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The Riddle of Penncroft Farm:

Pictures & Docs

Original hardback cover by Gary Lippincott. My editor decided that Geordie should be semi-transparent. I didn't agree.


The gold seal is for the Jeannette Fair Award, given by a teachers' organization for the best book for children by a Minnesota woman.

Above is the cover for the first paperback edition of The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. Note that you can still see through Geordie.

Chapter 1

"But Lars, you bamboozled Aunt Cass thoroughly the last time we came, even though you were only two. Whenever she'd go out to hang up the wash, you'd pull in all the latchstrings and strand her outside."


"I did not! I don't even know what latchstrings are!"


Dad explained that a latchstring was a cord that could be pulled through a hole in a door to open it from the outside.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 1

Even by moonlight I could tell that it was different from any house I'd ever seen. It looked as if someone hadn't been able to decide what sort of house he wanted, so he'd hooked several kinds together. There were dark, bumpy stones on the middle part, but the left section was shingled like our old Minnesota house; the right was covered with white stuff.


The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 1


The fictional Penncroft Farm. This was the original back cover of the book created by Gary Lippincott. Can you tell what's wrong with this picture?
The was the home of some friends when we lived in Pennsylvania. I decided to borrow the name they used (and some of its features) for the family farm in my story.

I glanced up. Someone was silhouetted in the window of what was to be my room. Whoever it was slowly raised one hand. It reminded me of the picture sent on the Pioneer 10 space probe to greet the rest of the universe. "Is that Aunt Cass waving at us?" I asked.


"I don't see her," Mom said. "Where is she?"


"There—in my room," I said impatiently.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 1

Here is a part of the plaque sent on the Pioneer 10 space probe outside the solar system in 1972. It included a schematic drawing of the location of earth, and had pix of a man and a woman, to show any extra terrestrials who happened to see it where it had come from and who had sent it.

Chapter 3

I was so intent on what I was doing that I didn't pay attention to anything else. I suppose that's why, when I came to the old covered bridge, I didn't notice anybody standing inside, until my rock disappeared under the roof of the bridge, and I looked up. Someone about my age or a little older stood facing the other direction. Even in the shadows, I could tell it was a girl—the ponytail and puffy sleeves made that obvious.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 3

This picture of a covered bridge near the "original" Penncroft Farm, was taken over 30 years ago. My daughter was 11 at that time.

We tossed the hat back and forth like a Frisbee until we reached the old split-rail fence bordering Penncroft Farm.

My new friend climbed up the zigzag rails and straddled the top. "It always seemed a waste of time to build fences around apple trees. They weren't about to run off. But the law said all farms had to be fenced. These stake-and-rider fences were the very devil to build, but they've weathered well," he remarked.

"Stake-and . . . ?" I began, but just then I spotted my mom waiting at the end of the driveway by the Penncroft Farm sign.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 3

It was monstrous gloomy inside. On the wall burned one small rushlight, flickering and smoking badly. The smoke was almost welcome, however: It helped to mask the otherwise unbearable stench. Rough-hewn beds, stacked three high, reached nearly to the log rafters. On each bed, and on the floor, men were packed together on straw filthier than my father would have allowed in our pigsty.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 12 

Definition and diagram of a stake-and-rider fence.
Interior of Valley Forge hut reconstruction. For video of same see the Riddle Video page.

Dorothea Jensen with a stake-and-rider fence at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Massachusetts.

Chapter 4

A wide door ran across the lower level. I gave it a shove, and the door creaked open on ancient iron hinges. I entered the dark inside, groping for a light switch as I went. I couldn't find one.


"Swell. How can I clean this place if I can't see what I'm doing?" I asked, wasting good sarcasm on an empty barn. Moving gingerly along the wall, I touched a large, round, metallic object that felt nothing like a light switch. It clattered to the floor. I slid my foot around until I found it, then carried it across to the door for a closer look. It was a flat metal sieve, covered with cobwebs, red with rust, and bigger than any sieve I'd ever seen.

