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The Horribly Haunted School
Margaret Mahy (illustrated by Robert Staermose)
Viking Penguin Children's Books, 122 pages

The Horribly Haunted School
Margaret Mahy
From New Zealand, Margaret Mahy has been writing since she was seven. She worked as a children's librarian until deciding to become a full-time writer in 1980. Margaret Mahy has won the Carnegie Medal twice and New Zealand's Esther Glen Award five times.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

Poor Monty Merryandrew. No one seems to believe that he's allergic to ghosts. He sneezes when a ghost is nearby, and he continues to sneeze until the ghost shows itself. After that, Monty and the ghosts generally get on pretty well with each other. But when Monty tries to explain all this to his parents, they ship him off to the Brinsley Codd School for Sensible Thought to set him straight. Unfortunately, the school turns out to be haunted.

On his first day at the new school, Monty manages to incur the wrath of his sensibly strict teacher, Mr. Sogbucket. He also earns himself an after-school assignment directly from the Principal and the ghost of Brinsley Codd, founder of the school. His assignment is to track down three former students of the Brinsley Codd School -- from seventy years ago!

Meanwhile, Monty's father -- a government philosopher who works for the Department of National Despair -- is finding that his recent car troubles are really getting him down. And Monty's mother is preoccupied with the upcoming National Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. Last year she scored very poorly on the free-form section of the Championship, as this has always been her weakest area in puzzle-making.

During his search for the long-ago students, Monty must also find a way to solve his father's car problems and his mother's rather difficult dilemma about what to do for the free-form section of the Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. Monty's got a lot to do, and time is running out...

The different elements of this story fall together as neatly as the pieces of a free-form jigsaw puzzle. It's an intelligent, playful adventure with an air of mystery about it. There are plenty of silly-sounding names (like Scrunley Filcher and Jessica Frogcutlet), interesting characters, and spoofing glimpses at some of the unusual obsessions and instabilities of adults.

This is the second of Margaret Mahy's books illustrated by Robert Staermose, and his amusing illustrations mesh well with her style of storytelling. All in all, there's nothing not to like about this book. It's silly, it's spirited, and it's clever -- although the haunting, as it turns out, isn't so horrible after all.

Copyright © 1998 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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