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Annotation: In an upstate New York farming community, high school reporter Hildy Biddle investigates a series of strange occurrences at a house rumored to be haunted.
Catalog Number: #24285
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition Date: 2009
Pages: 248 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-14-241430-1 Perma-Bound: 0-605-18058-X
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-14-241430-9 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-18058-1
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2007042835
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
The orchard-growing community of Banesville, New York, is known as The Happiest Town in the Happy Apple Valley. But the sleepy town is stricken with hysteria and fear after a series of spooky happenings, and then a death occurs near the abandoned Ludlow House. As Pen Piedmont, the editor of the local paper, publishes fear-mongering headlines, high-school reporter Hildy determines to find the true story behind the incidents and settle her community's growing unrest. Although there are several puzzling incidents at the story's center (Is there a plot against Banesville's citizens? If so, who's involved?), readers will be most drawn by Hildy's growing excitement, relayed in her own strong, witty voice, as she learns from a cantankerous, demanding mentor what it takes to be a journalist. Hildy's romance with a fellow student feels underdeveloped, and the object of her affection is a bit too good to be true. But Bauer's gleeful wordplay, her sure sense of setting, the details of newspaper life, and the many colorful side characters make this a pleasurable read that may encourage teens to consider deeper questions about family farms, urban sprawl, and the many who profit from public fear. See the adjacent column for more novels about aspiring young journalists.
Horn Book
Something's rotten in the apple-farming town of Banesville...and a doomsaying ghost is only the tip of the iceberg. Ace high school newspaper reporter Hildy Biddle is determined to expose the ominous depths. The colorful residents of Banesville are affectionately sketched. Hildy's crisp, declarative narration, subtly emulating a journalistic style, sings with tart humor and quixotic purpose.
Kirkus Reviews
A spunky teen with a passion for newspaper reporting goes undercover to follow leads in rural Banesville, N.Y. Reporter-at-large for her high-school newspaper, Hildy Biddle relentlessly seeks "the truth." Since her father's death three years ago, Hildy has tried hard to follow in his footsteps as a reporter while helping at her family's apple orchard. Her skills as a fledgling reporter are put to the test when she's assigned "a big, emerging story" involving mysterious goings-on at the abandoned Ludlow house, which locals suspect is haunted. When strange threatening signs, weird-looking people, a renowned psychic named Madame Zobek and a stranger's dead body all appear at the Ludlow house, the town overreacts, fueled by fear-mongering stories in the local newspaper. As Hildy and her classmates scoop out the real story, they uncover a shady plot that could turn unsuspecting, apple-growing Banesville into a disgusting tourist trap. In Hildy, Bauer introduces a feisty, funny teenage heroine who stays true to her mission and herself while learning the realities of reporting and the importance of sticking to the facts. Highly entertaining. (Fiction. 12-16)
School Library Journal
Gr 69 Hildy Biddle, high school reporter for The Core , has her hands full following the story of a ghost haunting the old Ludlow place. Life in her sleepy apple-valley town is upset like the proverbial apple cart when a dead body turns up in the Ludlow orchard and enigmatic warnings are scrawled on the door"YOU DIDN'T THINK IT WAS SAFE, DID YOU?" Rumors fly and fear mounts as Pen Piedmont, editor of the town newspaper, The Bee , prints ever more sensational stories about the eerie goings-on. Hildy, her fellow intrepid high school reporters, and their seasoned newshound adviser are determined to uncover the truth. When they ask the right questions of the wrong people, the principal caves in to threats of litigation from Piedmont and shuts The Core down. Unlikely help comes from café owner and Polish immigrant Minska, whose experience with an underground press inspires them to start an independent news sheet, The Peel , and reveal the true villain. Peeled is vintage Bauer, a warm and funny story full of likable, offbeat characters led by a strongly voiced, independently minded female protagonist on her way to genuine, well-earned maturity. Bauer seasons Hildy's story with the high school homecoming dance, a budding romance, strong friend and family ties, and a host of quirky characters, then serves it up in quick-paced prose juicy with apple metaphors. A-peeling all around! Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

Bauer's (Hope Was Here) fans will appreciate this diverting novel's shout-out to the author's debut, Squashed, from which she also harvests a few themes. In an upstate New York hamlet known for its apples, aspiring teen journalist Hildy Biddle treasures her staff position on the high school paper, aptly named The Core. She does whatever it takes to find the facts for a story, hoping she is honoring the memory of her late father, a respected local reporter. But when the opportunistic publisher of the town paper whips the citizens into a frenzy with sensational stories of ghosts and eerie happenings, Hildy and her friends are determined to expose the truth—which involves a disreputable development company. With sharp pacing and an intriguing premise, Bauer renders a fully realized portrait of a small town dependent on an ever-fragile agricultural economy and threatened by modern encroachment. As always, she stocks her work with strong, sage women, the elements for a budding romance and plenty of funny moments. But it's Hildy readers will remember longest, a smart girl who realistically blends the spunkiness, brains and good humor that is Bauer's stock-in-trade. Ages 12–up. (May)

