Goldfish Ghost

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Goldfish Ghost Book Poster Image
Lonely ghost fish finds a friend in charming seaside tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows scenes of a busy seaside town and beach. Shows what a lighthouse and its lantern look like. Mentions the purpose of a lighthouse: to shine "for sailors at sea." Shows how when fish die, they float upside down on the top of the water, either in a bowl or in the ocean.

Positive Messages

It's natural to desire "good company" -- folks you have something in common with and who pay attention to you. "It can be hard to find the company you're looking for." Finding a friend can be a cure for loneliness. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Goldfish Ghost is calm and gentle and pretty positive, even though he's lonely. He makes an effort to find "good company." The lighthouse ghost is friendly and calls to him and is happy to have him "settle in" and stay with her. 

Violence & Scariness

Shows deceased fish and humans who've turned into ghosts but doesn't show or mention how they died. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Goldfish Ghost, by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Lisa Brown (The Airport Book), is a gentle picture book about a ghost fish who leaves the bowl that was his home when he was alive and floats across the seaside town (with hints that it's Cape Cod) in search of "good company." The focus is on Goldfish Ghost's loneliness and search for companionship, not on anything spooky, despite our hero's deceased state. It's a charming, relatable story about seeking and finding a friend. 

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What's the story?

GOLDFISH GHOST begins with the black-and-white ghost of a fish floating upside down in a bowl in a kid's colorful bedroom. There's nobody to talk to, so he floats up out of the bowl and out the window "to find some company." He floats across the town by the sea, past fishing boats and shrieking seagulls, where nobody notices him. Then he floats past a bustling shopping street, but "no one was looking for company," and past a packed beach, where none of the bathers "even gave him a glance." He goes back to his bowl but finds it's now occupied by a new, live fish, "[B]ut she was not good company." By this time it's night and he floats back out toward a lighthouse "everybody said was haunted." There he meets the ghost of the lighthouse keeper, a sweet lady also depicted in black and white, who turns out to be "very good company" and takes him in. 

Is it any good?

With a dreamy tone and irresistible illustrations, this not-scary ghost story captures what it's like to yearn for good company, making it highly relatable as well as charmingly offbeat. Goldfish Ghost shows how lonely it can feel when no one notices you or wants to play with you. The fact that the main character's a ghost seems like just a quirky aspect of him. 

There's lots to look at in Lisa Brown's art, which uses a muted sea-blue and sandy-brown palette. As in her previous picture book, The Airport Book, two-page spreads of people in town and at the beach feature diverse individuals and families doing all sorts of things, with some narrative threads showing up on other pages. Readers can zoom in on a family getting ice cream, a man using a metal detector in the sand, and someone else carrying a sign we see later on a house. And there are lots of fun details for parents and kids to discover, such as the fish-themed titles of the books stacked on a chair near the goldfish's bowl, the sea-related books in the lighthouse ghost's bookcase, or a pair of old-fashioned sunbather ghosts poised at the shoreline. This book is truly a gentle delight. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ghosts in Goldfish Ghost. How many can you spot? Do you like to think of ghosts as friendly or scary? 

  • What can you do when you're feeling lonely? Are there friends, family members, or kids at school you can seek out? What does "good company" mean to you? 

  • How can you tell the difference between the ghosts and the living creatures in the art? Try drawing a picture or telling a story with a ghost in it. 

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