Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima

Cover image for Hardly Haunted.

Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima (9781534441705)

A house stood on a hill. It was worried because it didn’t have a family to live in it. In fact, the house wondered if it might be haunted! But it didn’t want to be haunted, and hoped that if it behaved perfectly no one would notice that it was spooky. Still, there was nothing to be done about the cobwebs and dust, or the squeaky doors and stairs or the rattles in the pipes. The house tried very hard, staying perfectly still and quiet, holding her breath. But when the wind came, she couldn’t stop the scratch of branches on the roof or the groan of the wind through her windows. It let the house relax again, accepting that she was just spooky. Now all she needed was a family looking for a haunted house that rattled, groaned and squeaked.

This picture book reads aloud really nicely, inviting readers into the struggle of a house that dreams of being entirely different than she is. The writing draws out the noises that the house makes, featuring them so that children listening to the story can help make the sounds too. The house itself is a marvelous character, struggling to be different until she accepts herself as she is with all her creaks and scratches.

The art is just the right amount of spooky for preschoolers, full of purple shadows, long green grass and a black cat to enter the house with. The house herself uses her windows to great effect to smile, worry, and eventually come alight in the night.

A little spooky, full of noise and lots of fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba

Cover image for Temple Alley Summer.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Miho Satake, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa (9781632063038)

When Kazu sees a strange girl leaving his house in the middle of the night wearing a white kimono, he wonders about it. But things are even stranger at school, when he is the only person who seems not to know Akari, the girl who exited his house that night. Everyone else seems to have known her for years and years. When Kazu follows Akari home, he realizes that her mother is invisible! As Kazu explores the history of his Kimyo Temple neighborhood, which doesn’t have a temple, he finds himself angering some of the older people in his community. Putting the pieces together, Kazu discovers that a small Buddha statue from his family’s home has the power to restore dead people to life! After getting to know Akari and her mother from her previous life, Kazu has a new quest, to give Akari the chance to read the ending of an unfinished story from decades ago. It may be the key to keeping Akari alive this time around and also the answer to the questions about Kazu’s own family and community.

Written by one of Japan’s most well-known and prolific children’s and YA fantasy authors, this book is a marvel. Kashiwaba weaves together multiple layers to create a book that is satisfying and full of magic. There is Kazu’s own life, going to school and having friends, going to the beach and enjoying his summer. There is the mystery of Akari with her empty house and invisible mother. There is the story of Kazu’s own family and the missing temple in his neighborhood to explore. Then the story that Akari loved in her previous life is shared on the pages, giving readers a witch-filled and magical story that is full of danger, cold and heroes. The last is to find the author herself and see if they can get the story finished. By that point, the reader is hoping that they can, because you simply must know how it ends!

Beautifully, Kashiwaba changes the style of her writing from Kazu’s story to the fantasy tale embedded in the novel. Kazu’s story is more modern with shorter lines and more exclamations. The lines lengthen in the witch’s story, becoming more storytelling. It’s very cleverly done. The characters are marvelous from Kazu himself at the heart of this unique zombie story to Akari who is learning to live a new life and loving every moment to the friends, parents and newly met people that Kazu meets along the way.

Unique, fascinating and completely wonderful, this Japanese import is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.