Ghost of Popcorn Hill

Ghost of Popcorn Hill

by Betty Ren Wright, Karen Ritz

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Martin and Peter love their family's new cabin up on Popcorn Hill. They like the stray sheepdog that roams around their place even more.

But when they hear ghostly laughter in their room at night, they're afraid that things on Popcorn Hill may not be what they seem.

Are Martin and Peter brave enough to meet a ghost or two?See more details below


Martin and Peter love their family's new cabin up on Popcorn Hill. They like the stray sheepdog that roams around their place even more.

But when they hear ghostly laughter in their room at night, they're afraid that things on Popcorn Hill may not be what they seem.

Are Martin and Peter brave enough to meet a ghost or two?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Martin and Peter encounter the lonely ghosts of a farmer and a sheepdog, they try to reunite the pair. At the same time, the boys begin to appreciate the companionship and loving nature of Rosie, their own dog. Wright's eerie, frequently somber details will easily beguile readers: ``Moonlight shone right through the mournful face, the raggedy trousers held up with red suspenders, and the tattered shirt. He looked like a ghostly scarecrow.'' Forthright descriptions of the novel's picturesque setting create a marked contrast to the dim and haunting images. ``From the top of Popcorn Hill you could see for miles. Fruit trees, with blossoms that looked like popcorn, dotted the hillside. Beyond were meadows and a creek, and there were woods everywhere.'' These youngsters are flesh-and-blood creations (unlike some of their encounters); the most reluctant readers will be cheering them on every step of the way. With a skill and style somewhat unusual for this genre, Ritz's handsomely shaded, full-page drawings add considerable atmosphere. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-- Peter and Martin want a big dog like the stray sheepdog that is roaming around their new cabin, but have to settle for a small but lively mutt from the animal shelter instead. The brothers hear mysterious laughter at night, and discover that the cabin is haunted by a lonely ghost. When the sheepdog also proves to be a ghost, they decide to solve the problem by getting the two together. The combination of supernatural and pet themes works well. The excellent full-page pencil drawings are realistically rendered and appropriately spooky when they should be. The scary parts are much milder than many of Wright's previous books, making this gentle story suitable for younger children.-- Elaine Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL
Kay Weisman
The author of "The Dollhouse Murders" (1983) turns her attention to a slightly younger audience in this beginning chapter book. The Tracys like living in their rustic cabin on Popcorn Hill, but brothers Martin and Peter are frightened by the lonely ghost who visits their bedroom late at night looking for company. The boys are pleased that their parents agree to let them have a dog, but wish she were a bit bigger, like the mysterious stray sheep dog they keep running into. When the boys discover that the sheep dog is actually a ghost, they devise a plan to unite the two lonely specters so both will leave Popcorn Hill for good. In the process, they begin to appreciate their real dog, Rosie, for her many fine qualities. The combination of ghosts and dogs is an appealing one, and Wright wisely tempers her usually eerie writing style for a younger audience. A step up, both in plot and suspense, from such easy-to-read mysteries as those of Patricia Reilly Giff, this will appeal to a wide range of developing readers.

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Product Details

Holiday House, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.76(w) x 9.08(h) x 0.54(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Read an Excerpt

The Ghost of Popcorn Hill

By Betty Ren Wright, Karen Ritz

Holiday House

Copyright © 1993 Betty Ren Wright
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1341-3




"Stop laughing," Martin said. He glared across the dark room at his little brother's bed.

"I'm not laughing," Peter protested. "I thought that was you."

"Well, it wasn't." They listened for a while, and then Martin went on with his story. "So Jimmy Adams couldn't find his kitten, and everybody thought it was dead or something."

Peter moved restlessly under his covers. "I don't like this story," he said. "It's too sad."

"No it's not," Martin said. "Because they found the kitten finally, and do you know where he was?"

"How would I know that?"

"He was in the salad bowl, in the kitchen sink. All covered with French dressing and sound asleep." Martin chuckled to himself, and then he stopped again to listen. "You did laugh before," he said. "During the sad part."



Both boys lay very still, and Martin discovered he had goose bumps. He knew he had heard a laugh.

"I'm scared," Peter whispered, sounding as if he might cry.

Martin took a deep breath. "Forget about who laughed," he ordered. "Think about something nice. Think about tomorrow when we get the dog."

Peter stopped sniffling. "It'll be the biggest dog in the whole world," he murmured in a dreamy voice. "I can't wait."

"So go to sleep," Martin said. "Tomorrow will come faster."

