MG books that start with moving into an old house

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t0dd

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I've written a MG fantasy whose opening chapter (based on the comments I got about it in the SYW section) needs a lot of work - particularly in including some tension.

The MC (an 11-year-old girl) and her family are moving from America to England, because a distant relative left them an old house in a small town in an out-of-the-way part of England on the condition that they lived in it, which her parents agreed to (for various reasons). In the chapter, they arrive at the house, and meet the late relative's family solicitor, a stern fellow with a prosthetic right hand (he refuses to talk about how he lost it - let's just say that he has a secret past, along with a slight Scandinavian accent, and isn't fond of canids) who's there to greet them and deliver some advice about the place - and also notice one or two peculiar features about it (such as a family portrait dating back to around the time of the English Civil War of a girl who bears a strong resemblance to the MC).

The reviewers pointed out that there wasn't enough tension or conflict in the chapter, which was a good point; the conflict doesn't (at present) get under way until the second chapter, when the MC, while exploring the woods nearby, inadvertently frees a Bogle (a mischievous shape-shifting trickster) who was imprisoned beneath a large stone; the book revolves around her goal of recapturing it (with the additional complication that the family solicitor is also after the Bogle - but his plans on what to do with it when he catches it strike the MC as too harsh, so that she's now seeking to catch the Bogle before he can). At the same time, the first chapter provided many important pieces of information (such as the family portrait, which is linked to the Bogle's past and how it responds to the MC), so I couldn't just cut it and start with the second chapter.

So I've decided to start looking through MG books (preferably in the fantasy genre) which open with the MCs moving into an old house with a strange atmosphere, and see how they handled tension in the opening chapter. So far, I've looked through "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" by Alan Garner (technically, the farmhouse where the MCs are staying isn't that weird, but it's in a countryside with a spooky atmosphere, as one of them notes in the first chapter), "Over Sea Under Stone" by Susan Cooper, and "The Spiderwick Chronicles". But I'd like a few more (preferably recent ones - "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" was first published in 1960, for example), please. Does anyone have any recommendations?

P.S. The MC's response to the move - she actually likes it, feels more at home in the old house in England than in their former home in the States, though she's unable to figure out why that is. (She is a bit surprised at the resemblance of the 17th century several-times-great-aunt to herself, but puts it down to mere family resemblance; a Sherlock Holmes buff, she compares it to "The Hound of the Baskervilles", where a resemblance between a family portrait dating to the 1600's and a "present-day" descendant was important to the story, if with some reservations - both characters in "Hound" were thoroughly villainous sorts.)
 
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mrsmig

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Neil Gaiman's CORALINE.
 

Brightdreamer

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Seconding Coraline.

Not sure if Jenny Nimmo's Griffin's Castle would count; the "weird" starts elsewhere and follows the MC home, but the old house does play a key part in the story.

Another "maybe" would be Leah Cutter's The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom; the kids find weird things near the house that lead them to a hidden fairy world. (This is not a cute-twinkly-fairy story... these are fae who willfully manipulate the kids for their own ends.)

Toni DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles starts with the kids moving to a dilapidated house where they find clues that reveal the existence of magical creatures, as does Brandon Mull's Fablehaven. (ETA - Saw you looked at Spiderwick already.)
 
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neandermagnon

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Moondial by Helen Cresswell - the girl doesn't live in the house but she moves to where the house is and it's a ghost/time travel story that centres around the house itself. The house is a huge mansion owned by the National Trust. Her mother has a car accident and is in a coma. She moves in with an aunt who is one of the staff that works for the National Trust and lives in a cottage on the grounds of the house (it's based on Belton House in Lincolnshire) - the MC isn't at school (I think it's the summer holidays?) so spends her days exploring the house. She meets the ghosts of children who've lived in the house in the past. You've hinted at a link between your MC and the little girl from the civil war - this story explores the links between the MC (was written and set in the 80s) and children who lived in the house in the past.

