CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 3 . . . . October 6, 2000
Then the pale light swirled into a coil of fury. It rushed at Diana. She flung out her arms, blocking the doorway, thinking of Rosie, helpless in her bed.With its eerie covers and spooky stories, Sharon Siamon's "Sleepover" series is sure to be a big hit with pre-adolescent girls. Inspired by tales of mermaids, pirate treasure, ghosts, headless horsemen and sea monsters, the tales are just scary enough to keep readers enthralled, but not so frightening as to be considered nightmare material. The combination of dark, murky colours, the clever use of light and shadow, and, in most cases, a ghostly apparition on the cover illustration entices readers to take a closer look. Little else is revealed, however, as only a single phrase tells readers who the storyteller will be in the featured title, but nothing about the story itself. All of the back cover illustrations are identical, depicting the Sleepover Gang: Alex, Jo, Louise and Charlie, all wrapped in sleeping bags and listening to a story by candlelight. The gang, friends since the sixth grade, gather at a variety of places for sleepovers. Sometimes the setting of the sleepover closely matches the setting in the ghost story; at other times, an object worn or shown by one of the girls serves as a natural lead-in to the spooky narrative. The girls take turns telling the stories and stop at strategic points in the narration to heighten the suspense. Usually, this technique is very effective, but, at times, it becomes predictable and slightly annoying. Not much is learned about the individual members of the group beyond Charlie's love of junk food and the gang's schoolgirl crushes - the focus is always on the ghost story.
With the exception of the ninth book, all titles have 16 chapters. (Book #9, ghost-written by Sylvia McNicholl, has nineteen.) The authors' use of relatively short sentences and simple language makes these books perfect for reluctant readers. Main characters, mostly girls, range in age from 12-17. Mystery genre aficionados will devour each title. Only one criticism: each story is neatly sewn up at the end, and the author even goes beyond, telling what happened to the main characters years later. Maybe people have come to expect happy endings, but some of the endings seem a bit contrived and too perfect. Perhaps a future title could go against the grain and leave a little to the reader's imagination.
High interest and low vocabulary make this series an enjoyable read.
The Secret Room.
The dungeon of Jo's 150-year-old house is the setting of the girls' sleepover. Jo's Aunt Diana, at
age 13, moves to a big, old house in the country. She discovers a door, papered over by
wallpaper, leading to a secret room. When Diana's younger sister, Rosie, discovers a pair of
silver scissors in the room, strange things begin to happen. A neighbour, Granny Martin, tells the
girls a story which happened 50 years ago. Emma, the gardener's daughter, fell in love with the
master of the house. The master proposed marriage and made a beautiful room for his future
bride. When the master went away to New York and met and married someone else, Emma
locked herself in the room and stabbed herself with the scissors. The master found her, dressed in
her wedding gown and lying in a pool of blood. She left a note asking him to meet her in the
boathouse. After Emma's death, the master was never the same again. Diana's visits to the
secret room stir up the ghosts, but, with her help and the destruction of the boathouse, the ghosts
are finally able to rest.
The Snowed-In Sleepover.
During a heavy snowstorm, Alex's parents leave the girls at their rustic mountain cabin while they
return to town for supplies. The howling of wolves calls to mind a story about Jake Kingston, son
of the cabin's previous owners. While Jake's parents travel to the city to check on a gold claim,
Digger, their business partner, tries to do away with Jake by placing dynamite in the mine, then
setting a trap for Jake's parents. Jake, however, escapes from the mine and is cared for by a
strange girl named Lucy. One day, Jake watches with fascination as Lucy changes into a
white wolf before his eyes. Digger's failed attempts to kill Jake cause his anger to escalate and to
be directed at Lucy as well for she thwarts his every sinister plan. When Lucy, in wolf form, is
trapped and bound by Digger, Jake tries to save her. As a result of his intervention, Lucy is
finally able to return to human form for good. Meanwhile, Digger meets his demise falling down a
The Haunted Hotel Sleepover.
