The House in Hiding

The House in Hiding by Elinor Lyon, 1950.

This is the first book in the Ian and Sovra series, which takes place in Scotland.

Ian and Sovra Kennedy are brother and sister, and they live by the sea in western Scotland. Their father is the doctor in their small town. One day, after Ian and Sovra have been asking their dad to rent a boat for them so they can explore some of the islands just off the coast where they live, their father tells them that he has bought a boat for them. It’s just a small boat for rowing, but it’s theirs, and it gives them the freedom to explore that they want. There is one island in particular that they want to explore, the one they call Castle Island. Its real name is Eilean Glas, which means “Gray Island”, but they like to call it Castle Island because there’s a square-shaped rock in the middle of the island that looks somewhat like a castle. However, their visit to this particular island has to wait for the end of the book because other events intervene to distract them.

When the children come back from trying out their boat for the first time, they hear their parents arguing about how to accommodate some house guests. Their father’s fishing friend wants to come for a visit. He was going to rent rooms in town for himself, his wife, and their daughter, but the innkeeper has had a stroke and can’t handle guests right now. So, Dr. Kennedy has offered to host the family, but the Kennedy house isn’t very big. If the guests use the children’s rooms, Ian and Sovra will have to camp out in the bothy, which is an old hut in back of the house. Ian and Sovra sometimes camp there anyway for fun, but it does get damp when it rains. Mrs. Kennedy doesn’t like the idea of the children sleeping there if the weather gets bad, but the children think that it sounds like fun and tell their mother that they’ll be fine and that they want to do it.

Dr. Kennedy’s friend is named Tom Paget. Dr. Kennedy doesn’t like Mrs. Paget, although it isn’t completely clear why. All he says about her is that she likes to wear a cloak and paint with water colors, which doesn’t sound very objectionable by itself. (I was actually a little irritated at Dr. Kennedy because he makes repeated comments about how much he doesn’t like Mrs. Paget without offering any more information than that. If she’s just a little eccentric in her style of dress and likes art, so what? I found the parts in the book where they get nitpicky and really down on her irritating.) Their daughter Ann is about the same age as Ian, and because Dr. Kennedy hasn’t yet met her, he’s not sure what she’s like until the family arrives, although he makes a point of saying, to his children, directly, that he hopes Ann isn’t like her mother. (Nope, no further information about why, and Dr. Kennedy sounds rather rude.) Dr. Kennedy’s comments about Ann and her mother leave Ian and Sovra feeling unenthusiastic about their guests, so they plan to spend most of their visit staying out of their way and possibly avoiding Ann, too, if she turns out to be like whatever her mother is like. (Way to go, Dr. Kennedy. Let’s start this whole experience off on a bad foot with everyone primed to hate your house guests, shall we?) Ian thinks that their whole camping outside the house experience would be even more fun if they were further from the house, so they won’t have to deal with the guests poking their noses into the bothy to see where they’re staying or worrying about whether Ann will want to join them because that would be bad for vague reasons.

Ian and Sovra start camping out in the bothy before the guests actually arrive to get things in order. However, they accidentally set fire to the bothy during an accident with their camp fire. With the bothy burned, where are Ian and Sovra going to camp out while the guests use their rooms? Their parents won’t let them have a tent because it won’t be dry enough if it rains. Fortunately, an important discovery that Ian and Sovra make turn this misfortune into an adventure.

While their parents worry about finding them another place to stay during their guests’ visit, the kids go exploring further in their boat. Their boat gets caught in a whirlpool and is drawn around the back of a waterfall, where they find a hidden cave. More importantly, someone else discovered this cave a long time ago. There are stone steps carved into the rock and a metal ring set into the wall for tying up boats, showing the children that this is an intentional landing spot. When they go up the stone steps, they discover an old, abandoned cottage hidden in a green hollow. (They call it a shieling.) The old cottage is in remarkably good condition for being abandoned for a long time, and Ian thinks that if they clean it up, it would be the perfect place for the two of them to stay during the guests’ visit. Sovra thinks that their parents aren’t likely to agree because the cottage is too far from their own house and rather isolated, and the landing place behind the waterfall is too dangerous. However, Ian is sure that there’s a better landing place somewhere else, if they approach from another side. Upon further exploration, the kids find a collection of cottages that were once a tiny village, older than the shieling they found and abandoned for a long time. The little abandoned village does have a landing place, and they decide that was probably how the people who once lived in the shieling got to where they built their home. They have to be careful, though, because the area is surrounded by a bog that might contain quicksand, and they’re not sure how to get across or around the bog. In the end, they decide that the waterfall entrance is actually the best way to reach the shieling, and they learn to navigate the currents around the waterfall safely.

The children’s father finally gives them permission to camp out in the old shieling, although their mother still has misgivings because the parents aren’t completely clear on exactly where the children will be camping and haven’t seen it yet themselves. The children describe the shieling to their father and tell him that it’s over near Lochhead, another town nearby. Dr. Kennedy is satisfied from their description that the house will be safe to camp in and says that they can communicate with them daily by sending them a message by the postal van from Lochhead, and if they need anything, the parents will send it to them by the same van the next day. Their mother is still uneasy, but since their father is convinced that it will be fine, she finally agrees to let them go. Ian and Sovra are thrilled at having this secret house all to themselves, but Ian says that they will need to keep it a secret and be careful not to leave signs that they’re there, just in case someone still owns the old house and doesn’t want them there, even if they’re not using the house themselves right now.

The children’s discovery and use the shieling is not only the beginning of this story but also the rest of the series. The children’s secret hiding place not only provides them with a secret place of their own but also leads them to some important discoveries about their own family and other people. This book in particular focuses on the missing chieftain of the Gunn clan, who has been presumed dead, but it takes awhile for that mystery to enter the story.

While Ian and Sovra are enjoying their freedom in their secret house, the Pagets arrive with their daughter, Ann. Mrs. Paget turns out to be a somewhat eccentric woman, sometimes overly enthusiastic about little things, raving about them with some cutesy talk. She often elaborates her daughter’s name from Ann (which is what it really is) to the longer Annabel or Annabella (neither of which is her actual name) and referring to the absent Ian and Sovra as the “dear little children.” (Yeah, it’s kind of an annoying cutesiness, but I still think that Dr. Kennedy shouldn’t have been maligning her before she arrived.) Mrs. Paget isn’t just a hobby painter; she has actual shows of her work and has been successful at selling her paintings. When she arrives, she tells the Kennedys that she wants to find the best places in the area to paint, and she’s particularly interested in things like old castles, old bridges, and waterfalls. (I think you can see where this is going.) The Kennedys mention that there are abandoned villages in the area.

Mrs. Paget thinks that sounds exciting and asks about the history of these villages. The Kennedys say that they don’t know the full story behind them, but Donald, the old man they bought the boat from, might know. They think that the people who used to live there probably moved to the bigger cities to find work or something. (This is something that actually did happen to small villages in Scotland in real life. If you’d like to know more about the circumstances and see pictures, I suggest looking at Hirta Island. Although it looks like a pretty spot, living conditions there were harsh, and after a young woman died there who might have been saved if she had lived near a city with a hospital, the people decided that it was too isolated, and they didn’t have the population levels and support they needed to stay there.)

Poor Ann is bored and disappointed by the absence of Ian and Sovra. (Yeah, thanks again, Dr. Kennedy, for all the negative talk that made them not want to even meet poor Ann and be friends with her. In his first message to the children after the guests arrive, Dr. Kennedy makes fun of Mrs. Paget’s sandals, which he says are “made of pink string” and says he doesn’t know why Mrs. Paget wants them to meet Ann. Oh, I don’t know Dr. Kennedy. Let’s all think hard about this. Could it possibly be because Ann is lonely, there are no other kids in the area, and she could use a friend? Why is Dr. Kennedy so mean and weird about this? He’s an adult, for crying out loud! Ian and Sovra think that it would be “frightfulness” if they have to meet Ann and actually “be nice to” her if she’s like her mother. Keep in mind that they still don’t even know what Mrs. Paget is really like because they haven’t met her, and oh, noes, how awful to be nice to somebody who’s a little strange or eccentric during a temporary visit. What a family!) Ann often finds family holidays boring because she’s an only child. When her mother is busy painting and her father is busy fishing, Ann has very little to do and nobody to talk to. Ian and Sovra know that the Pagets have arrived, but they try to avoid meeting them, both because they think that they won’t like the Pagets, not even Ann, and because they want to keep the house where they’re staying a secret.

The very first time Ian sees Ann, he tries to run away from her and ends up falling and getting hurt. Ann tries to help him, although he resists at first, partly because he is afraid that if his mother finds out that he’s hurt, she’ll put an end to the camping trip. Ian messes up Ann’s name, calling her “Animosity,” and I’m not sure if he did it on purpose or because he actually has a head injury from his fall. (Actually, it was probably on purpose because he does it repeatedly from this point on in the story. No, Ian, “animosity” is what your family cultivates for other people and what I’ve been feeling each time your dad criticizes Mrs. Paget behind her back.) Ann messes up Sovra’s name, asking if Ian is saying “Sofa”, but I cut her more slack because Sovra is a more unusual name, and she’s not doing it deliberately. She’s just asking if she heard that right. Ian does explain that although Sovra mostly spells her name “Sovra” for school, her name is really supposed to be the Gaelic word “Sobhrach”, which means “Primrose.” Same name and pronunciation, but different spelling. Ann likes the name for being unusual. Ann goes to get some water for Ian, and while she’s gone, Sovra finds Ian and helps him into their boat. By the time Ann gets back, they’re gone.

