The Ghost on the Hill by Grace Maccarone, 1990.
This is the last book in the Third Grade Ghosthunters series.
The kids take another field trip, this time to a state park. Native Americans used to live on that land, but most of the tribe died from disease many years ago. There are stories about spirits that live in the hills and the forest. Young boys from the tribe used to perform a ritual where they would dance with the Great Spirit in order to become men.
The third graders have been studying Native American history and customs to prepare for the field trip. Norma wrote a report about Native American names, which tended to describe some significant characteristic of the person. Their teacher tells the students that they should think of names for themselves which describe something significant about themselves. Most of the kids think it sounds like a fun idea, but Joey doesn’t. He’s just one kid in a family with a dozen other kids, and he’s never felt like there was anything particularly special about him. That’s why he makes up tall tales about himself that all the other kids find weird and annoying.
When they reach the state park, Dennis Ten Foot Bridge, who is the last of his tribe, tells the students about his tribe, teaches them wilderness skills, and leads them in group activities. One evening, Joey goes out to practice some rowing on the lake by himself, and he sees what looks like a large ghost at the top of a hill However, everyone knows that Joey lies about a lot of things, so at first, no one believes him. At least, no one except Adam.
Adam agrees to help Joey investigate the mysterious spirit. Eventually, all of the members of the ghosthunting group decide to go up on the hill together to see the ghost for themselves. There, Joey finds the courage to face the spirit directly, and everyone sees the truth. Together, Joey and his friends end up repeating the ancient coming-of-age ritual that the tribe that used to live there would perform.
The solution to the mystery is a little strange, but the book is great for the characters alone. This final book in the Third Grade Ghosthunters series is a coming-of-age story. The other books in the series addressed personal issues and personality quirks in the characters as side-plots, such worrying about not being as smart others, worries about making and keeping friends, and the trouble with teasing. This one focuses on Joey and his sense of identity. He’s always felt that there is nothing special about him compared to his brothers and sisters. In this story, he develops his own character more and gains new confidence. In the process, he ends up becoming more comfortable with his role as a kid in a family with many children as well as appreciating his own uniqueness. He also finds a name for himself that expresses his new sense of identity.