The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

In the coming months, Knight Reader may start to have a bit of a different feel.  I will still be reviewing young adult novels, but I also plan to post more for upper elementary and middle grade readers.  I will start this by focusing on the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees (which I have to read anyway since I promote this SCBA program at my own elementary school).  Many of these books, while targeted to younger readers, may also be of interest to teen and even adult readers.  One of next year’s SCCBA nominees, Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, has already been reviewed here, so this may not be too much of a departure for me.  We’ll see how it goes…

Mary Downing Hahn is known for her ghost stories.  My students at school know to go to the H section in fiction if they want a good spooky tale, and they’ve already begun to devour The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, one of Hahn’s newest books.  This book, which takes place in the late 19th century, is one that will definitely appeal to children, especially those in 4th grade on up, who like their fiction with a bit of terror thrown in.

Florence Crutchfield, a twelve-year-old living in a London orphanage, gets the surprise of her life when she’s sent to live with her great-uncle at his country manor house, Crutchfield Hall.  Life at Crutchfield Hall is very different from Florence’s time at the orphanage.  She has a warm place to sleep, and there’s always enough food.  Florence’s uncle is happy to have her there, but her aunt seems to hate her on site.  Why is there so much animosity from her aunt?  What could Florence have possibly done to deserve so much hatred?

Well, it seems that Florence’s aunt, a crazed and bitter woman, thinks Florence is trying to replace Sophia, Florence’s young cousin who died in a horrible accident nearly a year ago.  Aunt Eugenie makes Florence’s life miserable and constantly compares her to the seemingly perfect Sophia.  Florence is not even allowed to see James, her other cousin and Sophia’s younger brother.  (He grew very weak and sickly following Sophia’s death.)  Florence feels more alone now than she ever did at the orphanage, but she’s not alone…not at all.

Florence soon realizes Sophia is not entirely gone from Crutchfield Hall.  The ghost of her cousin is haunting Florence, James, and even members of the household staff.  Sophia has the power to make Florence do almost anything she wants…and that includes terrorizing those around her and finding a way to recreate her death so that someone else takes the fall that killed her.

Can Florence–and James–find a way to stop Sophia from wreaking havoc at Crutchfield Hall?  Can they banish her ghost forever?  Will Sophia ever really rest in peace?  Unravel the mystery when you read The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

While I did find this book to be spooky, and I think the majority of my students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades (the target audience for the SCCBA) will enjoy it, I do think there are some elements of the story, particularly the literary allusions, that may be more appropriate for older readers.  I don’t know many elementary school students who will understand the references to the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and others of the time.  Yes, this book could lead them to those works, but they are still, in my opinion, books for older readers.  (I’m in my thirties, and I’m still not a fan of Dickens.) 

Other than that small gripe, I think The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a great read for kids, teens, and adults.  My students are already fans, and every copy of this book stays checked out of my library.  (I only got to read it this weekend because it’s the end of the school year, and books are getting turned in.)  Even though this book is on the SCCBA nominee list, I also think it’s perfect for reluctant readers in middle and high schools.  It’s short, quick, and engaging, and, like I said previously, it could serve as a push to dive into meatier works.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is the first book I’ve read by Mary Downing Hahn, but I can almost guarantee it won’t be the last.

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