Sovra worries about whether Ian has given away their secret to Ann. Ian says he doesn’t think so, but he has been rambling and not thinking straight since he hit his head, so he can’t be sure. He’s dizzy and disoriented and definitely showing signs of having a concussion. He should be checked out by a doctor, who happens to be his dad in this area. However, Sovra takes Ian back to the shieling. Ann worries about where Ian disappeared to, but she realizes that he couldn’t have gone anywhere by himself in his condition, so someone else must have come and helped him. She doesn’t mention what happened when she returns to where her mother is painting by the abandoned village because she doesn’t know where Ian is and can only assume that someone took him somewhere to get help. Both she and her mother spot smoke rising from the hollow where the shieling is, and Ann wonders if that could be Ian and Sovra’s campsite, although she isn’t sure. When Ian and Sovra get another note from their parents, it says nothing about Ian’s injury, so they realize that Ann didn’t tell the adults about it, and they begin to think more highly of her for keeping their secret. (Yeah, as if that was the smartest or most caring thing she could have done. But, these are kid priorities. You’d think with a father who’s a doctor that they’d know better than to be too cavalier about head injuries, though.)

However, soon, there are other things on the kids’ minds. When Ian went to go see Donald about a bung for their boat, he noticed that Donald has a special two-handled cup called a quaich, and his quaich has a symbol on it that’s the same as a symbol that was carved into the hearth of the shieling. Ian and Sovra wonder if that means that Donald actually owns the shieling. When they ask him about it, he tells them that the symbol is a juniper sprig and it’s the badge of the Gunn clan. Donald questions them about why they want to know, and they carefully say that they’ve seen the symbol carved somewhere else. Donald realizes what they’re talking about, and he tells them that he once helped to build the little house where they’re staying. Years ago, his cousins lived in the little abandoned village, and he found that secret cave behind the waterfall himself when he was young. He’s the one who created the secret landing place and stone steps. The Gunns once owned the village and the land around it, but the head of the family, Colonel Gunn, died without children. Since then, Kindrachill House, the bigger house where Colonel Gunn lived, has been empty. Colonel Gunn did have a nephew named Alastair, but everyone believes that he died somewhere in the Far East. Alastair used to live in the shieling where Ian and Sovra have been staying. Donald gives the kids permission to continue staying there, since it seems that the original owner isn’t coming back. He also tells them that there’s a superstition in the Gunn family that, when Kindrachill House is empty, the heir to the estate will not arrive until someone lights a fire in the hearth. Ian wonders if they really have to light a fire only in the hearth at Kindrachill to make the legend come true or if it would count that they’ve been lighting fires in the hearth at the shieling, where Alastair used to live and where he carved his family’s crest in the hearth. Sovra says that it doesn’t really matter since Alastair’s dead and can’t come back … but is that really true?

When things in the shieling are moved around when Ian and Sovra aren’t there, they assume that Ann has found their hideout. They know that she’s been looking for it. Later, she admits to them that she has been there, having figured out a way to get there that Ian and Sovra don’t even know about, but she didn’t move all of the things that have been moved. Someone else who knows about the shieling has been there. They know it’s not Donald because he has trouble walking and can’t make the trip to the shieling by himself. So, who else could it be?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

My Reaction and Spoilers

The location of the story gives it an almost timeless quality. The children spend much of their time in nature, with few references to modern technology, so the story could take place in many time periods. However, the book is set contemporary to the time when it was written, in the mid-20th century, after WWII. That time period is especially important in the third book in the series. This first book in the series could take place during many possible decades, but the third book can only be set during the 1950s because WWII is important to that story.

There is a slight element of mystery to the story, but the kids aren’t actively trying to solve the mystery element. Mostly, it’s a kind of adventure story with elements of slice-of-life about how these kids spend their summer in an exciting location with a somewhat mysterious history. Little pieces of the situation are gradually revealed to the characters during their adventures. Kids like stories about other kids who have adventures without adult supervision, and parts of the story are about the fun things they do, setting up house in the old cottage and enjoying themselves in and around the secret hideaway.

The Kennedys’ Attitude Problems

I have to say that I didn’t like the attitudes of any of the Kennedys. I actually read the third book before this one, and I liked the characters better in that book. In this book, both the parents and the kids seem to be some kind of snobs. They’re negative and mean about Mrs. Paget and her daughter for little reason. Granted, I don’t like cutesiness much, but Mrs. Paget just seems to be a mildly eccentric artist who dresses a little oddly and acts overly enthusiastic about some things. I didn’t think there was any call for a medical man like Dr. Kennedy, who should be at least somewhat understanding about human nature because of his profession, to be so mean about the way Mrs. Paget dresses or try to discourage his children from being nice to Ann. There’s almost a mean girl exclusiveness quality to the Kennedys’ behavior. Most of the men I know have little knowledge about women’s clothes, but Dr. Kennedy sounds like a middle school mean girl, nitpicking the way the poor woman dresses. He even writes about it in the notes that he sends to his kids during their camping trip. The pink rope sandals bother him so much that he wants to put that in writing to his kids who aren’t even there and who should be polite to this guest when they actually meet. Dude, you live a “simple” life in a cottage near a small town on the coast of Scotland. You’re not exactly in a high society fashion district, and there are few people around to see or care what anybody dresses like. So what if she likes to wear cloaks with sandals? It’s an odd clothing choice because it seems to indicate that she’s dressing for two different types of weather at once, but it’s harmless. Calling the landscape “delicious” and the children “dear little children” (“dear” seems overly generous to me, but Mrs. Paget doesn’t know any better) might seems a little sappy, but again, so what if she’s somewhat sappy and romantic in her speech? Calling her daughter Ann by much longer names which she could have just named her in the beginning, like Annabel or Annabella, is also a little odd, but if Ann doesn’t seem to care, why should anybody else? Families do sometimes have odd nicknames for kids, and it’s not the worst I’ve ever heard. Going from a shorter name to a longer one is the opposite of what most nicknames do, but again, it’s just harmless eccentricity. None of the things Mrs. Paget does seem really that bad. Mrs. Paget doesn’t do anything rude or mean, and she seems like a pretty unobtrusive guest. Mostly, she just wants to find pretty spots where she can sit most of the day and work on her paintings while her husband fishes, so if they don’t like her cute, sappy talk, they don’t have to hear it much. She only seems to return to the Kennedy house to eat and sleep, and that’s literally the least a host can provide a house guest.

The Kennedys are fine in the scenes when they’re just by themselves, but when their guests are around, they’re barely holding back inner meanness and rudeness for the guests that seems completely undeserved. That was a constant source of tension for me while reading the book. When Mrs. Paget is asking about beautiful spots in the area with enthusiasm and interest in their history, Dr. Kennedy is thinking about the best way to answer her questions quickly so he can just talk to her husband (about fishing, I guess), like he just wants her to shut up. The men are going to go off fishing together, during which they’ll have hours to talk about anything they want, and Dr. Kennedy thinks it’s such an imposition to talk to Mrs. Paget for a few minutes when they first arrive about the area where he lives and its history, for which Mrs. Paget has only expressed admiration and interest. Mrs. Kennedy also seems oddly defensive to Mrs. Paget about the “simple” life they lead, which she seems to think is too simple for Mrs. Paget, but Mrs. Paget reassures her that isn’t the case, that she thinks the area is charming and the children’s camping trip sounds like fun. Mrs. Paget seems overly enthusiastic about how great it all is. Whether she’s really that enthusiastic on the inside, I couldn’t say, but at least she speaks positively and makes an effort to show interest. She is definitely interested in the artistic possibilities of the area and sincerely curious about its history. She follows up her curiosity by asking Donald about what he knows, which shows effort.

Meanwhile, the Kennedys are trying to hide their negativity, which seems to spring from ideas they have about Mrs. Paget that aren’t born out in real life. There’s little indication of how the Kennedys got these ideas except their own inner negativity and insecurity. When I was a kid, my mother would tell me to be nice to other people and to make visitors feel welcome, and even if I wasn’t having fun with particular visitors, to remember that their visit was only temporary and make the best of it until it’s over. You can feel any way you want, but you still have to behave yourself. Being nice to a temporary guest is not a terrible imposition, and putting up with a less-than-ideal guest is completely bearable and encourages return hospitality. The Kennedys don’t impart these lessons to their children, and the father seems to particularly discourage this thinking. This is the type of family that breeds little bullies, people who think that generally being nice to people is a terrible burden to endure. It really struck me as pretty rotten for Dr. Kennedy, a grown man in a position of trust and responsibility for the welfare of people in their community, to try to discourage his children from meeting and being nice to Ann, a lonely child who never did anything to Dr. Kennedy and doesn’t deserve this bad treatment from him, smearing her reputation and making it difficult for her to make friends. Why is Dr. Kennedy trying to get his kids to be mean to Ann instead of telling them to be kind to a guest and make friends?

Of course, I really know why the Kennedys have to be this way. It’s a plot device. Their reasons for not liking Ann and her mother don’t have to be fair or make complete sense because it’s the results that matter. It’s all to set up part of the conflict of the story. If Dr. Kennedy was nicer about Mrs. Paget and encouraged his kids to be nice to Ann, they wouldn’t be so worried about having Ann around or joining them on their camping trip. Ian wouldn’t have been so worried about Ann seeing him that he tried to run from her, fell, and got that concussion. If the kids were friendlier with each other, Ann wouldn’t have needed to get a ride from a stranger or might have told them about the man she met who gave her a ride and who turns out to be important. Quite a lot of the problems the kids encounter would have been different or simplified if characters were nice with each other and worked together more. It’s a theme that appears often in literature, and actually, quite a lot in real life, too. It doesn’t make it any less annoying for me.

