Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Children’s Books: A World Full of Ghosts by Charis Cotter, illustrations by Marc Mongeau

A World Full of Ghosts (Annick Press) comes this close to being a really terrific book. Certainly, the idea is a good one: a catalog of ghost stories from around the world -- 25 of them in all -- skeleton spirits of Alaska, Jamaica’s rolling calf, the legless Yurei of Japan, background for Halloween and the Day of the Dead.

Presented in picture book form with luminous illustrations by Marc Mongeau, the information is good, the illos are great and there’s no problem at all with the idea.

How does A World Full of Ghosts fall short? In a way, it’s in the planning that it doesn’t quite come together. The stories are uneven, both in content and in the telling. For example, some of the stories are told in a straight-up, no nonsense non-fiction style. (“In Hawaii, the ghost gods are everywhere: in the trees, the roaring wind, the mighty volcanoes, and the pounding waves of the sea.”) Others are told from a more personal viewpoint. (“We had two cats: Loki, a white cat, and Bear, a beautiful Siamese.”) Was A World Full of Ghosts initially envisioned as two books that got blended into one? I’m not sure, but I think children might find this overlapping narrative voice somewhat confusing. I know I did.

That said, there is much here to recommend the A World Full of Ghosts, not the least of these are well told encounters with a dimension most children ages eight to 10 will find exciting.

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