Eva Ibbotson is a best-selling children's author. She was born in Vienna but fled to England with her family during the Second World War. Her books have been shortlisted for some of the most prestigious awards in the world including the Whitbread Children's Book Award, the Carnegie Medal and the Smarties Prize. She has written books for a variety of age groups, on a variety of topics, and her best known novels include Dial a Ghost, The Star of Kazan and Journey to the River Sea.
The book I am reviewing today is suitable for readers age 10+. It is one of Ibbotson's paranormal stories and is funny, gripping and a joy to read.
Humphrey the Horrible is a young ghost who lives with his family in a haunted castle. He is unlike other spooks because he is not scary at all. His ectoplasm is peach in colour, his eye sockets twinkle and his bones make a bell-like tinkly sound. His whole world is turned upside down when some developers move in and upgrade their house. The evicted ghosts travel a great distance in search of another place to stay. They end up, quite by accident, in the dormitory of a boys' boarding school. But it is a lucky mistake, since they meet an extraordinary boy named Rick. Rick is concerned with the modernization prevalent in the world. He wants to save indigenous people and endangered animals. When he meets the ghosts in his bedroom, he suggests to them that they find a sanctuary. He also confides in his friend Barbara (the cook's daughter) who suggests that they travel to London and put their suggestion before the Prime Minister himself. The resulting journey is full of new wonders for Rick, since they meet many other homeless ghouls, sprites and vampire bats, all of whom are in trouble due to excessive pollution, deforestation and destruction of ancient buildings. When they finally manage to reach the Prime Minister, he is in conversation with a Lord Bullhaven. Although the PM has no solution to the problem Lord Bullhaven immediately offers a run-down castle in Scotland as a suitable place for the ghost sanctuary. The relieved travellers make their way to their new home and settle in. They are soon joined by many other paranormal beings in need of shelter. However, the seemingly generous offer turns out to be a trap. They awake one day to the chanting of an exorcism, led by the evil Bullhaven. Fortunately, Humphrey is able to survive through sheer will power, and return to the boys' school for help. Rick and his friends arrive with the help of some witches and save the day.
Although this series was written in the 1970's long before the Harry Potter phenomenon, I think it has gained a lot of followers in our post-Potter world. J. K. Rowling's work aroused interest in the supernatural and Iva Ibbotson's stories are a fantastic follow-up to young readers thirsting for more. The biggest draw, I think is that the tales are not scary - they are not horror stories. The ghosts and ghouls are harmless and most often victims of human behaviour. There are also central human characters who embody the best qualities of humanity.
The Great Ghost Rescue is no exception. Rick is an honest, resourceful, selfless and committed young person who is willing to travel many miles to help those in need. He is concerned about the future of the planet, as only a child can be. "It seemed to Rick that by the time he was grown up, all the interesting animals and plants and people would have gone, and there'd be nothing left but huge blocks of flats and boring shops and motorways." This is a wonderful role model for any child reading the book. Another special character I liked was Humphrey. He does not play a major role until the end. He is criticised by many other spectres for being different. His family are supportive, but nevertheless rather disappointed in him. He finds his place through his perseverance and courage. The lesson he follows is one all children (and adults) too would benefit from - "If you've got something difficult to do, don't think of it all laid out in front of you. Just think of the next step. You can always take just one more step." This motivates him to fight his physical pain and selflessly work to save his family and friends. So, it is no surprise that he is known as Humphrey the Heroic at the end.
In recent years the market has been flooded with more and more books focusing on the supernatural. As a lover of fantasy, I can understand the attraction. However, we as parents need to be mindful of the books our children pick up. Not all are harmless. If your child is a fan of ghosts and ghouls - then this series is definitely worth trying out! Eva Ibbotson's books are available in all leading bookshops.