When Eddy Hall receives five cards for his stereoscope, he and his sister, Eleanor, can't wait to see what exotic places they reveal maybe Stonehenge, or a centuries-old European cathedral. But instead, when they look through the stereoscope, Eddy and Eleanor see some very strange things. An odd-looking rope hangs from the sky down into every picture. A marmalade coloured cat that looks suspiciously like Herm, the family cat, also appears. And one picture looks like the front hall of their very own house! The images seem to be almost real, not just three-dimensional illusions. All it will take is one little tug on that rope to find out for sure ....
About the Author
Jane Langton studied astronomy at Wellesley College and the University of Michigan and did graduate work in art history at the University of Michigan and Radcliffe College. Ms. Langton is the author of a dozen books for young people, including seven other fantasies about the Hall family of Concord, Massachusetts: The Diamond in the Window, The Swing in the Summerhouse, The Astonishing Stereoscope, the Newbery Honor Book The Fledgling, The Fragile Flag, The Time Bike, and The Mysterious Circus. Also well known for her mystery novels for adults, Ms. Langton lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
The Bad Place
"You'll go to the Bad Place,” said Mary Jane Broom. “My mother says anybody who doesn't go to church or Sunday School will go straight to the Bad Place when they die.”
Eleanor turned pale. “The Bad Place?” she said. “You mean . . . ?”
“I'm not supposed to say that word,” said Mary Jane primly.
Eleanor's little brother, Edward, swung his lunch box around in a big circle. “She means you'll go to Hell,” he said.
Oliver Winslow, the impossible Oliver Winslow, started to shout it all over the school parking lot. “Eleanor Hall is going to Hell! Eleanor Hall is going to Hell!”
Eleanor looked angrily at Mary Jane. “You're going straight to Heaven, I suppose,” she said hotly.
“No one can say for sure,” said Mary Jane. “You never know whether or not you've committed the Unforgivable Sin.”
“What's that?” said Eleanor.
“Nobody knows. But if you've committed it, there's no hope. It's absolutely unforgivable. But I know one thing. I never miss Sunday School.”
Eleanor looked at Mary Jane's golden curls and pink cheeks with grudging envy. It was easy to imagine her as an angel already. Eleanor herself was taller than all the boys in her class, to her despair; her cheeks were pale and freckled, her long straight hair was the color of raw carrots, and she was positively bristling with apparatus. There were glasses on her nose and braces cluttering up her mouth with wires and elastics and ugly metal bands.
After school Eleanor walked over to the Alcott School to pick up her cousin Georgie, who was in first grade. On the way she told herself that there was no such place asHell. All those red devils poking people with pitchforks and roasting them over hot coals; nobody believed in that sort of thing anymore.
“Here I am, Eleanor,” said Georgie, hopping up and down on her small skinny legs, waving her briefcase.
Together they walked up Stow Street and turned the corner on Everett. Looking at the familiar houses Eleanor thought again, as she did so often, that they were sitting on their own past. Here in Concord, Massachusetts, it was hard to forget that now was not only now but also then. She was putting her feet down, tramp, tramp, in the footsteps of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Henry Thoreau, or Louisa May Alcott, or some minuteman who had fired a shot at the North Bridge. And even when she breathed the air she couldn't help remembering what Uncle Freddy always said about it, that it was the air of freedom. On this October day the air of Concord was cool and brisk, smelling slightly of skunk.
Georgie was talking about school. Eleanor looked at her little cousin and fell into deep thought. After all, she told herself, take Georgie. Here she was, a mere child, not even old enough to be bad yet; in fact all she cared about was school and reading books from the library, and she was really smart. And did she go to Sunday School? No. And nobody could tell Eleanor that Georgie was going to any Bad Place. She tried to picture Georgie being poked with a pitchfork by a red devil with a forked tail. It was too terrible. Georgie didn't deserve it.
Eleanor grabbed Georgie's hand and helped her across the street. From a block away she could already see the gables and pointed rooftops of home, the house at No. 40 Walden Street where Eleanor lived with Georgie and Eddy and Aunt Alex and Uncle Freddy. It was an odd, slightly fantastic structure, not at all like the square white New England houses around it. And it wasn't just a house, it was a school. Uncle Freddy was the superintendent and only professor of his own Concord College of Transcendentalist Knowledge, and he held classes all over the house -- in the parlor, in the hall, in the kitchen, on the front porch. Students were always coming and going to hear Uncle Freddy talk about Emerson and Thoreau.
Actually it wasn't quite true that he was the only professor, because Georgie's mother, Eleanor's Aunt Alex, was a teacher there too. She had been a student in the school last year, a widow, and then Uncle Freddy had fallen in love with her and they had been married. Aunt Alex was smart like her little girl Georgie.
Eleanor knew all about love. She was in love with one of the students too, even though he was ten years older than she. His name was John Green. There had been a boy Eleanor used to like at school, Benjamin Parks, but he was nothing beside John Green.
Eleanor shook her long hair away from her face and pushed at the front gate. The gate was stuck, as usual, and she had to kick it. She tried to kick gracefully in case John Green was looking.
Someone was looking, all right, but it wasn't John Green. It was Mr. Ralph Q. Preek, president of the Thoreau Street Bank. He was walking along Walden Street in the company of his secretary, Miss Madeline Prawn.
“There goes one of those Hall children,” said Mr. Preek.
“Two of them,” observed Miss Prawn. “I wonder if their manners have improved. They were extremely rude to me in days of yore.”
Mr. Preek and Miss Prawn peered sideways at Eleanor and Georgie, who were playing with a large spotted cat on their front porch.
“Well, that uncle of theirs is no better than a child himself,” said Mr. Preek. “Poor Fred. That absurd school of his will destroy him financially, sooner or later.”“Far be it from me,” said Miss Prawn, “to wish bad luck to a single mortal soul, but what a pity-- remember, Ralph? -- that time a year or two ago when poor Fred got so far behind on his taxes? What a pity you were not able to foreclose the property... The Astonishing Stereoscope. Copyright © by Jane Langton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.