A minute or two later, soft snores told him Peter had taken his advice. That was the trouble with being three years older. You had to stay awake and do all the worrying. Now that he'd started thinking about the dog they were going to get tomorrow, he had to worry about that. Would it really be the biggest dog in the world? That was what both boys wanted. A big dog could pull their wagon around the yard. In the wintertime he could drag their sled up Popcorn Hill. He would be the perfect pet, but Martin wasn't at all sure they were going to get him.

The trouble was their father. He insisted that a big dog wouldn't fit in their little old cabin. A big dog would cost too much to feed. Remember, we moved to Popcorn Hill when I lost my job, and we have to save some money, he'd told Martin and Peter about a hundred times in the last few months. Let's be sensible about this.

"I don't want to be sensible," Martin whispered unhappily into the darkness. "I want a big dog as much as Peter does."

And then, to his horror, it happened again. "Ho-ho-ho," something laughed. "Ho-ho-ho-hoho!"

It was the scariest sound Martin had ever heard.


Dog Day

Peter woke up first.

"Today's the day," he shouted in Martin's ear. "Wake up, wake up, wake up!"

Martin yawned and pushed back the covers. The boys dressed quickly and went out to the kitchen, where their mother was making oatmeal for breakfast.

"You're up bright and early," she said cheerfully. "I bet I know why."

"It's dog day," Peter explained, as if he were the only one who kept track. Martin and his mother grinned at each other.

"It certainly is," Mrs. Tracy said. "I'm as excited as you are."

"No, I'm the most excited," Peter said. "I'm the most excited person in this house."

Martin opened the screen door and went outside. The cabin was small — one long room that was both kitchen and living room, and two bedrooms. The bathroom was a little house at the end of the yard, and the water they needed came from a pump next to the porch. It isn't much of a place, Martin's father had said when they moved in. But it will have to do for now. And look at that view!

Martin looked at the view every morning. From the top of Popcorn Hill you could see for miles. Fruit trees, with blossoms that looked like popcorn, dotted the hillside. Beyond were meadows and a creek, and there were woods everywhere. Maybe the cabin wasn't much of a house, but Martin knew he'd rather live there than anywhere else in the world.

When he went back inside, his father was sitting at the round table. "Eat your breakfast, guys," he said. "We've got a job to do." He winked at Peter, and Peter blinked back.

Martin poured milk on his oatmeal and added some cinnamon. He wasn't hungry, but he knew he had to eat or his mother would think he was sick. There was so much to think about. The dog — the big dog. And the ghostly laughter they had heard last night. Should he tell his parents about that? He wanted to, but his father would probably make a joke about it, and his mother would think it was a burglar.

It wasn't a burglar, he assured her silently. Burglars don't laugh like that. Nothing laughs like that.

"Martin, you look worried," his father said. "Has the President of the United States been pestering you for advice again?"

Martin tried to smile. "Something weird happened last night," he mumbled. "We heard a man laughing."

His father took a sip of coffee. "Me," he said. "I laugh a lot. It's better than crying."

"It wasn't you, Daddy," Peter said. "This was really scary."

"Oh, dear, I hope it wasn't burglars!" Mrs. Tracy exclaimed. "I've been afraid of this. Living way out here, so far from everybody. ..."

Mr. Tracy pushed back his chair. "It wasn't burglars. We don't have anything worth stealing," he said. "Anyway, after today you won't have to give burglars a thought. We'll have a dog to protect us." He grinned at Martin and Peter. "Ready to go? Last one in the truck is a leadfoot."

Martin was the last one in the truck, because he didn't even run. He was too busy wishing he hadn't mentioned that mysterious Ho-ho-ho. He didn't want his mother to think there was anything bad about living on Popcorn Hill. He wanted to live there forever.



When they parked in front of the Humane Society, Martin felt as if it were Christmas and his birthday rolled into one. Too excited to talk, he and Peter followed their father into the office and then through another door. Big barks and little ones greeted them.

"Right this way," the caretaker said. "The dogs are on this aisle, and the cats are on the next one."

"We want a dog," Peter said. "A great big one."

Mr. Tracy shook his head. "Not a big one," he said firmly. "We just want a nice dog that'll be fun to have around the house."

"Gotcha," the caretaker said. He pointed at a tiny gray dog with long ears and a short, stand-up tail. "There's a lively little guy."

The gray dog yipped and jumped against the wire netting. Martin bit his lip. He felt sorry for the little dog, but he didn't want to take him home.

