Leo: A Ghost Story

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Leo: A Ghost Story Book Poster Image
Sweet, not scary story of friendship and imagination.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers can begin to explore perspective. The story doesn't feel scary when told from the ghost's perspective but probably would from the perspective of the family that thinks its house is haunted.

Positive Messages

The joy of imaginary play and friendship highlighted; they trump misunderstanding and fear.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leo is scorned and misunderstood as a ghost but doesn't lose hope that he'll find his way in the world. Jane is bright, accepting, and very imaginative. She's the kind of fast friend that often-misunderstood kids need.

Violence & Scariness

A "sneak thief" tries to rob Jane's house, and Leo scares him into a closet until the police come. Leo scares people who move into his house; they're shown hiding in the bathtub.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Leo: A Ghost Story, by Caldecott Honor author Mac Barnett (Extra Yarn) and illustrated by Christian Robinson (Last Stop on Market Street), is told from a friendly young boy ghost's perspective. He sports a bow tie and just wants to make tea and be friendly with everyone so preschoolers won't be frightened of him -- not like the family that moves into his house. They hide in the bathtub. Later in the book, a burglar sneaks through a house, and Leo puts on a sheet and scares him into a closet until the police arrive. When Leo meets a girl named Jane, who can see him, the story turns into a tale of friendship and the power of imagination.

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What's the story?

Leo, a ghost, is happy quietly reading in an old house until a family moves in. When he decides to make them a snack, the family gets frightened and hides in the bathtub. So Leo decides he'll wander. The world of the city is loud and unwelcoming until a girl named Jane spots Leo while drawing on the sidewalk. They play Knights of the Round Table together and suddenly Leo is happy again. But Jane thinks he's just an imaginary friend instead of a real, dead ghost. How will she react when she knows the truth?

Is it any good?

Told from the sweet-natured perspective of a ghost boy in a bow tie, this clever picture book is as much a lovely tale of friendship as a lighthearted ghost story. It does for ghosts what Monsters, Inc. did for the reputation of closet monsters, and kids will be rooting for Leo like they did for Sully. By the end, readers will be drawn more into Jane and Leo's imaginative play and feel as Jane does: that it doesn't matter at all that Leo's a ghost.

Only the stylish illustrations, all in blue, gray, and black hues, remind readers there's anything supernatural going on in LEO: A GHOST STORY. Somehow they manage to be both ghostly and playful, just like the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ghosts. Why are some portrayed in stories as friendly, such as Leo, whereas most people think ghosts are scary? Do you believe in ghosts? Would you like to meet one?

  • Would you befriend Leo if you could see him? Or would you rather have an imaginary friend?

  • Why do you think Jane doesn't care that Leo's a ghost?

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