My Brother's Ghost
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This issue’s cover is from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Monkey Puzzle. Written in rhyme, this agreeable story has butterfly helping little monkey to find his mum. Scheffler’s distinctive, entertaining and strongly characterised illustrations make good use of the page as little monkey meets lots of jungle inhabitants before being reunited with his mum. Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for their help in producing this July cover.
Presented as an authentic memoir of a childhood haunting, this book opens with an almost casual account of the writer's 10 year-old brother being killed by a milk-float. This bereavement is only the latest tragedy in the life of 9 year-old Frances, an orphaned polio victim growing up in the '50s in the cold household of an unloving aunt. Frances' brother returns as a ghost to help her and her baby brother through the tribulations of childhood, but he is unable to prevent a chain of misfortunes leading to a near fatal attempt to flee the threat of incarceration in a children's home. This sounds, of course, like a heart-string strumming parody, but Ahlberg seems to have set himself the challenge of creating a reflective tale from a grim but believable set of circumstances. His tone is matter of fact, incorporating thought provoking asides on the nature of memory, truth and story (how should we take the declaration of truth in the foreword when we know the author is male?). The book is rich in sentiment, but almost free of sentimentality. Presented in a compact pocket-book format with haunting cover illustrations by Gill Tyler, this book is physically attractive and very moving.