Character Development

The parts where I thought Ian and Sovra were at their best were when they were completely by themselves. They seem to have a good brother-and-sister relationship and know how to function as a team. Even when one of them messes something up and they criticize each other, they still have each other’s back and work together to clean up their messes. However, I never really got to like Ian and Sovra as people during this book because of their meanness and snobbishness, which is ironic because they later say that they don’t like Ann because she thinks that she’s better than they are. This seems to be a retroactive decision by the author because she doesn’t show that trait right away. It seems to surface later in the story, long after Ian and Sovra have decided that they don’t like Ann and need to avoid her and think it would be frightful to be nice to her.

My favorite characters in the story are thoughtful Ann and kind Alastair. Yes, Alastair does appear in the story. He’s not dead. Ann is the first to meet Alastair on his arrival back in the area, and he helps her when Ian and Sovra have been mean to her, stealing her shoes so she can’t follow them back to their secret house from the beach and leaving her to limp back to the Kennedy house over rocks with a hurt foot. Ann vents to Alastair about her troubles with the Kennedys without knowing who he really is, and he tells her that he’s sorry that she’s having such a bad time and that the Kennedys have been unpleasant to her. Finally, a voice of reason and compassion in the story! Ann doesn’t mention this encounter with Alastair to anybody at first because she doesn’t know who he is, that they all think he’s dead, or that his return has any special meaning.

Little by little, Ian and Sovra do start to feel guilty about the way they’ve treated Ann and start looking at her differently, noticing the things she does well and acknowledging some of the skills and knowledge she has. Eventually, Sovra does apologize to Ann for stealing her shoes. When Ann is seasick the first time they take her out in their boat, she admits that she’s not as used to sailing as they are, which makes her seem less superior than Ian and Sovra thought she was. Ann even apologizes for talking like she knows everything when she doesn’t, but I still thought it was weird because that wasn’t the impression that I was getting from her until after Sovra and Ian started saying that’s what she was doing. The apologies they each give each other and their mutual acknowledgement of each other’s faults and strengths help them come to a better understanding of each other and resolve their conflicts.

Ann also proves to Ian and Sovra that she does know things that even they don’t know about the shieling and the area around it because of the questions her mother asked Donald about the history of the area. Donald told Mrs. Paget that there was once a pathway between the abandoned village and the shieling that was lost years ago, apparently swallowed up by the bog, and nobody knows quite where it is now. However, this summer has been drier than normal in the area, and Ann realizes that the path might have been exposed again by the lower water levels in the bog. She carefully observes the area from a high vantage point when they go hiking in the mountains until she spots where the path goes and marks it on her map. Then, the next time her mother goes to the village to paint, she scouts for the beginning of the path from the ground, finding a series of stepping stones through the bog.

When Ian and Sovra ask her later how she got to the shieling when she didn’t know about the waterfall entrance, she explains to them what she did, and they ask her to show them where the path is. I liked this part because Ian and Sovra were smug earlier about Ann’s map, saying that they didn’t need any local maps like that because everyone knows where everything around here is anyway, and their big source of pride with Ann was that they know more about the area than she does. (They thought that her explanations of what’s on her map when they asked her to show it to them earlier was just her trying to be “superior” to them.) They do know a lot from living there for their whole lives, but the problem is that they count too much on that sometimes and don’t think to ask the questions Ann and her mother do because Ann and her mother are aware of what they don’t know and are actively trying to learn.

I also liked it that when Ian and Sovra finally let Ann join them camping at the shieling, they also let her take over the cooking. Earlier, they took exception to her father saying that she’s an excellent cook because they saw it as bragging and acting superior, but Ann really is good at cooking and likes doing it, and Sovra admits that she isn’t terribly good at it and doesn’t really like it herself. I was relieved when the characters stopped worrying about who was superior to who and who was acting superior when they shouldn’t and just let people do what they’re good at and interested in doing, acknowledging when someone does something well without adding a kind of put-down onto it, like Ian and Sovra did earlier.


Getting back to Alastair’s return, he eventually shows up at the shieling and talks to the children, explaining what happened to him. He says that he tried to talk to them before, but they weren’t at the shieling the last time he stopped by. His plane was wrecked in the Pacific (They don’t say that it happened during the war, so it might not have been. I thought they might have been implying that he was a pilot in the war, but that would play with the timing of later books in the series.), as they heard, and he spent some time living with a native group on an island. The natives were friendly enough and helped him, but it took him awhile to learn enough of their language to really communicate with them and figure out how to get to a place where he could arrange passage home. That was when he first learned that he’d been declared dead. Since then, he’s been reestablishing his identity and checking on the estate that he’s inherited. By the time that Alastair finally shows up at the shieling and introduces himself to the children, they’ve heard that Kindrachill House is supposed to be sold to pay the mortgage. When they ask Alastair about it, he confirms that he doesn’t have the money he needs to pay the mortgage. He almost didn’t come back to the area at all because he didn’t think there was anything there for him. However, it turns out that he’s an art lover, and when he went to a showing of Mrs. Paget’s paintings in Glasgow, he saw the painting she did of the old village and how she included the smoke rising from the shieling where Ian and Sovra were staying. That made him want to return to his old cottage and see who was there. So, the legend about a fire in the hearth bringing the Gunn heir home comes true.

There is an argument among the four of them whether Ian and Sovra should get the credit for Alastair’s return because they lit the fire in the hearth at the shieling or whether Mrs. Paget should get the credit because her painting is what drew it to Alastair’s attention, but it’s a good-natured debate. There is still the problem of the mortgage that needs to be paid, but Ian, Sovra, and Alastair find the solution to the problem when they finally go take a look at Castle Island, and Ann rescues them when they accidentally maroon themselves there. Since Ian was the first to spot the solution to their problem, Alastair thanks him by giving him the shieling so he and his sister can use it whenever they want. Alastair is able to save Kindrachill House and takes up his role as chieftain of the Gunn clan, which sets up the other stories that follow in this series.

My Favorite Parts

The best parts of the book for me were its timeless quality and the location. A secret house, forgotten by everyone, accessed by going behind a waterfall and climbing a hidden stone stairway is just the sort of place I would have loved as a kid. Even as an adult, I love the idea of a secret hideaway in a picturesque spot. The location and atmosphere are what I recommend to other readers the most. The imagery of the setting is wonderful, and it’s a great place to escape to mentally, if you can’t get to such a spot physically.

I also like books that bring up interesting facts and bits of folklore for discussion. At one point in the book, Ian explains singing sand to Sovra, which is dry sand that makes a sound when people walk on it under the right conditions. (This YouTube video demonstrates what singing sand can sound like on Prince Edward Island.) A less pleasant but still informative part is when Sovra breaks the necks of the fish they catch to kill them quickly. I’m not sure if I’ve heard of other people doing that when they fish or not. It makes sense when they explain it, but I know very little about fishing. I’ve never lived near bodies of water and haven’t gone fishing, and I get squeamish about things, so I’ve never asked.

On a day of heavy mists, Ian and Sovra are also fascinated with how muffled and mysterious the land looks and talk about how it probably inspired stories they’ve heard about ghosts and “second sight” and doppelgangers (although they say it as “doublegangers”). Ian explains how doppelgangers are like “the wraith of someone who’s still alive, so there are two of them.” This piece of folklore is why we refer to people who bear a strong resemblance to each other without being actual twins as doppelgangers. (Some people also call them “twin strangers.”)

Susannah and the Blue House Mystery

Susannah and the Blue House Mystery by Patricia Elmore, 1980.

Susannah Higgins and her friend, Lucy, live in Northern California. Susannah loves mysteries and she’s asked Lucy to be her partner as a detective. Susannah loves mysteries and is always looking for a mystery to solve, but so far, the girls haven’t found anything worth investigating. Susannah finally finds the mystery she’s been looking for when another friend’s grandfather fails to meet her at the bus stop. Shy Juliet Travis, who is largely shy because people at school have made fun of the burn scar on her face, meets her grandfather at the bus stop every day, and then, they walk home together. When he fails to show up one day, Juliet is sure that something is wrong. Susannah and Lucy, finding Juliet upset, try to reassure her, saying it’s probably nothing and that her grandfather probably forgot the time or his clock stopped. They offer to walk Juliet home to see if her grandfather is there.

Juliet and her mother live in a small apartment house next door to the old, once-grand Blue House. Her “grandfather” is the last of the old Withers family. (Juliet and her mother aren’t actually related to Juliet’s “grandfather” at all. He’s just a family friend who likes to treat Juliet and her mother like family because none of them really have any close relatives. Mrs. Travis got divorced when Juliet was a baby, and Juliet hasn’t seen her father since. Mr. Withers’s only relative is a niece named Ivy.) The Withers family was once one of the richest families in the area, but they haven’t been really wealthy for some time. Ivy Withers has some money and is a social climber, but the Blue House mansion where Mr. Withers lives has fallen into severe disrepair. Ivy pays Mrs. Travis to be her uncle’s cleaning woman, and that’s about all of the attention either the house or Mr. Withers receives.