Voice of Youth Advocates
As a high school journalist living in upstate New York apple country, Hildy Biddle finds herself needing to get to the core of a problem plaguing her town. The town newspaper has been revived by Pen Piedmont, whose stories spread apprehension centered around the local "haunted" house. Ominous notes are posted on the house, and a psychic moves into town to further stir anxieties. Hildy and her staff find support from a washed up newsman, Baker Polton, but a dead body, a frightened child, and worried orchard owners edge the town toward unhealthy panic. Summoning courage from the memories of her journalist father; a new student, Zach, who is determined to see things scientifically; and restaurant owner Minska who grew up during the solidarity movement in Poland, Hildy determinedly digs for the truth to save her town from being swallowed by greedy developers. Bauer again presents readers with a strong protagonist who wrestles hope from a situation fraught with tribulations. Hildy is surrounded by a finely drawn cast of major and minor characters, from the feisty Elders Against Evil squad to the wise Minska and cynical wordsmith Polton. Bauer uses apple farming as an apt metaphor for the world, where one must deal with what cannot be changed but work tirelessly to make the best of it. In a time when journalism too often flaunts sensationalism, Hildy and crew demonstrate ethics and determination in a story that is wonderfully teachable, highly readable, and ready to delight Bauer fans, old and new.-Mary Ann Darby.
Word Count: 46,061
Reading Level: 4.2
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.2 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 122349 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:3.5 / points:13.0 / quiz:Q44125
Lexile: HL620L
Guided Reading Level: T
Fountas & Pinnell: T
DATELINE: Banesville, New York. May 3.

Bonnie Sue Bomgartner, Banesville's soon-to-be 67th Apple Blossom Queen, let loose a stream of projectile vomiting in the high school cafeteria.

"It was the tuna fish," she gasped miserably, and proceeded to upchuck again.

I wrote that down on my notepad as Darrell Jennings and I took a big step back.

The crowning of the queen was tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. in the Happy Apple Tent--a major moment in my small town of Banesville, an orchard-growing community in Upstate New York where apples are our livelihood and the core of our existence.

The nurse rushed in. Darrell, the editor of The Core, the high school paper where I worked as a reporter, said, "It's a cliffhanger, Hildy. The festival law says if the queen is sick and can't appear, the runner-up gets crowned."

"I didn't know that."

He pushed his glasses onto his head and grinned. "That's why I'm the editor."

I jabbed him in the arm for that comment. Darrell has been editing my copy for close to forever.

Bonnie Sue heaved again and the nurse mentioned something about food poisoning.

"My brother had food poisoning and it kept coming up all weekend," Darrell whispered ominously. "Stay on this, Hildy. This could be big. Bigger than big. I want the story behind the story."

He always says that.

Mrs. Perth, the festival coordinator, who also worked in the school office, ran in. "She'll be fine, everyone."

Bonnie Sue looked close to apple green. I felt for her, honestly, even though she was the kind of gorgeous girl who acted like she was personally responsible for her looks.

Mrs. Perth handed Bonnie Sue a tub of lip gloss. Bonnie Sue glossed and stuck her head back in the bucket.

"Everything," Mrs. Perth said fiercely, "will be fine."

She shooed us out of the cafeteria, but not before she said to me, "Hildy, of course we don't want to mention this incident in our paper."

I looked at my notes. "Why not?"

"Hildy, the Apple Blossom Festival is about the hope of the harvest yet to come."

Banesville needed a good harvest. We were still -reeling from two bad harvests in a row. This was a make-or-break year for the orchards.

"I understand about the hope, Mrs. Perth, but a queen with food poisoning is kind of interesting and--"

Mrs. Perth forced out a smile. "The Apple Blossom Queen is the symbol of unbridled joy and farm-fresh produce." Her plump hand covered mine. "And we wouldn't want that symbol to be tarnished in any way. Would we?"

"But Bonnie Sue has food poisoning. That's the truth."

"The truth," she snarled, "is that we've had quite enough problems in Banesville! This festival is committed to being happy and positive from beginning to end!" Her eyes turned to slits. "You're just like your father, Hildy Biddle."

"Thank you," I said quietly. She shut the cafeteria door in my face.

From behind the door, I heard Bonnie Sue bellow, "I'm not giving up my crown! I earned it! It's mine!"

I wrote that down, too.

