The Secret of the Painted House by Marion Dane Bauer Illustrated by Leonid Gore
Nine-year-old Emily has just moved into a new house in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. There are no kids to play with (and four-year-old brothers don’t count) and nothing to do. Bored, and trying to avoid helping her mom unpack, Emily ventures into the surrounding woods and discovers a little playhouse in the middle of a clearing. The door is locked but through the window Emily sees that the interior walls are painted with trees just like the ones she just walked through. Upon closer inspection, Emily discovers that the playhouse is also painted on the wall. Who built this house? Who painted the walls? And why is it locked?
Emily’s curiosity about this odd house leads her and brother into a labyrinth involving a lonely ghost and a series of puzzles they must unravel to find their way back home.
Reluctant readers will initially be attracted to the short chapters and the large font. It’s the mystery and immediate climate of suspense, however, that will draw them into the story and keep them reading. Something about the style and mood reminded me a little of Pam Conrad’s Stonewords (one of my favorite ghost story books). I’d also recommend it to kids who aren’t quite ready for Coraline but who have moved beyond The Magic Treehouse series. The illustrations are also wonderful- they are rendered in what appears to be watercolor and/or charcol and lend the book a softness and comfort in what could otherwise be a pretty spooky story.