Books GB Challenges Whodunit Reading Challenge Young Adult (YA) Literature

A [Ghastly] Family by Choice: Over my Dead Body by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

I learned about the Klise sisters through Blooey of Bookmarked when she blogged about the Klise sisters in her Regarding The… post here. Since this is exactly the kind of thing that catches my fancy, I looked the Klise sisters up in the community library, and lo-and-behold, I found quite a few titles that fit right into our Mystery/Whodunit theme. This book also won the Junior Library Guild selection for 2010 (source here).

Whodunit Theme for May/June

I also discovered in glee that the Regarding the… series are all about finding missing persons, solving puzzles, and the like. Hopefully, I find the time to review at least one for our theme this May/June.

Format/Layout – Overall Vibe of the Book. I was reading this book while I was literally ‘killing time’ waiting for my flight from Berlin back to Singapore. I managed to finish it in around three hours tops. It’s a fairly quick read and it introduces a lovely [ghastly] family to the readers. I realize that this happens to be the second book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series, yet it managed to convey a stand-alone feel to the book which is great. 

Seymour Hope and his cat named Shadow and Ignatius B. Grumply can be seen in this spread

The layout actually made me think that this would have been a perfect YA novel for our Message in a Bottle theme last January/February. The book is made up of a compilation of letters that the characters have written to each other, newspaper clippings, invoices, admission forms to mental institutions and orphanages – which actually reminded me as well of the series of picture books written and illustrated by Mark Teague (Dear Mrs. La Rue). The pastiche format, the beautiful illustrations, the twists and turns of the narrative are all effectively combined to produce a book that would be enjoyed and loved by children who are between seven to twelve years of age.

Meet the [Ghastly] Family or the Meeting of Strange/Beautiful Minds. While the entire book is lighthearted and extremely witty and playful in nature – it does speak

43 Old Cemetery Road – image from Junior Library Guild – click on the image to be taken to the websource.

of a child who has been abandoned by cruel and indifferent professor-parents who were more concerned to document the paranormal and travel the globe attending conferences related to their favorite research topic. They moved into 43 Old Cemetery Road, a 32 1/2 room house in Ghastly Illinois with their son, Seymour Hope – after hearing rumours that the place is haunted by Olive C. Spence, the owner of the house since 1874. Olive has vowed to haunt the town of Ghastly Illinois out of revenge because all of her manuscripts (hundreds of mystery stories at that) have been consistently rejected by publishers. There is nothing worse than the ghost of a horribly frustrated unpublished writer as could be seen in this quirky and extremely intelligent novel.

In the absence of Seymour’s parents, Ignatius B. Grumply (who rented the Spence Mansion during the summer that Les and Diane Hope abandoned Seymour) has ‘inherited’ Seymour – acquiring him indirectly through a ‘rental lease.’ And so a small group of man, woman, and child have been formed by serendipity, then by choice. Ignatius is smitten with Olive’s ghost who is like a mother to Seymour. Simply goes to show that one can choose one’s family.

Burning of Books, Halloween Banned. However, as much as we try to simplify exceedingly complex things (such as acquiring a child along with a house – kind of like a package deal) – ‘other’ people have certain expectations in terms of propriety – and what may be deemed as proper and correct according to society’s eyes. And this raging superego can be sen ensconced in the character of Mr. Dick Tater (nice ring to it, huh?) who happens to be the tyrannical director of IMSPOOKY (International Movement for the Safety & Protection Of Our Kids & Youth – that was truly a mouthful).

Seymour Hope’s illustrations – such an artist!

Dick Tater immediately launched an investigation to get to the bottom of the mysteries behind 43 Old Cemetery Road – leading him to institutionalize Ignatius in 1 Cuckoo Lane, and our young artist Seymour in an orphanage. And as is the wont of most dictators errr…. Dick Taters in this world, he has declared with utmost decisiveness that ghosts do not exist, ghost stories bad for children, Halloween a nuisance – and instead of trick-or-treating, there should be a ritualized book burning of ghostly tales on October 31.

Book Burning as dictated by Dick Tater.

Again, while the mood of the book is playful, parents and teachers could also share with their own children how such burning of books actually happened once-upon-a-time and how tragic it could be. Imagine a world without the written word – ghost stories or not. I was actually reminded of the YA novel The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick which we also reviewed. It has also taken me back to my recent trip in Berlin where I saw a photo/poster documentary along the Berlin Wall which details this kind of book burning that happened several years back:

Book Burning – very tragic indeed.

Brilliance that is Word Play. I believe that the strength of the book lies in its intelligent word play that speaks to the adult in the child and the playful child in the adult. While there is a mystery that needs to be unraveled (unsigned letters, box keys, missing manuscripts) – it cleverly weaves words in quirky ways that would make the reader really think twice whether there is anything beyond the obvious (e.g. the Judge’s name is Claire Voyant; a neighbor-around-town named as Fay Tality) – and more often than not, there is, and delightfully so!

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Regarding the… Klise Sisters. Kate Klise, the writer of the book, lives and writes on her 40-acre farm in Missouri. Aside from writing novels for children, she is also a correspondent for People Magazine and has just recently created her first musical play entitled (Really) Grim Fairy Tales which opened in 2001. M. Sarah Klise, on the other hand, illustrates and paints in her studio in Berkeley. She also teaches drawing to adults and children in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Both were born and raised in Peoria, Illinois (source here). To know more about the sisters, click here to be taken to their official website.

43 Old Cemetery Road, Over my Dead Body by Kate Klise and Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston/New York, 2009. Book borrowed from the community library.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

10 comments on “A [Ghastly] Family by Choice: Over my Dead Body by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

  1. I loved the bio about the two sisters on their official website, makes me think I would enjoy other work by them. The puns had me grinning immediately and the variety of written documents used is intriguing – who would think of putting an admission form to a mental institution into a kid’s book? Really original. This book made me think immediately of the Lemony Snicket series. I am hoping Dick Tater’s rotten proposals are thwarted?


  2. I am closing my eyes while scrolling down because I want to read this series. But I only have book 2! Boo hoo. Must keep looking. Last month I found a hardcover of Regarding the Bathrooms, and I was ecstatic. No luck in yet finding any other titles though.


    • I know – this one is Book Two – last time I checked someone else borrowed Book One – but it’s still well and good, there seems to be a stand-alone quality to each of the book in the series. =)


  3. I will definitely look for this book. Love the format and the wordplay (clever wordplay is what made me love Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and I’ve been on the lookout for books that are big on that ) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak I think may have, in a way, depicted the book burning in Berlin that you mentioned. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 also comes to mind. And you’re right, book burning is horrifying. I also love the fact that Seymour Hope, in his illustrations, mentioned that: “At least the book mobile comes once a week.” I have a thing for bookish characters. Haha 🙂


    • I am sure that there are some book stores in the Philippines which carry the Klise sisters’ titles – I’d definitely visit Books for Less as soon as I visit.

      I have the book thief with me for the longest time, but do not have the courage and the fortitude to open it as yet (I am sure it would eat up much of my spirit – so better reserve for moments when I can indulge in those). Yes, Seymour Hope is wonderful. He’s a master illustrator as well!


  4. Pingback: Saying Goodbye to the First Half of the Year, Our June Round-Up |

  5. hi im scarlet i love our 2 book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  6. i love it sooo much!


  7. Pingback: Book Talk Tuesday: Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth «

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