"I think maybe he's a bit too small," Mr. Tracy said. "What do you think, boys?"

Martin nodded. Peter had already moved to the next pen. His eyes were as round as marbles.

"Daddy, here he is!" he shouted. "Here's our dog!"

They gathered behind Peter and stared into the cage. A silver-coated German shepherd stared back at them.

"Oh, wow," Martin breathed. "He's perfect." He could picture the huge dog pulling their wagon and walking with them to school. Everyone would want to pet him, but they wouldn't dare until Martin or Peter said it was all right.

"He's not perfect," Mr. Tracy said. "And don't try to gang up on me, because it won't do any good. We don't have room for a dog this size. And we certainly can't afford to feed him." He was smiling, but there was a note in his voice that warned the boys not to argue.

They walked on, past a little brown-and-white spotted dog with a twisty tail, and a long, low mop of a dog that lay fast asleep.

"Next one's part Labrador," the caretaker said. "A real beauty!"

"Wow!" Peter breathed. The gleaming black dog was as big as a pony.

"Don't even ask," Mr. Tracy said.

The caretaker patted Peter's head. "Wait'll you see what we have in the last pen," he said cheerfully. "You'll love her."

The dog in the last pen was black too, with lots of white patches. Her feathery tail swept back and forth, and she pressed her freckled nose against the netting.

"She's a honey," the caretaker told them. He looked from Martin to Peter. "She's only about ten months old — just right for training." Then he turned to Mr. Tracy. "Won't get much bigger than she is right now."

Nobody spoke. The caretaker opened the door and let the dog out into the aisle. She danced around Martin and Peter with excited little barks.

"What do you say, boys?" their father asked. "She looks as if she'd be happy to join the family."

Martin and Peter crouched. The dog licked their faces. Then she sat in front of them and cocked her head.

"I call her Rosie," the caretaker said. "My daughter Rose has freckles like that. Of course, you could call her anything you wanted."

Martin and Peter and Rosie looked at each other. She's a nice enough little dog, Martin thought. He knew Peter was thinking the same thing. And if they didn't take this dog, they weren't going to get one.

"Hey, Rosie," Martin said. "Do you want a ride in a truck?"

Rosie leaped into the air like a missile. She jumped on Martin and then on Peter, knocking him over. Her body trembled with excitement.

"I think you've got a dog," the caretaker said with a grin. He led the way back to the office, and the Tracys followed with Rosie bouncing beside them.

"Good girl," Martin told her. She really was a nice dog. He and Peter took turns petting her as they walked. They were careful not to look into the pens where the black Labrador and the silver German shepherd were still waiting for someone to claim them.


A Surprise Visitor

Mrs. Tracy loved Rosie the minute she saw her. She gave the boys her old bathrobe to make a cozy bed next to the stove.

"I'll feel so much better having a dog in the house," she said. "In case those prowlers come back again."

That afternoon Martin and Peter tied a rope to Rosie's collar and took her for a walk around the hilltop. She sniffed every tree and peered under bushes, but mostly she ran along next to the boys and jumped on them.

"She likes us," Martin said.

Peter didn't answer.

"We can teach her lots of tricks," Martin added. "She's smart."

"That German shepherd dog was smarter," Peter said. "I could tell."

When they returned to the cabin, they rolled a ball back and forth across the kitchen for Rosie to chase.

"I'd say she's great at chasing and pretty terrible at bringing back," their father commented. He was getting ready to go to town again for his four-nights-a-week job at the supermarket.

"She's good at chewing, too." Mrs. Tracy held up a letter that had fallen on the floor. It was ripped almost in two. "We'll have to be careful."

After supper the boys carried a bag of garbage out to the pit at the end of the lot. Then they sat on a big rock and looked down at the apple orchard at the foot of the hill. Beyond it they could see the roof of the old deserted mill, and beyond that a little of the creek that wound around Popcorn Hill. The air was soft as silk.

"What's that?" Martin asked suddenly. Something was moving among the apple trees.

Peter grabbed his arm.

"It could be a deer," Martin whispered.

"Maybe it's a wolf." Peter slid off the rock. "Come on, Martin, let's go."

"That's crazy," Martin said. But he stood up too, just in case.

A moment later both boys gasped in surprise. A shaggy gray-and-white Old English sheepdog trotted out from under the trees and looked around. Even from this distance they could see that he was big.

Peter was the first to speak. "He's lost," he said positively. "He needs friends. Come on, Martin."

Together the boys hurried along the path that led down the hillside. There was something thrilling about the way the huge sheepdog stood there waiting. He seemed to be inviting them to join him.