Juliet’s mother, Mrs. Travis, cleans houses and is also an artist. When she first meets Susannah and Lucy, she comments that she’d like to do a sketch of Susannah because her face would be good for an African princess. (Susannah is African American, and this is the first mention of it in the book.) Juliet asks her mother about her grandfather, and her mother says that she thinks he went to see his friend Joe. Juliet feels a little better, thinking that her grandfather just lost track of time with his friend, but by the next morning, Mr. Withers still hasn’t come home. Susannah and Lucy go to visit Juliet again, but she and her mother don’t know much about Mr. Withers’s friend, Joe. They don’t know his full name or where he lives to see if he’s really seen Mr. Withers. Susannah says that they should take another look around the Blue House, even though Mrs. Travis has already looked there.

In the Blue House, they discover that Mr. Withers took his good coat instead of his old one and left his wallet with his identification behind. Mrs. Travis also remembers that he was carrying an umbrella, even though it wasn’t supposed to rain that day. From this information, Susannah deduces that he went to another city, where there was a chance of rain, but it couldn’t have been too far away because he didn’t take luggage or his wallet with him, and he was planning to be back to meet Juliet that afternoon. Also, since Mr. Withers doesn’t have a lot of money, he probably went by bus. After making a call to bus station to check the bus schedule for buses leaving around the time he left, they decide that the most likely place he would have gone was Sacramento. Then, the customer service agent tells them that the bus returning from Sacramento arrived late because an old man had a heart attack. Realizing that the old man could have been Mr. Withers, who couldn’t be identified because he left his wallet at home, they begin phoning hospitals to learn where he could have gone. Sadly, they learn that Mr. Withers was the man who had the heart attack and that he died in the hospital.

That would be the end of the mystery of the disappearing grandfather, but it turns out to be the beginning of a greater mystery. Susannah is disappointed that the mystery seems to be over just when she wanted to investigate some odd points of the situation more deeply. Lucy thinks that sounds heartless to be thinking of Mr. Withers’s disappearance and death as just an exciting adventure like that, but Susannah explains that there are still some aspects of the situation that seem strange. They still don’t know why he went to Sacramento. Apparently, it was something important because he felt the need to dress up in his nicer coat. (It couldn’t be to see a doctor because his Medicare card was one of the cards he left behind in his wallet.) They also don’t know who “Joe” is because this friend didn’t turn up at the funeral. Nobody else seems to know who “Joe” is, either.

Susannah also begins to suspect that Mr. Withers may have made a second will, leaving something to Juliet. Mr. Withers didn’t have much to leave, and it’s publicly known that he promised his house to Ivy because she helped him pay the taxes on it for years. Mr. Withers lost most of his money years ago due to a bad investment, and thieves also stole many of the valuable antiques that he used to own. However, on the morning of the day he died, he told Juliet that he was going to leave her a “treasure.” Juliet says that this “treasure” was supposed to be a book of some kind, and he emphasized to her that she should “see a good man.” What is that supposed to mean, and did Mr. Withers really have a treasure to leave to Juliet? Someone else must think that Mr. Withers had something of value because someone has been sneaking around the Blue House at night.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

My Reaction

I read this book years ago, when I was in elementary school, but for a long time, I’d forgotten the name of it and much of the plot, which made it difficult to find it again. As with so many other things, I found it again by accident while looking for something else on Internet Archive.

The part that stuck with me the most from when I read it as a kid was the scene where Susannah and Lucy meet Juliet’s mother, who is an artist. Mrs. Travis likes to do sketches of people she’s just met so she can use their faces in paintings later. When she first sees Susannah, she takes her by the chin and studies her face. She compliments Susannah’s bone structure and says that her face would be great for an African princess, which is a rather odd thing to do and say to somebody on first acquaintance. I liked the quirkiness of Mrs. Travis, and I kind of wished somebody would tell me that I looked like a princess. (I don’t, and I never really did. I look more like somebody’s teacher or librarian. I’m not either of those, but I just look like somebody who would be.)

The scene with Mrs. Travis is also the first mention in the book that Susannah is black. She is shown as black on the covers of the books in this series, but Mrs. Travis’s description of her as having the look of an “African princess” is the first indication of it in the text. The reason why I like that is that, before we get to that point, Susannah is described by her friend Lucy as an aspiring detective, an “amateur herpetologist” who dreams of buying the snake called Beelzebub in the pet store, and one of the few people who can draw out shy Juliet and get her to talk before we are given any indication of her race or appearance. I like it that readers are drawn into Susannah’s own quirky and distinctive personality before she is described physically, so she isn’t typed by race or appearance.

Further on in the book, Lucy describes more of Susannah’s appearance, saying that she has glasses and wears her hair in two clumps on her neck. They didn’t always get along because they’re in the same academic group at school, and of the two, Susannah is really the better student. She got on Lucy’s nerves by constantly nagging her to do her homework and improve her grades so their group could get the school’s Top Scholar Award. Susannah complained that Lucy actually could do better at school if she just tried and called her a “clown” and a “dumb blonde” (the first indication of what Lucy looks like) for not even trying to do better. Lucy retaliated against this criticism by drawing unflattering cartoons of Susannah. They started to resolve their differences when they got into an argument over something Lucy said to another classmate about Susannah. Lucy said that Susannah “prevaricates”, which means to lie, but what she really meant was “pontificates.” At first, Susannah was mad at Lucy for calling her a liar, then she laughed when she realized that Lucy mixed up words that were vocabulary words for their class, and then, she realized that there was some justification to Lucy’s criticism of her, that she does sometimes act like a know-it-all. Realizing that someone else had a justifiable criticism of her caused Susannah to soften her own criticism of Lucy, and their relationship improved.

I liked the description of how Lucy and Susannah came to be friends, and it also fits in with how the girls become better friends with Juliet. Appearances are important to Juliet because the burn scar on her face has made it difficult for her to make friends with people. They never explain how she got the scar, but she is very self-conscious of it because of the teasing she got about it early in life. She is very shy and has a habit of turning her head to the side as she talks to people because she doesn’t want them to look at the scar. Lucy thinks to herself that the scar isn’t really so bad. As she spends more time with Juliet, she realizes that she hardly notices it anymore, just like most of the time, she hardly notices anymore that Susannah wears glasses. It’s common for people to have various types of imperfections, and Lucy herself has crooked front teeth. The only reason why Juliet’s scar really matters is that it matters to her because it makes her feel bad about herself. What Juliet wants most of all is an operation to remove the scar tissue so the scar will be less noticeable, but her mother can’t afford it. By the end of the book, she can afford the operation, and she goes ahead with it, although part of me wanted to see her rethink it because she sees that she can make friends anyway, whether she has a scar or not.

Deceptive appearances are a large part of the mystery because things in the Blue House, Mr. Withers’s treasure, and even Mr. Withers himself weren’t quite what they seemed to be. Mr. Withers was unfortunate for losing his money and most of the beautiful antiques that he loved, but he didn’t lose everything. Ivy thinks that he was a lonely, bitter hermit who rejected all of his old friends because he was too proud to see them after he lost his money, but Lucy realizes that the truth is that Mr. Withers just made new friends who wouldn’t judge him because he was now poor. Mr. Withers wasn’t lonely, and he was even happy with the new people in his life and the secret he was keeping. Even the mysterious “Joe” and the “good man” were not what everyone assumed they were at first. As I read through the book, I remembered what Mr. Withers’s trick was, but it took me some time be sure of the villain. I thought I knew who it would turn out to be, but the author does a good job of making multiple people look guilty.

One other thing I’d like to add is that apparently none of the children in this book live in a two-parent household. Books featuring children of divorced families were becoming increasingly common in the 1980s and into the following decades, and there are three children in this book who live in single-parent households. Juliet’s mother is divorced. Lucy lives with just her father, and to her horror, she eventually discovers that he’s starting to date the divorced mother of the most annoying boy in her class (who actually proves to be very helpful in their investigation). Susannah also appears to live with her grandparents. This book doesn’t explain why, but she always talks about her grandparents and not her parents.

Mystery of the Melted Diamonds

Mystery of the Melted Diamonds by Carol Farley, 1986.

This is the last book in the Kipper and Larry mystery series.

This time, Larry has come to visit Kipper and his family on their farm in Kansas while his father attends a police convention in Florida and will be spending Christmas with them. At first, Kipper thinks that Larry probably regrets this visit because Kansas isn’t very exciting, and it’s snowing while Larry’s father is in sunny Florida.

The situation gets worse when Kipper gets into a fight with his friend Scooter when Larry and Kipper were supposed to be spending the night at Scooter’s house. Scooter apparently cheated at a game, and Kipper got so mad that he said that he and Larry would just go home. The problem is that the boys have to walk a couple of miles to reach the farm where Kipper’s family lives, and the snow has turned into a blizzard.

The boys start to get scared that they might freeze to death when Larry spots a light from a house nearby and heads toward it. Kipper thinks that it’s a dangerous mistake because the house with the light is the old Morgansterne house, and it’s been empty for years. However, when the boys reach the house, there are oil lanterns burning in the windows and a fire in a wood-burning stove. Out of desperation, the boys let themselves into the house to warm up, but then they start to wonder who lit the fire and the lanterns. They search the house to see if there’s anyone there, but they don’t find anyone. The only thing they find upstairs is an old box of Christmas ornaments.

The boys spend the rest of the night in the house without seeing anyone and continue to the farm in the morning. When they explain to Kipper’s mother what happened and where they spent the night, she’s concerned, both because the boys were out in the snowstorm and because nobody should be in the old Morgansterne house. Old Miss Morgansterne, who owns the house, has been living in a retirement home, and no one else is supposed to be there. Kipper’s mother decides to call the sheriff and have him look into it.

