Allison's Book Bag

Elsbeth and the Call of Castle Ghostlies by J Bean and Chris Palmer

Posted on: September 5, 2014

Elsbeth and the Call of Castle Ghostlies by J Bean and Chris Palmer is the third volume in a series which has won regional awards. This particular Cape Cod Witch offering sometimes pulled me into another world with its adventurous plot and amusing characters. Other times unfortunately it threw me out of the story, because of its many random scenes and an overwhelming host of characters.

What starts out as a simple rivalry when neighborhood boys bump into Elsbeth and her friends during a stroll turns into a seafaring escapade which leaves everyone involved stranded in Scotland. After all of them borrow a yacht and join forces to search for treasure, the crew of young people find themselves in the middle of a sudden storm. If that isn’t terrible enough, even when the storm lets up, no one seems to be able to regain control of the yacht. It seems driven by mysterious forces onward and onward, though fog and wails, until finally a rock wall towers ahead and an anchor is dropped. It’s a premise worthy of Huckleberry Finn, the book which most inspired the Palmers.

The problem is there are so many undeveloped sidetracks that I felt more frustrated than scared. Just to list a few, there is the addiction of Elsbeth’s cat to peanut butter, her strange transport to Greenland where she’s informed of the plight of the polar bears, and later an encounter with porpoises who warn Elsbeth about selkies. While all these episodes could have potentially been used to heighten the tension of being lost at sea, none of them are effectively utilized. Elsbeth cat’s addiction could have resulted in the food being gone and everyone being forced to forage. Instead he simply gets fat and provides comic relief. If others had discovered Elsbeth missing, the strange transport could have caused angst among her friends. Instead the scene serves as a passionate but preachy plea for readers to help polar bears who are endangered because of their declining habitat. And the warning about selkies could have foreshadowed a dangerous encounter. Except the only real menacing threat to Elsbeth and her friends came in the form of a stock villain.

There are some well-developed characters such as Elsbeth, who seems like the girl next door to her friends but is actually from a long line of witches. Being young, Elsbeth is still learning how to use her powers, much to the consternation of those who need her help. Some of the latter even snub her and Elsbeth must push aside hurt feelings if she is to protect the heritage of her new Scottish friends. Oddly enough, I also enjoyed her cat. Besides having that strange peanut butter addition, he is fiercely loyal to Elsbeth and has a strong sense of pride which leads to conflict with an owl.

Unfortunately, I found it almost impossible to develop feelings one way or the other for the rest of the characters despite how often the Palmers dipped inside their heads. There simply were too many of them! All I can confidently tell you about the three girls are some clichés such as Amy acts sweet, Veronica loves to shop, and Lisa Lee talks like a nerd. It’s from her, readers will find out everything they might ever wanted to know about Cape Cod, Scotland, and environmental issues. As for the boys, there seem to be four but I can’t really be sure of their personalities. One of them seems arrogant and rich, another is Native American, maybe a third loves to eat, and perhaps the fourth is your typical scaredy-cat. But that’s only a guess, even after a careful reread.

For better or for worse, Elsbeth and the Call of the Castle Ghostlies kept bringing to mind the story of Whiteblack the Penguin by H.A. and Margaret Rey. In that particular tale, Running out of stories to share with his followers, Whiteblack the Penguin leaves home to explore the world. In doing so, he encounters more than enough adventures to inspire multiple yarns. That picture book is charming enough, but not one which would bear sustained readings, which is an apt way to describe my sentiment towards Elsbeth and the Call of the Castle Ghostlies.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?


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