Books Haunting Tales Picture Books Private! Stay Away! Keep Out! Diaries Special Reading Themes

The Mystery of Mineral Gorge by Julia Van Nutt and Robert Van Nutt

When I read through this picture book, I noted that this would fit both our October and November Tales Special for the following reasons: (one) it deals with diary entries of a ten year old girl named Lucky Hart who lived in 1844, perfect for our Diary theme of last month’s and (two) it fits our haunting tales special for November with the creepy and mysterious elements of the tale.

Set in 1844, the jacketflap of the book noted “Ghastly Cries in Cobtown!” It is interesting though that the first page of the book is set in contemporary time but provides the perfect backdrop for any haunting tale since it begins during “one dark and stormy night.”

“Are you afraid of ghosts?” I asked my grandmother one stormy evening.

“I can’t say for sure,” she answered after a long pause. “Remember that old trunk up in the attic? The one that is full of my grandma Lucky diaries?”

“The ones written in the 1840s? Of course I do,” I told

Characters in the Cobtown Series

her.

“Seems as if I recall one very unusual diary up there that addresses this very topic of ghosts. It’s a frightening story and one she told both her children and grandchildren as we grew up.”

Writing a journal entry by candle light on a full moon

And so began the diary entries of ten year old Lucky Hart from Cobtown, USA in the year 1844. It appears as if something has been keeping the Cobtown residents up late into the night and scaring even the bravest townsfolks. As Lucky’s diary entries noted:

For several nights in a row, the whole town has been kept awake by terrible screams! Nobody can explain who or what is crying out, but the sounds seem to be coming from deep within Mineral Gorge.

And so the mystery begins. A town meeting was immediately assembled so that

Hans Van Ripper sharing about The Woman in White

finally the Cobstown folks would be able to figure out exactly what causes the horrifying screams. I like how each of the characters seem to be well-portrayed from the poet named Virgil Squib (who appeared to be all bark and no bite) to Old Hans Van Ripper who is said to know everything about legends and history. It is also fun seeing how an academic named Professor McGinty who incidentally also runs the museum – capitalizes on such incidents to create his exaggerated and exciting plays to attract people to visit his “Museum and Olio of Oddities.”

Lucky Hart with her family on their way to discover what is making the mysteriously creepy sounds in Mineral Gorge

Are the cries really coming from the mournful spirit of the Woman in White who froze to death in a blizzard and is haunting Mineral Gorge as noted by Old Hans? Or is it just some trickery from horrendous villains as posed by the poet Virgil? The narrative will go on to portray what true courage really means, the indomitable spirit of heroism, and the lovely sense of community that was shared among Cobtown folks in the 1800s. The book is perfect for children aged 4 to 8 years old, and may also be used by educators to further characterize the historical period during this time.

This fictional 150 year old community is what launched the career of the husband-and-wife duo Julia & Robert Van Nutt. This article indicated that there are three books in the series: A Cobtown Christmas (1998), Pumpkins from the Sky (1999) and the Mystery of Mineral Gorge (1999). It appears that the concept of Cobtown was rooted from a project that highlighted The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The couple fell in love with the period

Julia and Robert Van Nutt with the Cobtown Characters

and the idea of Cobtown was born. Robert Van Nutt, the illustrator, also related that while Cobtown in itself is fictional, the historical period, the artifacts, and the storylines are based on thorough research that the couple has painstakingly done. If you want to know more about this artistic and highly creative couple (who is characterized to “cook their own food, make their own clothing, and written their own books” by feature writer Diana Winarski) click here to be taken to a fairly-extensive review about them and their Cobtown characters.

Sources:
Book photos taken by feature author. Book bought from Discount Bookstore at Lucky Plaza (now closed)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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