VANDERGRIFT'S ANALYSIS OF WAIT TILL HELEN COMES: A GHOST STORY by MARY DOWNING HAHN

Children's Literature Page

Webbing is a concept that many who use the www will understand. In designing this web I was trying to construct a variety of potential reader paths. For an exploration of webbing see Power Teaching : A Primary Role of the School Library Media Specialist by Kay E. Vandergrift Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1994, pp. 77-100. Specifically, pages 94-95 present a graphic web of Wait Till Helen Comes.

PLOT SUMMARY

When their mother remarries, Molly and Michael have to cope with a new house, new father, a new sister and a ghost who lives in the cemetery on their property. To make matters worse, the stepsister (Heather) clings to her father and tells lies about them. She is drawn into a relationship with a ghost child, Helen, who wants to claim her as a permanent friend. Molly struggles with her fears and dislike to come to grips with Helen and Heather and protect her new family from evil at bay.

SELECTED REVIEWS OF WAIT TILL HELEN COMES

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Vol. 40 (October 1986):27.

Horn Book Vol. 62 (November/December 1986): 744.

School Library Journal Vol. 33 (October 1986): 176.

SELECTED ARTICLES ON GHOSTS IN LITERATURE

Armstrong, Judith. "Ghosts As Rhetorical Devices in Children's Fiction," Children's Literature in Education. Vol. 9, #2 (1978): 59-66.

Armstrong, Judith. "Ghost Stories: Exploiting the Convention," Children's Literature in Education. Vol. 11, #3 (1980): 117-123.

FOCUS--Key Literary Element: SETTING

A key literary element in ghost stories is setting, the place and time in which a ghostly character comes to life. In Wait Till Helen Comes, the hidden grave in the cemetery near their house frightens Molly and draws her new stepsister, Heather, to it. This helps to create a sense of impending doom for readers who feel the power of the ghost, Helen. We expect to find ghosts in graveyards and haunted houses, but different types of ghosts appear in different settings. Sometimes a ghost joins a real character in everyday adventures in our modern world. Many times ghosts take contemporary characters back into history and help us understand past events. As we read ghost stories, it is fun to think about the connections between a ghost and the time and place in which it appears. How are the type of ghost and activities of that ghost related to setting? Does the setting also help to create the mood? Are humorous ghost stories likely to be set in very different places and times than those that are horrible or frightening? Is there a fitting habitat for a ghost?

Other Literary Elements

CHARACTER As you read the books in this web, think about how the authors make the ghosts believable. Are there certain types of human characters to whom a ghost is more likely to reveal itself? Is there a special link between the ghost and the real character in these stories? In most of the stories, the ghost is seen only by young characters; why do you think this is so? Does the protagonist have to be vulnerable to be reached by a ghost? Are lonely and unhappy protagonists predisposed to ghostly visitations? Are ghosts of the same age as the protagonist more believable? Does the ghost seek its own likeness? Some human characters such as in The Ghost Squad and the Ghoul of Grunberg invite ghostly participation in their lives while others are reluctant to admit that they have special receptive powers and attempt to resist. Troy and Barney in The Haunting and Cassie in The Haunting of Cassie Palmer are examples of such reluctance.

POINT OF VIEW In Wait Till Helen Comes, the story is told by Molly rather than by Heather who sees Helen's ghost. How might the story have changed if Heather had told it? What if we heard this story from the ghost's point of view? Choose an event from Wait Till Helen Comes and retell it as Heather, the ghost, Michael, the mother or the father would have experienced it. Or collaborate with five of your classmates, with each of you assuming one of these roles. Remember to reread the story carefully to be sure what each character would know about the situation.

PLOT The plot of a ghost story often includes a mystery. Sometimes a ghost comes back to find a lost object, to explain a historical event or to right a wrong committed in the past. For instance, the ghosts in The Sherwood Ring reveal some little-known information about the Revolutionary War. Could the lies told by Heather in Wait Till Helen Comes be considered distractions from the plot? How does Dickinson create a parallel structure of evil in Annerton Pit? How do a series of events create terror without use of physical violence? One of the interesting things to think about in ghost stories is how the ghosts come and go from the spirit world to the real world. At times, a sudden drop of temperature signals the presence of a ghost. Are there other such signals which alert readers to visitors from another world? Many ghost stories also contain time travel. In what ways does ghostly time travel differ from that of science fiction or fantasy? Most ghosts depart our world when their missions are accomplished, but those who might be perceived as truly evil, as are the ghosts in Jane-Emily, Elizabeth Elizabeth and Annerton Pit have to be destroyed to free others from their powers.

MOOD Some ghost stories frighten us; others make us laugh while still others make us think about ourselves and our world in new ways. Often the mood changes from one of fright to a sense of peace and calm in which human characters are stronger and more sure of themselves because they have successfully dealt with the ghost. How does Hannah reach out in A Witch Across Time and in what way does the setting influence the mood? How does the author of Jane-Emily portray the horrific?

