Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover: A Not So Scary Book About A Haunted House by Tricia Pfeil
One of the most frequent questions I get asked during book checkout is, “Where are your scary books?” I direct them to the Mary Downing Hahn section and those books often get returned with a story of a sleepless night or two. One thing I’ve discovered in my many years of teaching is that my younger students might SAY they want a scary book, but they don’t REALLY like to be scared! I’ve been on a quest for a story that has all the elements of a good haunting but stops short of giving them nightmares. To make it even more challenging, it must also be written at a level for younger readers. I’m thrilled to say I’ve found a gem. At first I thought The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O’Reilly was going to be as frightening as any other book about a haunted house. There’s a creepy house on the cover, the word “secret” in the title, and a porcelain doll that comes to life (there is nothing scarier). It has all the makings of a frightening ghost story, but it’s not spooky in the least.
Trina and her father move from town to town fixing up old houses. When they arrive at Goldenrod, she must start over AGAIN in a new house, new town, and new school. The difference this time is that everyone swears Goldenrod is haunted. It’s hard enough to make friends without living in a supposed haunted house that’s rumored to have cast a curse on the depressed town. While exploring the house, Trina soon finds a secret room with a doll inside that is at least 100 years old. Imagine her surprise when the doll suddenly begins to talk. Augustine, the doll, helps Trina discover the true secrets of Goldenrod. Can Trina prove that Goldenrod isn’t haunted the way people think it is and fix the fractured town?
I found this book to be a unique take on a haunted house. Don’t get me wrong, it IS haunted- just not the way I thought it was. Goldenrod has a tragic history, but instead of being dark and scary, O’Reilly keeps it magical and fun. Every unexplained noise or change in temperature is the house searching for love and restoration to its former glory. The mystery of Goldenrod is suspenseful and interesting, but not terrifying at all. Besides unexplained happenings in the house, the talking doll was a wonderful surprise. Before this book, everything I’ve ever read involving a doll coming to life was terrifying, but Augustine isn’t what I first imagined. She is kind and helpful and sweetly searching for her long-lost prince. Augustine quickly becomes Trina’s best friend. I’ve been so ruined by horror movies, I forgot what a magical dream a talking toy might be. What little girl doesn’t wish for her favorite doll to start speaking and become a real friend? As for Trina, like many middle grade book characters, she struggles to fit in with her peers. There’s a town bully who won’t give her a break and the other students are too afraid of Goldenrod to give Trina a chance. Along with that, she’s confused about her absent mother, doesn’t want to be babied by her father, and is desperate to stay in one place. Luckily for Trina, Goldenrod and Augustine can help her with her quest for belonging and acceptance.
The Secret of Goldenrod is easy to read and a definite page turner. It’s fantastic for a younger student that thinks they want a scary book but deep down aren’t quite ready. LOVED IT!
Tricia Pfeil is a 40 something wife and mother of two boys who definitely don’t like scary books! She is a former middle school English teacher and current elementary school librarian in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her mission is to find the perfect book for any of her students who claim they don’t like to read. Her blog is her favorite place to share her new discoveries and you can find it here: http://diaryofahappylibrarian.blogspot.com/