When Sol and Connie Blink move to Grand Creek, one of the first people to welcome them is an odd older woman, Fay Holaderry, and her friendly dog, Swift, who carries a very strange bone in his mouth. Sol knows a lot more than the average eleven-year-old, so when he identifies the bone as a human femur, he and Connie begin to wonder if their new neighbor is up to no good.
In a spine-tingling adventure that makes them think twice about who they can trust, Sol and Connie discover that dangerous secrets lurk in even the most pleasant neighborhoods.
About the Author
KEITH MCGOWAN has worked most of his life as an educator. He helped run an elementary after school program and day camp, taught mathematics and science, volunteered for a year as a teacher in Haiti, and tutored students who were unable to attend school full time. An avid traveler, Keith began writing The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children, in Himachal Pradesh, India, staring at the Himalayan mountains, and continued working on it in Boston, New Orleans, and Chicago, and Vienna, Austria, where he now lives with his wife. The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children is his first novel for children.
YOKO TANAKA is the illustrator of several books, including Sparrow Girl. She lives in Thailand.
Read an Excerpt
Solomon and Constance Blink—Sol and Connie for short—moved into the town of Grand Creek one hot day in the middle of August. Sol was eleven and Connie was eight.
The late afternoon sun streamed over the mountains into Sol’s new bedroom as he unpacked. He’d already taken out a telescope and a microscope. These allowed him to peer into other worlds, large and small, that sometimes seemed more appealing than this one.
He examined the instruments, his hand at his chin, his long hair falling in front of his shoulders.
He unpacked a box of science books next, checking their titles as he ordered and stacked them. Most of the books looked advanced, almost like what scientists might have had on their own shelves. Sol, you see, was a very smart boy.
His intelligence, however, hadn’t helped to make him the number one most popular boy at his old school. Popular slots two to one hundred had also been taken.
Sol may have been remembering his old school just then, because his lips twisted into a grimace. Maybe he was even remembering his worst day ever. Last spring.
The Terrible Day . . .
He didn’t know that an even more terrible day lay ahead for him.
The next box Sol opened held a curious device, which he removed carefully. The device was something he had made himself. It had a CPU—central processing unit—at center and an octopus of wires attaching the CPU to meters and a screen. That screen displayed, in order, the temperature, barometric pressure, time, and, based on all of that information, a guess at the current weather. The screen showed, “82°, 855 MB, 4:02PM,” and “SUNNY,” which were all correct.
Sol smiled and breathed a quiet snort. He set the device gently on the windowsill, then turned to his other boxes.
In one, he found his mother’s old scientific treatise, yellowed and tattered. A talented scientist, Sol and Connie’s mother had traveled many years before to study warming in the Antarctic. There she’d made a discovery of great importance: The ice shelf was melting at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, she discovered this while standing on the ice shelf, which, as predicted, melted and fell into the ocean. She was never heard from again. Though her results, radioed in, did survive and were hailed by the scientific world.
Sol spent a few minutes paging through his mother’s work, then his eyes fell on the thing that lay below it, a plaque that his sister, Connie, had given him last spring. The plaque read: MANY OF LIFE’S FAILURES ARE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT REALIZE HOW CLOSE THEY WERE TO SUCCESS WHEN THEY GAVE UP—THOMAS EDISON. He turned the plaque facedown and placed it in a spare box with some old books.
After some time he confronted one unlabeled box, all taped up, which he didn’t open. Instead, he pushed it into the farthest reaches of his new closet, as if he never wanted to see it again.
Then he went out of the bedroom to see how the rest of the moving was going and what his younger sister was up to.
Connie was very different from her brother. She was outside the two-story apartment building at that moment beside the moving truck. She’d climbed onto her family’s sofa as it was being picked up by two of the movers. So that the movers carried both the sofa and Connie across the lawn and into the small building, with Connie sitting up very queenlike and slowly waving, first left and then right, to an imaginary audience of onlookers. Those onlookers were, in her mind, watching her brilliant and important entrance being carried into her new home. In the hallway outside the apartment, one neighbor did open her door to look out. Connie honored the neighbor with a wave and an elegant nod.