The sheriff comes and questions the boys about what they saw in the house, and they ask him about a robbery at a jewelry store in town that the family heard about on the radio while waiting for him to arrive. Larry wonders if there’s a connection between the robbery and the supposedly empty house that seemed to be occupied by someone before they arrived. The sheriff doesn’t see why there would be a connection between the two events, but Kipper’s younger brothers think that maybe the robbers were in the house the whole time, hiding in some kind of secret passageway, like in books and movies. The sheriff thinks that the boys have overactive imaginations.

However, there is more to the theory that the house and the robbery are connected than the sheriff thinks. Soon, the sheriff is alerted that the car that is believed to belong to the robbers has crashed into a pond near a dangerous curve in the road and the two men inside the car are dead. When they search the car, they find some of the jewelry from the robbery, the less expensive costume jewelry, so it seems that they were correct that these men were the robbers, but strangely, the most expensive jewels from the robbery, diamonds, are still missing. The sheriff says that it’s almost like they melted away, like the diamond-like snow that Larry commented on earlier.

It makes sense to the boys that the robbers were in the Morgansterne house before they were. They remember seeing a car like the robbers’ car along that road before the snow storm got bad, and it would explain why the house was empty all that night. The robbers accidentally saved the boys’ lives by lighting the stove in the house for them, but they never returned to their hideout in the empty house because they had their car accident. But, somewhere along the way, the diamonds they stole seem to have vanished. Can the boys figure out how?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

Overall, I liked the story. I had more than one theory about where the diamonds were, and one of them turned out to be correct, but there was enough doubt in my mind to keep the story interesting until the end.

The Mystery at Skeleton Point

The Boxcar Children

#91 The Mystery at Skeleton Point by Gertrude Chandler Warner, 2002.

Mr. Alden’s cousin Charlotte has recently bought a house and some land at Skeleton Point that is a local landmark.  The doctor who owned the old house collected skeletons.  He was a bone expert and taught aspiring doctors and veterinarians.  It’s a creepy place with a lot of local legends about a skeleton called the Walking Skeleton that came back to life and is trying to turn itself back into a person by stealing pieces from the statuary around the house.  The statues are damaged and missing pieces, although no one really knows why.

The locals have mixed feelings about Charlotte’s desire to donate all the skeletons to a medical school and to clean up the house and renovate it.  Some people don’t like the idea of a local landmark changing.  Greenie, a man who lives nearby, is also an expert on bones who studied with the doctor, and he is upset that the doctor didn’t leave Skeleton Point to him when he died, as he had promised that he would. 

The people Charlotte had hired to carry out the renovations argue with each other about how things should be done and are not happy that Charlotte has asked the Alden children to help out with the cleaning and documenting the statuary around house.  It seems like they’re trying to distract the Aldens and keep them away from the house.

Then, some of the statues around the house disappear.  Who is taking them and why?

The best part of the story for me was the setting. A house filled with skeletons is a bizarre and creepy idea. But, much of the mystery concerns the statues around the house instead of the skeletons, and honestly, although I had a strong feeling about who was taking the statues, there were times when I suspected other people and different motives for the thefts.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

The Lancelot Closes at Five

The Lancelot Closes at Five by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, 1976.

“Camelot” is the name of a new housing development being built in Shady Landing, New York. In the beginning of the story, Camelot has only three model homes, demonstrating what the houses in this new neighborhood are going to look like. In keeping with the Arthurian theme, the three model homes are called “the Excalibur”, “the Lancelot”, and “the Guinevere.” Abby’s family decides that they will buy a house there on the Excalibur model because they are tired of their crowded apartment in Brooklyn and Abby’s parents think that buying a house sounds like a good investment for future.

The move isn’t easy for Abby and her family. Abby doesn’t like leaving her old friends behind. There are several things wrong with the new house, including windows that are nailed shut, doorknobs that fall off, and a flooded basement. Also, the people who live in the village of Shady Landing don’t like the newcomers because trees were cut down to build Camelot.

However, Abby soon finds a friend, Heather Hutchins, who likes to be called “Hutch.” Hutch also lives in the new Camelot neighborhood. Hutch’s family is very health-conscious, believing in all-natural foods, which is why Abby doesn’t usually like to eat at their house, and Hutch’s mother is a very competitive person.

Then, Hutch springs a surprise on Abby. Hutch tells Abby that she wants to run away from home. She doesn’t want to be gone for long, just about day during the Memorial Day weekend. She doesn’t want to go far, planning to spend a night in the Lancelot model home. But, she wants Abby to come with her so she won’t be alone.

At first, Abby is a little reluctant, but Hutch is very persuasive, the idea does seem like a fun adventure, and hiding out secretly so close to home doesn’t seem too dangerous. In fact, since the public is invited to come and walk through the model homes, it doesn’t even seem like trespassing. Abby agrees to do it. The girls’ plan is to tell their families that they’re spending the night with each other but conveniently not mention where so they’ll assume that they’re just having a normal sleepover at each other’s house. Then, they plan to visit the Lancelot and hide there until it closes and all the other people leave.

When she proposes her plan, Hutch doesn’t explain her motives for wanting to run away for a day, and Abby decides not to question her, thinking that Hutch will tell her when she’s ready. She does note that Hutch doesn’t seem to get along well with her mother. Hutch’s mother doesn’t seem to connect well with other people in general, being more focused on what she wants them to do than on just acknowledging them or building relationships with them. Worse still, Hutch’s mother is what Abby calls a “scorecard mother,” always comparing her child to everyone else’s child, constantly keeping track of where Hutch is ahead and where she’s behind. Hutch’s mother has overly high expectations of Hutch and pushes for perfection. Hutch’s mother sometimes quizzes Abby about what she does to help out at home and how each of the girls are doing in school so she can compare them. Abby sometimes feels like she’s in the uncomfortable position of defending Hutch to her own mother.

The Lancelot model home is decorated in a fakey pseudo-Medieval style, in keeping with the Camelot theme. When Abby and Hutch sneak in, they pretend to be part of a family group touring the house and then hide under a bed until everyone else leaves. Their plan works, but staying in the house isn’t quite what Abby imagined it would be. The furniture is uncomfortable because it’s made to be looked at and not actually used. Not all of the appliances even work, like the tv, because they’re just for show and not for using. For their “supper”, Hutch has brought candy bars and pastries, things which her mother normally forbids her to have because they aren’t natural and will rot her teeth. Abby still can’t have some of them because she has food allergies and braces, but Hutch brings pound cake for her.

Hutch finally admits to Abby that her main reason for wanting to have this adventure is just to have the chance to do something for no other reason than she just wants to do it. Abby is right about Hutch’s mother. Everything that she wants Hutch to do is centered around gaining something – recognition, awards, physical health benefits, learning things and getting a mental edge. Hutch just wanted the chance to do something without a particular motive other than just wanting to do it and the fun of planning it out and pulling it off by herself, with the help of her friend.

Unfortunately, Hutch gets carried away with the success of her plan and turns on the lights, which attracts the attention of a passing police car, although the police just try the doors, decide that the lights were left on by accident, and leave without finding the girls. Then, Hutch doesn’t want to go to sleep and stays up, eating candy bars in bed, just because she’s normally not allowed to do that. Abby is uncomfortable in the big, fancy bed that isn’t meant to be slept in and can’t sleep, so she leaves and goes home, making Hutch mad. Abby spends the rest of the night sleeping in her sleeping bag in her family’s basement (which is no longer flooded) so she won’t give away Hutch’s secret.

Later, Abby feels guilty about abandoning Hutch, so she sneaks out early in the morning to check on her. Hutch got out of the Lancelot without being noticed, but she’s still mad at Abby for leaving her when she was trying to do something that was important to her. However, there is worse to come. The police hadn’t forgotten about something strange happening at the model home that night, and now, there’s a rumor in the neighborhood that the house was “vandalized” during the night (meaning the mess that the girls left in the house from the food they ate, trying to sleep in the bed, and using the bathroom). Abby is naturally a more timid person than Hutch, and while she has started to appreciate Hutch’s attempts to help her be more bold and take more chances, it makes her nervous that she and Hutch are the “vandals” whose escapades have now made the local paper. Abby’s father, an author, is even attempting his own investigation into the matter.

Abby is not only worried about repairing her friendship with Hutch but not getting found out for what they did. Then, one of the boys at school starts bragging, claiming that he and his friend were the ones who snuck into the Lancelot to hang out that night. He’s not the only one trying to claim credit for the stunt, either. Abby hopes that the whole thing will just die down and be forgotten, but Hutch doesn’t feel the same way. Even though she originally set out to do something just on a whim without looking for recognition, the idea that someone else might claim recognition for what she did galls her. What will happen when Hutch tries to reveal her role in masterminding the night in the Lancelot?

I purposely sought this book out online because I never owned a copy and I remembered it from when I was in elementary school, but the funny thing is that I don’t remember ever hearing the entire story when I was a kid. I think that my class might have just read a selection from the book, maybe as part of one of those story collections that has excerpts from books to demonstrate certain concepts and give samples of stories. I can’t quite remember now. All I remembered was that the main escapade was just a part of the story that took place at the beginning of the book, and the rest was about what happened because of the girls’ secret nighttime excursion. It makes the book a bit different from other children’s books about kids running away and hiding in usual locations, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where most of the book takes place during the kids’ adventure and the kids’ parents are barely seen. In this book, the girls are mostly at their own homes, and the parents have prominent roles.

