Liesl & Po Book Poster Image

Liesl & Po



Friendly ghost story has good premise but bogs down.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Presents young readers with philosophical issues they've probably encountered in fairy tales and will meet again more seriously later: life and death, the nature of the afterlife, the physical realities (if any) of ghostly existence.

Positive messages

Persevering goodness triumphs over perils both personal and cosmic as Liesl and her friends try to lay her father's ghost to rest and restore light and harmony to the world.

Positive role models

Liesl is resolutely devoted to her late father throughout, and she also shows kindness and consideration to her friends. The ghost Po, torn between the world of the dead and the living, helps Liesl and her father when it might be easier to do otherwise. Will is devoted to Liesl and ingenious in figuring out ways to help her. The guard Mo is extremely kind-hearted and goes to great lengths to render assistance to those he perceives to be in need.


There's a heavily gothic vibe to this book, which takes place partly in the world of disembodied spirits and partly in an unnamed but vaguely Victorian world in which the sun hasn't shone for five years, and the darkness carries over into assorted grotesque villains and their surroundings, especially the alchemist's laboratory and its lovingly described inventory of body parts. Violence is threatened and otherwise alluded to with enthusiastic frequency. Most dramatically, Liesl's evil stepmother has murdered her father and is now trying to murder Liesl. But the villains are too cartoonish to be taken very seriously.

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This story unfolds in alternate time and place, but the wicked stepmother's conspicuous consumption is cast in an unfavorable light.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that author Lauren Oliver has published two huge young adult fantasy bestsellers -- Before I Fall and Delirium. This ghost story is her first book for younger readers, and those with older sisters or GFs may be attracted to it for the name recognition.  While it's an age-appropriate fantasy, Liesl & Po asserts a particular version of post-mortem reality -- and the physics involved -- that may or may not coincide with what you're teaching your children about the afterlife, so this may bring up some issues. It also has a lot of grotesque imagery with regard to the villains and their accouterments, which, while generally comic in its treatment, may be troubling to younger or sensitive children.

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What's the story?

On the third day after her father's death, young Liesl discovers two ghosts sharing the attic in which she's been locked for months by her stepmother. Po, the formerly human one, bears a message from her father suggesting that his ashes must be scattered at the grave of Liesl's late mother in order for him to find peace. Meanwhile, Will, a much abused apprentice to the local alchemist (who, unbeknownst to the local populace, is responsible for having removed the sun from the sky five years earlier), commits a fateful delivery error involving the ashes that sets the two children and two ghosts on a momentous and dangerous journey.

Is it any good?


A little girl locked in an attic, a boy determined to save her, two ghosts helping them both -- should be a can't-miss formula; unfortunately, LIESL & PO misses. Author Oliver explains in a foreword that this book grew out of her own healing process after the death of her best friend, making it into the story of a little girl's quest to restore a loved one's ashes to a peaceful place and in the process restore light and life to a world gone dark. That in itself is a tall order for a kids' book. But she chooses storytelling elements -- comically grotesque villains, cartoonish ancillary characters, spirits that often seem more vehicles for the discussion of metaphysical concepts than compelling personalities, and multiple convenient plot devices that strain credulity, even in an alternative reality -- that result in a somewhat confused tone and muddled narrative.

While kids, especially girls, intrigued with the ghost-friend theme might enjoy this, and there are echoes of the death and dystopia themes found in Oliver's teen bestsellers that will probably give this book cachet with young readers in the know, there are better examples of almost all the elements uneasily thrown together here. For a story about an orphaned Victorian girl and her friends restoring life to a barren corner of the world, try Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, which has been loved for generations for good reason. For a (scarier) tale of a living girl who shares the experiences of a ghost, try Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story. Perhaps the ultimate classic tale of the girl who befriends a troubled ghost and helps him find peace is Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost; if your young reader finds the prose a bit formidable, take heart -- the 1996 Emmy-winning TV-movie version with Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell is out on DVD.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about ghosts. Are they real? What do you think?

  • Why is Liesl so worried about her father?

  • How was Po a good friend to Liesl? How was Liesl a good friend to Po? How did they help each other?

  • If sunlight went away, what else would happen?

Book details

Author:Lauren Oliver
Illustrator:Kei Acedera
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:October 4, 2011
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12

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Teen, 15 years old Written byXYHC March 8, 2016

Amazing book but scary

This book is currently my favourite! I can't stop reading it! The imaginable magical story taking place in an age without the sun can really be interesting! Before I started reading, one of my classmates told me that this is a creepy book... Then, I knew that it was so! Some weird magic ingredients, a man who burns dead bodies, many horrible deaths(really gross!)... Some sentences are just too scary that I can't even read them aloud! However, this is still a good novel, as there are not many spooky parts after all. Young kids may feel scared while reading some parts of the book though.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


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