Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Review of Kate and M. Sarah Klise's 43 Old Cemetery Road Books

I hope you've already read the Klise sisters' other "graphic epistolary novels," Letters from Camp and the series that begins with Regarding the Fountain. Each clever, lighthearted book consists of a sequence of letters, memos, newspaper articles, and postcards, all written by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. But saying that doesn't do justice to these off-the-wall, character-driven books, which I highly recommend for 7- to 10-year-olds. Just to give you an idea, Regarding the Fountain is about what happens at a school when the principal orders a new drinking fountain, but the fountain designer has something a thousand times more elaborate in mind (think spa!). A group of kids at the school is also involved in the project, along with some colorful characters from the small town... It's a hoot!

I recently bought Book 2 of the Klises' new series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, so then I had to go back and read Book 1, as well. As usual, the premise is more than a little loopy: a cranky old children's book writer named Mr. Grumply rents a house for the summer, trying to get past his writer's block, but neglects to read the fine print. It states that he is also assuming custody of the absentee landlords' eleven-year-old son Seymour and his cat Shadow for the foreseeable future. What's more, the house is haunted by a previous owner, Olive C. Spence (a deceased mystery writer—read her name out loud fast!). Olive acts as a surrogate mother to Seymour because his own highly negligent parents are off in Europe trying to prove that there's no such thing as ghosts. It takes Mr. Grumply a while to realize that the "Dear Housemate" notes he's getting aren't all from Seymour, and to believe that Olive isn't a hoax. Other missive writers in the book include Mr. Grumply's lawyer, a realtor named Anita Sale, the absent parents, and the town paper, which has a running joke of quoting people as follows:

"Personally," continued Sale, "I think Ignatius Grumply is an old grouchypants, but don't print that in the newspaper."
(Sorry, Anita. Your secrets are our business!)
Book Two, Over My Dead Body, introduces a man named Dick Tater, head of IMSPOOKY (The International Movement for the Safety and Protection of Our Kids and Youth). Tater is determined to abolish Halloween and break up Seymour's new family just because it includes a ghost. In short order, Tater has Ignatius Grumply thrown in the Illinois Home for the Deranged for believing in ghosts, while Seymour is dumped in an orphanage. Another threat in this book is Seymour's despicable parents, who plan on coming back for him simply so they can use him as a prop to increase the sales of their new book, Only Fools (and Children) Believe in Ghosts. But Olive is not without resources, and even as Tater threatens to exhume her grave, she gets busy rescuing her adopted family and showing Tater just how real a ghost can be.

One thing I like about the Klise sisters' books is that they're not a threatening read thanks to the graphic component and the small chunks provided by the letters, yet they require readers to make a certain amount of effort in order to put all of the pieces together. If you haven't tried the Klise creations, I suggest you give them a chance. There's really nothing like them on the market!

3 comments:

Doret said...

I read book one in the new series, 43 Old Cemetery Road. I really enjoyed it. It was a very smart kind of funny. The illustrations are spot on.

The second book sounds better than the first.
Have you read Heck, Where the bad kids go?

KATE COOMBS said...

Aren't Sarah Klise's illustrations great? Yes, I have read Heck #1, and I've been thinking about buying Heck #2, which came out a few weeks ago--although my To Read pile is threatening to topple. I thought Heck, Where the Bad Kids Go was kind of funny. Great concept. I'm also an Anne Ursu fan, speaking of the underworld. Her petulant villain is especially amusing in Book 2 of the Chronos Chronicles, and I just got Book 3.

Doret said...

I loved Heck and the second book, but I have a thing for books where the author gives their version of hell. Thanks for letting me know about Ursu, I will look for her books.