Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson

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Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Ghosts just aren't scary any more – so the Great Hagges, who like to organise things, set up a school to remedy the problem. And despite the occasional hitch things are going fairly smoothly until two human children turn up. Then things get really frightening.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 9781447271000

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You've met people like the Great Hagges. Broad in the beam, determined and strident, they subdue petty officials with a single look and ensure everything around them is neat and tidy and well-planned. They're often to be found in the caring professions, but don't be fooled: they are not kind, or gentle, or sensitive to other people's feelings - not even the teeniest little bit. They just don't like mess.

The collection of ghosts Fredegonda, Goneril and Drusilla assemble at their new school are a delightful mix of evil, comedy and at times kindliness. They're rude and cruel and competitive and spiteful, but they stick together and help each other out through trials and failures, especially when a small ghost is in danger. They take the time to chat to the resident spectre, who lives down a well and speaks in a mystifying dialect, and when one of their number makes a promise they work together to help her keep her word.

We learn a lot about the ghosts, but we also spend time with the humans whose homes are about to be bulldozed to make way for a shopping mall. We are given enough of their life stories to make us care deeply about them, and we cheer them on through their near-hopeless efforts to save their street and their way of life. There is warmth and humour and affection on Markham Street, and even a moment or two when you might just need a tissue. But this is an Ibbotson book, so you know right will win out in the end: the pleasure is in finding out how that will happen. Indeed one particular villain gets exactly what he wishes for (we all know how dangerous that can be!) and though life will never be quite the same, there is a satisfying conclusion to the story for both the living and the dead.

Toby Ibbotson, the author, planned this book in detail with his mother Eva before her death in 2010. He promised that if she wasn't able to write this book herself he'd do it for her, and he has certainly managed to capture much of her gentle-sharp humour and keen eye for the ridiculous. The various meals enjoyed by the Hagges would turn your stomach if they weren't so funny, and the three women's bullying is always done with such good intentions that it's hard to blame them. And their students, desperate as they are to learn the fine art of frightening people to death, are by no means the biggest villains in the story: that dishonour, as in other books by Eva Ibbotson, is reserved for the humans. Greed, the urge to control and manipulate, complete disregard for others and a determination to be famous are the unpleasant characteristics of those who hold power in the northern town which is the scene of some wonderfully hilarious, scary and touching moments. This book may not have the perfection of an Eva original, but how many authors deserve that accolade? It is compelling and funny, and it shouldn't be missed.

One Dog and His Boy is the last book actually completed by Eva Ibbotson, and it comes highly recommended by Bookbag. Another wonderful story, The Abominables, was found unfinished in her papers after her death and completed by her son, Toby, and it too deserves to be considered a classic.

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