Ghoulish Song

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Ghoulish Song Book Poster Image
Brave girl shines in exciting companion to Goblin Secrets.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Taking place in a fantasy world, Ghoulish Song is more about entertainment than learning. But the alternate world and its culture -- e.g. the tactics used to keep bakers honest, and the ban on theatrical performances -- provide interesting points of comparison with our world, and Kaile's friends offer insight into the culture of musicians.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, honesty, bravery, resourcefulness, and kindness are important values here, as are the appreciation of friends and family, even when they fall short of expectations, and the ability to learn from the perspectives of others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kaile is a lively, appealing heroine, both responsible enough to be an essential worker in her family's bakery and real enough to refer to her annoying little brother as the Snotfish. She loves her family, dreams of being a musician, and, faced with apparently insurmountable adversity, uses her own ingenuity and collaborates with others -- human and otherwise -- to make things better. When suddenly forced to see her own less wonderful qualities, she learns from the experience and does better.

Violence & Scariness

Not as front-and-center as it was in Goblin Secrets, but still significant, is that the "coal" that fuels Zombay's engines is made from the hearts of the dead. Kaile and others do battle with a ghoul made of bones by playing music. While separated from her shadow, Kaile faces many threats of violence and dismemberment if she doesn't stay away. The apparent suicide of a woman in the distant past has a profound impact on plot developments. Bakers who run afoul of the clockwork-enhanced Guard are imprisoned in a cage and dunked many times in the river, and this happens to one beloved character.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ghoulish Song is not a sequel to author William Alexander's Goblin Secrets, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, although some of the original's characters make cameo appearances here. Set amid the steampunkish trappings of the town of Zombay, it presents assorted creepy stuff as part of the landscape, from a ghoul made of bones who threatens the entire town to gruesome fates that threaten young heroine Kaile when she's separated from her shadow. Kaile faces many threats of violence and dismemberment if she doesn't stay away. The apparent suicide of a woman in the distant past has a profound impact on plot developments. There's one use of "pissing" to mean "complaining." But overall, it's an appealing, positive, often funny tale in which friendship, family bonds, kindness, music, and resourcefulness all come into play.

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What's the story?

Clockwork-enhanced people and gruesome fuel sources abound in the town of Zombay, first introduced in Goblin Secrets, where young Kaile, the baker's daughter, works hard in the family business and dreams of being a musician like her recently deceased grandfather. When she shows kindness to a troupe of performing goblins, their leader presents her with a mysterious flute carved from bone, but when she plays it, she loses her shadow. In Zombay, being without a shadow is a sure sign you're dead, so Kaile suddenly finds herself with the dual challenge of convincing her family she's still alive and learning more about the flute's mysterious properties and the power of GHOULISH SONG.

Is it any good?

The same lively style, inventive plot, and imaginative setting that garnered critical raves and a large fan base for Goblin Secrets return in Ghoulish Song. More dimensions are added to the Zombay world, and there's a bonus: an appealing heroine.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Ghoulish Song compares with Goblin Secrets. What (and who) do you recognize from the first book?

  • Do you like to play music? Do you know adults and kids who are musicians? Does the description here of why music is so important to Zombay have parallels in our world?

  • Kaile usually tries to do the right thing, but gets a rude awakening when forced to see herself from her shadow's perspective. Have you ever done something that seemed like a really good idea, only to find out other people didn't see it that way?

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