Wicked Wicked Ladies are wickedly fun

The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase and illustrated by Peter Sis; published by Scholastic, New York, 2005; first published by Random House Children’s Books, New York, 1968; 128 pages.

Maureen “Stinky” Swanson is the terror of her house and neighborhood.  After dousing the lady next door with the garden hose, Maureen runs away to the abandoned house down the road.  The Old Messerman place used to be a grand mansion inhabited by a fine family but now is in terrible disrepair.  The police often search the grounds because Seven Slinky Sisters shoplift in town then disappear in the Messerman house.  Maureen often stares through the locked and boarded gates, dreaming of escaping her life to become Maureen Messerman.  Ironically, the 7 Messerman sisters also dreamed of escaping their parents’ rules and disappeared one day a century earlier; their parents worried themselves to death and left the mansion to rot over the years.  On this particular day, she finds a loose board and squeezes through the gate onto the property.  What she finds is astounding: a leprechaun, seven pigeons, and paintings that have real silk skirts and seem to move.  The story progresses by regressing; Maureen finds herself on a dirt road with fine carriages pulled by horses.  The Old Messerman place has become the New Messerman place with the Messerman family living there.  What ensues is a scary story with a moral.  In the end, the Seven Slinky Sisters provided enough fear and loathing in Maureen that she became a good sister, friend and daughter.

At first I thought this book should go in my children’s book blog, because it is a simply written tale.  Upper-elementary aged children would be able to read this with little difficulty.  But as Halloween approaches, I read it with an eye for hi-lo readers, those middle- and high-schoolers looking for a trick-or-treat tale but whose skills prevent them from reading more complex stories.  I think this would fit the bill, even though the protagonist is 8 years old.

Chase wrote mainly plays and screenplays during her career, most notably the stage production and subsequent movie adaptation of Harvey.  First published in 1968, Scholastic rediscovered this tale and republished it in 2005.  Is it classic literature?  Certainly not.  The story is often simple but Chase’s tendency to define characters in a string of descriptors is unique.  For example, the book opens with:

Maureen Swanson was known among the other children in her neighborhood as a hard slapper, a shouter, a loud laugher, a liar, a trickster, and a stay-after-schooler.

While the story is entertaining, the misty line art of Peter Sis adds an air of mysterious other-worldliness.  It’s as if the reader is left to determine if the story is a dream or from another world parallel to our own.  Combined, the words and illustrations complete the tale.  I think this quick read will appeal to most kids looking for a Halloween tale that’s more than a collection of short stories.

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 3-6; 6-9 for hi-lo readers

wickedladieCover Art: Peter Sis’ misty line art is the perfectly haunting image for the cover and the witchy-eyes-yellow of the haunted font will definitely garner attention.  The black font on yellow of the spine will not stand out on shelves.

Suggested Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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