BY: GISELA WOLDENGA
Ben and Kate are not too pleased to be left behind when their parents visit relatives—until a special room in their aunt and uncle’s house piques their curiosity. The room is haunted by a ghostly lady who needs their help. She begs them to go back to 1718 in England and retrieve a medallion that proves her innocent of killing her baby. She gives Ben and Kate her diary so they can read about her history and they decide to go. But how can they get there? And if they do, will they ever make it back?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: The Special Room by Gisela Woldenga is an adolescent book with a twist. It revolves around two pre-teen children who go back in time to England in 1718 to do a favor for a ghost. I was actually quite impressed. The author did her homework, and the book feels quite authentic. It is short, only about 140 pages, so it’s easily read in a single sitting.
I thought the characters were very well done, and although, I am not sure that I would have been willing to go back in time when I was 10 or 11, I guess kids today grow up faster than they did back when I was that age. I guess it is hard to stay a child when there is so much access to technology with all the information on everything that is happening in the world. The Special Room is a good book for kids, and one that I think they would really enjoy as it is a little more sophisticated than books for that age usually are.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Although I don’t normally read that genre—I leave that to my kids—I quite enjoyed The Special Room by Gisela Woldenga. The plot is strong and a little more complex than usual for that genre. The character are very believable and I didn’t find any fault with the time travel back to eighteenth-century England part, not that the history of Great Britain is my forte, but at least there was nothing that made me think, “Hey wait a minute, they didn’t have that back then.”
The book is short, so I was able to read it in an afternoon, but it held my interest from the first chapter. Which, to be honest, I didn’t really expect, due to the age of its target audience. But there was enough action and adventure to make it rather tense at time. All in all, a very well done novella, something most adolescents would want to read again and again.
“Bye, Mom, bye, Dad!” Ben and Kate called from the sidewalk.
A tear rolled down Kate’s cheek.
Ben nudged her. “Don’t cry or Aunt Marge will get all mushy again.”
Kate swallowed. “Mom and Dad never went on holidays without us before.”
Ben nodded. “Yeah, I know. But Aunt Marge and Uncle Harry are okay. And it’s only for two weeks.”
Kate wiped off the tear. “What are we going to do here?”
Ben shrugged. “Don’t know yet.”
“Children, come inside, cake is waiting.” Aunt Marge put her arms around their shoulders. “Moms and Dads need time out sometimes. They are visiting some aunts and uncles in Montreal and will come home with lots of stories to tell and pictures to show.”
She led them through the hall into the kitchen. Kate and Ben remembered the house from a visit last Christmas. Now the sun shone through the curtains on the windows. Small crystals hanging there made rainbows dance around the walls.
Everything was bright and warm. The table was loaded with cups and saucers, a tea pot, a jug of lemonade and a huge cake.
“That cake is so big. Is there chocolate in it?” Kate’s mouth started to water.
Aunt Marge nodded. “Yes, with whipping cream.”
Seeing the big slice of cake on her plate Kate thought that it might not be so bad to stay here for a while, even if she still felt a bit abandoned by her parents. She glanced over at Ben. He didn’t wait long to dig into his portion of Aunt Marge’s creation.
“You each have your own room,” Aunt Marge said. “The house is big. You can explore all the other rooms if you want to, even the attic.”
“Who knows?” said Uncle Harry. “It might even be haunted.”
Both kids’ eyes popped wide open. “Haunted?” they called in unison.
“You mean, ghosts and stuff?” Ben asked.
Uncle Harry shrugged. “I haven’t met any floating around yet. But then I don’t go up there.”
“How do you know about it then?” Kate asked. “Have you seen any ghost, Aunt Marge?”
“No, thank God. People who owned the house before told us about it. They must have seen something.”
Ben put another spoonful of cake into his mouth. “I think old houses all have ghosts. I’d like to find out, though. I’m not scared.”
Aunt Marge wagged her finger at him. “We have to look after you, so don’t worry us by doing silly things, you hear?”
Ben and Kate looked at each other. “Okay,” they promised.
After tea Aunt Marge led the children up the stairs to their rooms.
