October has arrived, wind-swept and leaf-strewn; a seasonal reminder that it’s time to bone up on my ghosts. Like the would-be spectre dragging a ball and chain in Sonia Goldie and illustrator Marc Boutavant’s newly translated book Ghosts, I am poorly educated in the ectoplasmic sciences. No matter, with the help of this extraordinary (and extrasensory) book, I can now distinguish between the winter-loving ghost who lurks behind curtains drawing pictures on frosted window panes, the soot-covered Chimney Ghost, and of course, the oft-maligned Night Ghost. I’ve much to learn, and many preconceptions that barely scratch the surface of this delightful and diverse society of apparitions.
Originally published in 2001 in France, Ghosts is a whimsical introduction to the domestic variety of ghost populating the bedrooms and kitchens of our homes in (apparently) great multitude and variety. Leading the tour is a tiny bear-like ghost named Toasty, and his protege, an old-fashioned fellow from the ‘sheet’ and ‘boo’ era who may or may not be a real ghost. Wishing to dispel the myth that ghosts live only in old castles and haunted houses, Toasty invites his new friend to a party for all the household ghosts, who are introduced one by one. Turns out, we corporeal types are far from alone, and as I’d always suspected, not solely responsible for the mess and mayhem in our homes. There are mischief-makers in our midst.
Some ghosts, like those who dwell in kitchens and linger in our bedrooms at night, make their presence known in the usual ghostly ways: tossing clothes on the floor, spilling milk, spine-tingling chills, and tickling the feet of sleeping children. Others, like the Ghost of the Library, are much milder in temperament. Sonia Goldie weaves a lovely tale of this shy ghost who wouldn’t dare show himself, but ‘would rather live in his daydreams, wandering into the rooms of children who love books.’ Or the Garden Ghost, whose ‘delighted murmurs’ may be heard from under a blade of grass. However enchanted we may be by the fairy-like, ethereal quality of these quieter ghosts, it is the Ghost of the Night who steals the show, thanks to Boutavant’s incredibly vivid illustration of a giant, pointy-eared spectre rising like a smudge of dark charcoal from beneath a bedroom closet. This ghosts’ looming presence is unlike any other spirit in the book and would be terrifying…if he wasn’t smiling. Ghosts may be the stuff of nightmares, but these guys are an exceedingly likeable bunch of spooks.
Marc Boutavant is a Paris-based illustrator and graphic artist whose work was unfamiliar to me until Ghosts materialized in Enchanted Lion’s Fall frontlist earlier this year. Upon first glance…or gasp (because, yes, they are that lovely), the art reminded me of Delphine Durand, a fellow French illustrator with a similar penchant for elongated schnozzes and wonderfully odd creatures. Make no mistake, however, Boutavant is a unique voice in the world of children’s picture books, with a half-drawn, half-painted illustrative style that is as funny as it is visually inventive. Multiple readings of Ghosts is a must. There is no way to take in all the incredibly rich detail at a single viewing. A menagerie of quirky ghosts, and even quirkier critters, many of whom belong to no discernible species, inhabit every colourful corner of this amusing and (thanks to Toasty and gang) informative portrait of the modern house ghost.
Ghosts is not a scary book, unless the prospect of sharing your home with a bunch of mostly harmless apparitions is an unsettling thought. After reading Sonia Goldie’s words and feasting on Marc Boutavant’s beautiful artwork, I’m OK with it. Them, I mean. I’m OK with them.
Sonia Goldie holds a MA in Modern Literature and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction for children.
Marc Boutavant, according to an online biography, originates from Burgundy, ‘as do the best snails in France. He is an award-winning author and illustrator of the bestselling Around the World with Mouk.
Ghosts by Sonia Goldie, with illustrations by Marc Boutavant. Published by Enchanted Lion Books, October 2013
For more ghostly reads~here’s my list of my favourites, most of which have been previously reviewed in this blog: The Dark Art of Halloween