Perplexed, I murmured, "I'd hate to have to eat any macaroni that was strained in this . . . this . . . whatever it is!"

"'Tis a riddle," said a voice in my ear."


The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 4


This evening we went to the Kimball Farm here in Hopkinton for ice cream. I noticed a small barn that was a kind of museum for farm tools, went inside, and saw a real riddle hanging on the wall! Here is some history of the farm from https://www.beechhillfarm.com. "Some of the earliest English settlers in Hopkinton were Aaron and Susanna Kimball, who came from Massachusetts in 1740. Their son, Abraham, was the first English child actually born in Hopkinton. In 1771, the King of England granted Aaron Kimball some land on Beech Hill. In 1893 Herbert M. Kimball purchased the land and buildings that later became known as Beech Hill Farm." This farm has been in the same family since the King of England's grant just before the American Revolution!


Chapter 6

"When it seemed as if no one had anything else to say, my mother stood up. "Now Patience will sing 'The Riddle Song,'" she said.
I glanced around, wondering which of the old women was Patience.

The voice that broke the silence came from the chair next to mine. It was Pat Hargreaves who sang the song—sang it in a high, clear voice with her eyes shut tight.
I gave my love a cherry without a stone.
I gave my love a chicken without a bone.
I gave my love a ring without an end.
I gave my love a baby with no crying.
As she sang the other verses, I thought about what a riddle Aunt Cass had been. All along, she who had seemed so lighthearted, playing silly tricks on me, was also the serious woman everyone else had talked about. It didn't surprise me that she had liked this song, with its words so full of tricks, its melody so simple and beautiful. It suited her.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 6

The Riddle Song


Download the lyrics to the Riddle Song here.


An audio recording of the song (with slightly different words) is posted on Vimeo and is embedded on the videos page of my website, here.

Chapter 7

He crossed the room and opened the cupboard hidden in the woodwork over the fireplace. Inside we kept our spices, money, and valuable papers safe from mildew and robbers.

Father brought out some farthings and closed the cupboard door. "Here's a bit of money for your journey, lad, but try to barter for your board and keep as you go. Gold coins are scarce."


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 7


This is the kind of cabinet I had in mind. I took this picture in an antique house in Peterborough, NH.

Chapter 8

After all his sprinting and bellowing, Cheyney had little breath for speech. He panted like a landed fish for several long moments. Then, finally, he gasped out, "'Tis the British, ten thousand strong, crossing upstream to attack from behind."


Washington narrowed his eyes, looked us over as if we stank of barn muck, and motioned us into the house.


"I heard some such nonsense from Colonel Bland, but later reports proved this false," he said, frowning. "Local sources have assured me there is no ford above the fork that's close enough to offer a serious threat."


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8

A historical marker near the home of Squire Cheyney (sometimes spelled Cheney). It notes that Cheyney warned Washington about the British flanking movement at the Battle of Brandywine. He did have a hard time convincing General Washington of this. I just added a fictional Geordie to give him a hand!

With growing misgivings, I helped unhitch the team and conceal the wagon in the woods, and soon we were up on Daisy's and Buttercup's bare backs, trotting over the rough ground. I clutched Buttercup's reins and mane for dear life as I followed Squire Cheyney up and down the steep wooded hills, more than once nearly sliding backward off Buttercup's rump or forward over his head. Cheyney, all unheeding, allowed branches to whip behind him into my face; they stung like the very devil.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8

Geordie and Squire Cheyney ride through the woods to Washington's headquarters. (Illustration by Gary Lippincott from Treasury of Literature: Out of This World)

My suspense lasted but a trice. A dignified figure in a buff-and-blue uniform appeared before us—General Washington.