Runaways generally have two motives – getting away from something or going in search of something, and when you really think about it, they frequently have both. Hutch’s adventure is both about escaping from her mother’s oppressive rules and emphasis on perfection as well as undertaking something unusual and pulling it off for the sense of personal achievement. However, even though Hutch at first insists that she wanted to do it just for the sake of doing something that she wants, with no expectation of recognition or reward, it turns out that isn’t completely true. Part of the reason why she wanted Abby along was to get a sense of recognition from her for the accomplishment as well as her company. Her bad feelings toward Abby for abandoning their adventure and going home were partly because Abby didn’t value that type of uncomfortable adventure as much as she did and didn’t fully acknowledge the cleverness of her plan. Even if it started out as just a fun escapade, undertaken as a brief chance to break a few rules in secret, Hutch badly craves acknowledgement, just not in the form of the constant comparisons he mother makes between her and other people. What Hutch really needs is just to be acknowledged for being herself and to feel valued, no matter how she compares to others. In her attempt to make things right with Hutch again, Abby does something that she never thought that she would ever be bold enough to do: give Hutch’s mother a piece of her mind.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

Mystery of the Pirate’s Ghost

Mystery of the Pirate’s Ghost by Elizabeth Honness, 1966.

Abby and Kit Hubbard’s mother has just received a letter telling her than her half brother, Jonathan Pingree, has died and left her the old Pingree mansion.  He has left over bequests to other family members as well, and money to be held in trust for Abby and Kit.  It’s exciting news, and the family may move to live in the mansion they have inherited, although it partly depends on Mrs. Hubbard’s other relatives. 

Mrs. Hubbard, who was born Natalie Pingree, has never met her half-brother or half-sister.  They were her father’s children, from his first marriage.  She doesn’t know much about her father’s early life because he died when she was very young, and all that she knows about him is what her mother told her.  Apparently, her father’s first marriage was not a happy one.  He stayed in that marriage long enough for his first two children, Jonathan and Ann, to become teenagers.  Then, he made sure that his first wife and children were settled comfortably enough in the family home and left them to move to Philadelphia to start a new life by himself.  Sometime later, his first wife died and he married Natalie’s mother, who was much younger.  After his death, Natalie and her mother moved in with her mother’s sister, Aunt Sophie.  When Natalie got married, Aunt Sophie sent a wedding invitation to Johnathan and Ann, but they never came to the wedding or made any reply.  Natalie assumed that they felt uncomfortable about their father’s remarriage and didn’t want to see her, which is why she’s so surprised about Jonathan leaving the family home to her.  The only reason she can think of why he would do that is that neither he nor his sister ever married or had children of their own, so there was no one else to leave the house to.  Both of them were more than 30 years older than Natalie, and Ann is now an elderly woman, still living in the house.  Jonathan’s will has made provision for her as well, and the Hubbards go to see her at the Pingree mansion.

Mrs. Hubbard is pleasantly surprised that Ann is actually happy to see her.  Ann Pingree explains that the reason why she and Jonathan never replied to the wedding invitation was that, until that invitation arrived, neither of them had known that their father had another child, and they felt awkward about it.  However, Ann has been lonely since Jonathan’s death, being the last of the Pingrees, and she is glad to have Natalie and her husband and children with her and is eager to have them move into the mansion and live there. (Ann doesn’t live in the old mansion itself, but she does live nearby.)

Aunt Ann shows the family around the old mansion and explains more about its history and the history of the Pingree family. It turns out that the house, which has existed since Colonial times, although it has been burned, remodeled, and expanded over time. The house also has a number of secrets. Apparently, there used to be a tunnel running from the basement of the house to the beach that was used to bring in smuggled goods during the Colonial Era. There is also a hidden room behind a fireplace upstairs where the children of the family could hide during Indian attacks. (It doesn’t say how often that happened.) To the family’s surprise, Ann also tells them that the mansion is supposed to be haunted. The kids think it all sounds exciting, although Ann doesn’t explain much about the ghost the first time she mentions it. (Kit uses the phrase, “Honest Injun?” when asking Aunt Ann if she really means it when she says that the house is haunted. This isn’t a term that people use anymore because it isn’t considered appropriate.)

Mr. Hubbard is able to get his job transferred to a different branch of the company he works for, so the Hubbard family decides that they will move into the Pingree mansion. The kids like living by the beach, and their parents tell them that they can use the old ballroom of the house as a kind of rec room. Soon, they meet a couple of other children who live in cottages nearby, Chuck and Patty, and make friends with them. Chuck and Patty have already heard that the Pingree house is supposed to be haunted, although they’ve never seen anything really mysterious, just a light in the house once when they thought that the house was supposed to be empty.

The next time Aunt Ann comes to visit, the four children ask her to tell them about the ghost, and she tells them the story of the first Pingree to live at Pingree Point. This ancestor, also named Jonathan Pingree, built the original house in the late 1600s. He was a shipbuilder who owned several ships of his own, and he wanted to live near the sea. Later, he also became a privateer. When the kids call Jonathan a pirate, Aunt Anne agrees and explains that, unlike a pirate, Jonathan’s position as privateer was all perfectly legal because he had a Letter of Marque. (Yes, privateers operated within the law, but yes, they were also essentially pirates who raided other ships for their goods. In other words, they did the same things, but privateers did it with permission whereas ordinary pirates didn’t get permission. Historically, some privateers continued their pirating even after permission was revoked, so as Aunt Ann says, “the line between that and piracy was finely drawn.”) His son, Robert, was sailing on one of his father’s ships when it was taken by other pirates, and Robert was forced to join their crew. The family never saw Robert again and only found out what had happened from a fellow crew member who was set adrift and managed to make it back home. What happened to Robert is a mystery. His family didn’t know if he had really taken to the life of a pirate and couldn’t return home because he couldn’t face his family, if he had been killed in some fight, if he had been hung for piracy because he had gotten caught and couldn’t prove that he was forced into it. However, members of the family claimed that Robert’s spirit did return to the house and that he knocks at doors and windows, begging to be let back into his old home. Aunt Ann says that she’s never seen the ghost herself, but old houses can make all kinds of noises on windy nights, and that’s what she thinks the “ghost” is. As Chuck and Patty leave, they say, “we hope that old ghost doesn’t show up to frighten you.” Of course, we all know that it will because otherwise this book would have a different title.

One day, Kit is bored and starts playing around in the secret room, pretending that he’s hiding from American Indians. While Kit is in the secret room, he overhears the servants, John and his wife Essie, who have worked for the family for years, talking. Essie seems very upset and wants John not to do something that might risk their home and jobs, but John says that it’s too late and that they’re already “in it” and “can’t get out.” Kit tells Abby what he heard. That night, Abby hears banging and wailing during a storm and fears that it’s the ghost. Soon, other strange things happen, like a desk that mysteriously disappears and a cupboard that also mysteriously appears in its place. The children like John, and they don’t want to think badly of him, but he’s definitely doing something suspicious. One night, the children try to spy on him, and Abby once again hears the wailing and sees a mysterious, cloaked figure in the fog. Is it the ghost?

There are some interesting facets of this story that make it a little different from other children’s books of this type. For one thing, the children confide their concerns to their parents almost immediately, and the parents immediately believe them. In so many children’s mysteries, either the children decide to investigate mysterious events on their own before telling the parents or the parents disbelieve them, forcing the children to investigate on their own. It was kind of refreshing to see the family working together on this mystery. It actually makes the story seem more realistic to me because I can’t imagine that I would have been able to keep worries about mysterious things secret from my parents as a child, and they would have noticed if I was sneaking around, trying to investigate people, anyway. Abby and Kit do something dangerous by themselves before the story is over, but they also confide what they’ve done to their parents at the first opportunity and do not take the same foolish chance again.

The truth of John’s activities comes to light fairly quickly, although it takes a little longer for the family and the authorities to decide how to handle the situation. Investigating John brings to light some of the Pingree family secrets, and Abby and Kit soon discover the fate of Robert the pirate and the truth of his ghost. I’ll spoil the story a little and tell you that the ghost that Abby sees is apparently real, but it isn’t very scary. Once they learn the truth of what happened to Robert and see that his body gets a decent burial, the ghost appears to be at peace.

One thing that bothered me was the way that the characters talk about Native Americans in the book. It’s not the talk about Native American sometimes abducting children because I know that happened. It’s more how they picture that would happen. In the scene where Kit was hiding in the secret room, Kit imagines that the Indians were attracted to the house by the smell of his mother’s cooking and that he went into hiding while his mother fed them to avoid being abducted. As part of his scenario, he imagines that his mother would have wanted to “hold her nose against the Indian smell.” What? Where did that come from? There are all kinds of tropes about Native Americans in popular culture, from the “noble savage” image to that silly “Tonto talk” that actors did in old tv westerns, but since when are they supposed to smell bad? I’ve never seen characters in cheesy westerns hold their noses before, so what’s the deal? I tried Googling it to see if there’s a trope that I missed, but I couldn’t find anything about it. I’m very disappointed in you, Elizabeth Honness.

This book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

The Yellow House Mystery

The Yellow House Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1953, 1981.

This story in the Boxcar Children series picks up the following spring after the previous book.  The children’s cousin, Joe, is arranging for the excavation of the cave where the children found their Native American artifacts.  They’ve decided to use dynamite to blast open the roof of the cave to make excavation easier (I’m not sure if this is really the best way to get at artifacts that were sheltered safely for years in their cacve and were easily being dug up by children in their current situation, but okay), and although he had told the children that they couldn’t be there for the blasting, he’s changed his mind.  He’s even going to let seven-year-old Benny be the one to push down the handle that will set off the blast.  (Because this is one of the early books in the series, the children are aging from the first book in the series – Henry is sixteen years old, Jessie is now fourteen, and Violet is twelve.)

