Mr McFadden’s Halloween

Mr McFadden’s Halloween

Mr Mcfadden's Halloween

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

This year seemed like the time to introduce Bella to this Halloween themed novel by one of my favorite writers. (The only writer I can think of who is equally adept writing for children as for adults– I love both her children’s books and her novels equally.)

This is the story of a crotchety old Scottish farmer who is loved by no one until a couple of misfit children worm their way into his heart. The subject could so easily be overly sentimental, but Rumer Godden’s characters are delightful and Bella says the plot is unpredictable. Well I wouldn’t exactly say that, but this familiar storyline does feel fresh in Godden’s hands. No one changes overnight, rather changes happen gradually over time.

Selina is a dreamy child, a younger sister who is an unwelcome tag along to the much more down to earth Muffet. She chooses her pony, Haggis, precisely because he is a misfit too. It is Haggis, who for some reason insists on running off to Mr McFadden’s turnip patch, who forces Selina to become acquainted with Mr McFadden.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Enbrethiliel’s comment in this post about A Little Princess and fairy tales:

Which brings us to the question of why children need such stories at all–to which I say that childhood is the best time to learn that valuable skill of fear management. And one of the best ways to teach that is through cathartic literature: a well-written tale in which a child character is dealt a terrible hand but eventually manages to come out on top. First, following Aristotle’s model, the emotions are engaged through fear and pity. Then the imagination comes into play, as the young audience attempt the exercise of putting themselves in the characters’ shoes.

This is yet another novel in which the young characters (and old Mr McFadden as well) are dealt terrible hands and manage to come out on top. With Enbrethiliel ‘s comment rattling in my head I’ve been noticing how Bella manages her fear at the moments of crisis. (Usually by sprinting from one end of the living room to the other.) Though Godden is kind to her young readers and doesn’t make them wait too long for the resolution of the crisis.

I loved the glimpses into a traditional Scottish Halloween. It has definitely got my children even more excited about Halloween than last year, including giving them expanded vocabulary to describe the scary things they imagine on drives in the early dark of autumn evenings. “Spunkies!” I heard Bella exclaim tonight as we drove to dinner.

If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend Godden’s Halloween novel. I think it’s going to become a part of our family’s regular Halloween tradition. I just wish I could do a convincing Scottish accent. I feel a bit foolish trying to read all the dialect and knowing I’m getting it all wrong.

A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century. Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. via Wikimedia Commons
A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century. Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. via Wikimedia Commons
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  • Like Ellie, I can’t believe I never heard of this book since (as you know) Godden is a favorite of mine. Luckily our library has it and I have requested it. Thank you!

  • +JMJ+

    Thanks for quoting me, Melanie! I’m happy to have given you something to chew over, but I was really just returning the favour. =)

    The “managing” of fear through fantasy is where I’m at these days. There are lots of practical ways to help children with fear, like night lights or the “monster spray” a columnist once recommended. (Tell children that a “potion” of water and a few drops of essential oil has monster-repelling properties, then squirt it around their bedrooms at night.) But I wonder whether totally imaginative tools, like Sara’s stories, would be able to do the job on their own.

    As for my own observations of children in real life . . . My two brothers used to love scary stories when they were in nursery school. The older one dealt with the creepiness by making fun of the younger one’s signs of fear. Not the best way to do it, I’m afraid!

  • I have really enjoyed your thoughts on fear recently. It puts into words what I have been thinking much better than I could have written. My daughter also leaps across the room during tense moments in a book or movie. I’ve really been thinking about the influence of a book versus video/TV lately because I have been teased by some friends for reading to my kids books that seemed scary (ie Hansel and Gretel), but those same friends allow several Disney movies which I know are alarming to my daughter who is almost 5. We are very careful with what movies we let our children watch. We tried watching The Shaggy Dog (from 1956) but the tension was almost too much for my daughter. I much prefer the tension or scary situations books provide because it allows her to control the scenario to a degree. What do you think about this? The music, or images, in a movie can make even a fairly benign scene scary or traumatic, while in a book, the child has to imagine what they can. It seems like my kids encounter something that could be frightening in a story, and their own imagination limits the scary thing (to a degree) to something they can handle more effectively. I much prefer to see what they bring from a book to what they get out of something onscreen.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, I’ve really enjoyed reading your last few posts. As always, I love your book reviews. I hope to find some of Godden’s books for children. I learned about In this House of Brede from your blog and it has become one of my very favorite books.

    • Thank you, Anna.

      I do think books allow children to manage the level of scary in a way that movies do not. Scary things in books can only be as scary, after all, as the child allows himself to imagine. Whereas movie creatures can be much more frightening. And as you say, the music and the pacing can make it much harder for a child to manage. After all if a child gets scared when you are reading a book to him, it is very easy to pause and let him have a breather before you go on. You can even wait to finish the story the next day. With a movie there’s a momentum that can be harder to break out of and the child can be carried along without the parent realizing how overwhelmed he is. We read our kids some pretty scary stories, but I think most Disney movies would be too intense for them. Snow White has the witch, Sleeping Beauty has the dragon, these things are pretty terrifying.

  • My husband and I were kindof discussing this today. Cecilia (7) is especially sensitive and tends to get scared very, very easily, much more so than our 5 year old. I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be better to read/watch something that is a bit scary and either point out how it isn’t real or how the scary never wins. Over the past year she seems to have only gotten worse now even asking a sister to accompany her when she goes to her bedroom or the bathroom. But things like night lights, showing her there is nothing there, bedtime prayers, holy water, stuffed animals…. none of it works. And she is starting to make our 4 year old think there is something to be afraid of when there isn’t. Maybe starting with a scaryish book would be a good start.

  • Sorry, I didn’t realize you replied. I hadn’t checked in a few days and didn’t get an email notification.

    That is an important distinction. We have a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so I do have Hansel and Gretel. I’ll have to think of what other ones might apply. Certainly the Narnia books, but we are still in the Little House books and the OCD in me would hate to jump series or try to do them both at once. Yesterday was such an exhausting, long day my brain isn’t quite running on all cylinders yet, so I’ll try to think of more later, but if you have any other recommendations, I’d be glad to hear them! 🙂

    • Laura does learn to manage her fears about the wolves, but it’s much more restrained. I do think fairy tales are good. I agree about doing two series at a time. Sophie wants me to re-read some of the Little House books and its driving me crazy. Maybe I need to find audio book versions.

  • Stories where children overcome their fears
    For younger kids
    The Bears on Hemlock Mountain (he was right to be afraid)
    The Courage of Sarah Noble

    For older kids
    Call It Courage
    Lu Lin, Lad of Courage

    I know about the contagious irrational fear – one child became afraid of self-flushing toilets and passed it down.