________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 37 . . . . May 27, 2011


The Hunt for the Haunted Elephant. (The Ghosthunters, #3).

Carol Matas & Perry Nodelman.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter, 2010.
267 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55470-265-7.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Cynthia Nugent.

*** /4



Dad pushed the children behind him and started to back away. As he did, Granddad appeared in front of all of them. "Go away," he said calmly to the ghost. "You don't belong here anymore. You're dead!"

Sir Eustace shouted, "Not me, varlet! You! You are dead!" And he slashed at Granddad, slicing him right through from side to side. Adam flinched, even though he knew that nothing could hurt Granddad now. Still it was pretty icky to watch your own grandfather fall apart into two halves and then see one of the halves start walking away from the other.

The Hunt for the Haunted Elephant is the third book in "The Ghosthunters" saga that follows 13-year-old Molly and 11-year-old Adam Barnett who, with the help of their deceased grandfather, struggle to undo a generations-long curse placed on their family by a ghost named Lucinda. Once a family servant accused of theft, Lucinda has sworn to murder each first-born male Barnett before his 35th birthday. And now, the birthday of Molly and Adam's father is looming.

The Hunt for the Haunted Elephant begins with the Barnetts' flight to England to recover three lost family heirlooms: a sapphire necklace, an emerald ring and an ivory elephant figurine. If the kids can find and bring these three objects together again, the curse will be lifted. But if they fail, not only will it continue, but the dead from the beginning of time will reawaken, reinhabit their mortal bodies, and take over the world.

      Adam and Molly are clever and energetic, but the avenging ghost, Lucinda, is always one step ahead of them. As time runs out, ghosts everywhere begin to rise from the dead. The authors have fun using news reports to describe famous historical characters reawakening and running amok. Especially humorous are the scenes with Henry VIII, who was particularly unpleasant and troublesome when he was alive the first time and is even more obnoxious the second time around.

"It's getting worse all the time," Dad was telling Molly. "Now it looks like it's spreading everywhere. Some kid who insisted on being called Billy got arrested in New Mexico for trying to shoot up a herd of cattle said the ranch they were on was actually his."

"A kid?" said Molly. "Billy? Oh, I get it. Billy the Kid!"

"Right a mean dude if there ever was one. And in Chicago, a Mr. Capone and three accomplices held up a liquor store with machine guns and accused the owner of ruining their business. And wait, here's another: an old guy with a beard broke into the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and tried to make a speech about something called reciprocity in a thick Scottish accent, all the while taking swigs out of a bottle of whiskey."

"Reciprocity... John A. Macdonald, right? The first prime minister?

      The "Ghosthunters" books have a large and colourful cast of characters, including a gang of ghosts who are allied either with mad, bad Lucinda or with kindly Granddad, and a dozy father whose weak heart must be protected from scary shocks. I was particularly touched by the seven-year-old ghost of an 18th century Barnett. Readers first meet him in the prologue, wearing the nightgown he died in and haunting the scene of a guilty secret. This frightened little boy, who is unaware he's dead, is a touching figure, indeed.

      If I were to note any failings in the novel, it would be in the authors' tendency to over-explain and give too many recaps of the plot. Also, instead of using description to create atmosphere and character, the authors too frequently plug in allusions to movies, as in this part of a description of the grandmother's home in England: "...a staircase to the second floor that Adam remembered as steep and narrow, sort of like something out of a horror movie." (21). Or, when the avenging Lucinda is finally rendered powerless: "Molly looked to see Lucinda her mouth wide open, her eyes staring wildly, a scream coming from her throat. It reminded Molly of when the Wicked Witch of the West was being melted by Dorothy in the movie." (251) [Emphasis added by the reviewer].

      Series fiction, like the engaging "Ghosthunters" books, is particularly useful in developing reading fluency. Suspense pulls the reader along, and satisfied readers are eager to continue the adventure with characters that have become friends. Genre fiction also guarantees a satisfying conclusion in which heroes are rewarded and villains vanquished.

      The Hunt for the Haunted Elephant is a successful hybrid of mystery, suspense, and ghost fiction genres. Other titles in this vein include Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Cornelia Funke's identically named "Ghosthunter" series, and many books by John Bellairs, including The Curse of the Blue Figurine.


Cynthia Nugent is a children's book author/illustrator and a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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