Some books look boring even before you’ve opened them. Bland covers, rubbish titles, dodgy colour schemes… Now those ones are great for swatting flies and using as table-tennis bats, don’t get me wrong, but there are some books out there that are so eye-catchingly awesome they should be framed and hung up next to the Mona Lisa. We’re talking titles that whisper with magic, illustrations that leap off the page and fonts so funky they look like they belong to some secret code. And Moontrug’s been lucky enough to stumble across one of these books recently: Chris Riddell’s exquisitely packaged Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.
Moontrug’s always been a fan of Chris Riddell, the award-winning illustrator behind the much-loved Edge Chronicles books. I mean anyone who can draw like this…
…is onto something kind of mega. So when Moontrug heard Chris Riddell had illustrated AND written a book, she scurried down to the bookshop to check it out. Ada Goth lives at Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, the famous cycling poet Lord Goth. There are a host of servants, plenty of eccentric house guests and at least half a dozen ghosts, but Ada is lonely. She doesn’t have any friends her own age, and Lord Goth believes children should be ‘heard and not seen’, making her wear clumpy boots so he can always hear her coming. Then one night, a ghostly mouse called Ishmael appears in Ada’s bedroom and asks for her help. Soon, Ada finds herself joining forces with some young visitors, William and Emily Cabbage, as well as their friends in the Attic Club, to unravel a dastardly plot being hatched by Maltravers, the sinister indoor gamekeeper. Together, can they stop Maltravers before he unleashes his terrible plan on the day of Lord Goth’s famous metaphorical bicycle race and indoor hunt?
Even before the story has begun, the purple-edged pages and silver-foiled endpapers shimmer with Gothic possibilities. And the regular Footnote musings (notes by the actual severed foot of a famous writer who lost the aforementioned foot at the Battle of Baden-Baden-Wurttemberg-Baden) add to the book’s Gothic charm. Moontrug’s a big fan of interesting facts, and the Footnotes have them in abundance: ‘Ornamental deer are extremely expensive, having to be smuggled out of China in the pockets of explorers and diplomats all the way from the Emperor’s Palace in the Absolutely-Forbidden-I-Won’t-Tell-You-Again City.’ For more Moontruggy facts, click here.
The characters are beautifully drawn, hilariously named and brilliantly described. There’s the formidable Mrs Beat’em, Ghastly Gorm’s cook, who brews up ‘rhinoceros-foot jelly and baked sea-otter pie in a reduction of scullery maid’s tears’ while hurling instructions like some sort of enraged sea monster: ‘Agnes, fuddle those eggs! Maud, bevil the batter! No, not that batter, you idiot! Pansy, frizzle those pies until they’re piping hot, then frangellate the crusts – quickly, girl!’ The mythical creatures are so quirky and original they’re practically leaping off the page (with her Scottish roots, Moontrug has a soft spot for Hamish The Shetland Centaur), and even Ada Goth’s new friends aren’t exactly ordinary – William Cabbage has a way of blending in with his surroundings. ‘It’s called chameleon syndrome.’ Can you spot him?!
Ada is a true Moontrug, preferring to draw monsters instead of flowers: ” ‘I’ll draw a monster,’ said Ada, opening her crayon box. ‘From my imagination,’ she added quickly” and your heart immediately goes out to her as she strives to win her father’s affections. Tricky, though, when Ada reminds Lord Goth so much of his late wife, and he’d rather shoot at garden gnomes (with a blunderbuss) than engage with his lonely daughter. But all that could change if Ada can get to the bottom of the problems at the heart of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Goth Girl is a charming story and truggers aged 7 years and above will love it. And Riddell’s humorous twist on the 18th century Gothic tradition, with his alternative versions of literary and historical characters, (from architect Metaphorical Smith to writer Mary Shellfish), will appeal to any adult looking for a bit of fun. I mean, what’s not to like? Gorgeous illustrations, quirky footnote facts, mythical creatures and buckets of humour… Oh, and a secret pocket containing a teeny weeny book by Ishmael Whiskers.