Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mystery of the Pirate's Ghost

Eleven-year-old Abby Hubbard and her brother, ten-year-old Kit, get an enormous surprise one spring day when their mother receives a letter from a law firm in Boston. Her half-brother, a man she's never even met, has died - and in his will he's left her a beautiful old house on the New England coast - but only if she and her family agree to live in it. They decide to move after Mr. Hubbard is able to get a transfer to his company's New England branch, and when the beginning of summer rolls around, Abby and Kit say goodbye to their friends and their old house in Pennsylvania and head for New England.

Their new house was built in 1690, and the children are fascinated to learn about its history from their mother's half-sister, Aunt Ann, who lived in the old place with her brother until his death. She tells them that it was partially burned down during the Revolutionary War, and that there are stories of an old smuggler's tunnel leading from the house down to the beach - although no one has ever found any proof of that. She also tells them the legend of one of their ancestors, said to have been a pirate - and that over the years the ghost of that pirate has been glimpsed on stormy nights.

Kit and Abby are thrilled with their new house, and are even happier when they make friends with some other children who live nearby. But before they know it, they find themselves in the midst of some mysterious happenings, and their curiosity leads them to explore things that the adults around them do not appear to notice. Disappearing furniture, overheard snippets of conversation, and strange sounds in the middle of the night - what can it all mean?

I received this book through the Weekly Reader book club when I was a kid. I loved the Weekly Reader club! It was so exciting receiving books in the mail, addressed to me, opening up the packages to see what wonderful new books were inside. I remember loving this book and its detailed illustrations, which I used to pore over (particularly the one with the skeleton in it, which I found delightfully spooky), and reading it again and again. I read other books by this author, mysteries similar in tone and style, but unfortunately this is the only one I own, and they all seem to be out of print now. I read this one to my children (ages 8 and 10) over the past several weeks, and it is always so delightful to share a book with them that I loved as a child.

My girls really enjoyed it, although I was a bit surprised about the many lengthy passages that were full of description and details that, I think, would be considered irrelevant by today's editorial standards. I don't remember feeling bogged down by these details as a child, and my daughters did not complain, but at times it felt to me like a bit too much. Books for younger readers seem to be more streamlined these days, without the descriptive rambles about irrelevant details that sprinkled these pages. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. Maybe impatient readers would give up - or just skip over those parts if they were reading to themselves. Or maybe they would enjoy the extra description and feel more a part of the book because of it.

It was also a bit dated in the terms of gender roles. The fact that Mr. Hubbard is the breadwinner, and Mrs. Hubbard is the quintessential 1960's housewife is certainly reflective of the time period and was not an issue for me. But I could not help cringing a little every time Abby was set a chore like setting the table or shelling peas, but Kit was not. And at one point Abby has to go to church with her mother and great-aunt while Kit gets to stay home and do some exciting demolition work that has to with the mystery they are trying to solve. And no one even questions the unfairness of this! I remember being irritated by that as a child. (Although, thinking back, I totally identified with her, because that kind of thing was constantly happening to me. And maybe that was the point?)

At any rate, this was a very enjoyable jaunt into my childhood, and I felt privileged to be able to revisit this book with my own children, who enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I was a child. Honness creates a marvelous sense of place with her coastal New England setting, and the historical details were appreciated by my children, who have been learning about the time periods discussed in the book. I will be on the lookout for other books by Honness in used bookshops - but I'm glad I still have this one, which was always my favorite. Many of my beloved childhood books involved mysterious old houses, pirates, hidden passageways, and mysteries, and this one has them all.

Mystery of the Pirate's Ghost by Elizabeth Honness; illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush (J.B. Lippincott Co., 1966)

Also reviewed at:
Kinnie's Korner: "if you like ghost storys then you will like this book. I like this book because its exciting and scary!"


  1. oh this reminds me of mystery books I would read as a child, especially British author Enid Blyton. I did love these mysteries, I so wanted to go on vacation to some cool island where I could run around and find these types of things, no??

    on a totally different note, one of my favorite romance authors is going to be in town July 15th, I have GOT to go, eeck!

  2. i LOVED the Weekly Reader book insert days, when i was a kid! it kinda sucked whenever we "upgraded" to the Scholastic inserts.

    as for the sexism in the book, i think it would confuse and agitate me, too. my brother and i were 4 yrs apart, so chore discrepancy was more by age than sex. we each had to do traditionally female and male chores. and church was always a whole family event. (i've never understood those families where only the wife goes.) so, yeah, those discrepancies would irk me, as a reader, too. but i wonder if your girls would've even noticed. they don't have brothers, so they may just see this as sibling unfairness than sexism. or do they?

  3. I've never heard of this one but I totally dig the retro cover! You'd never find those colours on a book cover today! If I saw it at a book sale/thrift store I'd buy it for that cover alone. LOL I've always enjoyed Beth & Joe Krush's illustrations though. They were pretty prolific in their day.

  4. VA Gal - which author is it?? For some reason I did not discover Enid Blyton till I was much older, and I've always been sorry about that. I would have loved her books even more as a child, I'm sure. I always fantasized about that same thing. Kids in books always had it so good!

    Molly - You know, you're right - they didn't even notice most of it. I think they assumed it was an age thing, too, I guess - although in the book the girl is older. We all did cry out about unfairness when poor Abby had to go to church when Kit was having all the fun, though. When I was a kid my parents used to claim age difference for the unfairness, which I bought till I started noticing that when I finally got as old as my brother had been when he could do a certain thing, there was always some excuse why I still couldn't do it. Hmph.

    Nicola - the cover IS great, isn't it? And the pirate shows up so much better on the scanned image than on the actual cover - I don't know that I ever even noticed it before! I will have to see what else the Krushes have illustrated - the style sure looked familiar, but I never connected the names before.

  5. This sounds wonderful but I know what you mean about gender issues being really old fashioned. I loved and still love Enid Blyton's 'of adventure' series of eight books but reading them recently I found myself really irritated by the fact that she gave the two boys interesting hobbies but not the girls. They apparently did *nothing* in their spare time! I still like her books though and if you and your children like underground tunnels and treasure, her stand alone book, The Treasure Hunters, might appeal. Also The Island of Adventure, set on islands off the Scottish coast.

    Is Mystery of the Pirate's Ghost still available do you know?

  6. Cath - it's actually out of print, from what I've been able to tell. Of course - who doesn't like stories about underground tunnels and treasure? We'll definitely have to look into the Blytons. My girls are surprisingly accepting of the old-fashioned language and tone of older books - they love E. Nesbit, too, so I think they'll have fun. Thanks for the recommendations!


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