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - Mary's family die in a cholera epidemic and she's sent from India to live in a huge mansion in Yorkshire with her uncle who's a recluse. The house is mostly empty and shut away and there aren't any other children, and she's left in the care of a maid who's only about sixteen or so herself (though considered an adult by the MC). The story's set in both the house and the surrounding gardens. There's no ghosts and not much in the way of supernatural, but it involves a child moving from another country into a huge, mostly empty and quite scary house.
 
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The Second Moon

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I also say Coraline.

This is off topic but...

Not sure if Jenny Nimmo's Griffin's Castle would count; the "weird" starts elsewhere and follows the MC home, but the old house does play a key part in the story.

WHAT?! She wrote more books than The Charlie Bone books?! I adored those books. I would gladly read more of her work. I'm going to look up some more of her books.
 

t0dd

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Thanks for the recommendations, everyone. One or two I've already read (such as Cooper's "The Boggart"), but others I haven't (including "Coraline", though I know it by reputation); I'll be looking for them at the local library.

Incidentally, I remembered I had another MG fantasy in my collection with a similar premise in the opening, Patricia Miles' "The Gods in Winter", about a family in modern-day England who become involved in an updated version of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It opened with them making a work-related move to a house on the grounds of an old stately home converted into a laboratory the father works for - and spotting Hades' abduction of Persephone (modernized so that he's driving off with her in a black vintage car) on the way there. Then, soon after they move in, Demeter in her human guise becomes their housekeeper.... (It was originally published in 1978, but I spotted a reprint at the library a few years ago - maybe reprinted because of the popularity of the Percy Jackson series?)
 
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frimble3

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I loved 'The Gods in Winter'. And so very different from 'Percy Jackson' in that the kids have to figure out what's going on by themselves.
Have you checked out Alan Garner's 'The Owl Service'? English family moves to Wales, the kids get involved the the working out of the myth of Blodeuwedd, a woman created out of flowers.
Much family drama, as well.
Or Lucy Boston's 'Greenknowe' books.
 

frimble3

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Also, maybe consider what kind of house the MC lived in back in America. She's a kid, so anything other than what she's used to is going to seem 'weird'.
 

t0dd

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I loved 'The Gods in Winter'. And so very different from 'Percy Jackson' in that the kids have to figure out what's going on by themselves.
Have you checked out Alan Garner's 'The Owl Service'? English family moves to Wales, the kids get involved the the working out of the myth of Blodeuwedd, a woman created out of flowers.
Much family drama, as well.
Or Lucy Boston's 'Greenknowe' books.

And the kids' family (which I forgot to mention) is itself analogous to characters in the original Greek myth - a mortal family whom Demeter stayed with after she'd searched fruitlessly for her daughter. (It very recently occurred to me that the boy narrating the story might be the counterpart to Triptolemus, a member of the family who had the duty of founding the Eleusinian Mysteries - with the boy's narrating role being the counterpart of that.)

I've read "The Owl Service", and also have the first "Breenknowe" book; I'd forgotten about both, but thanks for reminding me.

The MC most likely lived in an ordinary suburban home (I saw her as coming from the Midwest, largely because I lived until recently in Missouri).
 

Cindy From Oregon

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Just a thought - it appears that the story doesn't start until she frees the bogle. How about you open there, and take the first chapter and salt it in as backstory throughout the first two chapters as she realizes what she's done, and what she needs to do to fix it?
 

t0dd

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Just a thought - it appears that the story doesn't start until she frees the bogle. How about you open there, and take the first chapter and salt it in as backstory throughout the first two chapters as she realizes what she's done, and what she needs to do to fix it?

I thought of that, but ran into a problem. A couple of crucial elements in the story took place before Jennifer freed the Bogle, and having them take place before the first page felt awkward.