“There are the cupboards for your clothes. The bathroom is right across from here. I’m sure you remember. If you need any help, call me, okay?” Aunt Marge turned and went downstairs again.
Kate unzipped her suitcase. She had put her new diary on top as well as a pad of drawing paper and pencil crayons. Mom thought she also needed books to read. But Kate didn’t bring any. Unless it was raining buckets, she wasn’t going to sit around and read.
However she was planning to write things down every night. That way she would have enough for the yearly essay in school “What I did in the summer.” Drawing was her latest hobby. She giggled. What if they saw a real ghost and she could sketch it and show it in school? Would they believe her?
“Want to go exploring?” Ben came in and looked around. “Do your clothes later. Let’s go outside.”
“We have to ask Aunt Marge,” Kate said and skipped down to the kitchen.
Their aunt cautioned them, “There is a lot of land around, also a small stream. Don’t get lost. And don’t get too close to the horses, they might bite. They don’t belong to us. We stable them for a friend. Do you have a watch? Supper is at six. Off you go.”
Outside Ben pointed. “See the old barn over there? Let’s go and look.”
“Probably for the horses,” Kate said. “Where are they anyway?”
They found them behind the barn.
“They’re beautiful!” she continued. “I like the spotted one.”
Ben and Kate stopped at the fence. The white and brown horse leaned its head over it.
Kate put her hand carefully on its nose. “He likes us.”
“We are supposed to stay away from them,” Ben reminded her.
“But this one is curious and gentle.” Kate tentatively stroked the horse’s forehead. Now the dark-brown horse came closer, too.
“I would choose that one,” Ben said. “Looks more like a war horse.”
But it stopped and gave a snort.
Kate was still patting the head of the spotted one. “War horse? I don’t think anyone would use a horse in a war anymore.”
“Not now but they used them in medieval times, even put armor on them.” Ben stomped through the grass towards the building. “Let’s investigate the barn.”
“Do you believe in this ghost thing?” Kate asked. The thought of meeting one intrigued her.
“I think Uncle Harry just wants to scare us. He hasn’t seen any, he said. Maybe the barn is haunted. It’s our mission to find out.”
Kate giggled. “You sound like my teacher.”
The barn door stood half open and creaked when Ben pushed it inward. Inside a few bales of hay lay in one corner and two big heaps of straw in the other.
“Smells funny,” Ben said and wrinkled his nose. “Like…old and musty.”
“And like old wood,” Kate added. “The horses are probably in here at night or when it rains.”
Ben walked around and poked his fingers through some broken planks. “It’s going to break down pretty soon. Needs repairing. Nothing else in here.” He stopped. “Did you hear that?”
Kate looked up. “What?”
Then she heard a swish and a rustle. They held their breath and listened. There it was again.
“Our first ghost?” Ben whispered.
Something swooped down and landed on a lower rafter. Big eyes glared at them and they heard a click-click.
“Oh, man! An owl.” Ben let out a big breath. For a moment he had been scared. Not that he would admit it to Kate.
Kate’s heart still thumped. “That was weird. Is the owl going to bite us? What was that clicking noise?”
Ben thought for a moment. “I think it did that with its beak. I never thought owls were that big. Let’s go somewhere else. So much for ghosts.” He felt just a bit disappointed.
They followed a path under the big oak trees and ended up at the stream Aunt Marge had talked about.
“We could go fishing here,” Ben said. He looked into the water. “But I don’t see any fish. Dad always says we have to go early in the morning when they are hungry.”
“Come and look,” Kate called down from a small hill a few meters away. “Grave Stones. Someone is buried here.” She hunched down. She had discovered three grey stones, covered with lichen and slightly leaning away from each other. “Elizabeth Whyte,” she read. “James Whyte and Kenny Whyte. A whole family at the same time. How did they die? Did they get sick?”
Ben leaned over. “Wow, that was a long time ago, 1750.The kid was only one year old. Uncle Harry must know the story. Hey, maybe they turned into ghosts. Let’s go back and find out.”
© 2013 by Gisela Woldenga