Friday, 27 September 2013

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children's Books)

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Written and Illustrated by
Chris Riddell

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

Sometimes, finding out about a new book can trigger emotions that are a bit like catching an attractive stranger's eye on the tube one morning, or receiving an anonymous note in your pigeonhole one valentine's day that simply reads "You're the one".

"Goth Girl" caught my attention a while back when Chris Riddell started to tease us with a few tantalising glimpses of a mysterious female character, and some truly luxurious illustrations for the book. We now know that the character was Ada, the brilliant central character of "Goth Girl" and those illustrations would appear throughout the book, offering luscious counterpoints to the story.

Ada is the only child of Lord Goth. She's shy and retiring, and her bombastic and distant father shares a huge house with her (which, from Chris Riddell's amazing map of the story locations, looks a lot like Basildon House, a fave National Trust haunt of ours). Ada's tale is tinged with tragedy, her gorgeous acrobatic mother died in an accident and her father's grief manifests itself as extreme grumpiness. Despite his best efforts to secure a nanny for Ada, Lord Goth finds the task trickier than expected and invites two other children to stay - to keep Ada entertained and out of trouble.

Riddell's love letter to many, many brilliant books and literary characters can be found throughout "Goth Girl" - there are deft  influences from novels like "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett - and a real flavour of gothic tragi-comedy.

Before long, Ada meets the mysterious Ishmael - a tiny ghost mouse who, along with her new housemates William and Emily Cabbage, uncover a nefarious plot hatched by Matravers, the gamekeeper, who wants to see Lord Goth cast out on his ear.

There's no doom and gloom here, despite the darkly gothic tones. Riddell's expertise is pulling together the absurd, the surreal and the tragic into a story (underpinned by his gorgeous artwork) that children and adults will find captivating. I joked on Twitter that I had the devil's own job prising this book out of Charlotte's hands when it arrived. I wasn't kidding. For days, though she couldn't read it herself, she'd show me bits she liked - and she made up her own little story to accompany the fabulous little wordless comic all about Ishmael that's tucked into the back cover of the book.

When I read the story to her, she wanted more - or at least to know that more books with Ada (and Ishmael of course) were planned. So come on Chris, how about it?

Beautifully presented, wonderfully illustrated and full of the sort of characters that you'd truly love to imagine once roamed the halls of our great stately homes looking slightly wan and peaky, "Goth Girl" is a must for anyone (like us) who would definitely be a Goth, if only we could grow enough thick black hair!

Charlotte's best bit: Ishmael. She fell in love with him the moment she saw the first illustration, and loved his squeaky little plaintive sighs - and of course the central part he plays in the story (which we won't ruin for you)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Always loved goth girls, and will definitely always love "Goth Girl" - It's utterly brilliant and we really truly hope this isn't the last we hear from Ada and Ishmael

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan Children's Books)