't really tell you much. What is really cool is that each of the stories have some actual history behind them from the time period that it is from. At the end of the book the author so nicely puts each person and where their story came from. I really love how she details each story. It's interesting to get to know some of the real history of the events and the places. It seems like she really looked into the time periods to get the settings, fashions, and decorations correct. You can really imagine these characters in the specific time they are supposed to be from. This was a fast and entertaining read. The stories had magic, love, revenge, evil, and ghosts. They were all such different and creative stories about how these teenagers lives ended. In the end they need someone to listen to them tell it. Evey one of them needs their death tale heard. This was very well written and you really feel like you are listening to each of these people tell you how they died. (There will be an audiobook version of it which I would love to listen to.) There is plenty of creepiness and action in this book, and it doesn't read like an anthology. The stories are within a story and it works really well. It's almost like a bunch of teenagers hanging out with each other telling ghost stories. If you like ghost stories this is a fun book. It's not scary, but some of it is a bit on the creepy and weird side. It was just a mindless read, which you really need sometimes.