The Headless Cupid is about a blended family. And it’s about a 12-year-old wanna-be witch, a spooky old house in the country, and a 50-year old poltergeist. It’s written by a person who, like E. L. Konigsburg, knows how to write kids—their feelings, their conversations, the complexity of their lives out of earshot of the grown-ups. It’s amazingly funny. I still laugh out loud at some of the dialog:

…moving had been a lot more expensive than they’d anticipated… a few things around the house were going to need some rather expensive repairs before winter.
”I’ll say,” Janie said. “Like that upstairs toilet. You know what happens sometimes when you pull the chain?”
”Yes, Janie, we know,” Dad said. “You told us all about it in great detail the other day. And if you remember, at that time we discussed a few general rules for mealtime conversation.”
But Janie went right on talking. “But Amanda didn’t hear about it,” she said. She leaned toward Amanda and, over the sound of Dad’s voice you could hear Janie saying things like “whoosh” and “all over the floor,” until finally Dad roared “Janie!” and everything got quiet.

.         .        .

David Stanley, 11, his 6-year-old, very talkative sister Janie, and the 4-year old twins Esther and Blair don’t know what to make of their new step-sister Amanda (the witch-in-training.) When Amanda moved in with them, shortly after the Stanley’s father and her mother got married, she brought a crow, her familiar, and a snake and a horny toad with her. She arrived in full ceremonial garb with a load of books on the supernatural, and moved into the big, roomy old house out in the country that the parents had recently purchased. Despite the fact that Amanda doesn’t seem to like any of the Stanleys, she decides to take them on as neophytes, and sets before them a number of ordeals they must pass, to enter into the world of the occult.

David soon realizes that the ordeals, and most of Amanda's behavior in general, are designed to drive her mother, Molly, nuts. Especially after David's dad has to leave on a business trip and Molly and the kids are in the house alone, especially after Amanda learns there was once a poltergeist in the house. Guess what? The poltergeist comes back.

Of course, by the end of the book, most of the ghostly and mysterious happenings are explained. But the thing that makes this book so wonderful, the thing that sets it apart, is that some aren't. The reader is left wondering whether there might be some magic in the world, after all.


The Headless Cupid was written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and published by Dell Publishing in 1971. The excerpt is from pp. 80-81. Alton Raible illustrated this and many others of Z.K. Snyder’s books, including Season of Ponies, 1964; The Egypt Game, 1967; Changeling, 1970; The Witches of Worm, 1972; Below the Root, 1975; and And All Between, 1985. His black and white sketches and watercolors are perfect.

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