Cover image for The ghosts of Rathburn Park
The ghosts of Rathburn Park
Snyder, Zilpha Keatley.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
182 pages ; 22 cm
Lost in the woods of Rathburn Park, eleven-year-old Matthew weighs the odds of dying from thirst, embarrassment, or at the hands of the forest's reputed ghostly inhabitants.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.6 7.0 64513.

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X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

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Eleven-year-old Matthew Hamilton--a.k.a. The Hamster--is new in town, and just about the first thing he does is get lost in the woods of Rathburn Park. It's a typical boneheaded thing to do, and Matt is trying to decide whether starvation is preferable to the embarrassment of a rescue party when a little dog trots past him. Matt senses that the dog wants him to follow, but as soon as they emerge from the trees, the dog vanishes. Matt keeps wondering about the dog as he starts to learn more about the town's strange past. Owned by a wealthy family named Rathburn, the whole town burned down decades ago and was rebuilt nearby. The old ruins are still hidden in the forest, too rickety and dangerous to go near. But they are also best avoided for another reason--ghosts. Still, Matt can't resist looking for the dog, and as he's looking, he meets a girl dressed in antique clothes who calls herself Amelia Rathburn. Are she and the dog both ghosts? Or is there another explanation for the strange goings-on in Rathburn Park?

Author Notes

Zilpha Keatley Snyder was born in Lemoore, California on May 11, 1927. She received a B.A. from Whittier College in 1948. While ultimately planning to be a writer, after graduation she decided to teach school temporarily. However, she found teaching to be an extremely rewarding experience and taught in the upper elementary grades for a total of nine years. After all of her children were in school, she began to think of writing again.

Her first book, Season of Ponies, was published in 1964. She wrote more than 40 books during her lifetime including The Trespassers, Gib Rides Home, Gib and the Gray Ghost, and William's Midsummer Dreams. She has won numerous awards including three Newbery Honor books for The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid and The Witches of Worm and the 1995 John and Patricia Beatty Award for Cat Running. She died of complications from a stroke on October 08, 2014 at the age of 87.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran novelist Snyder (Spyhole Secrets) offers up a contemporary mystery more satisfying for its wonderfully delineated cast than, perhaps, for its plot. Matthew Hamilton, a gawky 11-year-old, has just moved to Timber City, where his dad has been hired as city manager. While his older brother and sister almost immediately start making friends, Matt is more solitary. A story about ghosts appearing near Rathburn Park, home to an old mansion and, also, before a deadly fire swept through it, the original site of the town, prompts Matt to investigate. He meets a girl in old-fashioned dress (who dons white gloves and a hat held in place with a hatpin), and he is thrilled when she introduces herself as Amelia Rathburn-and stymied when, shortly afterward, he learns that the only Amelia Rathburn on the premises is almost 100 years old. Those who have read E.L. Konigsburg's Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth will know exactly what's coming; those who haven't will probably be able to guess the flesh-and-blood identity of the titular "ghosts." While this isn't Snyder's most suspenseful tale, her gifts for fashioning lifelike and sympathetic characters are as pronounced as ever, as is her understanding of family dynamics. The payoff here is the storytelling itself. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-The Hamiltons have just moved to Timber City. The family's introduction to the town is the July Fourth picnic at Rathburn Park. It is there that Matt hears about the fire that destroyed the original town and the ghosts that haunt the park. He wanders away from the picnic, gets lost in the forest, and is led out by a small dog that no one else can see. Then he meets Amelia, a mysterious girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes. They explore the burned-out church, the old Rathburn house, and the swamp as Amelia leads Matt, and orders him around. These two main characters are finely drawn, as are Matt's two older siblings. Suspense is created as the 11-year-old tries to connect the history of the area to the tales Amelia tells him. This skillfully told story is full of both history and middle-grade concerns about peer pressure and acceptance.- Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



