Skeleton Man


Joesph Bruchac

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Once upon a time, there was a greedy and lazy, and yes, evil, uncle, who sat around the longhouse all day waiting for his relatives to return with food. One day while was waiting; he burned his finger badly in the fire and rushed to cool it by putting it in his mouth. As he did he exclaimed".Oooh-this tastes good" - and soon he had eaten his own finger. "But I'm still hungry," he complained. And so he roasted another finger. And then he roasted a foot in the fire, and then a hand, and so on. Soon he had eaten himself down to the bones. When he moved, the skeleton uncle's bones rubbed together "tshicka, tshicka, tshicka". "I hope my relatives come home soon" he said in a dry, whispery voice, "because I'm still hungry".

Molly thought this was just a story that her Mohawk father told her to gross her out. But now she's thinking that she missed a lesson in there somewhere. Thing is that her parents have disappeared without a trace - days have passed since they simply didn't come home. Molly is alone in the world until social services says they have found her uncle. "I don't have an uncle" she protests, and she is very sure of it when she is introduced to a man with a dry, whispery voice, dressed all in gray, who is as thin as a bone. And yet he has a photograph of Molly's parents in his wallet - a very familiar picture, like the one Molly's dad carried in his wallet. Her uneasiness builds as she goes to live in his house. He is constantly commenting on how thin she is and trying to fatten her up. And at night, when he thinks she's asleep, he comes creeping softly up the stairs and "click", he lock her in her bedroom. About the only place Molly feels safe anymore is in her dreams. Her parents have always told her to trust her dreams, to listen to the advice she finds there. Molly knows something is terribly wrong when a rabbit speaks to her in her dreams and says, "the one who calls himself you uncle is not human".

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. In the acknowledgments, Joseph Bruchac mentions the difference between how traditional American Indian women are depicted in stories compared to "dependent damsels of European folktales". What are the differences that you can think of and why would there be such differences?
  2. What do you think is the significance of the original Mohawk Skeleton Man story? What lesson does this legend teach?
  3. Many people feel that there is meaning in dreams. What meaning did Molly's dreams have?
  4. Several times throughout the book, more trust is given to feelings and dreams than to what is apparent to the eye. What are your thoughts about this?
  5. What do you think about Molly's mother telling her to, "Think first before you try to run away from a problem, otherwise you might run into an even worse one"?
  6. Who is Molly named after and what is the significance of her namesake to the story?
  7. Was this book a fast read for you? What makes a book go fast or slow for you as a reader?

If you liked this book try

  • Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
  • Storm Warriors by Elisa Carbone
  • Walk Across the Sea by Susan Fletcher
  • Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.