REVIEW: The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

Before Penelope Lively wrote adult fiction, she wrote children’s fiction and she excels at both. She has won the Booker Prize with Moon Tiger, and been shortlisted on two other occasions – for The Road to Lichfield and According to Mark – and she won the Carnegie Medal for this masterpiece of children’s literature The Ghost of Thomas Kempe.

First published in 1973, this book really stands the test of time.

James, aged 10, and his parents and younger sister move into an old cottage on the outskirts of an English village.

James loves the house, his new bedroom under the eaves and the garden where he can explore, climb trees and excavate what has been buried in an old rubbish pit.

But in creating James’ bedroom out of a room that had been closed off, the ghost of Thomas Kempe is awakened and he is not particularly friendly and treats James as his servant.

James’ parents, his sister and even his best friend Simon don’t believe in ghosts and the only thing that can also sense his presence is the stray dog Tim who has adopted the family and moved in with them.

Thomas Kempe can’t be seen but he writes letters – mainly demanding or rude – and makes all sorts of trouble, the majority of which James is blamed for because there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who could be responsible.

James loses his puddings, his pocket money and spends much time being sent to his room because of Thomas Kempe’s antics and he is struggling to find anyone to help him out of his predicament.

This really is children’s fiction at its best. It’s believable, beautifully written and has the right amount of suspense and creepiness that a proper ghost story should have. A very worthy Carnegie Medal winner.

It’s fab. Give it to your children (then read it yourself).

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