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Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Haunted House: Put Those Ghosts to Good Use!

The Haunted House, by Kazuno Kohara
Macmillan Children's Books, 2008
(UK Release)
Released in the US as Ghosts in the House, by Roaring Brook Press, also in 2008.
Listed by the New York Times as one of the Top Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books in 2008.

Click above to listen to the way we read The Haunted House.

The Haunted House was one of the many books we borrowed from Anstruther library in Fife (Scotland) during our two-week stay there last summer, and the only one we took out twice at my son's insistent request. It's a simple not-in-the-least-bit-scary ghost story with instant appeal, aided by Kohara's striking and distinctive linocuts. 

Described by Gregory Cowles in the New York Times as 'insistently unironic', The Haunted House is formally as traditional as you can get, but the treatment of ghosts and fear of them is novel and rather fun. 

The Story
When a girl and her cat arrive with their suitcase at the old house at the edge of town they are moving in to, the place seems splendid but they soon find out that there is a slight problem. 'The house is... (turn page)... HAUNTED!' This setback is only apparent though, because our heroine happens to be a witch, and her cat, a witch's cat, and both of them are very good at catching ghosts and taming them in a rather peculiar way. 

They immediately change into their rather smart alter ego suits and go about their business hunting the ghosts. They put them all in a laundry basket, take them to the washing machine, put them on a gentle ghost softening cycle and out they come, ready to be hung up and dried and then used as handy household linens such as curtains, tablecloths and the last two, right at the end of the day and the story, as cosy sheets. And they all lived happily ever after. 

The Illustrations 
Kazuno Kohara's illustrations are bold linocut prints in a rich orangey red, a very dark black and a clever ghostly translucent white (I cannot confirm this, but I see that several sources say the translucent white is achieved with rice paper collaged onto the print). 

The story is told entirely through the illustrations (the text adds nothing to the story, but rather serves as a gentle accompaniment).  

The illustrations really do speak for themselves: 
The girl and her cat arriving at the house

What a fright (check out the ghost's expression,
almost more frightened than the girl or the cat).

The ghost-hunting begins, with their witch and witch's cat suits on

Those ghosts look happy in there!
Ghosts' new job as curtains
Let's have some tea on our new ghostly tablecloth
And please excuse the awful quality of this last one taken with my mobile with a grubby lens, but we just love the suits hanging on the wall, and the scene as a whole.

Happy ghost-sheets, girl and cat.
Reading The Haunted House out loud

As I've said in the Illustrations section, the text in The Haunted House is an accompaniment to the story told very effectively in the sequence of images. So a large part of reading it aloud is pointing out things in the illustrations.

Reading this book aloud is such a straightforward affair that it almost reads itself, and it's a perfect book for pre-readers to 'play' reading aloud.

It has one particular read aloud effect, in the cliffhanger sentence between the first spread and the second spread: 'The house was... HAUNTED!' (a simple but very very effective suspense creator for very young children, and which will have them shouting out 'haunted' from the second reading).

A perfect bed-time read aloud too, with them all going to bed and living happily ever after at the end.

What we like about The Haunted House
We are great fans of the witch and witch's cat suits. And I mean great fans. I think that was the first thing my son pointed out.

We really like the idea that what ghosts might need to be a bit less scary is a good wash and a decent purpose in life.

We also like the idea that what we need to do with our fears is face them and tame them and, especially, not take them all that seriously.

My son generally pays a lot of attention to the cat and how he helps the witch or looks over her shoulder when she's reading.

Have I said we all want suits like theirs?

(c) of all the illustrations in this post, Kazuno Kohara, 2008.


  1. I love it! This would be so much fun to read aloud.

  2. Thanks so mcuh for your comment, Emily. I've just checked out your blog, The Alcove. It's great! Will be following you from now.

  3. A haunted house is a house or other building often perceived as being inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property..