HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Empty Grave
Author: Ida Chittum
Publisher: Weekly Readers, republished 1975
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9-13
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Chittum, Ida. The Empty Grave (Published in 1974 by Xerox Education Publications, a trademark of Xerox Corporation, Middletown, CT 06457). Eleven year old Allen is excited to be moving with his dad and mom into their first and very own house in the country, a three story old mansion with crumbling stone foundations surrounded by weeds in front and woods in back. Their only neighbor is an old man named Mr. Mills who is reputed to be rather odd. Soon Allen starts hearing creepy noises in the large house. Then during his exploration, he finds a broken tombstone for Morris Twilling, a twelve year old boy who had died a hundred years before—but in the Twilling graveyard behind the house, Morris’s grave has been dug up and is empty.
Allen also finds a scrap of paper in a hidden journal with half a clue to some treasure buried by the long dead boy. Where is Morris and why is his grave empty? Who or what is making the strange noises? And is there really a buried treasure? I understand that this book was banned in some schools in the 1970s because of the supposed occultist themes of ghosts and magic. To be honest, I fail to see what occultism or witchcraft is stated or even implied in the book. It’s a simple ghost story with a Twilight Zone like ending. In the end, there is a lot less supernatural than one might assume from the title and cover.
Despite its short length (only 78 pages of large font with pictures), there are some interesting plot twists with a rather mysterious raven, confusion over a distant Twilling relative named Gary from out west who is visiting his aunt down the road, and the suspicious old man next door. Though the story itself ends up being more humorous than one might initially expect, the book is still marvelously good at raising the hairs on the back of one’s neck. It would be a great book to encourage kids to read, especially for youths with a penchant for ghost stories who are just looking for a good scare. There are a few common euphemisms like “heck” and “gee.”