Meg and the Secret of the Witch’s Stairway



Book: Meg and the Secret of the Witch’s Stairway

Author: Holly Beth Walker

Illustrator: Cliff Schule

Publisher: Goldencraft, republished in 1982

ISBN-13: 978-0307615145 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0307615146 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0307215284 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0307215288 Paperback

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8-12

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Walker, Holly Beth.  Meg and the Secret of the Witch’s Stairway (published in 1967 by Whitman Books, a registered trademark of the Western Publishing Company Inc., Racine, WI).  Margaret Ashley Duncan, Meg for short, is a girl of unspecified age and lives in Hidden Springs, VA, with her father, who works in nearby Washington, DC, for the government.  Her mother died when Meg was a very little girl.  Her uncle Harold or Hal Ashley lives in Washington and works for a small museum there.  Her best friend is Kerry Carmody.  On a nearby chicken farm reside a couple of distant cousins of her mother’s, Miss Jenny and Miss Clara Ashley.  For years there have been persistent rumors about a treasure of silver and gold, mostly things made by Paul Revere, that was hidden somewhere on the old Ashley place during the Civil War.  Many people have looked for it, but no one has ever found it.   Meg and Kerry like to solve mysteries, so they decide to take a crack at locating the treasure.  While they are doing so, a boy named Glenn Morgan keeps showing up and then disappearing down “the witches’ stairway,” and Meg also notices a wild-looking woman snooping around.

Who are these strange people?  Will the girls be able to get the gold and silver?  And is there really a treasure to begin with, or is it all just someone’s imagination?  No one would ever put books like this in the category of “classic children’s literature,” but it is a nice story with a lot of excitement and suspense, the kind that kids used to lap up in the 1950s and even early 60s.  As someone noted, “No bad language or bad attitude and always end happy.”  The Meg Duncan books are a series of six juvenile mysteries published between 1967 and 1972, reprinted in 1978, and attributed to Holly Beth Walker which is a pseudonym.  The first book, Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds, was actually written by Gladys Baker Bond.  Meg and the Secret of the Witch’s Stairway is the second book of the series.  The others are Meg and the Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave (1971), Meg and the Ghost of the Hidden Springs (1970), Meg and the Treasure Nobody Saw (1970), and Meg and the Mystery in Williamsburg (1972).

Nobody smokes, drinks alcohol, uses drugs, or curses, and Sunday activities are said to take place “After church.”  Even pulp fiction books like this illustrate an important principle presented by William Kilpatrick in Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong about the major shift that took place in children’s literature during the decades following the 50s, citing psychologist David Elkind who wrote, “Previously in much of children’s literature, the goals were often to help or to please others—parents, friends, pets—who were needy or endangered.  A boy took risks to save a dog or a girl worked hard to get a desired gift for a sick friend.  In children’s fiction today, however, the goals are often therapeutic.  Heroes and heroines are healing themselves rather than helping others.”  In other words, today’s so-called “heroes and heroines” are self-absorbed and self-centered, thus presenting poor role models for our children.  Give me Meg over Judy Blume’s books any day!

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