Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards by Susan Tan

Hello! Happy, happy Saturday! I am honored and THRILLED to welcome back Dr. Susan Tan to Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards. We discussed Cornelia Li, Mallory Grigg, Bruce Springsteen, Mo, Uncle Ray, elephants, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and Dr. Susan Tan wrote the words in black. Congratulations!

Cornelia Li’s cover illustration and Mallory Grigg’s cover design for Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards blows my mind any time I look at it! I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful cover – I think it captures the feel of the book so well. I especially love Maudie (the ghost elephant), and how prominently she features on the cover.

Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards tell the story of twelve year old Mo, a middle schooler, who has to move in with her great-uncle Ray in a small town, along with her mom and younger sister, after a family upheaval. Mo struggles with anxiety, and takes it upon herself to keep her family safe from all dangers (hence her fear of toasters, and any appliance that could start a household fire). However, when Mo discovers that her yard is haunted by the ghost of an 100-year-old-circus elephant, she has to open herself to new friends, new adventures (and possibly brave a few dangers) to figure out the ghostly mystery playing out in her great-uncle’s backyard. Ghosts, Toast, and Other Hazards is also a very personal book (the ghost part aside), and I was able to channel a lot of my own experiences with anxiety into the book in a way I feel proud of. It also features one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, Mo’s Great-Uncle Ray, who is a self-described “aging Chinese hippy,” and based on several of my own family members!

Elephants are amazing! Seriously I learned so much about elephants writing this book. They’re matriarchal, and a group of female elephants will live together their whole lives – so grandmother, mother, daughter, all together. Writing Maudie the elephant, the ghost who Mo believes haunts her yard, was so much fun, and allowed me to think a lot about how care and love can be communicated without words.

There is a lot of music in this book! Through her Great-Uncle Ray, Mo is introduced to rock n’ roll, with many bands and artists (including my own favorite, Bruce Springsteen). Putting a music element in this book was so much fun, and I of course am making a playlist!

John Schu, you should have asked me if I danced around my office to loud music while I wrote this book. The answer is yes. It was amazing, and helped me through many writing blocks.

Susan Tan has lived many places, but calls Concord, Massachusetts, home. She is the author of the APALA winning Cilla Lee-Jenkins series. She grew up in a mixed-race family, and always dreamed of being a writer. After studying at Williams College, she earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where she studied children’s literature. She currently lives in Somerville, enjoys frequent trips to Chinatown to eat tzuck sang, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

From APALA Honor award-winning author Susan Tan, a middle-grade novel about a girl who must overcome her worries to find the truth behind her town’s urban legend.

Moving to a new town isn’t easy, but it’s even harder when you’re dealing with a stepdad who just left and a mom who can’t get out of bed long enough to find a new job. But Mo doesn’t have time to dwell on these things. Because it’s her job to keep her family together. To keep them safe.

So when an elephant starts to haunt her dreams—and a mysterious spirit begins attacking her home—Mo knows it’s up to her to intervene before things get too dangerous.

Along with her new friend Nathaniel, she embarks on an investigation for the truth about the town, its people, and their history. But things are much more complicated and tangled than she could’ve thought. To find out what’s really going on, Mo might have to live a little dangerously after all.

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