One of the people who will be working on the excavation is Alice, an old school friend of Joe’s.  Everyone can tell that Joe is in love with her, and soon, he proposes to her.  They get married and decide to spend their honeymoon camping out in the barn on the island, just like the children did the previous summer.

However, the children have started to wonder what the story is about the old yellow house on the island.  For some reason, it makes their grandfather sad, and he doesn’t like to talk about it.  Eventually, their grandfather tells them that their housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor, used to live in that house with her husband, Bill.  Bill used to take care of Mr. Alden’s father’s race horses.  He was a nice man, but weak-willed.  His brother, Sam, and his brother’s disreputable friends were often able to persuade Bill to do things that would get him into trouble, and Bill was never able to stand up to them.  One day, he vanished mysteriously from that house, and neither his wife nor the Aldens have any idea what happened to him.  There are only two clues about the reason for Bill’s disappearance.  One is money that Bill was supposed to give to Mr. Alden’s father for the sale of two horses that he managed on his behalf.  Mr. Alden assumes that Bill’s brother did something with the money and that Bill probably left because he was afraid to face Mr. Alden without the it.  Sam died soon after Bill disappeared, so they were unable to ask him about what he knew.  The other odd thing that happened before Bill disappeared was that Mrs. McGregor heard strange sounds in the night.  When she went to investigate, her husband was apparently just reading a newspaper, and he claimed that the noise was nothing unusual.  But, what was Bill really doing?

The kids want to investigate Bill McGregor’s mysterious disappearance, and their grandfather and Joe and Alice enter the house with them to have a look for more clues.  In a hiding place behind one of the fireplace bricks, they find a letter from Sam to Bill about the money from the horse sale.  Sam promised Bill that he would be able to pay him back more than the money he owed and tells Bill to meet him at a house in Maine near Bear Trail.  The kids persuade their grandfather to let them to go Maine with Joe and Alice over the summer to try to find the house on Bear Trail so they can find out what happened to Bill.  The trip will involve camping, hiking, and canoeing, but they’re up to the challenge!

Joe is familiar with Bear Trail because he used to work as a trail guide when he was in his teens.  They are also joined by another trail guide, Mr. Hill, and have adventures that include a storm and a real bear.  However, the real answers to the mystery lie at the Old Village at the end of the trail.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive. There are multiple copies of the book. In order to check out a book through Internet Archive, you need to sign up for an account. The account is free, and you read the books in your browser.

My Reaction

In a number of ways, this book is more adventure than mystery.  It doesn’t take long for the kids to realize discover Bill McGregor’s new identity.  However, what happened to the money is more of a puzzle.  Even Bill has been unable to find where his brother hid it years ago.  Benny discovers it by accident while watching a toad. 

One thing that had made me uncomfortable was how long Bill had stayed away from his wife.  When the kids confront him about his real identity, it turns out that Sam’s disreputable friends had lied to him, telling him that his wife had died shortly after he disappeared.  He is overjoyed to discover that she is still alive, and she is glad to see him when he finally returns home.

Mother Carey’s Chickens


Mother Carey’s Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1911.

The book begins with a quote from an older children’s book, Water Babies:

“By and by there came along a flock of petrels, who are Mother Carey‘s own chickens…. They flitted along like a flock of swallows, hopping and skipping from wave to wave, lifting their little feet behind them so daintily that Tom fell in love with them at once.”

This book is very different from the story in Water Babies (which is actually a very dark book for children), but the quote is foretelling some of the events of this story, and the characters refer to the story now and then throughout the book.  Mother Carey’s Chickens is the book that the Disney movie Summer Magic was based on.  The basic premise of the story is the same between the book and the movie, but there are also many differences in details.  For example, in the movie, the Carey family had only three children, and in the book there were four.  The oldest children in the family also seem older in the movie than they were in the book, and their stuck-up cousin Julia was also much younger in the book.

When the book begins, Mrs. Carey is not yet a widow, but she has received news that her husband, a Navy captain, is ill with what appears to be typhoid.  She has to go to him, leaving her four children Nancy, Gilbert, Kathleen, and Peter, at the house with their two servants.  (Kathleen was the child who did not appear in the movie.)  She gives them some instructions to call on their relatives if they need any further help and refers to them as her “chickens” in reference to the bit of seafaring folklore that the earlier quote mentioned.  They explain that this nickname for the children was based on a joke made by their father’s Admiral back when Nancy turned ten years old.

Nancy is the eldest of the Carey children (played by Hayley Mills in the movie), and from the way that the book describes her, I suspect her to be something of a Mary Sue for the author.  Nancy has a knack for making up and telling stories, and at one point, the book says, “… sometimes, of late, Mother Carey looked at her eldest chicken and wondered if after all she had hatched in her a bird of brighter plumage or rarer song than the rest, or a young eagle whose strong wings would bear her to a higher flight!”  Nancy and her younger sister, Kathleen, are both pretty, but Nancy is definitely the center of attention and a much livelier personality.  The book is complimentary to all of the children, however.  Gilbert is described as a “fiery youth” and little Peter, the youngest, as “a consummate charmer and heart-breaker.”  Although Peter is only four years old, the book says, “The usual elements that go to the making of a small boy were all there, but mixed with white magic. It is painful to think of the dozens of girl babies in long clothes who must have been feeling premonitory pangs when Peter was four, to think they couldn’t all marry him when they grew up!”  So, the Carey children are generally idealized as children, something pretty common in older children’s literature, especially in stories that are meant to teach certain lessons or morals, as this one does.

While the children wait for their mother to return home, they are on their best behavior even more than usual, with Nancy and Kathleen having the following conversation:

“It is really just as easy to do right as wrong, Kathleen,” said Nancy when the girls were going to bed one night.

“Ye-es!” assented Kathleen with some reservations in her tone, for she was more judicial and logical than her sister. “But you have to keep your mind on it so, and never relax a single bit! Then it’s lots easier for a few weeks than it is for long stretches!”

“That’s true,” agreed Nancy; “it would be hard to keep it up forever. And you have to love somebody or something like fury every minute or you can’t do it at all. How do the people manage that can’t love like that, or haven’t anybody to love?”

“I don’t know.” said Kathleen sleepily. “I’m so worn out with being good, that every night I just say my prayers and tumble into bed exhausted. Last night I fell asleep praying, I honestly did!”

“Tell that to the marines!” remarked Nancy incredulously.

So, the kids are pretty good, but perhaps not perfect. Still, Mary Sue characters usually do have a flaw that’s not really considered much of a flaw, making them more endearing.

Even if you don’t know the story from the movie, you may have guessed that when the children’s mother returns home, it is with the news that their father has died.  With the father’s death comes many changes for the Carey family, which is the point in the story where the movie begins.  Without the father’s salary, and with all four children less than fifteen years old, the family has to cut expenses, letting the servants go.

MotherCareysChickensJuliaComingThen, the family receives word that Captain Carey’s brother is in failing health and that his business partner, Mr. Manson, is seeking to place his daughter, Julia, with a relative.  Mr. Manson has already spoken to a cousin of the family about Julia, but this cousin has refused to take her.  The now-fatherless Carey family knows that taking on another relative will be an added burden on them, but Julia has no other family and nowhere else to go, so they see it as their duty to help her.  Admittedly, none of them likes Julia very much.  They remember her as a spoiled child who was always bragging about the wonderful things that her wealthier friend Gladys Ferguson had or did.  Even now, the Ferguson family has invited Julia for a visit before she goes to live with her aunt and cousins, but unfortunately, they have no intention of adopting her or even trying to care for her until her father is well themselves.  Nancy sees them as simply spoiling Julia and preparing her for a life that the Carey family can’t possibly support.

Then, Nancy has an idea that changes everything for the family.  She reminds them all of a trip that they took to Maine years ago and a beautiful old house that they saw in a small town called Beulah.  The memories of that happy time and idyllic house and small town call to them, and Nancy and her mother wonder what happened to the house.  They decide to talk to a friend of Captain Carey’s who had a small law office in the area, sending Gilbert to Beulah to find him.  In Beulah, Gilbert learns that the Yellow House (as people commonly call it, although it also has the name Garden Fore-and-Aft) belongs to the wealthy Hamilton family, who don’t live there but have used it as a kind of vacation home.  The father of the family, Lemuel Hamilton, is in diplomatic service and lives overseas.  During the last few years, the younger Hamiltons had used the house to host house parties of other young people they knew from school, but now the young people are living all over the world, and the house has been empty.  Gilbert’s father’s friend, Colonel Wheeler, and a local store owner, Bill Harmon, describe the house’s current condition to Gilbert.  Since the younger Hamiltons renovated the barn and put in a dance floor for their parties, it’s too fancy and no longer usable for its original purpose, which is why no farming families have been interested in the house themselves.  The men say that they can rent the house to the Carey family on behalf the Hamilton family (who, after all, still have to pay taxes on the property and wouldn’t mind a little extra money to cover it) for a sum much less than the rent of their current house.  The house could use a few minor repairs, and the barn is more fixed up for holding dances than keeping animals, but that’s no problem for the Carey family.  Living there would save the family a lot of money until the children are grown and able to start earning their own livings.  Even though Gilbert is only about fourteen, he is able to rent the house on his mother’s behalf.


