Title: LEO: A Ghost Story
Written by: Mac Barnett
Illustrated by: Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books, 2015, fiction
For Ages: 3 and UP
Themes/Topics: friendship, ghosts, imagination, loneliness, fears
First two spreads:
This is Leo.
Most people cannot see him.
But you can.
Leo is a ghost.
Summary (from publisher): “Leo is a friendly house ghost—but when a family moves into his house, and tries to get rid of him, he leaves and roams the city looking for a friend.”
Why I Like This Book: As a kid, I adored the cartoon Casper the Friendly Ghost. So I was immediately drawn to Leo who, like Casper, is quite personable. But unlike Casper, who has a very cartoon ghost look (marshmallow-y body with no clothes), Christian Robinson has brilliantly drawn Leo with a more human look—a transparent boy in old-timey bow-tie and short pants. Older elementary PB readers might feel a twinge of sadness wondering how and when sweet Leo died, but I suspect most younger PB readers won’t give it a lot of thought.
It seems that Leo has been a ghost for a long time and is used to it. The sadness comes when a family moves into his house. Leo tries to be hospitable, but he only manages to terrify the family. When they try to exorcise him, Leo says goodbye to his home.
Luckily, Leo finds Jane, a girl with a vivid imagination. Jane can see Leo and she quickly befriends and then knights him. Together, they slay a dragon and steal his loot. However, Leo soon learns that Jane believes he is one of her many imaginary friends. He fears what will happen if he tells her the truth. As a reader, I felt extremely protective of Leo. I didn’t want to see him get hurt again! I’ll leave the surprisingly perfect ending for you to discover for yourself.
Ideas for Teachers: Any unit on friendship, imagination/imaginative play, or facing fears would be enlivened by a discussion of this book. Students might be asked to consider the most important qualities of a friend – real or imagined – and create a “friend wanted” poster describing the ideal friend.
(For a tremendous list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)