Review (Plus): ‘One for Sorrow’ by Mary Downing Hahn

Bookshelf Blurb: “In flew Enza” was a playground chant, but influenza was a real epidemic in 1918. The mean girls who chanted this discover that they can’t cheat death as quickly as they can wish it upon others. A dark, sinister and creepy ghost story.

Ms. America’s Review: Mary Downing Hahn is an author I quickly give to any middle school student asking for a ghost story. I never hesitate, and she has never disappointed. Her newest book, One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story, can easily be classified as fantasy with a some useful crossover into historical fiction.

One for Sorrow gives us Annie, an only child who has recently moved to a small town. Annie is immediately greeted by Elsie who demands instant friendship. At first Annie is appreciative of the friendship until she realizes Elsie is a social outcast. Elsie is mean to Annie, but Annie is afraid to leave Elsie despite her mean spirit until the week Elsie goes missing from school. After that, Annie joins the other girls in their taunting and cruelty toward Elsie.

School is soon cancelled due to the outbreak of influenza and the girls take advantage of this by attending wakes of those who have passed, enjoying the free cakes and cookies. It isn’t until they go to the wake of Elsie that Annie discovers she is being haunted by Elsie’s lost soul. Annie is sent to an insane asylum hoping to remove Elsie from her life, but poor Annie’s torment is just beginning.

The flu epidemic of 1918 was a reality for the United States and, thanks to flu vaccines, is more history than reality for today’s young readers. Within twenty-four hours of the flu’s first symptoms, its victims were dead. A simple black wreath would adorn the front door of the deceased telling neighbors the house was in mourning. This tragic time in our country is not often taught, as it was overshadowed by the coming of World War I. One for Sorrow is both a chilling ghost story and a useful history lesson.

In the classroom: Ghost stories allow creative writing to occur while also allowing Common Core to be met and all in the month of October! Read aloud passages from the text: especially the part where Rosie has made up a jump rope chant rhyming “In flew Enza” into the art of jumping between the ropes. If you miss, the flu has got you and you are dead. What chants can your students incorporate into a unit of social studies?


One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion Books | 9780544818095 | July 18, 2017)

America Grelinger

America Grelinger doesn’t mind if you call her Ms. America. It makes her head swell and she loves the title. America is a former English teacher and has a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, now retired to raise two crazy little boys who think the funniest thing on the planet is to burp and toot… which is why she reads. Because it’s cheaper than counseling. Amy and her husband live with those two crazy little boys in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.