I was standing in front of Frankie's Funny Fun Mirrors, watching them stretch my legs and elongate my neck and head as the Apple Blossom Festival pulsated around me.

Two little boys ran up, snickering.

"What's worse than finding a worm in an apple you're eating?" the bigger one asked me.


"Finding half a worm!"

They grabbed their throats, shrieked, "Eeeewwww!" and ran off.

I made a face in the mirror, stuck out my tongue.

Hildy Biddle, reporter at large.

I headed across the midway that was actually Banesville High's football field. I walked under the great arch of blossoms, passing men dressed like Johnny Appleseed. I turned left at the storytelling tent where Granny Smith, our local storyteller, was holding forth; did a twirl and a two-step past Bad Apple Bob and the Orchard Boys playing their foot-stomping regional hit, "You Dropped Me Like an Apple Peel on the Ground."

"Oh, baby," I sang along with them, "why'd you have to go?"

You're just like your father, Hildy Biddle.

I guess that meant obstinate, unbending, always searching for truth.

I can live with that.

I remembered being with Dad at the festival when I was little, riding the Haunted Cider Mill roller coaster, hiding behind him when the wicked queen from Snow White walked by with her poisoned apple. We'd eat fat caramel apples, drink cider till our stomachs would groan. Everywhere I looked, there seemed to be a memory of him.

He died three years ago from a heart attack.

I still can't imagine what God was thinking when he let that happen.

I looked up in the sky and saw Luss Lustrom's two-seater prop plane flying overhead. I waved even though he couldn't see me. Luss gave air tours of the apple valley. I rode with him last year. I'll never forget the experience--flying low over the apple trees that were in full blossom. The sky seemed bluer than it did when I was standing on the ground; the valley seemed sweeter; the promise of good soil that people would fight for and cry over seemed real to me.

Luss did his best cackling ghost laugh as we flew over the old Ludlow property, a place some people in town thought was haunted.

"The ghost of old man Ludlow," Luss shouted darkly. "Will we see him?"

I hoped not.

I had wanted to keep flying in the sky with Luss and not come down, but when your family owns an orchard, coming down to earth isn't optional.

I headed to the Happy Apple Tent, where the queen would be crowned. Bonnie Sue Bomgartner wasn't anywhere to be seen. She had missed the filling of the giant grinning apple balloon. She'd missed Mayor Frank T. Fudd's annual declaration: "I can feel it in my bones; this is going to be the best festival ever!" The tent was crammed with people. Tanisha Bass, my best friend and The Core's photographer, was stationed by the entrance. A group of small children dressed like honeybees held hands and wove through the crowd.

My cousin Elizabeth, The Core's graphic artist, who wrote for the paper only when we were desperate for copy, whispered, "I heard Bonnie Sue is still at home."

Darrell, our editor, shook his head. "She made it to the convertible in her pink dress."

"And puked on the dress, I heard." That was Lev Radner, my second former boyfriend and The Core's marketing manager.

I looked at Lev's thick, curly dark hair, his blue eyes, his chiseled jaw. He was seriously cute, but I'm sorry, when a guy cheats on me--and this does happen with disturbing regularity--I'm gone.

T. R. Dobbs, our sportswriter, marched up. "This just in--the convertible turned back."

"How do you know this?" I demanded.

"I never divulge my sources," T.R. said, smiling.

"Big woman approaching." Tanisha pointed to Mrs. Perth, who was chugging toward the tent, apple blossoms bouncing on her straw hat, not a happy camper.

I stepped into her path. "Mrs. Perth, could you--"

She almost ran me over! "Are you coming?" she barked, looking behind her.

I looked to see Lacey Horton, the Apple Blossom Queen runner-up, walking hesitantly toward the tent, not in the traditional pink dress with pink heels, but in jeans, boots, and a work shirt. Lacey was president of the Horticulture Club and, like me, the child of family orchard owners.

She caught up with Mrs. Perth, who snapped, "How you think you can represent the growers of Banesville dressed like that, Miss Horton, I will never know."

Lacey smiled sweetly. "All I know how to be is -myself."

Mrs. Perth harrumphed and handed Lacey a tub of lip gloss. Lacey handed it back.

I took notes like mad. Tanisha snapped shots. Suddenly another photographer elbowed his way past Tanisha and started photographing Lacey.

Tanisha tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me."

The guy ignored her. His cap read Catch the buzz in Banesville . . . Read THE BEE. The Bee is our local newspaper.

Mrs. Perth hissed, "Let's get this over with."

Lacey looked down. She wasn't gorgeous like Bonnie Sue, but she was pretty enough, with dark brown hair and green eyes.

"Congratulations, Lacey," I said, grinning. "How's it feel to be queen?"

"Weird," she whispered.

"We've had so many challenges in town," I continued. "What's it mean to you to be queen of this year's festival?"