One He was lost. Matthew Hamilton, known as Matt or the Hamster, was hopelessly lost in an endless forest. And, as usual, it was all his own fault. This particular disaster was his own fault because it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been doing something he'd thought he'd pretty much outgrown and had promised to quit doing. Promised himself, that is. It wasn't the kind of thing you would promise your folks not to do anymore, because most of the time nobody knew he was doing it, at least not exactly. What the family thought was . . . Well, the way his brother, Justin, always put it was "The Hamster is weirding out again." Of course, if you really were looking to blame it on something else, you might say the forest itself was partly to blame. The thing was, it was the kind of forest that you read about and see fantastic pictures of, but that, if you were from a place like Six Palms, you'd never seen up close and personal. Back home in Six Palms, a hike might take you to where you could see a few scrawny palm trees and a lot of prickly cactus, but here in a place called Rathburn Park, enormous trees marched away into the distance in every direction like endless armies of green giants. And far above, row after row of needle-fringed fingers pointed toward a faraway blue sky. A heroic forest every bit as wild and mysterious as . . . When Matt thought back over historic forests he'd read about and imagined, what immediately came to mind was--Sherwood. That's what had done it. Remembering Sherwood had started Matt thinking that the forest all around him must be as incredibly dense and mysterious as Sherwood. Mysterious, that is, to everyone except Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Robin Hood had been one of Matt's favorite historical heroes back in Six Palms, and this certainly wasn't the first time he'd done the Robin Hood thing, but somehow sagebrush and cactus hadn't been nearly as inspiring. This time there was not only this real, honest-to-God forest, but also a sturdy walking stick that he'd just happened to pick up near the beginning of the trail. A walking stick that was almost as big and strong as--a quarterstaff, maybe. So there he'd been, leaning on his walking stick/quarterstaff while letting his mind surf back over all the fascinating stuff he'd read about Robin Hood and seen in movies and on TV. About a guy who'd robbed rich bad guys and helped poor people, and who knew every inch of an enormous forest the way an ordinary person would know his own backyard. Remembering the quarterstaff fight with Little John, Matt had twirled his stick and sliced the air once or twice, and one thing had led to another. Before long, although he'd promised himself to stop doing that kind of thing, he began to morph into--Robin himself. So there he was, a tall, good-looking guy, dressed in Lincoln green, running down the rough trail with a speedy, surefooted stride. As he ran, he paused only long enough to whistle a signal to his Merry Men, or to listen, hand cupped to ear, for the approach of the evil King John and his dangerous gang of knights. Somewhere along the way the trail rose, wound along the side of a hill, and then dropped again, crisscrossing a network of smaller pathways. Pathways worn into the forest floor by deer, perhaps? Or packs of bloodthirsty, ravenous wolves? As Robin picked up his pace, his eyes searched the underbrush for the gleam of white fangs. Flecks of light filtering down through the branches looked almost like snow. And suddenly wolves were everywhere. Robin was forced to stop again and again to fight off their attacks with his trusty quarterstaff. He swung the heavy staff fiercely and the wolves yelped and cringed before they faded back into the snow-covered underbrush. As he ran on, the wolves and the snow were followed by an even more dangerous attack. Warned by the distant thud of hooves, Robin hid beside the trail, his longbow ready. As King John's men appeared, he released arrow after arrow and then, as the few remaining knights turned and fled, he sped on. But in the end it was just Matt again who staggered to a stop, his imagination as exhausted as his muscles. Just eleven-year-old Matthew Hamilton, propping himself up with a stick as he struggled to catch his breath. The sturdy walking stick that had been a quarterstaff and then a longbow was once again nothing more than a prop to lean on. But at that particular moment, a prop was exactly what Matt needed. As he gasped for air, he told himself he'd overdone it for sure this time. He'd really let his imagination run away with him. He grimaced again as he realized that his runaway imagination had somehow managed to cover up some unpleasant realities, like a blistered heel, aching calf muscles and--he swallowed painfully--a tongue-shriveling thirst. Turning back the way he'd come, he began to retrace his steps. He moved more slowly then, glancing from side to side as he looked for something familiar that would prove that he really was heading back the way he'd come. But one tree trunk looked pretty much like the next, and a vine-covered stump was only one of many vine-covered stumps. He wasn't lost, he told himself. Not really. How could he be, while he was still on the path he'd been following since he'd left the parking lot? On the same path--or not? It was a trail, all right, but could it be a different one? One that started somewhere else and led to who-knows-where? The trail climbed again, and Matt began to notice other, narrower pathways intersecting it from time to time. What if he'd taken the wrong turn somewhere along the way? Maybe that was why the trail he'd been following had never passed the old Rathburn mansion, the way the guy in the parking lot had said it would. Which might mean--and this was a pretty scary idea--that he had been off course for a long time. As the awful truth began to sink in, Matt's forward progress slowed and finally stopped altogether. Leaning on his stick, he shook his head in disgust. He really was lost, and it was his own fault--nobody else's. He grinned ruefully, imagining what Justin would say, or even his sister, Courtney. It was easy to guess what anyone in the family would say if Matt tried to blame it on Robin Hood. No way. Robin was long gone and, as always, Matthew Hamilton was on his own. On his own in another embarrassing, and this time maybe even dangerous, mess. And he'd done it on what was supposed to have been a really important day for the whole Hamilton family. A day when Gerald Hamilton, Matt's dad, was being introduced to all the important citizens of Timber City at their especially historic, traditional Fourth of July picnic. Excerpted from The Ghosts of Rathburn Park by Zilpha Keatley Snyder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.