Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (9780062430083, Amazon)
Harper and her family have moved to Washington DC after she was injured during her stay at a hospital. Harper has no memory of how her injuries happened, but they may be the key to understanding the family’s new house. Harper’s little brother has been acting strangely since they moved in, speaking to an imaginary friend and then becoming almost another person. As Harper makes a new friend in the neighborhood, the two of them start researching what happened in the house in the past and discovering that the threatening presence that Harper feels in the house may be a ghost! In fact, Harper may be one of the special people who can sense ghosts in the world, but she has to figure out how to do so safely and who to trust with her secret.
Oh is the founder of We Need Diverse Books. She has crafted here a middle grade novel that has Korean-American main characters and uses their culture skillfully as an important part of the story and the solution to their haunting issues. She has also created a book that is pure scary fun. This is not a serious book about diversity and modern society, but instead a romp of delightful scares that make the book real fun to read.
The lightness of the book will have young readers loving it. Oh allows the young protagonist and her siblings and friends to be the real heroes of the book, even as the dangers they face grow in size. The pace of the book is key to its success as well, as Oh allows it to pick up pace towards the ending, controlling it just enough but also allowing it to get wild and zany.
A great pick for fans of Ghostbusters or scary stories, I look forward to more adventures with these characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Thornhill by Pam Smy (9781626726543, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
A grand Gothic graphic novel, this book is surprising and delightfully dark. The story is told in two parallel stories, one in images and one in text. Both stories take place in the same neighborhood and revolve around Thornhill, a home for orphans. Mary’s story is told in text and is set in 1982 where she is one of the last children to leave Thornhill. As the other girls leave, Mary is left with a girl who has been bullying her for some time and the story builds to a terrible climax. The illustrated story is that of Ella in 2016 who has just moved to town and doesn’t have any friends yet. She can see Thornhill, now disused and old, from her house. When she glimpses a girl there, she decides to figure out the story of Thornhill and the girl.
This is the sort of story, you curl up with and read as fast as possible. Happily, Smy’s writing and illustrations make it almost impossible to leave this book behind for even a moment. The illustrations linger with the reader, haunting in their black and white details. The text invite readers into the past, showing them what being an orphan in was like before rules were put in place to protect children. There is a brilliance to not setting the history piece in the 1800’s, but allowing shocking situations of a more modern time to surface.
The art pieces in the book allow the reader to piece together that the girl being described in the text is not the one in the images quickly. The images are done only in black and white, filled often with deep shadows and lit by bright light at other times. They are dynamic and interesting, telling their own wordless story of Ella and her own losses.
Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Roaring Brook Press.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (InfoSoup)
Released September 13, 2016.
Catrina is moving with her family to Bahía de la Luna in northern California. They are moving because her little sister has cystic fibrosis and the cool and salty air from the sea will be good for her. The girls explore their new town and hear from a boy they meet that the town is full of ghosts. Cat starts to feel ghosts in the breezes and air around them, feeling scared of meeting one. Her little sister Maya though is drawn to them, knowing that she has a health issue that will eventually lead to death. Cat is terrified at Maya being drawn too closely to the ghosts, particularly after she sees one and realizes that they are real. Cat has to balance her own fears with her sister’s need for answers.
Whenever a new Telgemeier book is announced, I am thrilled. I know that she only puts out high quality work with huge child-appeal. In this graphic novel, we have her signature welcoming graphic style that captures emotions with ease and tells a brisk story filled with the wonder of ghosts. It’s full of so much appeal for its target audience that this one will never sit on the shelf for long!
As always, Telgemeier is aware of having diversity in her book. Here the girls are Hispanic but don’t know a lot about their heritage. This offers a way for readers to learn along side them about the Day of the Dead and the sugar skulls. The pace stays always fast and fun though, even as learning happens along the way.
