I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.
Small Spaces Discussion Questions and Summary
Olivia Adler is in the sixth grade. Her dad is a fantastic baker, and her mom, well...she was very adventurous. Olivia was too when her mom was still alive. Now she only wants to read books and hang out at home, a brightly colored place she calls the Egg. But while passing the river after a rough day at school when she defended a girl being bullied, Olivia comes across a weeping woman about to throw a small black book into the river. She stops the woman, snatches the book, and pedals home as fast as she can on her bike. The book turns out to be a diary of a woman who died over a hundred years ago, Beth Webster. She wrote down her tragedy as a warning to others: There once were two brothers who fought over a girl. One brother died, and because of his mother’s broken heart, the living brother made a deal with the “smiling man” to bring his deceased brother back.
The mysterious woman by the river calls out a final warning to the departing Olivia: “when the mist rises, avoid large places at night. Keep to small.” It is up to Olivia to solve the mystery and save the lives of her friends from the terrifying, powerful smiling man.
Small Spaces is a riveting, frightening—even for adults—story about the ancient battle between good versus evil, and where the true source of power lies.
- Why was it safer to “avoid large spaces at night” and “keep to small when the mist rises”? What did that mean?
- Why was the woman by the creek throwing away a book, and why did Ollie stop her? Could you let someone throw a book into the river?
- What were the weird things about the tragedy at the barn, and the thing they couldn’t find?
- How were there, at the cemetery by the farm, four graves, three stones, but only two sets of bones?”
- What was the last book you “wanted so badly to read it felt like it was burning a hole” in your “backpack”? What about the book made it so? Was the ending satisfying?
- Could the scarecrows move in the daytime? What were some of their limitations? Why did they have to stay in the sunshine world too?
- With whom did Ollie trade food for answers? When? Why did it work?
- What warnings did Ollie's watch give? Why was the watch so special to her?
- Why was it good that Ollie had stood up for Coco and befriended her? How did Coco manage to prove her usefulness?
- Why did Coco cry so often? Was she actually weak, or something else that Ollie hadn’t realized before? What are some of the reasons people cry?
- What are the only creatures that can go between worlds, their nature unchanged? What was the name of the one that the smiling man used as his servant, his eyes?
- What did the smiling man try to bargain with Olivia?
- What did “mist for capturing, water for freeing” mean?
Ollie’s breakfast oatmeal was often eaten with a lot of cream and maple syrup on top. Her father also packed her maple granola with sugared walnuts in her lunchbox.
Evansburg, where Ollie lived, “had the best apples. It was harvest time and the market was full of fresh cider and every type of apple in the world.”
Ollie had a “celebratory piece of apple pie on the evening she’d first beaten her mom” at chess.
The accompanying recipe is for Easy Apple Pie Bites with (optional) Maple Oat Crumble.
For the crust:
- 1 1/4 cups, plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached, divided
- 1 tbsp granulated (white) sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, divided
- 6 tbsp cold salted butter
- 1/3 cup ice water
For the filling:
- 2 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 medium (or 1 large) Gala apples, peeled and diced small
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
For the topping:
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 cup oats
- 2 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour with one tablespoon of granulated sugar and half a teaspoon of cinnamon. Place the cold butter on top and use a pastry cutter to mix the butter in until it resembles small crumbs. Then add the ice water, drizzling in a couple tablespoons at a time, and fold the water into the flour mix by hand. You may need a bit more or less water depending on humidity (you want just enough water for all the flour in the dough to come together, but not to be soggy). Make sure the water you add is icy cold. When the flour is fully combined into a dough, roll into a ball and cover with plastic wrap or in an airtight bowl with lid. **Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes (overnight is also fine, but set it out 30 minutes before you work with it).**
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the diced apples with one tablespoon of butter, one teaspoon of cinnamon, and two tablespoons of brown sugar until the apples are soft, about 4-5 minutes. Then add the apple cider and continue to cook but on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Then add the water/cornstarch mix and stir, heating until the liquid turns from white to clear and gets thick. Remove from heat, and allow to cool at least 5 minutes, while you roll out the dough.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a mini cupcake tin liberally with nonstick cooking spray. Roll out the dough onto a heavily floured flat surface (I used 1/2 cup) to about 1/16 inch thick or the height of a thin cookie (see photo above). Cut the dough into small circles just slightly larger than the holes of the tin, using a small cup. Then place each round in each hole of the tin and press down gently, floured side down. Repeat the rolling and cutting out process until the dough is all used up. Fill each pressed dough round with about a teaspoon of apple filling.
- In a small bowl, stir together the last two tablespoons of room temperature butter with the oats, maple syrup, and one tablespoon of brown sugar. Crumble onto the tops of the pie bites. (If you have any leftover, it tastes great on top of cooked oatmeal!) Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the tips of the crust begin to turn slightly brown. Then allow to cool 5-10 minutes before devouring. Makes about 2 dozen pie bites.
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Another real book mentioned in this one is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Also, the fictional land of Narnia and the Pevensies from The Chronicles of Narnia are mentioned in this book, specifically the White Witch, who appears in The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
For other chilling children’s books, try City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab, or Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier.
Another children’s magic book about Halloween is The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee.
The tale of the two brothers in this book is very reminiscent of a short story called The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs.
For another mystery that must be solved by a young girl and her new friend, try Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, the first in the series, or his newest fantasy book about survival and magic, Willa of the Wood.
“When the mist rises, and the smiling man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small.”
“Even bad things can lead to good. Maybe in sad times, it helps to think of that.”
“Four graves, three stones, but only two sets of bones.”
“She wanted so badly to read, it felt like her book was burning a hole in her backpack.”
“They have to stand in the sunshine world too, see, to keep the door open...but on this side of the mist-at night- there's only his rules.”
“That’s what happens to ghosts. Their minds go, and then you are only memory, doing the same things over and over.”
“That’s the first rule of survival. Never panic.”
© 2018 Amanda Lorenzo
Sparky on February 24, 2020:
What does four graves three stones and teo sets of bones mean ige read this book 3 tines for the thrill and for the answer but i just cant seem to find it
Naude Lorenzo on November 13, 2018:
I love all of her books, this recipe is my favorite ever, for sure my husband will love it. Thanks Amanda.