To give an example, the way in which she frees the Bogle is like this. On her first full day in the new home, she goes out to explore and meets a boy who offers to show her around the woods nearby. While they're passing a large oak tree, they hear someone else approaching, whom the boy recognizes as the stern old solicitor involved in the move - who doesn't approve of the boy being in the woods (they're public property, but the solicitor is still uneasy about people walking about in it) - and frantically hides in the undergrowth of the tree, leaving the MC to meet the solicitor and speak with him briefly (she's far less rattled by his presence than the boy is). Once the solicitor goes on his way, she discovers that the boy got his foot caught behind a large stone while hiding, and pushes it away in order to free him. In so doing, she notices some odd markings on the stone, like old Norse runes, and, curious, takes it back home to study them. The stone was keeping the Bogle trapped in the burrow (the runes being an inscription as part of the imprisonment), so that she - unwittingly - frees it.

But I felt that the encounter with the solicitor lost something if it was the first time he appeared in the book, and the initial meeting between him and the MC (when he's speaking with her family upon their moving in the day before) took place off-stage.
 

frimble3

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You may be right, the scene with the solicitor might be stronger if she's met him before. Esp. considering that the boy has such a strong reaction to him - if the solicitor is truly a stranger, it's going to seem over-the-top.
Or, maybe this is when your MC finds out that the solicitor is the kind of adult who is nicey-nice to adults, and treats kids like lower life-forms. But, if he doesn't talk about his hand (I get the reference, I think) don't dwell on it. It's not the kind of thing that polite people would bring up on a first meeting.

There's no need to mention the portraits, etc, immediately, I think. In the fuss of moving in, and checking out the house, it usually is a 'big picture' kind of thing: where are we going to put our stuff, where's the kitchen, who gets what room, etc.
(This might be where it would be useful for you to have pictures of their previous house, and the new one - so you can see the differences the family would notice. Especially if they come from a 'cookie-cutter' suburb.)

This would also be a good time to show your MC as someone up for an adventure - willing to go off with a kid she's just met, resourceful and competent enough to free his leg when it's trapped. And, the kind of kid who, when seeing a stone with weird writing on it, would pick it up and take it away, rather than a) running to tell an adult about it, or b) leaving it where it is, as her own little secret. Or, c) shrugging and forgetting all about it.
This would give us a brief look at your MC's strengths and weaknesses, as well as suggesting that Something Is Coming.
 

t0dd

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You may be right, the scene with the solicitor might be stronger if she's met him before. Esp. considering that the boy has such a strong reaction to him - if the solicitor is truly a stranger, it's going to seem over-the-top.
Or, maybe this is when your MC finds out that the solicitor is the kind of adult who is nicey-nice to adults, and treats kids like lower life-forms. But, if he doesn't talk about his hand (I get the reference, I think) don't dwell on it. It's not the kind of thing that polite people would bring up on a first meeting.

There's no need to mention the portraits, etc, immediately, I think. In the fuss of moving in, and checking out the house, it usually is a 'big picture' kind of thing: where are we going to put our stuff, where's the kitchen, who gets what room, etc.
(This might be where it would be useful for you to have pictures of their previous house, and the new one - so you can see the differences the family would notice. Especially if they come from a 'cookie-cutter' suburb.)

This would also be a good time to show your MC as someone up for an adventure - willing to go off with a kid she's just met, resourceful and competent enough to free his leg when it's trapped. And, the kind of kid who, when seeing a stone with weird writing on it, would pick it up and take it away, rather than a) running to tell an adult about it, or b) leaving it where it is, as her own little secret. Or, c) shrugging and forgetting all about it.
This would give us a brief look at your MC's strengths and weaknesses, as well as suggesting that Something Is Coming.

Thanks for your comments. One or two comments.

1. The solicitor is stiff towards everyone, not just kids. (And neither the MC nor anyone else actually brings up his prosthetic hand in the conversation - the MC notices it at their first meeting, but doesn't mention it.)

2. The MC does tell an adult - her father - about the stone, as well as showing it to him; his work involves early British history (including the Viking era) and she's hoping he'd be able to translate the runic inscription on it. (She thinks of it as most likely either a historical artifact or a fake - though wondering, either way, what it'd be doing out in the woods by the foot of a large oak tree.)
 

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