A funny, touching and fabulous graphic novel for kids. A must buy for every public library. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin (InfoSoup)
Twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov moves in with his aunt at Falcon House. It is a house that he will inherit as he is heir to the Lvov estate. Lev wants to be just like his grandfather, a general in the Russian army, stern and strong. Things are strange though at Falcon House where he finds wonders like an elevator in the home but also rooms that have not been touched in years. As he enters the home, Lev sees another young boy there, playing on the banister. Lev is sent to sleep in his grandfather’s old study where he can’t sleep and finds himself drawing and drawing with much more skill than he ever had before. In fact, he finds it nearly impossible to put the pen down. Slowly Lev starts to learn the secrets of his family and realize that some of the family secrets are more terrifying than ghosts.
Yelchin won a Newbery Honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose. Here he very successfully merges historical Russia with a dark ghost story. Based on the premise of having found old notes and drawings from Lvov, the book is immediately mysterious and filled with wonder. There is the amazing setting of the huge mansion, filled with things like death masks and a basement of mothballed clothes. There are the servants who manage to work for his aunt despite her disdain and harshness. There is the ghost, who tells his own story but ever so slowly. They all create a world of darkness and beguilement.
Then the book turns and changes, becoming something deeper and more filled with emotion. It looks beyond the cranky aunt and into why she acts the way she does. It examines the death of a boy and eventually becomes about who is responsible for it and why. It looks at servants and royals, at status and power. It figures out what it takes to become someone willing to wield that power too.
Entirely gorgeous, haunting and deep, this novel is chillingly dark and wonderfully dangerous. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Released August 25, 2015.
Leo has lived for a long time alone in his house. Most people can’t see Leo, because he’s a ghost, but if you are reading this book you are one of the special people who can see Leo. When a new family moves into the house, Leo tries to be welcoming by bringing them tea, but the family is frightened of the floating tray. After hearing how much they dislike him because he’s a ghost, Leo leaves his house and roams the city. He is invisible to everyone until he meets Jane, a little girl with a lot of imaginary friends. She thinks that Leo is just another of them and since Leo was so hated because he was a ghost, he doesn’t correct her. The two of them have a grand time playing together and she even gives him a sheet and pillow to sleep by his side. Leo is so happy that he can’t sleep. So he heads downstairs and that’s where he meets the robber who has entered Jane’s house. But what is an invisible ghost to do to stop a robber?
Barnett immediately invites readers into his world by allowing them to suddenly “see” Leo with the first page turn. It creates a real connection with the story and makes Leo all the more tangible to the reader. Barnett excels at creating a simple story but one that has strong implications to real life running throughout. This is a delight of a light ghost story, but it is also about acceptance, honesty and embracing who you really are.
Robinson’s illustrations are light hearted. Her art is done with acrylics and construction paper. Leo himself is see-through and rendered in what looks like crayon, making him very childlike and welcoming. While Leo is pale or completely transparent, the others are all rendered in deep blue construction paper except for the pale-skinned thief.
A book about acceptance and the power of a strong imagination, this picture book will be a welcome addition to Halloween story times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter
Set in Toronto in the sixties, this book is about two lonely girls living in homes that attach to one another. Polly has a huge family with foster siblings too. She feels ignored by all of them, though she can’t get away from her twin brothers and their noise. That’s how she finds her way into the attic as a safe place away from the bustle of her family. Polly has always wanted to meet a ghost, which is why she thinks that Rose is a ghost the first time she hears her singing in her neighboring attic. But Rose turns out to be a real girl, who just happens to look very ghostlike too. Rose has always been able to see ghosts, and she hates it since they never leave her alone. Rose spends a lot of her days alone, no one at school talks to her, her parents are very busy business people, and the housekeeper ignores her. So the two girls quickly form a close friendship, made even closer by the frightening ghost that looks just like Rose and who threatens Polly’s life. Can the two girls figure out who this ghost is and what she wants?
I seem to be on a roll with Canadian children’s book authors lately, and this is another wonderful Canadian read. Cotter creates a mystery inside a ghost story that twists and turns delightfully along the way. Readers will think they have it all figured out and then the story will change. Yet somehow Cotter makes it all work and in the end the entire novel makes great sense, enough that readers will want to start again to see the clues they may have missed.
