While Fats and I have no difficulties finding picture books related to the circus/carnivale bit, finding really worthwhile paranormal-themed picture books poses more of a challenge. Thus, I was glad to find The Banshee by Eve Bunting and Illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully.
I’ve been fascinated with banshees. They seem more mysterious and ‘less-mainstream’ compared to vampires, witches, fairies and werewolves – yet they manage to scare you out of your wits with their wraith-like figures and their screaming keening wailing.
Described as an Irish legend, the banshee is defined in this picture book as such:
The ghost figure of a woman who wails or “keens” outside a house where there may be a death; an Irish superstition.
Shrieks in the Night. The picture book opens to a young red-haired boy who woke up in the middle of the night, moonlight whitening the room, as he strained and heard the unmistakable ‘Scree … Screee’ of … what else but a banshee? Apprehensive that it might be ominous of a probable death in the family, Terry bumbled into his parents’ bedroom, anxious about his younger brother, Liam, who is said to be the “delicate one” in the family – and what the screeching of the banshee could possibly mean for their family. Naturally, the wailing stopped just as soon as his mother woke up (seems like the adults’ natural skepticism and outright disbelief turns all paranormal things off) – and he is tucked in, yet again.
Shimmering Peacock Feathers and Facing One’s Fears. What probably worked best for me in this picture book is young Terry’s determination to protect his family despite his fear of the banshee:
She had on a long black robe, like a nun’s, only hers was made of cobwebs. Her face was nothing but bones, and Colin said she looked right at him, and her eyes were two black stones.
Even with such a frightening description, Terry braved the darkness, went out into the eerie night skies, and offered the shimmering blue peacock feather to appease the wailing banshee. It shows how big a heart this young Irish boy has as evident in his willingness to do just about anything to protect his loved ones.
On Irish Twangs and Shadowy Illustrations. My daughter and I like reading books aloud using different accents (British, Irish, Aussie, Indian, and of course Singaporean accent) – what struck me about this book was that the Irish voice did not seem to be consistent – an issue which was also raised in Kiss the Book’s review. I loved McCully’s watercolor illustrations though, and the shadowy feel of the entire book, albeit quite dark throughout. To know more about Eve Bunting, click here to be taken to a detailed biography of Eve Bunting by ReadingRockets.org, with a video interview to boot. You can find out more information about Emily Arnold McCully in her official website that can be found here.
The Banshee by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully. Clarion Books: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos were taken by me.