Ghost stories in the summer? Of course! If summer campfires are the perfect time to TELL a ghost story, summer nights must also the best time to READ a ghost story. Just imagine sitting in your tent (or on a porch) with lightning bugs flickering outside, reading with your flashlight into the wee hours of the morning. (Or reading in bed and not straining your eyes works too.) Ghost stories were made for summer nights!
Besides, THIS particular ghost story takes place in England. And this year, England seems to be the place to visit! Between the Queen’s Jubilee, Royal birthdays and the Olympics, everything British seems to be in vogue. So check out The House on Parchment Street, by Patricia A. McKillip, and join the ranks of Anglophiles around the world.
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Carol didn’t really want to spend half of her summer in England, but her mother insisted that she needed culture. And she wanted Carol to meet her Aunt Catherine, Uncle Harold and cousin Bruce, who have just moved into a new house. Well, it’s not a new house…it’s actually a 300-year-old historic site, with a long history, next to a graveyard. Aunt Catherine has been raving about the house and all the work being done on it in her letters.
Carol doesn’t care about the house though, she just wants her traveling to be over; she took a plane to London, a bus to the train station, a train to Wellingborough and another bus to Middleton. At the bus station, she asked the way to Parchment Street and just started walking, trying to find it from the description of the house in Aunt Catherine’s letter. Just as she reaches the house, six boys on bikes come out of nowhere and surround her, making mocking comments about her hair, her clothing and her general state of being. Angry, Carol storms up to the door of the house and pushes her way in…knocking over Bruce, who was working on his bike just inside the door.
It’s not the best way for the cousins to meet. Carol is angry, and Bruce is sullen and defensive. It turns out that the boys who teased Carol are his friends, and it’s only because his bike was broken that he wasn’t out there with them. By the time Aunt Catherine and Uncle Harold arrive (from the London airport, where they’d gone to pick up Carol) the cousins are barely speaking to each other. Carol thinks it will be easier to make friends with the elusive black cat that appears to run in and out of the shadows in the lower part of the house that to ever make friends with Bruce. She hopes it’s not going to be an unbearable summer as she and Bruce glare at each other, accidentaly manage to get each other in trouble, and end up trying to avoid each other as much as possible.
But then one evening at dinner time, Carol is getting a frozen pie out of the basement freezer and she sees the dark figure of a man follow the black cat out of the shadows. Frightened, Carol watches him without making sound. As the clock strikes four, the man draws a sword and then walks into the wall. Carol tries to tell her aunt and uncle (and several visitors) about what she saw, but no one believes her.
Except Bruce. Who, as it turns out, has also seen the ghost.
Together, Carol and Bruce decide to find out who the ghost is. They hide in the basement and wait to see the man again…only to discover that there’s more than one ghost in the old house. Not only that, but the ghosts have been in the basement for over 300 years. Now, working together, Bruce and Carol have to find out where the ghosts are going and what happened that is keeping them in the house. Carol’s summer is about to get a lot more complicated and a whole lot more interesting!
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The House on Parchment Street is one of my favorite ghost stories…ever! It was originally published in 1973, but I first read the book when I was in middle school and on a British history kick. I think the original purple cover, with the girl in the blue dress sort of beckoning with half her body in the wall was what grabbed my attention. I was on a Royalists and Roundheads kick that summer (inspired by Lark, by Sally Watson–another old favorite which the library doesn’t own and some of Patricia Beatty’s historial fiction books set in England) and recognized the dress style. I also used to judge books by the illustrators, and Charles Robinson was one of my all-time favorite cover artists.
It’s a great mystery, with lots of history that American kids don’t usually learn. If you do read it, you might want to find out more about the events in English history. Or maybe not. But if you start The House on Parchment Street, you’ll definitely want to finish it and find out what happened to these people that kept them hanging around in an old cellar for almost 400 years until a couple of modern teens help them.
This book is probably best for fifth to seventh grader readers, but could be enjoyed by kids both slightly older and slightly younger, if they’re interested in British history or ghost stories. If you’re visiting any type of stately manor or ancestral estate in England, The House on Parchment Street should be required reading!
So, give it a try and let me know what you think. And then go check your own basement for historical happenings and ghostly visitors. 🙂