This story is a retelling of "The Monkey's Paw," by W. W. Jacobs, with elements from other well-known stories about wishes that come true. Alena's archaeologist father, having found the claw of Horus, the sun god, dies while on an Egyptian dig. Orphaned, Alena is sent to New York to live in a house for young women. The house is run by Victoria Calvert, who treats the girls like slaves and only wants the money from their inheritances. Alena is befriended by Tracey, a talented Braodway star wannabe, who begs Alena to make a wish on the claw on her behalf. Reluctantly, Alena agrees and wishes for Tracey to become a star. When the wish actually comes true, misfortune befalls Tracey as her fiance, Ben, a stagehand, has a fatal accident on the opening night of Tracey's debut production. Despondent, Tracey pleads with Alena to wish Ben back to life, but, when this happens, Ben's bloodied body is so hideous that Alena uses her final wish to send Ben back to his grave. Meanwhile, Miss Calvert, jealous of Tracey's fame on the stage, takes the claw and wishes to be able to fly like a falcon. Years later, she barely survives the Hindenburg disaster and has to sell all of her possessions to pay her medical bills.
The Camp-Fire Sleepover.
Based on the many New England legends of headless horsemen, this story will appeal to young
girls because of its setting, a summer riding camp. While driving to Sunset Trails during a heavy
thunderstorm, Amy's mother almost has her car go off an embankment after a horse with a
dark-cloaked rider dashes in front of it. The camp, at which only four campers are enrolled, is
experiencing financial hardship due to rumours of its being haunted. Amy is particularly receptive
to the rumours, hearing ghostly hoofbeats several times throughout the story. A rivalry between
Victoria, a snooty camper, and the rest of the group results in a few dares, in which, first Amy,
then Victoria, have to spend a certain length of time on the dark road where the ghost rider has
been seen. When Victoria and her horse are spared from plunging into a quarry pit by an unknown
horse and rider, the ghost is finally at peace.
The Shivering Sea Sleepover.
Influenced by stories of mermaids and pirates, this novel is not as exciting as some of the other titles in the series. Told by Jo aboard her boat, the _Sea Nymph_, the story takes place on Parrot Island where Bruce Connelly, obsessed with finding buried treasure, lives with his daughter Lorelei. When William Lewis arrives on the island, Bruce threatens to shoot him, but his curiosity (and greed) gets the better of him when William produces a key which allegedly belongs a treasure chest buried in the vicinity. Bruce asks Lorelei to obtain the key from William somehow. As she works with William to find the treasure, Lorelei often sees the Ghost Ship on which a young cabin boy, holding a skull, is aboard. Lorelei's suspicions that the skull must be an omen are confirmed, when, after a violent storm, a downed tree's upturned roots reveal a smooth white skull-like stone and green mounds arranged in a straight line. William and Lorelei pick away at the rock and eventually find an underwater cave in which the treasure has been hidden. Scrambling to get as many jewels as they can before the tide comes in, the two treasure hunters lose the race against time and are swept out to sea. Luckily, both survive.
The Lost Attic Sleepover.
On her way home on the last day of school, Kat Coletti notices a construction crew working on
an abandoned old school. The building's new owner, Claire Burke, and Aaron Wilde, the
architect, are converting the school into an art museum. They offer Kat a summer job, her duties
to include keeping an eye on Zachary, Wilde's 13-year-old troublemaker son. Famous artists are
creating a variety of exhibits: a metal angel sculpture on the roof, an Egyptian tomb, complete
with mummy, an igloo (requiring refrigeration) and a rope ladder made of real human hair.
Strange things begin to happen (graffiti written on the walls, the electricity turned off, the rope
ladder cut and burned) which sabotage the artists' progress, and Zachary is blamed. Kat and Zack
find a route to the attic where they discover a Boys' Club House, built in 1905, and an old
lifelike doll with a porcelain face. The ghost of a young girl haunts the attic. Researching the
history of the school, the teens find out that the ghost is that of Alice Muir, a girl who fell to her
death from the school roof when she was teased and chased by the boys from the club house. As
the opening of the art museum looms, Alice's ghost causes more and more problems, until, finally,
Claire calls in an exorcist and Alice's death is avenged.
The Silent Pool Sleepover.