To look at Connie enjoying herself that day, you would never have known that she was keeping a guilty secret from her brother. But then, you couldn’t tell how much she missed her old cat, Quantum, either, and she missed Quantum very much. It wasn’t that Connie didn’t feel sad about her cat, or guilty about the secret she kept from her brother. It’s just that she wasn’t one to mope.
As to what she looked like, Connie was spry and flexible. She had very short hair and big ears that stuck out on either side of her small head, possibly made like that to let certain comments pass quickly into one and out the other, spending as little time as possible in between. Comments, for instance, like her father’s outburst when the movers carried not just the sofa into the apartment but Connie too.
“Connie! Get off that couch this instant!” Mr. Blink said. Mrs. Blink—who had married Sol and Connie’s father just before the move—looked up from unpacking and shook her head in amazement.
Connie was the tiniest bit slow in responding to her father’s order, though. So that she slid off the sofa just after the movers put it down, completing her grand ride in style.
Sol was coming out of the bedroom then and saw that his father and stepmother were upset. He ducked into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of ice water—it was very hot that Monday—then came out and said, “Connie, want to go to the park?”
“Dad, can we go?” he asked.
“Anything that gets you out of here,” Mr. Blink answered, “is fine with me.”
Sol and Connie found a Frisbee and a tennis ball in one of the boxes lying in the living room. Before they left, Sol saw his glass of ice water, now mostly ice, on the counter and had the idea to teach Connie something.
“Come look at this.” He took her into the kitchen, poured some more water into the glass, and added a couple more ice cubes. “I’m going to mark the level of the water.” He found some masking tape and used that to do it. “Now, when we get back and the ice has melted, will the water be higher than it is now, or lower?”
“Higher,” Connie said.
“Because when the ice melts, there’ll be more water, so the water will go up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you willing to bet on it? Do you have any money?”
Connie checked. “Three dollars.”
“Will you bet the three dollars?”
“Sure, I’ll bet you three dollars the water’ll be higher,” she said stubbornly. “What do you say? You say it’ll be lower?”
“Nope. I say it will be in exactly the same place after the ice melts. Want to take back your bet?”
“No!” Connie said, not one to give in. Connie also wasn’t one to lose a bet, though, especially if it involved her own money. So she made sure to sneak back, as she and her brother were leaving, to pour just a little more water into the glass. Then she caught up with Sol. She suspected that he knew more about this scientific matter than she did. But he didn’t know enough to win three dollars from her. Of that she was certain.
Excerpted from The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan.
Copyright © 2009 by Keith McGowan.
Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Like most brothers and sisters, Sol and Connie differ in personality and interests. How do their differences lead them to the discovery of who Fay Holaderry is? How do their differences ultimately save their lives? Why are they so close and dependent on each other?
2. Mrs. Alma, Sol's science teacher, believes in Sol, and she encourages him to pursue his talent and interest. How does her support help Sol? Why does he feel like he lets her down on the Terrible Day?
3. In what ways does Connie feel inferior to Sol? How do her feelings negatively affect Sol on the Terrible Day? How does that day affect Sol's opinion of himself?
4. Sol's suspicions of Fay Holaderry increase when he discovers that Swift is chewing on a human femur. What other conversations and events cause him to be concerned about her motivation to be nice to Connie and him?
5. How does Mrs. Blink use Mr. Blink's family lineage and hers as justifi cation for turning Sol and Connie over to the witch? What finally clinches the deal for Mr. Blink? Why is he easily manipulated?
6. It is no mistake that the good woman from All Creatures Great and Small has survived the centuries just as the evil Fay Holaderry has survived. How do the two women counteract each other in the story? Does the woman from the shop have any helpers that the readers know about?
7. The librarian is just one of the helpers Fay Holaderry has employed in the town. How does the witch find her helpers? What do they receive for helping the old witch? Why would they help her?
8. Does the reader know how old the various helpers are? Does the author introduce any young characters in his story? What could this mean about the town of Grand Creek?
9. What do Sol and Connie think happened to their father and his wife? Do they ever discover the truth about their father? How does the reader know?
10. Why is Sol unwilling to forgive Connie for sabotaging his science fair project? How will this affect their relationship? Does Connie intentionally sabotage Sol's invention? Why is the witch willing to forgive Swift for helping Sol and Connie escape? How do the two incidents relate?