Book Review: Mr. McFadden’s Hallowe’En

Book Review: Mr. McFadden’s Hallowe’En

Mr. McFadden’s Hallowe’En by Rumer Godden.

A commenter recently asked if I’d read any of Godden’s children’s books (Sorry, I can’t remember who asked or what post the comment was on.) I hadn’t but I realized I did have two of her children’s books on my to be read shelf and decided this was a prompting to suggest what I should read next.

Mr. McFadden’s Hallowe’en is a traditional story about a bunch of misfits—two children named Selina and Tim and a pony named Haggis as well as the Mr. McFadden of the title—who live in a little village on the Scottish Border.

Selina is a dreamy girl who just can’t seem to get along with the other children. She befriends the younger Tim who lives with his aunt who neglects him and beats him. Her pony Haggis leads her to Mr. McFadden’s farm and prompts an unusual friendship among the group. Mr. McFadden is a solitary, crotchety old man who seems to never have been loved by anyone until Selina and Tim show up. Selina is shocked that Mr. McFadden has never experienced a Hallowe’en and is determined he shall do so now.

There’s also an inheritance and a land dispute and a warm happy ending. Great details about Scottish Hallowe’en customs including carving turnips. A charming story for young readers and old if not exactly unpredictable.


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  • I would consider myself highly skeptical of the whole idea of Catholic fiction for teens modeled after Protestant fiction.  After all, twaddle is twaddle, to use the Charlotte Mason term.

    But still, like you mentioned, I think there is a place for *good* fiction where the main characters are Catholic.  These books would be in addition to the other greats of children’s literature (Narnia, Little House books, etc) instead of replacements.  One of the great things about being Catholic, I think at least, is that we don’t have to place ourselves inside an artificial enclosure where we only let ourselves encounter materials specifically branded for us.  We are encouraged to see the beauty of God’s Creation and His Truths where ever they are found.

  • I haven’t read much of any Catholic fiction but earlier in your post you panicked me.

    Both my brothers attended a Pope John Paul II High School and it is a very poor example of a Catholic school.

    In all honesty the reason I have never picked up what I would call “religious fiction” is my concern it will be overly religious and sappy/schmaltzy. I don’t know how many are or aren’t but I’m always afraid the plot will be simple and the story cheesy and I just can’t sacrifice good story for a religious theme. Are my fears unfounded?

  • I’d guess there’s “religious fiction” and religious fiction. It seems to me the danger is in the writer subordinating the art of storytelling to an agenda tends to weaken the art. But that doesn’t necessarily mean in can’t be done well. It’s a fine line.

    I’d like to make it clear, though, that I did enjoy Catholic Reluctantly. In fact, it was one of those books I pretty much read straight through in two days, with only a reluctant break for sleep. Dom says it sounds like I’m bashing the book and that’s not how I meant to come across. I suppose I’m trying to sort through what I think about the idea for the series and probing what I enjoyed about the book and what I think about the phenomenon not only as a reader but as a mom and an educator. But more on all that in the next post.

  • I guess I was thinking too narrowly in terms of books that I would be willing to purchase rather than in the broader scope of all books to be read. In a family of readers, I find that we all enjoy reading the lighter stuff occasionally, but I don’t want to make a big investment in it. Because, as you said, it wouldn’t make a good daily diet.

    My children have enjoyed books like the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, for example. I tend to think of those types of books as summer reading, although we read them at other times, too—enjoyable, not too mentally taxing, fluffy, but not harmful. And not usually something I would buy, but rather something that we would borrow.

    So I’m curious about the JP2 High series because it sounds like it is of a genre that I would normally shy away from purchasing, but if I had an older child looking for an easy read or a break from “school reading”, it might fit the bill. I’m looking forward to your review.

    And I truly relate to your reluctance to part with things. I am terrible—especially with books. I’m beginning to wonder if my quest for a clear definition of twaddle isn’t just an excuse to delay discarding a few more books that really ought to go. wink

  • Thank you, Melanie, for this topic.
    I have a hard time sorting through this, too. John and I care most that our children read well-written stories like the Narnia, LoTR, Little House etc. books. There are so many superior ones, who needs the inferior?

    Since we started home schooling 9 years ago, I have been working to augment our library with good fiction that incorporates Catholic sensibility. That is much harder than the first thing I did, which was find more Catholic non-fiction (e.g. Saint stories, such as the Vision books) to inspire us. But there is something so powerful in reading fiction in which the main character’s thoughts and actions are informed by the Catholic faith. When well-written, it is subtle but draws us into a shared joy, and we are nourished by the experience.

    I must agree that Hilda van Stockum’s books are treasures of this sort. The stories don’t focus on the Catholic faith of the families, but it is woven into the portrayals of the characters and into the fabric of their lives, and, therefore, the story. The books are not, “in your face, we are Catholic” as the central point of the story, as you said.

    I’m not sure I’m articulating the difference very well, but I remember my Children’s Lit professor in college emphasizing this point, as well. She was talking more about cultural issues/character’s problems as the main point versus the background of the story (think Judy Blume vs. Beverly Cleary), but the same idea holds true, I think, for religious fiction, if that’s what it should be called. If you focus too much on the religious message (or the moral or the societal problem) and not enough on storytelling, you will have twaddle, as Amber pointed out, or perhaps worse, preachy twaddle (if that isn’t redundant). 

    This summer’s project for me is cleaning out our picture bookshelves of junky books, which means I am trying to define twaddle somehow other than just that vague feeling that I get that “this is not a good book, this is a good book, this is a book I never tire of reading to the children, etc.”  I am determined not to let the twaddle invade the middle-school/ high-school shelves.

    I look forward to more discussion.

  • “There are so many superior ones, who needs the inferior?”

    I definitely agree with that. And yet I do enjoy reading lighter stuff, what I like to call bubblegum fiction. It isn’t deep, it won’t change my life. It’s just a fun ride and then I return the book to the library or trade it in for another book rather than adding it to my library. I suppose with kids I feel I shouldn’t ban that kind of thing but should try to limit it just as I limit sweets and treats. 

    Though like you I have a hard time defining twaddle, that doesn’t bug me. I’m fine with going with the gut feeling. If I don’t like it, it gives me that uneasy feeling, then that’s good enough for me. However, if you do manage to pin down a definition, I’d love to hear it. It would certainly help to clarify matters.

    I do think that Catholic Reluctantly manages to rise above the twaddle mark, though it is clearly and unabashedly not striving to be great literature. Yeah, it follows a formula, but then so do mystery novels and I love those. Regina says it’s “genre fiction” and I think I can accept that. It is what it is and you either enjoy the genre or you don’t but don’t criticize the book for not being what it isn’t meant to be. (But more about the book specifically tomorrow when I post my review.)

    Of course, your mileage may vary. I am curious to hear from other people who’ve read the book. Is it possible for one person’s twaddle to be another person’s treasure? Is there an objective standard or is it subjective or are there both objective and subjective components? I’ll have to think about that some more.

    Good luck with the bookshelf clearing. That is such a hard task. Then again, I’m a packrat and find it nearly impossible to part with anything. Even twaddle, if you can believe it.

  • I definitely agree with having higher standards for books I’d spend money on. Though I will grab a book via Book Mooch that I wouldn’t buy, because I know I can always re-list it after I’ve read it and all I have to pay is shipping.