The Children's Book Compass

A New Book by Shirley Hughes

Posted on: December 21, 2010

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes.  (2010)   Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 1-5.  Picture Book/historical fiction.

In this story Hughes goes back to her childhood memories of growing up in Liverpool England during the 1930’s.  This story is about overcoming differences, while, at the same time, it shows how our lives are enriched by the love of family.  Dylan and Bronwen have recently moved to the city from a small village in Wales after their Da had died.  Their Mam earns money by doing laundry.  Sometimes the children help Mam with the laundry that she does by hand.  Together they turn the big wheel on the iron mangle.  Since she doesn’t have enough money to pay for child care, Mam has to leave the children alone while she makes deliveries to her well-off customers.  Their neighbors, the O’Rileys, are suffering through the bad times too.  But Mam doesn’t speak to the neighbors, telling the children, “We keep to ourselves.”  The reason appears to be because the O’Riley family attends a different church.  On Christmas Eve, Mam takes the tired children home after they help with her deliveries.  Then she leaves them while she does some shopping.  When the children hear a scary noise coming from the washhouse, they believe it is a ghost, and they run screaming next door to the O’Riley’s.  The neighbors make them feel safe and warm and show them that the scary noise is a dart game that the O’Riley boys are playing.  When Mam comes home Mrs. O’Riley makes her feel welcomed and volunteers to care for the children when Mam needs to be away.  The hopeful ending shows Mam and the children offering thanks for their kind neighbors.

Hughes is a genius in describing children’s emotions and showing in her illustrations the minutia of their lives.  This is not just a book to read at Christmas; it can be savored anytime in the year. The illustrations use softly colored ink and watercolors to give a flavor of times past.  Children of today will make connections with the hard times of the 1930’s, and the struggles of a single parent.  The Christmas Eve Ghost joins a list of over  two hundred books in which Hughes makes warm memories for her young readers.  Her picture book, Dogger, is one of the most successful picture books ever.  Check it out.

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