SYMBOL In ghost stories, as in many other stories, everyday objects are often used to represent special powers or feelings. The ring and the mirror in Elizabeth Elizabeth, for instance, are used to link the ghostly world of the past with the modern Elizabeth's world, helping her travel from one world to the other. Sometimes a more unusual object such as a glass globe in the garden in Jane-Emily is used almost as an embodiment of a ghost or the place where it resides and its power is felt most strongly. How is the ancient shield, the Tamarin, used symbolically in The House in Norham Gardens? What role do the paper dolls play in The House of Shadows?

EXPLORATIONS BASED ON THE WEB

It might be fun to develop a chart, based on reading books from this web, that describe ghosts using any of the patterns listed below. If you see another pattern, add it to the chart.

  1. Ghosts who serve as a companion to a human character in the real world
  2. Ghosts who try to entice a person into the spirit world
  3. Ghosts who help someone through a bad time and then disappear
  4. Ghosts who do the same thing over and over again
  5. Ghosts who have a mission and, once that mission is completed, they disappear
  6. Ghosts that still reside in the place of their death
  7. Ghosts or poltergeists who are playful
  8. Ghosts who seek to continue an evil pattern
  9. Ghosts of the living, such as Scrooge's ghosts in The Christmas Carol.
  10. Ghosts that make human characters realize something about themselves.

Once you have read a number of novels in this web, establish a set of rules for ghostliness that might be considered genre characteristics. You may wish to develop a diagram or a map of these characteristics with specific references to stories, characters, events, etc.

If you could look back in history and select a period of time and/or a series of events that interest you, decide what type of ghost might exist in that time and why that ghost would come back?

Assume you are writing in the 23rd century and elect a ghost story as the means to say what you have to say. Describe the ghost from today that might appear in your story. Why would that ghost want to appear so long after its own lifetime?

Look around your own home, school or neighborhood to find a likely habitat for a ghost. Imagine what kind of a ghost might live in that place and what that ghost would do if it could visit you in your world. Write, draw or act out the story you have created for your special ghost.

Most stories are about the relationship of the main characters to those close to them. In Wait Till Helen Comes, Heather's closeness to her father is threatened by his marriage and by the move to a new home large enough for the new stepmother and her children. Other books in this web focus on less than satisfactory family relationships. How do such relationships open the possibility of a ghost entering into a character's life?

Talk to your parents, grandparents or other older people you know and ask them if they remember ever hearing about ghosts or other strange happenings that people really believed. Be sure to get as many details as possible and report the story as if it were happening now and you were a newspaper reporter or a TV newscaster.

Many scientists believe that what we call ghosts are actually instances of ESP or parapsychology which they study in their laboratories. Find out as much as you can about ESP and parapsychology. You may even be able to do some experiments to test whether you or any of your friends may have ESP. Scientists disagree about the existence of these phenomena and so may the members of your group. If so, you might want to divide into two teams and have a debate. Be sure that you have collected evidence to support your position.

LIST OF TITLES PLACED IN THE WEB FOR WAIT TILL HELEN COMES

Adler, Carole S. IN OUR HOUSE SCOTT IS MY BROTHER. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

Aiken, Joan. A WHISPER IN THE NIGHT: TALES OF TERROR AND SUSPENSE. New York: Delacorte Press, 1984.

Alcock, Vivien. THE HAUNTING OF CASSIE PALMER. New York: Delacorte Press, 1980.

Anderson, Margaret J. THE GHOST INSIDE THE MONITOR. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Bunting, Eve. IS ANYBODY THERE? New York: A Harper Trophy Book, Harper & Row,1988.

Cameron, Eleanor. THE COURT OF THE STONE CHILDREN. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973.

Carris, Joan. AUNT MORBELIA AND THE SCREAMING SKULLS. Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1990.

Cassedy, Sylvia. BEHIND THE ATTIC WALL. New York: Crowell, 1987.

Cates, Emily. THE GHOST IN THE ATTIC. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

Clapp, Patricia. JANE-EMILY. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1969.

Cohen, Daniel. DANGEROUS GHOSTS. New York: Putnam, 1996.

Cohen, Daniel. GHOST IN THE HOUSE. New York: Scholastic, 1995.

Cross, Gilbert B. A WITCH ACROSS TIME. New York: Atheneum, 1990.

Deem, James M. HOW TO FIND A GHOST. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Dickens, Charles. A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Illus. by Roberto Innocenti. MN: Creative Education, 1995.

Dickinson, Peter. ANNERTON PIT. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Dicks, Terrance. The Baker Street Irregulars in THE CASE OF THE GHOST GRABBERS. New York: Elsevier/Nelson Books, 1980.

Dunlop, Eileen. ELIZABETH ELIZABETH. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

Fleischman, Sid. THE MIDNIGHT HORSE. New York: Greenwillow, 1990.

Hahn, Mary Downing. ANNA ALL YEAR ROUND. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Hahn, Mary Downing. ANNA ON THE FARM. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Hahn, Mary Downing. AS EVER, GORDY. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Hahn, Mary Downing. DAPHNE'S BOOK. Boston: Clarion Books, 1983.

