Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler

Today, I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dori Hillestad Butler, author of the new series The Haunted Library. Read on below, but also check out this great video on Open Road Media. It will give you a sense of the joy that Dori brings to writing for kids.

Kids new to chapter books will have fun with The Haunted Library, with its blend of mystery, humor and kid-powered detective work.

MAS: How did you come up with the idea of a haunted library?

DHB: I just combined two of my favorite things...ghosts and libraries! The idea for the series came while I was writing book 6 in my Buddy Files series. My husband thought I was putting too much emphasis on the ghost in that story and not enough emphasis on the dog. He said, "If you want to write a ghost series, write a ghost series. This one is your dog series. It needs to be more about the dog." He was right. So I streamlined that story a little more and then started on the Haunted Library.

The "Wohleter Mansion" is the house I see in my head when I picture the Haunted Library. This was also a house in my hometown. I LOVED that house as a kid. Not that I was ever inside it. But I used to ride my bike past it all the time just because I liked to look at it. Now it's probably good that I was never inside because I can imagine the inside however I want. I imagine the "library" on the entire first floor. Claire and her family live on the second floor. And the third floor is storage.
The Wohleter Mansion
MAS: That's such a great image -- no wonder it inspired you to write a terrific story! My student Maddy wants to know: “Have you ever been in a haunted library?”

DHB: Not that I know of. But I'd sure like to visit one! Assuming the ghosts are friendly, that is.

MAS: I really enjoy the way you make ghosts friendly. Our teachers want to know: Do you keep a writer's notebook? What do you put in it? They ask their 2nd graders to keep writer's notebooks.
Dori Butler's writer's notebooks

DHB: I do! Several of them, actually. One is really just a journal where I make to-do lists and keep track of progress made on various projects. I also record writing related events/phone calls as they happen. The others are notebooks for each of my projects. I brainstorm ideas in those notebooks.

MAS: Are there any other images that inspired you as you wrote the series?

DHB: Definitely! The "Fairmont School" is the school I saw in my head when I wrote about the "old schoolhouse" where Kaz lived with his ghost family. Except I remember the school looking a lot more rundown! That was the first elementary school in the town I grew up in. But it's clearly been restored, which I think is really cool!
Fairmont School
This is library in my hometown. I worked there all through high school. I loved that job! I loved it so much that I didn't want to go home after the library closed. I used to stay in the library after closing, by myself, and write stories. Until I got caught! You can read more about that here on my agent's blog: http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-haunted-library.html (MAS: It's a wonderful post!)
Dori's hometown library -- her refuge as a young writer
I've always loved libraries. And I've always loved writing in libraries. Much of the first three Haunted Library books were written in the Coralville Public Library (see the picture below) in Coralville, Iowa. I don't live in Iowa anymore...now I live in the Seattle area. But I went back to Coralville to launch this series...at the library! It was the best place to launch this particular series!
Coralville Public Library
MAS: What are some other mysteries you like to recommend for 2nd and 3rd graders?

DHB: Well...my Buddy Files series is also aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders. It's about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries and the books are told from the dog's point of view. There's also David Adler's Cam Jansen series...Encyclopedia Brown...and the Boxcar Children.

MAS: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Dori. It really means a lot to my students to think of real authors work hard at writing stories, just like they do.

DHB: Thank you, Mary Ann! One of the most important things to me is inspiring kids to read.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. An excellent interview. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at the library in Iowa for the launch. What a great idea for a series. Way to go Dori. :)

  2. This new series sounds fun! It's in my cart. I loved The Buddy Files, so I'm glad to hear of it.
    And it's really fun to hear more about Ms. Butler. Love all these images!