I picked up my first Ibbotson at a lifeline bookfair some years ago now (Which Witch and The Secret of Platform Thirteen), and my partner’s immediate comment was ‘Oh, I remember those.’ When I came across her first book, The Great Ghost Rescue at Beyond Q one day, I really had no choice but to pick it up both for my interest in the author and my partner’s childhood nostalgia.
Ibbotson writes the heart-warming and macabre for children. Unlike Coraline by Neil Gaiman or The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, the ghosts and sinister figures in Ibbotson’s stories aren’t there for the sake of horror. They’re there to be imperfect and mad; accessible and interesting. In The Great Ghost Rescue, ghosts are being innovated and renovated out of their haunting homes, and a family of mixed and various spirits finds a champion in the form of a schoolboy. The story itself is well constructed, but I really resonated strongly with the imperfections and foibles of the ghosts. This isn’t the first time I’ve loved the characters and subtexts of an Ibbotson book, and I am sure it won’t be the last!
There’s a small discussion about the importance of perspective and objective in ethics; Rick the human talks to vampire bats about killing a pig for breakfast versus taking a short nip of blood and leaving the human alive and well. The subjectivity and bias of ethics being pointed out was something that really made me smile.
The villain, though he was far less prominent than the ghosts, was explained as well as used as a foil for the plot. It’s a pet peeve of mine that a lot of children’s – especially early children’s – writers seem to assume that villains can simply be there, like a block of cheese or perhaps a very large rock in a garden, without any mention as to how they got there or why. Ibbotson’s villains don’t get sympathetic biographies, but they and their motives are explained in a way that makes me feel that I’m neither taking part in five minutes of hate nor being cheated of part of a story. I wish there had been some in my school library.
There’s a look at ghosts in general mentioning The Great Ghost Rescue at Jenny’s Wonderland of Books. I couldn’t find any other reviews, but there’s a lot of blogs around about that remembered it fondly when discussing Ibbotson’s death in October.