Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 28: School materials

I couldn't think of a better book to go with using school materials than 'Ghosts Who Went to School'. The copy I have now I think I got at a local used bookstore, but I bought it because I remembered reading it several times as a kid. The title is a pretty literal description of the main plot, but that doesn't cover how wonderfully weird a book this is. I've re-read it a number of times since I got it, and it's a really good book because although the language is simple, it's not patronizing or even overtly directed at children.
The story follows a family of ghosts, but most especially the younger of the two brothers. They and their parents all live in a house that's defaulted to the bank since the last of the family line living there died with no heirs and a mortgage. It's not your typical haunted house, because the ghosts are diligent about upkeep and even the lawn is mowed on a regular basis. Of course with yardwork being done regularly by ghosts, everyone in town has noticed the place is haunted and no one will buy it.
This makes for a pretty dull and lonely existence for the two children of the ghost family. At least they have each other, but there's no other children for them to play with. The older brother, Mortimer, is at least allowed to go out wandering town a little (with a curfew and his parent's foreknowledge), but the younger son Wilbur is considered too young to go out on his own and he gets bored when his brother goes off without him.
The story starts with Mortimer agreeing to take his little brother out to see Christmas decorations, and causing some trouble by sheer accident when they try to help decorate the town square's tree, and break up a fight between other kids.
After the Christmas holiday, the ghost boys convince their parents to let them go to school, partly for education and partly to give them something to do. Of course at first they go visit the local school invisibly, but they're starved for social interaction and can't quite keep from interfering and getting noticed. Because this is a kid's book, the main character Wilbur is ultimately accepted by classmates and teacher, and allowed to become a regular student. Almost regular. Wilbur's being a ghost makes for both trouble and advantages. When the class hamster escapes, he's able to go through the furniture to retrieve it, but when the class is visited by anyone else, like the principal or later a student teacher, it's a problem that Wilbur has trouble staying visible all the time. He tends to vanish when he's concentrating, which is exactly what he should be doing during lessons.
There's no question it's a kids story, because of the interactions and the kind of problems that come up, but it's got plenty of humor I can appreciate at any age. Towards the end of the book there's a school play on the history of the town, and Wilbur and Mortimer's parents become a reference for the script. When the accurate history brings to light some less flattering aspects of the great-grandfather of the town's historical busybody, she makes a fuss. After the play the ghosts appear to shut her up.
This might not be a great classic in the grand halls of literature, but I definitely recommend giving it a read.
Also, if these drawings look a little different than my usual, that's because I was copying the style of the illustrations to portray some moments in the book there were no illustrations for.

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