Friday, October 17, 2008


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Spookiness abounds in this graphic retelling of the classic Washington Irving story (put out by Stone Arch) in which a timid schoolhouse teacher runs up against fanciful tales and terror in a small town. Blake Hoena retells this story (with illustrator Tod Smith) with attention to details. The wiry schoolmaster – Ichabod Crane – is portrayed like a scared rat with something devious up his sleeve (that something being the affection of the lovely Katrina, whom Ichabod attempts to woo away from the juvenile prankster Brom Bones).

The story is layered with ghost stories from the town's history, including the tragic tale of the Woman in White who was caught in the ice storm near Raven Rock, the story of the traitor spy who was hung from the tree along Sleepy Hollow Road by the townspeople, and, of course, the saga of The Headless Horseman who seems to prey on the town's schoolteachers in the dead of the night.

The two main plot developments of Bones' jealousy over Ichabod's interest in Katrina and the culmination of the ghost stories on Ichabod's imagination merge one night as Ichabod is returning home from a party at Katrina's house by way of the shadowy terrain of Sleepy Hollow and is confronted by The Headless Horseman himself. The reader is never quite certain whether it is Ichabod's own fertile mind, a Brom Bones' prank, or a real ghost that confronts and chases him through the night. Nor is it explained what happened to Ichabod in the aftermath of the attack. All that is left for the townspeople to find the next day along with some tracks from Ichabod's horse and a smashed pumpkin. The story ends with a new schoolteacher in town and a child, holding up a horse shoe, asking the innocent question of Ichabod's replacement in the classroom: "Sir, have you never heard the legend of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow?"

Illustrator Tod Smith is quite effective in establishing and maintaining a creepy tone through the book. Darkness abounds in the art, and at the crucial moment when The Headless Horseman attacks Ichabod in the night by throwing a green, rotting head at the schoolteacher, Smith works a certain magic by slowing down the action, frame by frame, until the head hits Ichabod with a solid "wham!", sending his glasses flying and ending the scene dramatically. The ghost tales told to Ichabod earlier are also rendered nicely, giving an air of eeriness to the stories. We can see Ichabod being both obsessed with the ghost stories unfolding around him but also showing fear that these ghosts might still inhabit the Earth. And Ichabod himself is nicely drawn as a long, gangly man, with sharp nose, that is distinct contrast to his main rival, Brom Bones.

Washington Irving used the idea of the gaps in the narrative to relay this spooky tale, and Hoena keeps that technique in tact. For young writers, this is a valuable lesson in not telling the readers everything. A hole in the narrative allows the readers to tap into their own imagination, and young writers might want to use this technique for their own spooky stories. This book also comes with a set of discussion questions (including one topic around the use of satire and humor) and writing prompts (such as, what happens to the new schoolteacher who comes after Ichabod Crane?). Finally, young writers could also dream up a ghost story for their own town, using real geographic locations for the setting of their stories.

AUTHOR: Irving, Washington
ADAPTED BY: Blake A. Hoena
PUBLISHER: Stone Arch Books
ISBN 10: 1-4342-0446-4
ISBN 13: 978-1-4342-0446-2

AR QUIZ NO.: 120190
DEWEY: 741.5

I would highly recommend this book for upper elementary and middle school readers, although some high school readers might also enjoy it. There is an attack on Ichabod in the climax of the story as The Headless Horseman throws a head (or is it a pumpkin) at Ichabod Crane. And one of the ghost stories told to Ichabod shows a man being hanged from a tree for being a spy. There is no blood or gory graphics however, and I believe it is appropriate for most older audiences. I would refrain, perhaps, from allowing younger elementary students from viewing the pictures in this book.

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