As the Sleepover Gang plays Scrabble in their tent by Murdock's Mill, the words on the gameboard predict important events in the story: "danger", "fog", "drowned", and others. Bequeathed the mill by the grandfather who raised her, Susan Murdock wonders why her Aunt Ruth and Uncle Morris want to sell her inheritance. Taking a walk near the mill, Susan sees a woman in a long, hooded coat in the fog on the bridge. As Susan crosses the bridge, she notices a trail of wet footprints on the stones, but no sign of the woman. She does, however, hear voices, those of her grandfather and the woman, telling her not to let anyone sell the mill. She realizes that the woman is the ghost of Maude Murdock, the original owner's daughter. An old woman in the village reads Susan's tea leaves, an event which reveals that Susan will need courage to overcome an obstacle. Her future holds "great wealth, but also great danger." Aunt Ruth and Uncle Morris suddenly seem unnaturally cheerful and allow Susan to visit in the village so that, while she is gone, they can search the mill for the diamonds that they believe have been hidden there by one of the Murdock ancestors. As time passes, Uncle Morris, fuelled by greed, goes a little crazy. When he chases Susan into the mill, she falls into a pit and eventually escapes by jumping into the millpond. By now, Aunt Ruth, too, realizes that her husband has gone mad, and, frightened, she calls the police. Ghostly appearances by Maude, her husband, her father and Susan's grandfather are interwoven throughout the story to give readers further clues about the hidden diamonds.
The Silver Palace Sleepover.
Based on fairy tales which center on a dress which transforms its wearer, this story is inspired by
the Sleepover Gang's spending the night above an antique dress shop. When Clare's grandmother,
Clarissa, dies, Clare and her mother attend the funeral in another town. As Clare helps her mother
pack up Grandma's belongings, she notices among them a fancy ball gown which she is allowed to
keep. On their way back home, mother and daughter stay at the Empire Hotel at which Mickey, a
strange old bellhop, is employed. Clare, who bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother in
her youth, tries on the gown and finds herself drawn to the ballroom where she meets a handsome
young man named Patrick. Meanwhile, another suitor, Johan Marek, is competing with Patrick for
Clare's affection. Each time Clare puts on the gown, she finds herself in the ballroom, always
with a younger Mickey hovering nearby. Back in the hotel room, Clare's mother becomes gravely
ill and has to go to the hospital. Alone in the suite, Clare, though frightened, feels compelled to
try the gown on again in order to see Patrick. Ultimately, she finds out that Patrick is a terrorist
who sells formulas for chemical warfare and is just using her to get to her research scientist uncle.
Johan is, in fact, a double agent (and turns out to be Clare's grandfather), the more trustworthy of
her suitors. He kills Patrick accidentally when Patrick threatens him with a knife. In a scene
reminiscent of the movie Back to the Future, in which Michael J. Fox's character must change
the future before the images of people in a photograph fade, Clare has to clear her grandfather's
name in order for the future to work out happily. With Mickey hot on her tail, Clare has to find a
certain photograph on the ballroom wall and read the cryptic message which Johan wrote many
years ago. The code word on the back of the photo, "Bullivant," is the name of their family friend,
Colonel Bllivant, who meets with Clare and her mother, now fully recovered, to tell them the
truth about Clare's grandfather.
The Spellbound Sleepover.
Ghostwritten by Sylvia McNicholl, this novel is longer than its predecessors and contains more
mature subject matter. Melody, the new girl in school, breaks up longtime friends and
sweethearts, Dylan and Jennifer. Her popularity soars while Jennifer is miserable without Dylan.
One day, Melody tells Jennifer that "Johnston men are never true." Wondering what this means,
Jennifer decides to investigate and finds out, on a walk through the graveyard, that the first-born
sons of each Johnston family died at age eighteen (Dylan's mother's maiden name is Johnston.)
She also discovers the tombstone of Margaret Cuthbert who was burned at the stake as a witch.
Enlisting the help of an old woman skilled in witchcraft, Jennifer casts a spell to get Dylan to care
for her again and to protect him. Lately, he has had a number of brushes with danger, and Jennifer
fears that the Johnston curse is at work. She has a strong premonition that Dylan needs to be
protected from fire as Margaret Cuthbert's last words foretold fiery deaths to all Johnston males.
Jennifer casts another spell to get rid of her nemesis and is pleased to learn, the very next day, that
Melody is moving out of town. On their last night together, Melody and Dylan attend the school's
Hallowe'en dance. When Jennifer notices that the couple is missing from the gym, she dashes
outside to find a huge bonfire on the football field with Melody in its center. As Melody beckons
Dylan to join her, Dylan, in a dreamlike trance, walks into the circle of flames. Jennifer, however,
pushes Dylan out of harm's way. Realizing now that Melody and Margaret are one and the same,
Jennifer gives Melody some reassuring words to help her go back to the grave and to rest
Gail Hamilton is the teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.