Ghoulia: Making Friends Can Be Scary by Barbara Cantini, 48 pp, RL 3
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
Story: Ghoulia: Making New Friends Can Be Scary begins with a gallery of the residents of Crumbling Manor, where Ghoulia lives with her greyhound, who may or may not be dead, named Tragedy, her Auntie Departed and her cat, Shadow. Uncle Misfortune is a disembodied head who, when he is not talking to his younger selves, as seen in framed pictures on the wall, serves as Auntie Departed's jewelry box, and the ghost of Granddad Coffin complete this spooky family.
While her Auntie Departed constantly warns Ghoulia about going outside and being seen by the children from the village nearby, Ghoulia is lonely and can't resist. When she overhears the children talking about Halloween, Ghoulia lands on the perfect plan - she will "dress up" like a zombie and go trick-or-treating! Using Uncle Misfortune as a basket for her candy, she heads out and meets with great success - and friendship - initially. In a funny turn, when Ghoulia introduces herself, mumbling her name, the kids think she is called Julia. When the children start debating about which one of them has the scariest costume, Ghoulia can't resist. She pops off her head and tosses it about. What follows is a hilariously fantastic three-page spread of the stunned children staring, mouths agape. A page turn reveals the excited children, overjoyed to know a real zombie! They pledge to keep Ghoulia's secret, and Auntie Departed even agrees to the arrangement after seeing her niece so happy.
Pictures: Ghoulia: Making New Friends Can Be Scary is so marvelously, lovingly illustrated it hovers between being a pumped-up picture book and a graphic novel. Reading the "about" page on the website of Cantini, who is Italian and lives in the Tuscan countryside with her husband, two daughters and four cats, you come to see why. Besides illustrating many children's books, including the popular Ivy Pocket trilogy of middle grade books, Cantini lists herself as a, "compulsive buyer of books, especially illustrated ones." An artist who loves buying picture books is sure to write a book that is filled with pictures. Cantini's illustrations call to mind the works of Tim Burton, but with a bit less of the macabre and more brightly colored, cheerful moments.
Why Read? Why Buy?: Ghoulia: Making New Friends Can Be Scary feels comfortably familiar and truly engaging. Readers will finish wanting to know more about Ghoulia, her family and her quest to make friends. Back matter includes instructions on how to fashion a Ghoulia costume, how to make treats like Ghoulia's Purple Punch and Uncle Misfortune's Mud Mix (pudding with cookie dirt and gummy worms) and four pages of spot-the-difference games.