The entire family is pleased, except for Julia, who is still a snob.  The book explains that Julia had always been a very well-behaved little girl although neglected by her somewhat flighty mother.  (The book doesn’t say exactly what happened to Julia’s mother, although she is no longer part of Julia’s life.  She may be dead, or she may have run off a long time ago.)  Because she was an only child and always seemed the “pink of perfection” (which provides the title of a song about Julia from the movie version of the book), always seeming to say and do the right thing, her father spoiled her from a young age, giving her every possible advantage he could.  When Julia first arrives at the Yellow House in Beulah to stay with her relatives, she still prattles on about her wonderful friend Gladys and all the luxuries she has.  The book says, “She seemed to have no instinct of adapting herself to the family life, standing just a little aloof and in an attitude of silent criticism.”  So, if Nancy sounded a little too wonderful in her earlier description, understand that Nancy thinks that Julia is too sickeningly perfect and smug.  Julia’s problem, as I see it, isn’t so much that she’s too perfect as she expects the rest of the world to be too perfect.  Because she is so focused on perfection, she isn’t sympathetic enough to other people or accommodating to imperfect situations.  As the book says, “She seldom did wrong, in her own opinion, because the moment she entertained an idea it at once became right, her vanity serving as a pair of blinders to keep her from seeing the truth.”  Besides being spoiled, she is very naive and rigid in her thinking.  She thinks that she knows what’s what and how things ought to be, and that’s all there is to it.

A major part of the story deals with Julia’s adjustment to family life and the realities of the family’s situation.  At first, she thinks that Mrs. Carey should save up for college for Gilbert and a proper coming-out for each of the girls in the family to give them all the advantages that life has to offer.  She’s sure that her father will get better and be able to help pay for everything when the time comes.  However, Mrs. Carey doesn’t want to wait on that hope.  She says that she’s sure that the children will be able to make something of themselves even without the advantages.  Matters come to a head with Julia when Kathleen gets tired of Julia complaining about everything and everyone and says that if her father hadn’t lost so much of her parents’ money as well as his own, the whole family would be better off.  Julia demands to know from Mrs. Carey if that is true, and Mrs. Carey says that she and her husband did invest in her father’s business, an investment which he may never pay back, due to his poor health.  She also tells Julia:

“You are not a privileged guest, you are one of the family. If you are fatherless just now, my children are fatherless forever; yet you have not made one single burden lighter by joining our forces. You have been an outsider, instead of putting yourself loyally into the breach, and working with us heart to heart. I welcomed you with open arms and you have made my life harder, much harder, than it was before your coming. To protect you I have had to discipline my own children continually, and all the time you were putting their tempers to quite unnecessary tests! I am not extenuating Kathleen, but I merely say you have no right to behave as you do. You are thirteen years old, quite old enough to make up your mind whether you wish to be loved by anybody or not; at present you are not!”

It’s an awful thing to say to a child that she isn’t loved, but it is something of a wake-up call to Julia to realize that the way that she was behaving was making herself unlovable to the people who should have been closest to her.  When she tells Mrs. Carey that Gladys loves her, Mrs. Carey says, “Then either Gladys has a remarkable gift of loving, or else you are a different Julia in her company.” Mrs. Carey tells her to consider what the Bible says about “the sin of causing your brother to offend.” It’s probably the first time that Julia was ever criticized for anything, breaking her perfect record of apparent perfection.  Julia has greatly provoked the rest of her family and realizes that she has earned whatever bad feelings they have toward her.  She has ignored their difficulties because she was too focused on what she wanted for herself and the way that she thought that life should be, not realizing how much harder she had made things for everyone.  For the first time in her life, Julia admits that she is not perfect and asks for another chance to make things right, marking a real change in her character.  Personally, though, I think that some of this drama could have been avoided if, knowing Julia and her behavior as she does, Mrs. Carey had spoken to her when she first came to live with the family, explaining the family circumstances in a straight-forward way and making it known that she expects certain standards of behavior from Julia when she’s in her house.  Making the rules and enforcing them them from the beginning may have prevented a lot of stress and saved Kathleen from exploding emotionally.

MotherCareysChickensLatinA character that appears in the movie, Ossian “Osh” Popham, is also in the book, although instead of being the store owner, he’s a local handyman who helps the family get the house in order.  His children, also characters in the movie, are in the book, too, although I didn’t like the way the book described his daughter, Lallie Joy.  It says that “she was fairly good at any kind of housework not demanding brains” and that she “was in a perpetual state of coma,” in case you didn’t understand that she’s basically stupid.  I always hate it when stories make a character intentionally stupid.  I did appreciate her explanation of her name, though: “Lallie’s out of a book named Lallie Rook, an’ I was born on the Joy steamboat line going to Boston.” I had wondered where the name came from.

While the family continues fixing up the house to make it nicer to live in, Nancy writes a letter to the owner of the house, 50-year-old Lemuel Hamilton, who is an American consul in Germany, telling him about her family and their life at the house.  Lemuel Hamilton finds her letter charming.  Seeing the picture of her family that Nancy encloses with the letter makes Lemuel think of his own family, scattered to the four winds, the children grown or nearly grown, either away at school or starting their first business ventures in various parts of the world.  He’s lonely for the comforts of having all of his family living together and surprised at how happy this much-poorer family looks in the old house in the small town that his ambitious, social-climbing wife always thought was beneath them.  Then, it occurs to him that his sons are of an age when they’ll start thinking about marriage soon, and he wonders what wives they’ll choose and what their family lives will be like.  On an impulse, Lemuel writes to the Carey family, telling them that they can live in the house rent-free as long as they continue with the household improvements, and he also forwards Nancy’s letter to his younger son, Thomas (tying the story back to the quote at the beginning of the book), who is living in Hong Kong and who was the one who always liked the Yellow House the most.


MotherCareysChickensTomRosesWhen Lemuel tells the Careys that they can stay in the house for as long as they like, unless his son Tom wants the house, Nancy begins thinking of Tom as a possible threat to her family’s happiness.  (She thinks of him as “The Yellow Peril” in a reference for the old xenophobic term used by people who were afraid of immigrants from Asia, since he would be coming from China, and as a pun on the Yellow House that they might be competing for. This term is also mentioned in the Disney movie.)  Of course, Tom turns out to be no threat.  Tom has been lonely pursuing his tea business in China, and Nancy’s letter and happy family life call him home to a romance that will change the lives of the Careys as well.  By the end of the book, Nancy is seventeen years old, old enough for romance and charmed by the romantic Tom.

The lessons that the story emphasizes are the importance of family relationships and togetherness over personal ambition and developing the ability to triumph over adversity instead of waiting for life advantages that may never come.  Like other books from the early 20th century, the values of hard work and cheerfulness are emphasized, and there is the implication that important people will recognize and reward these qualities when they see them.  Pretentiousness and snobbery are criticized.  A settled, happy family life is the ultimate goal.

Overall, though, I really prefer the movie to the book.  I think that cutting down some of the side plots improved the story.  Besides removing the younger daughter, Kathleen, from the story, the movie also eliminated other side characters, like Cousin Ann and the Lord siblings, Cyril and Olive, who also live in Beulah and become friends of the family.  Also, making Julia older than she was in the original book, closer to Nancy’s age than Kathleen’s, improves the sisterly relationship that the girls eventually have.

My copy of the book originally belonged to my grandmother, who was born the same year that this book was originally written.

The book is now public domain and available online through Project Gutenberg.

This House is Made of Mud


This House is Made of Mud by Ken Buchanan, illustrated by Libba Tracy, 1991, 1994.

The edition of this book that I have is the bilingual edition with English and Spanish.  Originally, the book was written in just English. I like to use kids’ books for Spanish practice, which is why I like this one.  It’s a Reading Rainbow Book.

The story is written in a poetical form (non-rhyming), describing an adobe house, which is why it’s made of “mud.”  It’s a traditional way of building houses in the American Southwest, where I’m from.


As the book describes the house, it compares it to the land around it and the world in general.  Like the Earth, the house is round, which is how some Native Americans build their houses.


Aside from the people who live there, animals also share the house, from the family pets to bugs and mice who live in the walls and under the floor.


Their yard is the desert, surrounded by mountains and full of cactus.


The people who live there have many friends who come to visit, and it is a house full of love.

The book is currently available through Internet Archive.


Cranberry Halloween


Cranberry Halloween by Wende and Harry Devlin, 1982.

The citizens of Cranberryport need to raise money to build a new dock after theirs was destroyed in a storm. Almost everyone in town volunteers to help, and Mr. Whiskers volunteers to keep the money they raise in his grandfather’s old moneybox.


Mr. Grape, a rather cranky old man, not only refuses to donate money to the cause but he insists that it is a mistake to trust Mr. Whiskers with the money because he is a sloppy and careless person. However, Maggie’s grandmother speaks up for Mr. Whiskers, and he gets the job of treasurer for the fund.


On Halloween night, Mr. Whiskers and young Maggie make their way to the town party, where Mr. Whiskers will present the money for the dock at the town hall.  As they pass by the spooky old house where Mr. Whiskers’s aunt used to live, two men in pirate costumes try to steal the money from them.


Mr. Whiskers and Maggie hide in the spooky old house, but the pirates are still waiting for them outside. What are they going to do?


Mr. Whiskers uses his memories of the old house to find a way out, and it isn’t long before they uncover the villain who put the pirates up to the attempted theft.

The book includes a recipe for Cranberry Dessert in the back.