Cornelia Funke is a diverse writer who began her career as a children's book illustrator and went on to write her own picture books, beginning chapter books and the best selling, epic Inkworld Trilogy as well as the very popular Dragon Rider and Thief Lord books for young readers. The Ghosthunters series represents her foray into the world of chapter books, with the specific intention of enticing boys (and girls, she notes on her website) who are reluctant readers. While RL Stine and his long running Goosebumps Series probably have the market cornered on spooky, spine tingling, suspenseful (and gross) books that might get boys to read, there is always room for more.
Approximately the same length and reading level as the Goosebumps books, the Ghosthunters series is different in tone. Whereas Goosebumps are written and marketed to come off like watered-down versions of horror movies, Ghosthunters is more along the lines of the movie Ghostbusters. Funke is intent on creating a realistic, likable character in Tom, who is not yet ten and the kind of kid who often has "stumbly, bumbly everything-goes-wrong-days." Tom also has a big sister who is six years older than he is and only happy when she is tormenting him and making his life miserable. In the first book in the series we learn that Tom is deathly afraid of ghosts and unable to convince his family he has seen one in the basement of the apartment building they live in. The only person who will listen to him is his grandmother. Not only does she believe Tom's story, she sends him to talk to her friend and ghost hunter, Hetty Hyssop. Hetty seems like an oddball at first, but we soon learn that her strange ways, like wearing and decorating only in the color red, are really strategies to keep ghosts at bay. Hetty tells Tom how to expel the ghost from his cellar, but he only finds himself more deeply involved in Hetty's business when the ghost, Hugo, tells Tom a sad story about being evicted from his previous haunt and desperately wants to go home.
What follows is a amply detailed story with lots of acronyms, ASG - Averagely Spooky Ghost and IRG - Incredibly Revolting Ghost, the two most frequently used, and long lists of abilities and qualities of each of these types of ghosts as well as lists and tips for ghost hunting in the back of the book. This is all very important information that is needed when trying to capture any ghost. While the IRG who has displaced Hugo (an ASG) is very menacing and threatens to scare Tom and Hetty to death, the suspense of the book is never very intense. The revoltingness promised in the title is never too gross, either. Ghosts leave slime on things, trash furniture and sometimes eat everything in site. I couldn't help thinking of the ghost Slimer from the original Ghostbusters. Although Funke began publishing her Ghosthunters series in Germany in 1993, I didn't find this book dated at all. It was entertaining with just enough twists and quirks to keep me interested. I never doubted the happy ending of the book, which includes revenge on Lola, Tom's big sister. Hugo the ghost was especially entertaining and friendly, which added immensely to the appeal and non-threatening nature of the book.
I would definitely recommend this series to a reader who is interested in ghosts. Funke does present ghosts and the many ways to thwart them in a realistic way, which should appeal to reluctant readers as well as kids who like a good story.
Readers who like this book might enjoy:
The Ink Drinker, by Eric Sanvoisin
Scream Street by Tommy Donbavand
Araminta Spookie by Angie Sage
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter. This is a FABULOUS ghost story. A bit like the movie The Sixth Sense - you don't realize everyone is a ghost until the end. The writing is brilliantly creative and the characters are intriguing. Don't give this twist away to your kids if you are trying to interest them in the book, though.