In a story whose title will immediately thrill children and whose charms will keep their attention till the happy end, Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson explore an unusual friendship—between a ghost named Leo and a little girl.
“This is Leo. Most people cannot see him,” the book opens. “But you can.” This present-tense, second-person address is an inviting way to kick things off. Leo lives alone, and when a family moves in, he’s excited to make new friends. Instead, he frightens them with his friendly overtures—they can’t see him, after all—so he leaves. The city overwhelms him, but it’s there that he meets Jane, who quickly befriends him. He’s disappointed to learn that Jane thinks he’s merely her imaginary friend, but when there’s an intruder in Jane’s home late at night, Leo is able to save the day—and ask Jane to accept him as the spirit that he is. “If I tell her I am a ghost,” he fears earlier in the story, “I will scare her away.”
Robinson employs a spectral palette of cool blue-gray shades to great effect. He communicates a lot with little, spinning magic with cut-out construction paper and acrylic paints. In one spread, the family hiding in the bathtub—after Leo attempts to serve them tea—are simple shapes with one-half of a curtain and some circles for a curtain rod, with Leo floating in the air, aghast at the fright he’s given the family. These minimalist, uncluttered spreads open up a world of imagination for child readers.
Also refreshingly unfussy are Barnett’s words: “It was very well done,” he observes as the omniscient narrator when Leo scares a thief in Jane’s home. “That was that,” he writes when the police arrive. “He was so happy he couldn’t sleep,” he writes when Jane calls Leo her best friend. Barnett uses a pleasing economy of words, while spinning the compelling story of a burgeoning friendship.
Don’t be afraid: This is a ghost story that will warm your heart.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.