Raina Telgemeier (Writer, Artist), Braden Lamb (Colors)
My daughters (eight and eleven) have vowed to fill their bookshelves with the complete collection of Raina Telgemeier’s work. So far, other than a few issues of The Baby-Sitter’s Club, we’re doing pretty well, with my eldest gobbling up each book while I work through them more slowly with the younger. The three of us recently finished Ghosts, and, while I have a few adult issues with it, the girls truly enjoyed it. They took particular interest in Maya, the younger sister in the book whose cystic fibrosis required the family to move to a climate more suitable to her lung condition. Her older sister, Cat, is displeased with this move as it takes her away from her friends and the comforts of the familiar.
As the sisters explore their new town, they stumble upon a boy named Carlos who introduces them to the town’s paranormal population. Maya is at first scared of this prospect, but her curiosity and innate positivity and friendliness drive her to want to learn more about the ghosts, as well as Dia de los Muertos. Catrina wants nothing more than to run away, but her sense of responsibility to her ailing sister and Maya’s tendency to seek what little adventure her body will permit her keep Cat from going far.
My daughters are fond of ghost stories and the supernatural. We enjoy paranormal television shows and media and have gone on ghost walks where often ghosts are portrayed as scary, even evil beings bent on harming the living. The girls liked that these ghosts smiled and were happy. They just wanted to play.
But other reviewers take issue with this because of the history implied by the setting. The ghosts the girls meet are gathered at a mission, which, as history has it, is not exactly the place of happy memories for the native people forced to submit to Catholic brutality through such missions. There is also concern with the representation of Dia de los Muertos and whether or not Telgemeier’s story is an example of cultural appropriation. Our familiarity with the Mexican Day of the Dead does not extend far beyond watching The Book of Life. Telgemeier, in an attempt to clarify that Dia de los Muertos and Halloween are two very different celebrations, did provide us with an opportunity to discuss how we interact with other cultures and why we cannot make assumptions about their traditions and values in reference to our own. Am I the best person to teach my daughters this lesson in reference to the ghosts of Ghosts? Is Telgemeier?
The book raised many other opportunities for discussion and further learning–I always appreciate teachable moments in any story, no matter the medium. Among our topics of discussion was the dynamic of families from other cultures, which Telgemeier introduces most often in relation to food. The girls also got to meet a character with a disability and see how Maya and her family deal with her illness. Maya’s cystic fibrosis shapes the family’s decisions, and while Maya is not the main character of the story, her personality shines brightly, even as it brings with it the sadness of her mortality. The girls and I talked about the selflessness that comes with Maya’s acceptance of her potentially short life span and her desire to see her sister be happy. Maya remains positive throughout, even with such a fate looming over her. This is beautifully emphasized by colorist Braden Lamb’s bright shades of blue that often dominate the backdrop behind Telgemeier’s expressive characters.
Ghosts is an enjoyable addition to our bookshelf–one that inspired many conversations long after the last chapter.