Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Flavia Z. Drago, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jul. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Ghosts, Monsters, Day of the Dead, Shyness, Friendship, Seasonal

Opening: “Gustavo was a ghost.” He enjoyed doing the normal things that paranormal beings do — passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark.”

Synopsis:

Meet Gustavo. He’s a ghost, and like any paranormal being, he enjoys doing the normal things, passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. He also loves playing the violin.

But Gustavo has a problem. He is very, very shy. He longs to make friends, but he’s never even dared to speak to any of the other monsters in his town. In fact he’s terrified. With the Day of the Dead fast approaching, can Gustavo be brave enough to let others see him and share his gifts?

Why I like this book:

Flavia Z. Drago’s delightfully quirky story is about a painfully shy ghost who will charm readers from the start. Children will commiserate with Gustavo when he tries to make friends, who just can’t see him. Gustavo is even afraid of standing in line to get Eye-Scream.  But in his heart, Gustavo knows he’s something more — a ghost with a talent to share with others.  Kids will cheer when he decides to invite his friends to the cemetery on the Night of the Dead for a special event.  The ending is endearing and uplifting. There is humor, there is heart and there is connection.

Drago’s illustrations bring Gustavo’s character to life. He uses a lot of white space with sparse text and fun wordplay, which is very effective. Readers will enjoy the entertaining and wacky illustrations show many Mexican themes. They really make this story shine and kids will have a grand time studying each page trying to locate Gustavo — who hides very well in plain sight. This delightful seasonal book is a winner.

Resources: While you draw pictures of ghosts, talk about what makes you feel shy and what one thing you might try to do to make a new friend.

Flavia Z. Drago was born and raised in Mexico City. About this book, she says, “When I was in kindergarten, every lunch break I used to sit on a bench and wonder how the kids were able to play and talk to each other so easily. It was a mystery to me.” As a child she wanted to be a mermaid. Sadly, that didn’t happen, but around the same age, something else did: she began drawing. And when she grew up, she became an artist. Flavia Z. Drago lives in Mexico and this is her debut picture book.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington

The Elephant’s Girl

Celesta Rimington, Author

Crown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Elephants, Zoo, Tornado, Ghosts, Adventure, Mystery

Opening: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship. Because of the wind, I’m the girl without a birthday, without a name, without a beginning to my story. See, the wind took my family away when I was small, and I don’t remember them or where I came from.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before an EF5 tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

Why I like this book:

Celesta Rimington’s debut novel about Lexington’s mission to discover her true identity is full of heart, family, and friendship. Rimington’s writing is graceful and filled with vivid imagery and details. Readers will find themselves lured into Lex’s story from the first chapter.

This is a magical adventure about Lex’s unique relationship with the African elephant, Nyah, and a mysterious ghost, who both save her life on the night the tornado that sweeps through the zoo. Lex feels a connection to Nyah, who communicates with her telepathically. Nyah leads Lex to find Miss Amanda, who insists she’s a “misplaced spirit,” who has some unfinished business to attend to that involves a hidden treasure.

The characters are authentic and well developed. Lex is curious and determined to learn about her past. She loves Roger Marsh, the zoo’s train engineer, who becomes her legal guardian, when her family isn’t found. They live on the zoo grounds in his home. And for Lex, the zoo is home. When Lex starts school, kids are mean and call her “the elephant girl.” So she is home schooled by Mrs. Leigh, the zoo keeper’s wife and mother of her best friend, Fisher. Lex can always count on Fisher. Their summer involves searching for ghosts, chasing a lost treasure, mischief and danger. But because they live at the zoo, there are chores and many things to do. Readers are going to want to live at a zoo.

I was drawn to this story because of my love of elephants. And Rimington doesn’t disappoint with her extensive research into how these intelligent elephants communicate with each other over distances through the thumping of their feet. They create an “infrasonic sound” that is too low for humans to hear. In the story, Lex and the elephant trainer, Thomas, both detect the sound as a thumping in their temples. I didn’t know that elephants have 40,000 muscles in their trunks. And I am also impressed with her research into the steam locomotives and what it takes to run a zoo and care for the wildlife.

The Elephant’s Girl weaves together realistic fiction, mystery and magical realism that will create an extraordinary experience for readers. The ending is bittersweet and satisfying. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Holmes and Kate DiCamillo will enjoy this novel. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end, where you will learn about these majestic elephants and find additional websites about elephant research and wildlife sanctuaries.

Celesta Rimington is an elephant advocate, a musical theater performer, and an active participant in her local writing community. As a teenager, she worked at a zoo in Omaha, which is part of the reason she set her story in Nebraska. She now lives in Utah with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Visit Rimington at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.