Friday, December 13, 2013

The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

My siblings and I would tent under my bed covers with a flashlight telling ghost stories, each one trying to outdo the other in telling the scariest tale. I was never particularly good at it and would have loved to have known this one to spin for them. There's even a part where the lights go out and I could have flicked the flashlight off. I'm not much of a horror genre gal but I do like Joseph Delaney. His writing tends to be succinct and full of tension and great monsters. This creepy ghost story with a twisted ending will surprise and satisfy many young readers or listeners. Perhaps it would work as a read aloud in grades 4 or 5 with the short illustrated chapters giving it a half-and-half text to picture ratio over the course of 100 pages. Depends on the class. You'll have to pull out your creep-o-meter to measure what they can tolerate.

The protagonist, Billy, is a fifteen-year-old orphan boy who gets a job as a guard at a castle. He works the night shift and learns that he was chosen because one of the castle ghosts asked for him. The castle is haunted and the guard-in-charge explains that Billy must never go through the entrance to the Witch Well for a monster lives at the bottom and no one that has gone down has ever come back up. When circumstances come about that force him to the door, Billy must decide if he will help out a guard or ignore orders. See if he survives... mwah-hah-hah! (It's so fun writing that word even if it's corny.)

The illustrations do a great job enhancing the text so that the monsters can be envisioned by a young reader working toward fluency. I particularly like the last illustration that adds a punch to the plot twist. The black and white pictures help set the scary mood and focus attention on Billy's terror. The sharp angles and splotches of black are unsettling and applied to the evil forces or nasty characters while Billy is usually rendered in black outline with the white background of the paper coming through. His face is portrayed as innocent and naive at first before looking terrorized and aged by the end.

The plot is predictable and there's no character change. Some twists were fun. It's short. The story is more of a study in writing good tension and creating gruesome monsters. This is the strength of Delaney's writing. He thinks up some of the creepiest blood-sucking monsters that I've ever read. He isn't so scary that I can't read his works and he's not so graphic that I can't stomach it. I guess in that regard it might not be such a good read aloud in a class if the kids scare easily. Like I said earlier, use your creep-o-meter to determine their temperature for horror.

I can't help myself. One more mwah-ha-ha. I have no clue how to write that word... mwahaha or mwah haha or do "h"s go in with the haha's.. no matter. Vincent Price was my favorite mwah-ha-ha'er.  Whatever it is pick up this book. It's mwah's favorite ghost story. Okay. I'll quit. Silly mwah.

This is less dense than Goosebumps or Mary Downing Hahn's ghost story books. It's closer to Rotten School but with more pictures.

3 Smileys

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