MMGM: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier/The Tortoise and the Soldier by Michael Foreman



Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.


This book has created some controversy, which I doubt was the author/illustrator's intention. My overall impression of the book was one of enjoyment.  Telgemeier has created another fun story using her well-known illustrative style.  I have no doubt that many young readers will enjoy the book.  Cat is a great character who struggles to support her ailing little sister, while not wanting to be held back by it.  When Cat discovers that the new city that she and her family have moved to celebrates the holiday of Day of the Dead and celebrates with the ghosts of former friends and family, she's rather freaked out by it, especially after some of the ghosts lead her sister into a trip to the hospital.  But with the help of her family and her new friends, Cat finds a way to face her fears while learning more about the culture and traditions of her new town.  

The concerns I've read about relate to the portrayal of the Latinx community and the Day of the Dead celebration.  The other issue is the use of old mission ruins as the setting for the first appearance of the ghosts and the place where they most commonly come.  Old Missions do carry certain symbolism and memories, often unpleasant memories, for some peoples, especially some First/Native Nations peoples.  The other issue I can't really comment on because my experience with the Day of the Dead is very limited.  How accurate the portrayal is, I don't really know. The same goes for the portrayal of cystic fibrosis, I know very little about it so I cannot confirm or deny it's accuracy.  I did take note in the author's note at the end of the book, that the author did put effort into gathering information about these topics. It's clear from what I've read and seen that reactions to this book may vary widely. That fact needs to be taken into consideration by librarians and other gatekeepers who either select or do not select this book for collection inclusion.

Here are some sources for other reviews:  

School Library Journal Review 
Telgemeier Interview
SLJ Newbery Blog Heavy Metal Discussion
Debbie Reese's Review


As a boy, Henry Friston dreamed of traveling the world. He thought he was signing up for a lifetime of adventure when he joined the Royal Navy. But when World War I begins, it launches the world, and Henry, into turmoil. While facing enemy fire at Gallipoli, Henry discovers the strength he needs to survive in an unexpected source: a tortoise. And so begins the friendship of a lifetime. Based on true events, and with charming illustrations, this story of war, courage, and friendship will win the hearts of readers.


The Tortoise and the Soldier almost reads like nonfiction, except it seems clear from the beginning that the boy telling the story may be an invention of the story.  Foreman explains at the end the circumstances that really led him to Henry and Ali Pasha (the tortoise).  The inclusion of photographs from the real story is great.  As a story about an individual's experiences during World War I, Foreman does a great job.  It was interesting the way he combined that story with the story about the boy wanting to become a journalist.  So in reality there are two stories here, that of the growing friendship between the boy and Henry, the soldier, and his tortoise, and the story of Henry's year at sea on a war ship along with gathering the wounded on shore during the invasion of Turkey where he meets Ali Pasha for the first time.  Not only is it a glimpse of a part of World War I that I haven't read much about, but it's a powerful reminder of the impact that animals, pets, can have on the human psyche.  The soft pastel illustrations help soften the impact of the violence depicted and the illustrator is careful not to make the illustrations too graphic in terms of the wounded.  But it is a story about war, so that can't be avoided entirely.  I found the book appropriate though in terms of middle grade readers, except for maybe the most sensitive of readers who aren't ready to read about death and war quite yet.


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