Broad-shouldered, taller than anyone I'd ever seen, he regarded us through icy blue eyes. "There had better be an excellent reason for this interruption, sir," he exclaimed.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8

Geordie and Squire Cheyney try to warn General Washington. (Illustration by Gary Lippincott, from Treasury of Literature: Out of This World)

At the very moment I climbed to the seat and took up the reins, the valley behind me exploded with artillery fire. Terrified, Daisy and Buttercup reared in their traces. Up and up they went, pawing the smoke-filled air. Then they plunged back to the ground, landing at a dead run.


The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8

Geordie's team runs away. (Illustration by Gary Lippincott from Treasury of Literature: Out of This World)

Still silent, the grenadier set down his musket and swung the pack off his back to the ground with a loud thud that showed how very heavy it was. Then he gathered Will up in his arms and carefully laid him down upon the wagon bed.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8

The British grenadier helps Geordie with his wounded brother. (Illustration by Gary Lippincott from Treasury of Literature: Out of This World)

It was midnight by the time we came up our lane. By great good fortune my father, exhausted by his harvest work, was sleeping too soundly to hear us arrive, but my mother's ear was sharpened with worry. She soon rushed out of the house, lantern in hand. As she stood there, the wind swirled her long white shift about her ankles and sent her long brown hair, loosened for bed, flying about her head.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 8


Geordie's mother waits for his return.

(Illustration by Gary Lippincott from

Treasury of Literature: Out of This World)

"Up until now a man and boy have carried messages for me, but the man has fallen under suspicion and rejoined Washington. That leaves only the boy, and . . ." He hesitated, then looked at me speculatively. "Geordie, I must ask for your help. I've some important information—a British orderly book. It details General Howe's plans to attack the American encampment at Whitemarsh. Could you help the boy get it through to Washington? If the camp is taken by surprise, it would be the end for us, outnumbered as we are."


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 10


Chapter 10

But gone Will was, and worry over his whereabouts made November lag by, despite the work that filled our days. Father and I toiled from dawn to dusk, driving the team to pull the cider mill wheel round and round its trough to crush the fruit into pomace. Then we'd rake the pomace onto straw mats and carefully press out the juice into the waiting kegs.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 10


Chapter 11

Her words gave me an idea. When the waitress came to take our order, I told her I wanted the Tavern pasty.


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 11

recipe-for-pasties.pdf (19 KB)

Want to try a tasty pasty?

Download the recipe via this link!

Chapter 14

"Okay, Lars, here's the turnoff for the park. I just love this part—going through the covered bridge over Valley Creek."

Must be new; I thought, remembering that Geordie and Sandy had forded the creek. Then, as we clattered over the bridge, I couldn't help comparing it with the other one, where I'd first seen Geordie. The thought gave me the nerve to blurt out, "Pat, do you believe in ghosts?"


—The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 14

Bridge leading to Valley Forge (crossed by Lars and Pat.)

Chapter 15

We made our way to the gym. I felt a little nervous, but I knew what to do when I got there. Scanning the flock of costumed girls, I found the one I was looking for—a tall girl with mischievous brown eyes and sandy-colored hair.

I made an awkward little bow in front of her, as we were supposed to when asking someone to dance the Virginia reel.

"Hullo, uh, Geordie," she said self-consciously.

"Hullo, Patience," I said, nodding at her name tag. "It's a nice name, Patience. You shouldn't be ashamed of it."

"I guess I'm not anymore." Smiling, she held out her hand.
As we took our places for the dance, the girls in the opposite line fluttered like a row of butterflies. I had to admit to myself that they looked . . . well, at least interesting in their long skirts and mobcaps. Curious to see if the line of boys was equally impressive, I glanced down to my right.


Yes, I thought, we boys look pretty authentic, too. Like me, they all had pants tucked into kneesocks to resemble breeches, neatly tied neck cloths, and black three-cornered hats made of construction paper.


The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Chapter 15

Want to learn how to do this Virginia Reel? Download the instructions here.