This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Eleven-year-old Portia Blake and her brother, Foster, 6, are excited to be traveling alone on a train. They are on their annual trip to visit their relatives, which is a highlight for the siblings. They enjoy spending the summer with their Uncle Jake, Aunt Hilda and 12-year-old cousin, Julian. Not only do Portia and Foster travel alone for the first time, but they get to stay in their relatives' new home in the country.
The morning after their arrival, Foster makes friends with Davey, a neighbor boy who enjoys playing make believe as much as Foster does. Julian and Portia pack a picnic lunch and set out to explore the woods. They find a giant boulder with Latin words inscribed on it. Julian translates two of the words as Philosopher's Stone and excitedly explains that such a stone was believed to turn things into gold. Portia's hopes for wealth are dashed when Julian reminds her that if the boulder were a real philosopher's stone, the penknives they'd used to scrape off the moss would have turned to gold.
The cousins continue to explore the woods and eventually become lost. They come across a swamp with a rowboat in it. Before they can figure out the mystery of who would try and boat in a place with no lake, they see a deserted row of houses. Afraid they may have stumbled on a ghost town, Portia begs to leave, but Julian calms her long enough to hear a voice from a television. They search a little longer and meet Minnehaha Cheever and her brother, Pindar Payton. The elderly siblings used to spend every summer in the area, when the swamp was Tarrigo Lake. After a dam was built, the water drained away, and now the area is known as Gone-Away Lake. The houses were boarded up, with all their furniture left inside them, because families thought they might one day return. No one did until Minnie and Pindar, in their old age, decided to take up residence there. The siblings restored enough of two houses on either side of town so that they could live comfortably. Although Minnie grows most of their food in her garden, Pindar drives an old motorcar into town once a month to pick up additional supplies. Minnie and Pindar warn the children not to risk crossing the swamp again, as there is an area called The Gulper that acts as quicksand. Pindar gives the children directions to a path that will take them back to the main road.
Julian and Portia keep their discovery a secret but visit their new friends every day. Minnie and Pindar eventually suggest they make a clubhouse in the attic of one of the empty houses. The cousins readily set to work and make one of the attics habitable.
One day when his friend Davey is sick, Foster secretly follows them to Gone-Away Lake. He gets lost and stuck in The Gulper. Unaware of her brother's danger, Portia and Julian return home to find Aunt Hilda frantically searching for Foster.
Pindar rescues Foster from The Gulper, and eventually the siblings bring Foster home in Pindar's antique automobile. The family thanks Pindar and Minnie for all their help.
Their secret out, Portia and Julian invite several neighborhood children to come and play in their fort and meet Minnie and Pindar. Even Aunt Hilda and Portia's mother walk to Gone-Away Lake to visit. Before the summer ends, Julian and another friend discover the Big House, the most exclusive home in the area. Hidden by brush and boarded up for decades. Julian brings the others to the house. After happily discovering the house's decent condition, Portia's mother begins to daydream about fixing it up. Portia's father explains the house would now belong to the state, but they could inquire as to how much it would cost to buy the property. Portia and Foster are ecstatic at the possibility of owning a summer home so close to both Julian and Gone-Away Lake. Their father warns them not to get too excited, because it may still be too costly to buy and make all the repairs.
After her father explains all the things that would keep them from being able to buy the house, Portia says that she hopes and prays they will be able to get it.
Other Belief Systems
Some people believed Minnehaha to be a witch when she moved back to Gone-Away Lake because she lived so far away from people and wore antique clothes. Minnie often says "Thank fortune" in response to good news. The children at first believe the houses are haunted. When Julian explores the big house with his friend, they are afraid there might be ghosts.
No explicit language is used. Some objectionable words are heck, tar-baby, gosh and dog-gone it.
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Tobacco: Pindar smokes tobacco in a pipe.
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Readability Age Range
8 to 10
Originally published by Harcourt, Brace & Company in 1957. Today, Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt and Scholastic publish paperback versions
Newbery Honor book, 1958