I am super swamped right now, so I’m going to try to be brief, but Hallowe’en is upon us and I simply couldn’t justify letting the holiday go by without recommending the one really good new Hallowe’en book I found this year (thanks for the tip, Mummy!). I got it through my local children’s book shop, where, apparently, it’s been selling extremely well. OK, to be honest, I first got the book at Type in Toronto (but I gave that copy away to someone who was lacking in good Hallowe’en books), then I got it through The Children’s Book Shop, and now I have another copy on the way to the Harvard Book Store because my little neighbour downstairs needs a copy, too, in my opinion. So, basically, this is one of those books: the ones that just sort of become… around a lot. After all, when you find a book you love, you want to share it with your friends. But I am remiss! I haven’t told you what book this is yet:
Today we’re looking at How to Make Friends with a Ghost, by Rebecca Green, who did the fabulous illustrations for The Glass Town Game, and is rapidly becoming a favourite illustrator of mine.
In How to Make Friends with a Ghost, however, Rebecca Green shows that she not only has great skill and talent as an illustrator (working with a limited palette in gouache and coloured pencils), but she also is an accomplished writer. She balances her text between humour and sweetness with a dash of spookiness and just enough grossness to make a youngster squeal a few times throughout the story (remember: don’t let your ghost be used as a tissue, because booger removal is never easy!).
In brief, this is a guidebook for how to make, and maintain, a friendship with a ghost. It has an Introduction (how to find a ghost– hint: let the ghost find you), Part 1: Ghost Basics (Dos and Don’ts), Part 2: Ghost Care (feeding, activities, and bedtime), and Part 3: Growing Together (with tips such as making sure your new home isn’t haunted, because ghosts don’t like competition). The structure is wonderful for taking what could be a really text-heavy book and breaking it down into bite sized chunks of valuable information, including advice from the well-known expert Dr. Phantoneous Spookel. What’s ingenious, however, is how it still hangs together in a nice package, like any really well-written guidebook.
But while everyone I’ve spoken to has enjoyed the journey through the book (the recipe for Floating Spaghetti and Mudballs is generally popular– although, warning, I sort of gagged while reading it!), the universal response is, and I paraphrase: “I really didn’t expect that ending.” And I’m about to spoil that ending for you, so if you care about that sort of thing, stop reading here.
You see, this is a guidebook to a lifelong friendship with a ghost: it gives tips and recipes and suggests activities, but, in a nutshell, it also covers the enduring nature of friendship with a ghost– unto death and beyond. The ending is so touching, in fact, that I choked up reading it.
In itself, I wouldn’t really find the presence of death in a picture book too startling: I’m not too sensitive to that sort of thing so long as it’s handled appropriately, and Rebecca Green handles it with sensitivity, grace, and even humour. No child would be disturbed by it, and many might learn from it. (I wonder if she read the section on the death of the squirrel in Moominland Midwinter? That was also handled beautifully.)
In fact, while she did a beautiful job of that, what I really admired was the more universal message of friendship through old age. Take this line, accompanying the picture of the ghost’s friend grown old: “And even if you can’t remember jokes, your ghost can. It will be there to make you laugh.” That’s the part where I choked up. I remembered visiting elderly friends and relatives, some whose memories had started to slip, and I remembered talking with them about favourite books, and I remembered laughing with them. Those are memories I wouldn’t trade for anything, and I love the thought that in this book for children there’s a message about the value of friendship even through old age and beyond.
Sure, this might be a simple, funny story smiling at its own improbability (I hate to break it to you, but you’re unlikely to find a ghost, especially one who’ll become a real, lifelong– and beyond– companion). More than that, it’s a message about enduring friendship, and sharing kindness throughout one’s life. And it conveys that without ever, at any point, saying, “It’s a kind and charitable act to visit the elderly.” That? That is truly accomplished writing.
So, folks, this Hallowe’en, why not snuggle up with a slightly spooky, slightly macabre, and very sweet story? Go forth and purchase yourself a copy of How to Make Friends with a Ghost!
Other Hallowe’en books you might enjoy: Hallowe’en Trio. Or why not go for a creepy read for older children (MG, but, well, you’ll love it, too!): The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. And if you have any great spooky books for Hallowe’en in your arsenal, share them in the comments!