But when they reached the bottom of the hill and Peter called, "Here, boy!" the dog darted away. He ran along the edge of the orchard, then doubled back and stopped.

"Come on, boy." Martin held out his hand. This time the dog raced right past them, long hair flying. The boys started to follow, but the dog turned and darted in among the trees. He looked over his shoulder once, and Peter gave a crow of delight.

"He smiled at us!" he shouted. "Did you see!"

"Dogs don't smile," Martin said. He pulled Peter to a stop. It was getting dark, and they could no longer see the sheepdog. Suddenly the orchard seemed lonely and the cabin a long way off.

"We'd better go back," said Martin. "Mom will be worried."

All the way up the hill, Peter kept talking about the sheepdog. "If he's lost, he needs a place to live," he said. "That poor dog is all by himself."

"We have a dog," Martin reminded him. But he kept remembering how hopefully the sheepdog had looked at them.

"He could pull the wagon," Peter said dreamily. "He's so big, he could pull two wagons. I really liked him."

So did I, thought Martin. Ahead of them, the lights of the cabin twinkled in the dark. Martin walked faster. "I'm going to teach Rosie to sit tonight," he said. "It'll be her first lesson."

"That sheepdog knows lots of tricks already," Peter said. "I can tell."


"Who's Going to Believe Us?"

"Oh, no!"

It was just before lunch the next day. Mrs. Tracy stood in the middle of the kitchen, a shredded dish towel in one hand and a badly chewed scrubbing brush in the other. "Bad girl!" she scolded.

"Bad girl!" Peter echoed.

Rosie flattened herself on the floor. Her tail swept back and forth across the linoleum, and her brown eyes were pleading.

"She didn't mean to hurt anything, Mom," Martin said. "See how sorry she is?"

Rosie crossed her paws in front of her and looked so worried that Mrs. Tracy laughed in spite of herself.

"She's telling you it won't happen again," Martin said.

But he was wrong. That same afternoon he found one of his brand-new sneakers chewed almost in two. This time he didn't laugh. He'd waited a long time for those sneakers.

"I bet that sheepdog wouldn't chew things," Peter said in bed that night. He'd spent a good part of the day looking down at the orchard. "I wish he was our dog. Rosie is lots of trouble."

Before Martin could answer, it happened.


Peter gave a squeal of terror. Martin leaped out of bed and raced out into the kitchen.

"Dad! Mom!" His legs flew out from under him as Rosie hurtled to meet him, filling the air with her barks. They rolled across the floor, ending up at the open door to Mr. and Mrs. Tracy's bedroom.

Martin's father switched on a light and blinked down at Martin. "What in the world —"

"In there," Martin gasped, pointing at his bedroom. "Someone's in there."

Mr. Tracy dashed into the bedroom, with Martin, his mother, and Rosie close behind him.

"Peter!" Mrs. Tracy shrieked. "Where's Peter?"

"I'm here," Peter said shakily. He pushed back the sheet that was covering his head and looked fearfully into the far corner of the room.

"Someone was over there in the corner, Dad," Martin said. "We both heard him. He was laughing."

"He was what?" Mr. Tracy sounded as if he couldn't believe he'd heard right.

"He was laughing," Martin repeated. But he was a little uncertain now. There was no one in the room and no place to hide.

His father rubbed his forehead. "Well, I'm not laughing," he said tiredly. "One of you is having a bad dream and scaring the other. Let's not have any more of that, okay?"

Martin swallowed hard. He climbed back into bed, and Mrs. Tracy kissed both boys good night. "I don't think it could have been a burglar," she said comfortingly. "Rosie would have heard him."

As soon as they were alone, Peter jumped out of his bed and climbed in with Martin. "I heard him," he sniffled. "I did!"

"So did I," Martin said. "But who's going to believe us? Nobody, that's who!"


The Ho-Ho Ghost

"I'm scared of ghosts," Peter said. "Specially ones that laugh." They were making their way down the path to the apple orchard.

Martin sighed. "Don't talk about it to anyone else," he warned. "Dad won't believe us, and Mom is still worried about burglars, even though she says she isn't. I saw her looking for footprints outside our bedroom window this morning."

"If we had a sheepdog, that ghost wouldn't come around," Peter said. "He'd be too scared to."


Excerpted from The Ghost of Popcorn Hill by Betty Ren Wright, Karen Ritz. Copyright © 1993 Betty Ren Wright. Excerpted by permission of Holiday House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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