Monday, May 13, 2013

Hidden Gems: Elementary Edition

Welcome to Hidden Gems, a new feature discussing some of the less famous stuff from well known authors. In this first edition we’ll start with an author I encountered very early on in my reading career: Bruce Coville.

Coville, the author of dozens of children and young adult books, is most well known for his My Teacher is an Alien series. I remember how creepy the cover of the first book was when I saw it in those scholastic reader catalogs we had in grade school. Coville’s tale of three children discovering that they must save the planet from an intergalactic counsel that doesn’t seem any redeeming qualities in barbaric humans is great, but despite being perhaps his most famous work, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the Nina TanlevenI mean cmon! What a great pun name! Nine Ten Eleven! series.

Over the course of the series’ three novels Nina and her friend Chris Gurley encounter ghosts and must determine why these ghosts are hanging around. The first two books, The Ghost in the Third Row and The Ghost Wore Gray are great, but the third book, The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed is incredible. In fact, I was paging through it while writing this entry and even though the plot details had remained hazy until I picked it up I got goosebumps the minute I read the name Cornelius Fletcher. Suddenly long forgotten neural pathways in my brain began firing and it all came back to me. I quickly flipped to the front where Nina and Chris first encounter Fletcher’s painting Early Harvest:

At first I thought it was just a pretty picture of a forest. Then I realized there were dead bodies scattered among the fallen leaves. After I spotted the first few, I couldn’t miss them. My eyes began picking out more and more, almost as if I were staring at one of those find-the-hidden object pictures. Some of the bodies were marked with terrible wounds. My head began to whirl. For a moment the painting seem to take me in. I could hear the moans of dying men, the deep thud of cannons in the distance. The air around me felt cold and wet. It was filled with the smell of fire and blood. I tried to look away. To my horror, I couldn’t move. The picture had trapped me and was forcing me to see things I didn’t want to know about.

This description, on page 22, was the passage that was responsible for the goosebumps I got from reading Fletcher’s name. I remember reading this as a kid and being immensely creeped out by the metal image this passage evoked. I’m so glad the book wasn’t illustrated because I know what I pictured in my mind was creepier than any painting could actually be. For the next 160 pages Coville keeps you on the edge of your seat as Nina and Chris unravel the history of Early Harvest, its artist Cornelius Fletcher, and how they relate to the crying ghost of a little girl who haunts the big brass bed. But I’m amazed that 20 years later one name, which I couldn’t even remember until I saw it, could bring back such a flood of memories. For that reason, for me, The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed is Coville’s masterpiece.

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