Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Children’s Books: The Last of the Spirits by Chris Priestley

You remember that scene in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Scrooge asks about two children, a boy and a girl, huddling under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present? The Ghost tells him that the children are Ignorance and Want.

In The Last of the Spirits (Bloomsbury) they are real children, street kids who, in fact, sneaked into Scrooge’s home while he was off with the spirits and took refuge in his dining room, which is at least a little warmer than the streets. The story is told from the viewpoint of the boy, Sam and his sister Lizzie. They once had a home and parents, but their father died in debt and their mother soon after.

Sam is angry with the world, especially one Ebenezer Scrooge, who had snubbed them when they pleaded for a little money. So that night, when they are trying to sleep in the graveyard and run into the ghost of Jacob Marley, on his way to save Scrooge’s soul, they follow, with Sam thinking that a piece of lead piping applied to the old miser’s head might improve him greatly and get them some of the money he refused them the first time.

Sam, too, it seems, needs and benefits from visits from the three spirits...

This is a nice take on the original novella, with Scrooge’s story happening on the side, with the children watching and listening to bits and Sam being a little irritated with the Ghost of Christmas Present for using them as props in the show he is staging for Scrooge. It probably means more if you are familiar with the original story, but can be read by itself and, who knows, might encourage children to look for the original story once they’re old enough to follow it. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

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