Monday, January 16, 2017

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

If you have been following this blog you may know I am a huge fan of Margaret Mahy.  We always include a selection of her picture books into our literature program each year.

I bought home some of our older books (and new ones too) to read over the summer and among them was The Haunting a novel for Middle Primary readers.  I did think I had read this many years ago but only sketchy parts of the plot seemed familiar.

Barney is the quiet child of the family. He is the youngest.  His mum died when he was born but he now has a wonderful step mother who gives him unconditional love :

"Claire had come as a wonderful surprise, giving him a hug when he came home from school, asking him about his day, telling him about hers, arranging picnics and unexpected parties and helping him with his homework."

Claire is expecting a new baby.  Barney has not told anyone but he does feel anxious and he is desperate not to upset Claire so when an apparition or ghost appears his certain Claire must not know. Coinciding with the appearance of the ghost the family receive the news that an older relative Great Uncle Barnaby has died.

As the 'ghost' comes closer and closer Barney becomes quite ill.  His sister Tabitha is determined to unlock the mystery about Barnaby but also about another long lost Great Uncle named Cole. He was the black sheep of the family who drowned when he was quite young. Troy, Barney's other sister watches all the family coming and goings and sees her brother is distressed but she also seems to be moving even further away from the family.

"Troy was the one who picked up, folded, straightened and brushed down - everyone in the family knew that. Yet today ... Troy's tidiness ... was shocking - something eerie and astonishing. The books in the bookcase were in exact order of size, pulled out to the very edge of the shelf and not a quarter of an inch forward to back."

Eventually everything comes to a head.  Misunderstandings are resolved and Barney discovers the truth about Cole and Barnaby and his sisters.  This little book is a terrific one to read but our copy has such small print - I know this aspect will not appeal to readers in  my school library. I may need to source a replacement copy.

Here is a very detailed and positive review in Kirkus.  In New Zealand they made a movie of this book which won the Carnegie Medal in 1983.  Here is a three minute audio sample from the first chapter.  Oddly this book is out of print but there is a new audio version coming soon.

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