Anyone with a penchant for books with big scares and interesting monsters: beware. HarperCollins imprint Balzer + Bray is launching Tales from Cabin 23, a new middle grade horror series created by authors Justina Ireland and Hanna Alkaf.

The series kicks off on May 14 with The Boo Hag Flex, written by Ireland, followed by Alkaf’s Night of the Living Head in August. With a throughline of the traditional camp setting, each book will be written by a different BIPOC writer. First announced here, books three and four will be written by authors Yamile Saied Méndez and Darcie Little Badger.

Tales from Cabin 23 was inspired by both authors’ desire to see more horror stories that center marginalized communities and are accessible for readers. The canon of horror is changing, and the creators want the genre’s youngest readers to feel included, too. “We’re in a time where it feels like our kids deserve more.” Alkaf told PW. “We really wanted [to create] a series that’s accessible, that’s fun for them to read, and has the thrills and scares that they’re looking for. But it’s also coming from somewhere new that kids might not have heard of—or somewhere that kids have heard of all their lives and have never seen reflected in the books that they’re reading,” she said.

A Not So Scary Start

Ireland and Alkaf’s friendship began online, during “the beautiful time when Twitter was useful and helpful and people could collaborate,” Ireland recalls. In 2020, during the Covid lockdown, Alkaf sent a tweet outlining exactly what she wanted: “a Rick Riordan Presents style series, but for middle grade horror where every book would be by a different diverse author.” Ireland spotted Alkaf’s tweet and was immediately onboard. The two were unknowing mutual fans: Ireland was an admirer of Alkaf’s middle grade work and Alkaf was stunned Ireland knew who she was. Together they began brainstorming how to bring their concept to life. With Ireland working from the U.S. and Alkaf in Malaysia, the pair learned to give one another grace while individual deadlines loomed and learned the ropes of pitching a series.

“It was a bigger undertaking than I think either of us had really anticipated,” Alkaf said. “I've never had experience trying to make something like this happen. So it was a lot more back and forth than we thought.”

After spending time working on pitch packets and coordinating with agents, the pair brought the concept to Ireland’s editor at HarperCollins, Jordan Brown, who immediately thought the collaboration made perfect sense. “These were two authors who we’d had experience publishing and whose skill and interests we knew pretty well,” Brown said. “It felt natural, Hanna and Justina getting together and conceiving a smart, sharp, middle grade horror anthology series that felt big and interesting and also nuanced.”

The series will highlight marginalized writers and showcase how culture can introduce readers to new or unique scares. Ireland’s series starter features the interesting dynamics of the trailer park setting and Alkaf’s Night of the Head features a headless Malaysian beast.

“We have to embrace readers from all across cultures,” Ireland said. “We have to show each other that at the end of the day we can all be terrified of the unknown.”

In working on a collaborative series, Ireland and Alkaf wanted writers who could carry on their vision. The list of potential authors felt like a small one; Ireland noted that the pool of middle grade authors of color was sparse. But the pair were eager to find more writers who “might be a cool addition to this little family we’re building,” Alkaf said.

Yamile Saied Méndez will write the third series installment, titled The Visitors, scheduled for release in summer 2025. The fourth book, The Sinking House, will be written by Darcie Little Badger and will follow in summer 2026.

“It [makes the series] more collaborative and interesting, because it allows the writers who were coming on to bring so much of their own stuff to the table,” Brown said. Looking ahead, Méndez and Badger will be spotlighting Argentinian and Native American culture in their stories.

In collaborating on this series, the mission for its creators was clear: to offer a window into horror that readers may have not had before.

“I just want it to continue on as a series for as long as it can,” Ireland said. “I want it to be one of those things that gets kids reading the way that Goosebumps did for us as kids and still does for many kids.”

Alkaf added, “I think people have always been interested in and open to loving horror. It's just that now we’re getting the opportunity to see it in ways that we haven’t seen it before.”

The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23 #1) by Justina Ireland. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $15.99 May 14 ISBN 978-0-06328-782-2

Night of the Living Head (Tales from Cabin 23 #2) by Hanna Alkaf. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $15.99 July 31 ISBN 978-0-06-328394-7