Hahn, Mary Downing. DECEMBER STILLNESS. Boston: Clarion Books, 1988.

Hahn, Mary Downing. DOLL IN THE GARDEN: A GHOST STORY. Boston: Clarion Books, 1989.

Hahn, Mary Downing. FOLLOWING THE MYSTERY MAN. Boston: Clarion Books, 1988.

Hahn, Mary Downing. FOLLOWING MY OWN FOOTSTEPS. New York: Clarion, 1996.

Hahn, Mary Downing. THE GENTLEMAN OUTLAW AND ME--ELI: A STORY OF THE OLD WEST. New York: Clarion Books, 1996.

Hahn, Mary Downing. THE JELLYFISH SEASON. Boston: Clarion Books, 1985.

Hahn, Mary Downing. LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT. New York: Clarion Books, 1995.

Hahn, Mary Downing. PROMISES TO THE DEAD. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Hahn, Mary Downing. THE SARA SUMMER. New York: Bantam Books, 1979.

Hahn, Mary Downing. TALLAHASSEE HIGGINS. Boston: Clarion Books, 1987.

Hahn, Mary Downing. TIME FOR ANDREW: A GHOST STORY. New York: Clarion Books, 1994.

Hahn, Mary Downing. THE TIME OF THE WITCH. Boston: Clarion Books, 1982.

Hahn, Mary Downing. WAIT TILL HELEN COMES: A GHOST STORY. Boston: Clarion Books, 1986.

Hahn, Mary Downing. THE DEAD MAN IN INDIAN CREEK. Boston: Clarion Books, 1990.

Haining, Peter. GHOSTS: THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. New York: Book Sales, Inc., 1988.

Hall, Lynn. DAGMAR SCHULTZ AND THE ANGEL EDNA. New York: Aladdin, 1992.

Hildick, E.W. THE GHOST SQUAD AND THE GHOUL OF GRUNBERG. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1986.

Lasky, Kathryn. DOUBLE-TROUBLE SQUARED: A STARBUCK FAMILY ADVENTURE. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1991.

Lively, Penelope. THE GHOST OF THOMAS KEMPE. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973.

Lively, Penelope. THE HOUSE IN NORHAM GARDENS. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1974.

MacLachlan, Patricia. SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Mahy, Margaret. THE HAUNTING. New York: Atheneum, A Margaret McElderry Book, 1983.

Marsden, Simon. THE HAUNTED REALM: GHOSTS, SPIRITS AND THEIR UNCANNY ABODES. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1986.

Martin, Ann. BUMMER SUMMER. New York: Holiday, 1983.

Matthews, Rupert. THE SUPERNATURAL. Illus. by Peter Dennis. New York: Bookwright Press, 1989.

McHugh, Elisabet. KAREN AND VICKI. New York: Greenwillow, 1984.

Nelson, Theresa. THE 25c MIRACLE. New York: Bradbury Press, 1986.

Nic Leodhas, Sorche. GHOSTS GO HAUNTING. Illus. by Nonny Hogrogian. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965.

Norton, Andre and Miller, Phyllis. HOUSE OF SHADOWS. New York: Atheneum, 1984.

Park, Ruth. PLAYING BEATIE BOW. New York: Atheneum, 1982.

Pearce, Philippa. WHO'S AFRAID? AND OTHER STRANGE STORIES. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1986.

Pearce, Philippa. THE WAY TO SATTIN SHORE. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Pearce, Philippa, Ed. A CENTURY OF CHILDREN'S GHOST STORIES: TALES OF DREAD AND DELIGHT. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Peck, Richard. GHOSTS I HAVE BEEN. New York: Viking Press, 1977.

Pope, Elizabeth Marie. THE SHERWOOD RING. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

Regan, Dian Curtis. GHOST TWINS: THE MYSTERY AT HANOVER SCHOOL. New York: Scholastic, 1995.

Reiss, Kathryn. THE GHOST IN TH DOLLHOUSE: DOLLHOUSE OF THE DEAD. New York: Scholastic, 1997.

Roberts, Nancy. HAUNTED HOUSES: TALES FROM 30 AMERICAN HOMES. Chester, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1988.

Salway, Lance. A NASTY PIECE OF WORK: AND OTHER GHOST STORIES. New York: Clarion, 1983.

Schwartz, Alvin. comp. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1981.

Singer, Marilyn. DEAL WITH A GHOST. New York: Holt, 1997.

Stearns, Michael. A NIGHTMARE'S DOZEN. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Ure, Jean. THE CHILDREN NEXT DOOR. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

Westall, Robert. GHOST ABBEY. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

Williams, Gurney. GHOSTS & POLTERGEISTS. New York: Franklin Watts, 1979.

Wright, Betty Ren. THE GHOST OF POPCORN HILL. New York: Scholastic, 1993.

 

Children's Literature Page

Created August 28, 1995 and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey