Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road #1

Title:  Dying to Meet You:  43 Old Cemetery Road #1
Author:  Kate Klise
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year:  2009
Pages:  155
Genre:  Fantasy, Ghost Story
Themes:  Family, Friendship
Age Range:  2nd-4th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
The best-selling author Ignatius B. Grumply moves into the Victorian mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road, hoping to find some peace and quiet so that he can crack a wicked case of writer's block. 
But 43 Old Cemetery Road is already occupied--by an eleven-year-old boy named Seymour, his cat, Shadow, and an irritable ghost named Olive. 
And they have no intention of sharing!

As ghost stories go, this one is not exactly going to make anyone check under their bed or in their closet before turning off the lights at night.  Olive is really a very nice ghost, in a sort of Mary Poppins/Nanny McPhee sort of way.  She is proper and smart and caring of Seymour in a serious, no-nonsense sort of way.  There is nothing here that could actually scare a younger reader-but unfortunately I'm not sure there's much here to attract them, either.

The problem as I see it is two-fold.  First, the story unfolds very quickly, with very little exposition about the characters or the motivations for their actions.  Each character felt flat to me-the grumpy writer, the abandoned boy, and the irritated ghost-and when they changed it happened in a snap, with very little actual development.  The other problem, which I see as more troublesome, is that while the book is obviously supposed to appeal to younger readers, the plays-on words and wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments that make it funny are not things that younger readers will necessarily get.  Anyone who has spent time with 5-10 year olds knows that their idea of humor is fairly unsophisticated.  Think of the incessant knock-knock jokes and silly riddles they love.  All of the characters names are puns, which younger readers might appreciate-if they were puns that they understood.  I'm not sure that E. Gadds or Anita Sale will be immediately recognizable to the age range I think this book is designed for.

However, there is one thing that makes this book worth having around a classroom, and that is the narrative structure.  This is an epistolary novel, meaning that it is told through a series of letters between the various characters, as well as drawings doe by "Seymour" and newspaper articles from a fictitious newspaper.  Epistolary novels seem to have been more popular lately in the adult publishing world, and any exposure to different narrative structures can only help students be better readers and writers.  Were I to use this in the classroom, I might actually use it as a mentor text for writing rather than for reading.  I think that it would make a good fall activity-read the story as a read aloud (it's not terribly well suited for that, but a person could make it work), share it on the document camera, whatever; then have the students write their own ghost stories as letters between themselves and a ghost.  This also would allow you as the adult to explain some of the puns and references that the kids may not understand.  I suppose that a proficient reader who has a mature sense of humor could fully enjoy this book independently, but I really do see it having more value used as a mentor text.

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