76 pages • 2 hours read
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All The Lovely Bad Ones is a 2008 middle-grade fiction book written by Mary Downing Hahn, a prolific children’s author who has authored several award-winning novels. The book’s title is taken from the poem “Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley, which the author inscribed to all children—including “all the lovely bad ones.” All The Lovely Bad Ones won an Oklahoma Sequoyah Award for Children and the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award.
All The Lovely Bad Ones follows two mischievous siblings who stay at their grandmother’s inn for the summer. Travis and Corey begin playing ghostly pranks on the guests, and while doing so, they accidentally awaken the sleeping ghosts of Fox Hill Inn.
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The novel’s main protagonist is Travis, a school-aged boy of about thirteen years old. Both he and his younger sister, Corey, must spend their summer in Vermont with Grandmother because of their expulsion from summer camp. Travis and Corey are pranksters; last summer, they started food fights, skipped the nightly campfires, deflated a counselor’s bike, and purposely tipped over a canoe. These pranks resulted in their banishment from the camp.
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The idea of spending their summer in the middle of nowhere initially bores the pair. When Grandma tells them all about the Fox Hill Inn and mentions some local lore, however, it piques the siblings’ interest. They are delighted to hear that the inn is supposed to be haunted. Grandmother is a skeptic and doesn’t believe in the many ghost stories. Business is bad at the inn, and after Grandmother makes a comment about wishing the place was haunted so that it would attract more guests, the brother and sister hatch a scheme to have some fun and help their grandmother at the same time. Corey dons a white nightgown and face paint to play the part of the ghost and, together, the siblings “haunt” the inn and its grove. At 3 o’clock that morning, both Corey and Travis scream and wail in the inn’s grove. The next day, the guests eagerly talk about the “haunting” they experienced. Soon, business is booming, as psychics and paranormal enthusiasts arrive to investigate.
At the Fox Hill Inn’s library, the siblings find a brochure that details the history of the building. The inn was once a poor farm, a place where destitute people were sent. The poor house was run by a woman named Miss Ada and Cornelius Jaggs. Both she and her brother cared more about making money than they did for the people they were responsible for. Miss Ada mercilessly abused and starved their charges, and many children died under their care. Though the state gave Miss Ada money to care for the poor, she and her brother secreted that money away while leaving the children to starve. Later, when their schemes are almost discovered, Miss Ada’s brother abandoned her, and she hanged herself in the grove of trees.
Strange, unexplained things soon begin happening at the inn, much to the siblings’ puzzlement. Tracy, the inn’s waitress, goes into the grove of trees late at night to try to see the ghost for herself, but she comes back crying, saying she sensed an evil presence. Travis senses something watching him and feels uneasy at the inn as well. Later that night, Corey’s bed starts shaking and clothes fly out of the closet doors as unseen childish voices laugh and call themselves the “lovely bad ones.” The psychic and paranormal researcher tell the siblings that though they may not have intended to summon ghosts, they woke the real specters with their pranks. They tell the children that they must find a way to put the ghosts back to sleep. With the help of the inn’s cook and handyman, Mr. and Mrs. Brewster, they begin to gather more information about the ghosts. Mrs. Brewster’s family has been caring for Seth’s ghost for generations.
The ghosts are of the young children who once lived at the poor farm. These children, Caleb, Seth, and Ira, tell Corey and Travis about the cruelties they and their families suffered. When they died from Miss Ada’s mistreatment, she buried them under headstones marked only with numbers, not their names. They tell the siblings that they will rest only when they recover Miss Ada’s ledger, on which she recorded their names, and they’re given proper headstones. They warn Corey and Travis that Miss Ada is also awake. All the talk of paranormal activity at the inn irritates Grandma, and she kicks the psychics out. She blames Travis and Corey for all the strange happenings and doesn’t believe their explanations. The ghost children eventually materialize in front of Grandmother, and she realizes that the siblings are telling the truth.
The ghosts tell Travis and Corey that they saw Miss Ada’s brother come back once after he abandoned her. They realize that he must have buried the ledger with her in her coffin. With that information, they recover the ledger from her grave; it lists the 67 names of each person from the poor farm and the date on which they died. They give the ledger to the historical society, where they discover one of the employees is a descendant of Caleb’s older brother.
The siblings encounter Miss Ada’s ghost in the grove of trees, still hanging from the noose. Her spirit begins to force Travis to hang himself, telling him he is unlovable and that no one will care if he dies. She nearly succeeds, but Corey, with the aid of the ghosts, stops her. Reminded by all her cruelty and misdeeds, the ghost of Miss Ada sees a figure in the distance that she thinks is her brother. She tries to go to him, despite the children’s warnings, and he reveals himself to be the devil. He takes her down to Hell, and she disappears forever.
The next day, Grandmother buys a memorial headstone listing every name and date so that all the children who died at the poor farm can be remembered. They give Grandmother the collection of golden coins that the Jaggses stole from the poor farm. After a final goodbye, the children can finally rest in peace.
By Mary Downing Hahn