The writing here is exceptional. Cotter writes with a confident voice, one that allows each of these girls to be entire unique. The two of them are quite different from one another, each clearly resulting from their very divergent upbringings. The friendship also reads as real with small arguments happening regularly and the two girls having to repair these small issues. Through the entire book there is a wonderful ghostly presence, a feeling of being in a real place but one unseen by others. It’s a place that is a delight to visit.
Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight, this strong ghost story is both entertaining and riveting. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell
The first volume in a two volume graphic version of the award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman, this book celebrates the original story as well as several top graphic artists, who each take a chapter in the tale. True to the written story, this graphic version has a wonderful creepy vibe and does not shy away from the horror elements. The story is brought vividly to life by this new format and also brings it to new readers who may not have read the written work.
Thanks to the signature illustration style of each of the artists, the book takes different views of the graveyard, the characters and the story. With each change in artist, there is a sense of refreshment and wonder anew. At the same time, the illustrators adhere to certain elements, so that Bod looks like the same character throughout the book as do other main characters. The various ghosts glow on the page, Silas is a gaunt dark figure who commands attention, and Bod himself is a luminous child that is the center of the story both visually and thematically.
Beautifully and powerfully illustrated, this new version of the book is a masterpiece. Readers will wait eagerly for Volume Two. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Return to the world of the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky in this follow-up novel. Mo and Dale continue to run their Desperado Detective Agency but the mysteries have gotten smaller. Then an old inn goes up for sale and Miss Lana, Mo’s guardian, accidentally purchases it. That’s when it is discovered that that inn comes with a resident ghost. Now it is up to Dale and Mo to figure out why the ghost is haunting the inn, something they also manage to make into a homework assignment to do double duty. But the mystery of the ghost is tied up in other secrets in Tupelo Landing, secrets that have been kept for decades but that must be revealed to solve this mystery.
Returning to Tupelo Landing was immediately like being reunited with friends. There was catching up to do, but it was easy and warm right from the beginning. Turnage’s writing is rich and layered. She excels at descriptions, creating analogies that are surprising and constantly original. Here in Mo’s voice is a description of Lavender, the boy she plans to marry eventually:
Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat. He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby.
All of your favorite characters from the first book are back again. There are the Colonel and Miss Lana, continuing to figure out their relationship while running a restaurants whose theme changes every night. There is Grandmother Miss Lacy whose funding saves Miss Lana and the inn, but who may be dealing with secrets of her own. There is even the scary Red Baker who may be closer to the ghost than anyone else. There is even one complex new character who takes time to learn about because his secrets are held very close. And then of course there are Mo and Dale, the two detectives at the heart of the story and who give the story its heart.
Funny, heartfelt and memorable, this sequel is just as good as the award-winning original. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.
Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff
Jayna’s older brother Rob rescued her from foster care but now he is called to duty on a destroyer during World War II. Both brother and sister love to cook: Jayna’s specialty is soup. The two don’t have any other family in the world, so Rob leaves Jayna with their landlady who is always lecturing Jayna about manners. Right before he leaves, Rob tells Jayna about a recipe book he found that may have belonged to their grandmother. It contains an address for a bakery in Brooklyn. When Rob is listed as missing in action, Jayna decides to travel to Brooklyn to discover if her grandmother still has a bakery there. She takes her pet turtle with her and also a ghost who has been helping lead her in the right direction. But what will she find when she gets to Brooklyn?
Giff has created a very pleasant mix of historical fiction and ghost story in this novel. At the center is a young girl and her wish for a family, which propels the action in the story. I appreciated that while the ending is satisfying it is not the perfect vision that young Jayna had been searching for. Some may say though that it’s even better. The ghost is not frightening at all, instead she borrows nail polish and even clothing. She offers opinions on what is happening, most of which are helpful and get Jayna to make decisions more quickly.
It is the historical piece that is very special here. I appreciated a young girl who could not just cook but excelled at it. The food shortage is vital to the story as is the war itself. Later in the book, readers also get to hear about the first World War and its impact. This is a book about the homefront, made more dynamic by one untidy little ghost.
A treat for readers, this book should be embraced by teachers looking for fiction about World War II. The setting is strong, the characters memorable and the food enticing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.