Mrs. Perth interrupted, "We don't have time for--"

"I'd like to answer Hildy's question, Mrs. Perth." Lacey smiled at me. "It means that maybe I can help people understand what it's like to be a small farmer."

I felt like cheering.

Lacey wasted no time redefining her role. She stood on the stage, one hand steadying her crown, the other holding the microphone.

"We all know in Banesville how things can change suddenly, like the weather," she began.

People chuckled. That was for sure.

"I know that lots of you have come from out of town--we welcome you to Banesville and hope you have a wonderful time at our festival. I'd like to say something to all the people who are growers in this area." She looked around the packed tent. "It's been a hard two years; my family and I know that firsthand. Lots of us have suffered, the bad weather has hurt our crops. But I know how much every grower loves their land. That's why we're still here, still able to celebrate the hope of a new harvest. I'm so proud to be a part of this!" She turned grinning to her parents, who were beaming in the front row.

"We can't give up," Lacey continued. "We need to stand together. So today, let's celebrate the hard work, the good land, and the wonderful produce that come from it."

The crowd burst into applause. Tanisha's little white dog, Pookie, ran across the stage in a sequined pink sweatshirt and jumped into Lacey's arms. Pookie is the unofficial mascot of Banesville.

A huge roar of approval went up.

A little girl tugged at my shirt. "Is she a farmer or a queen?"

"Both," I said, smiling.


Yes. Very cool.

I titled my article on Lacey "Long Live the Queen!" I included the behind-the-scenes vomiting drama, written sensitively, of course. I tried to interview Bonnie Sue Bomgartner to see how she was doing, having lost the crown and all, but she told me to take a walk in dog poop and mind my own business. It was one of the best pieces I'd written for the paper.

I'd officially broken free now from the early days of high school journalism, with groaner topics like "Hooray for Health Week" and "Locker Safety for Dummies."

But I wanted to take on more.

All summer long, I read every piece of fine reporting I could get my hands on. I practiced writing lead sentences and drove my family and friends crazy asking the questions all reporters have to ask to get to the meat of a story--who, what, where, when, why, and how.

By July, my grandmother Nan would head the other way when she saw me coming. "Hildy Biddle," she'd shout, "I swear, if you ask me one more time what I'm doing, where I'm going, why I'm going, when I'm coming back, who I'm meeting with, and how I'm feeling about the world, I'm going to start screaming and not stop!"

Asking questions is an art, but not everyone appreciates the beauty.

I kept asking questions all summer as the spooky signs began to appear on the front door of the old Ludlow house.

Danger to all ye who enter

The Domicile of Doom


"Who's putting those signs up?" I asked. No one in town knew.

"What should be done?" I demanded.

"Why isn't someone tearing them down?"

When people have had a few bad years, they tend to let things go.

A few weird-looking characters were coming to town, too. One woman I saw had a shaved head and was wearing skeleton earrings. The guy she was with had a deathly white face.

"Where's the ghost house?" they asked drearily.

"Up on the hill," I told them.

Then, in August the high school auditorium roof collapsed without warning. School hadn't started yet, thank God; no one was hurt.

It felt like something bad was seeping into the -atmosphere--until, that is, you looked at our fields, which were finally bringing forth an abundant harvest. It's hard to think dark thoughts when you're biting into a juicy peach, tough to focus on ghostly gloom when you're gobbling sweet corn slathered with salted butter and finishing the meal off with blueberry shortcake with mounds of fresh whipped cream. By late August the tables at the Banesville Farmers Market were heavy with heirloom tomatoes, sweet nectarines, heavenly plums, summer squash, and peppers. The early apples were rolling off the trucks--crisp, sweet, and filled with the promise that so much more was coming.

There were a few stories in The Bee about the Ludlow place and how there'd been ghost sightings. Some unnamed businessperson who claimed to have seen old man Ludlow's ghost was quoted: "I think Banesville better brace itself for trouble."

"Do you think that place is haunted?" Tanisha asked me.

I wasn't sure. I just wanted that house to go away.

Everyone was talking about it.

My father always told me, "When a story keeps coming at you day and night, pay attention." Dad was a reporter, too.

The phone call came in early September.

I'm here to tell you, I paid attention.

Excerpted from Peeled by Joan Bauer
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.

Hildy Biddle wants something monumental to happen so she can finally prove herself to be more than a high school journalist. The problem? Her town?s biggest story stars a ghost, which is not an easy interview. But while the local paper is playing up people?s fears with shocking headlines of creepy happenings, Hildy is determined to discover what?s really going on. Unfortunately, her desire to uncover the truth is starting to cause a stir. With rumors swirling and tensions high, can Hildy push past all the hype and find out the real truth?

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