August 12, 2014

The Elevator Ghost

by Glen Huser
Illustrations by Stacy Innerst
Groundwood Books
168 pp.
Ages 7-12
August 2014

I do believe that this will be the year of scary stories, as I'm seeing a lot of anthologies of ghost stories, scary picture books and, here, scary stories embedded in a middle grade novel.  While some may like to keep these youngCanLit books for occasions at which getting scared is part of the experience e.g., at Halloween or camp fires, some readers love frightening themselves at least a little (and sometimes a lot!) in everything they read.  Hey, we all have favourite genres.  So, for those who enjoy a bit of a fright now and then, without going for all out horror, The Elevator Ghost by award-winning author Glen Huser will appease that hunger for trepidation.

As an assortment of children from the apparently haunted Blatchford Arms go trick or treating within the apartments' two towers, Carolina Giddle is driving there in her trinket-covered VW bug, with her pet tarantula, Chiquita, to become its newest resident.  Though Carolina doesn't know any of its living residents, she soon becomes a welcome addition, especially since her card lists her as "Experienced babysitter, mah-jong instructor and vegetarian caterer.  Will do light housekeeping and séances upon request." (pg. 29)

Carolina is first snatched up to babysit the Fergus twins, Dwayne and Dwight, whose pranking has lost them all prior babysitters in the building.  Though the boys try to pull a variety of pranks on her, Carolina barely acknowledges them, finally setting down to tell them a ghost story while they munch on bone rattlers in the light-less living room. Mesmerized by the story of a skeleton's foot and a couple of jokesters, the boys lose focus on their own antics.

She's similarly successful with other children in the building, including taming the night frights from the Croop children, the painting mischief out of one of the Lubinitsky girls and the tantrums from Angelo Bellini, 5. With her spine-chilling stories about ghosts, aliens and monsters and her miscellany of treats and props, Carolina wins over all the children, one family at a time.

However, Carolina has a few secrets she's not quite ready to share, though if anyone had been invited to join her for tea in the building's sunroom each evening, they'd have their own story to tell.  But the Halloween party she has for all the residents finally brings Carolina's own story to life, in a manner of speaking.

For the requisite fright that Halloween demands, The Elevator Ghost will fulfil the purpose eloquently, without terrifying younger readers.  Glen Huser has the dry wit that imbues the text with humour, thereby minimizing its scariness, but without turning the book into one that could only be classified as a funny read.  He has a light touch when it comes to spicing the story with evocative details, knowing when to add a touch of ridiculous imagery, or eerie characters, or wry dialogue.  Not surprising he's won the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature (for his book Stitches from Groundwood, 2003) Glen Huser obviously knows what children like to read (he was a teacher and school-librarian) and what does and doesn't work, because he has all the right stuff to engage his young readers.  The trick for adults will be to wait until Halloween to share The Elevator Ghost so you won't need any other treats. Good luck with that one.

1 comment:

  1. I have ordered an electronic version. Thank you for this review, Helen. I look forward to being frightened!--monica k.