Thanks to his Aunt Pearl, eleven-year-old Sammy is stuck in the Catskill Mountains for the summer with his awful cousin Joshua. While he doesn't relish the idea of getting to know his new stepmom, at least he'd have his gang to hang out with in New York if he got to stay there instead. But when Sammy realizes he was brought on to be hired help at the hotel, he makes the most of it and enjoys bunking with his teenage co-worker, Adam.
Trouble seems to follow Sammy as he becomes entangled in a series of mysterious occurrences, including a terrifying headless horseman who seems to be haunting the reclusive "Hermit" at the top of the neighbouring hill. Sammy and his new friends form a team called "The Ichabods" to crack the mystery.
Set in the early 1920s, after WWI.
was born in New York and raised in Los Angeles. She is the awardwinning author of several books, including Fossils Clues to Ancient Life, The Last Train, and Ice Cream Town. Rona lives in Toronto.
"The story moves along briskly, grabbing and holding the reader's interest with the unfolding events, but what I actually found more interesting was the picture it draws of both positive and negative racism. Sammy is Jewish, the Pine Grove Hotel is not only run by Jews and for Jews, but it is a kosher establishment where Gentiles might feel rather uncomfortable, to say the least. Sammy belongs to the Jewish gang in New York (of which his father did not approve and which was one of the reasons why Aunt Pearl was enlisted to whisk him off to the Catskills for the summer). Almost everybody hangs out together with its own group racism by choice, as it were. Then there is the antagonism or negative racism between the old fashioned mountain men, and Zeke, the black ex slave. This was more or less accepted as the way things were in the period between the wars when a family vacation was just becoming an affordable reality for relatively new immigrants to the U.S. For me, the Jewish flavour of the book adds to its charm Yiddish words, milk and meat dishes that must be kept separate, and so forth. It does no harm for kids to see another culture and how separate it can be while still being part of the American melting pot.
"One of my favourite pick it up/put it down books is The Joys of Yiddish with its wry humour, self-deprecating stories, and wonderful cadences of language. Sammy and the Headless Horseman, the book, has some of the same flavour and charm, and, at the same time, Sammy, the character, is a real boy with courage and ambition who should appeal to a wide audience. It's a good combination.
— CM Magazine
"The strength of the story lies in the author's exploration of the Jewish culture, which is presented in a way that non-Jewish readers can fully engage with."
— Resource Links
"The story is just the right amount mysterious and has enough comic highlights to keep the reader engaged. The theme of taking responsibility for one's actions and the subsequent consequences is handled with a light touch."
— The Jewish Book Council