The Phantom Isles

The Phantom Isles

4.5 2
by Stephen Alter

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When three sixth-graders break into the town library to read aloud from a book of sorcery, little do they know they are about to raise the dead. The spirits they conjure are trapped within the pages of library books, and must now rely on the children and their determined librarian to set them free.


When three sixth-graders break into the town library to read aloud from a book of sorcery, little do they know they are about to raise the dead. The spirits they conjure are trapped within the pages of library books, and must now rely on the children and their determined librarian to set them free.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Once you've seen a ghost, everything around you looks a little bit different." Readers will feel like they have in fact seen ghosts thanks to a clever design trick that helps to elevate Alter's memorable ghost story, his first book for young people. Three middle-school friends, Courtney, Orion and Ming, poke around the restricted section of the town library, digging for a book called "The Compleat Necromancer" by a Prof. Hezekiah T. Osgood. They learn of the nation of Prithvideep, six islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean where Osgood, a scholar selected to study its people, and his family went in 1914. Shortly thereafter, the three friends discovers the ghosts of Prithvideep's long-dead residents, staring out at them from the pages of various volumes (pictures of the ghosts also stare out at readers, faintly printed on the appropriate pages of this very book). Together with the town librarian they set out to free the ghosts of Prithvideep—and in the process, they learn that Dr. Osgood was not the benevolent man he appeared to be. The author devotes entire chapters to the history of Prithvideep, and excerpts from faux–magazine articles tracing the story of the Osgood expedition plus footnotes give the tale an authentic feel. Action-starved readers may grow a bit impatient with all the background material, but lovers of atmospheric chills will embrace this tasteful bit of haunting. Ages 10-14. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Mildred Hart
The combination of children who love books with mysteries and libraries is irresistible and in this title holds the reader through to the last page. Courtney, Orion, and Ming, the heroes of this fantasy adventure, have discovered that they can get into their town library after it is closed and read the books that have restricted circulation. The librarian Alma Parker is a kindred spirit, ready to do almost anything to encourage reading; their classroom teacher Roberta Hokum is a stereotype of an unbending, unimaginative ruler of her domain. The story shifts from reality to fantasy and from past tense to present with ease; the children's encounters with library ghosts are exciting but non-threatening. Ghostly illustrations effectively increase the feeling of apprehension that a good ghost story evokes, and the mystery continues to the last page: "Lla retfa gnidne yppah a eb dluow ereht ebyam."
School Library Journal

Gr 4–6
When three New England sixth graders discover ghosts hidden inside books in their local public library, they enlist the help of the librarian and unravel the means by which the spirits were trapped. An evil scientist imprisoned them in the early 1900s on a fictional island in the Indian Ocean, and then brought the books to New England, where they were donated to the library upon his death. Several halftone illustrations appear in the section in which the ghosts are first introduced, giving the look of a face peering out from the text, which adds a creepy touch. The subplot involves the children's censorship-happy teacher who wants all unpleasant books removed from the library. While based on an interesting concept, the story is riddled with confusing touches. The ghosts speak English backwards, but are from an island where it is not spoken. One of the books involved contains a reference to nuclear weapons, but it would have been published in the 1930s at the latest. A laugh-out-loud-funny joke requires an understanding of Voltaire's Candide . Flashbacks to the deaths of the spirits are included in the text and are occasionally brutal, though not graphic. The use of present tense to tell their backstories yields fairly confusing results. While there is an inclination to advocate for a book that has a strong anticensorship librarian as a main character, this book misses the mark.
—Kristin AndersonCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Middle-schoolers Courtney, Orion and Ming accidentally raise the long-dead spirits of Phantom Islanders entrapped by an early 20th-century scientist and carried away from their Indian Ocean home to Carville, Mass., where they've been hidden in books in the library's basement stacks. From the opening midnight break-in through the book-burning demonstration to the final hurried release of the captives, Alter sustains the suspense of this engaging ghost story. Although firmly set in a modern-day world with computers, copiers and sterile nursing homes, this has the air of an old-fashioned adventure, in which determined children, with the help of a sympathetic librarian, right an ancient wrong. Side stories of some of the spirits introduce the reader to their lost tropical world, an idyllic place populated by shipwreck survivors from around the globe. The pressure of Orion and Ming's determinedly positive sixth-grade teacher's efforts to ban books with unhappy endings adds humor as well as tension, allowing the librarian to remind readers of the importance of freedom of choice. Fresh and familiar-an entertaining read. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher

“[T]his has the air of an old-fashioned adventure. …an entertaining read.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[A] memorable ghost story…lovers of atmospheric chills will embrace this tasteful bit of haunting.” —Publishers Weekly

The Phantom Isles is creative and visually appealing, with stories within stories and images of arora watermarked on its pages. Told from several points of view, including the spirits trapped within the pages of obscure texts, The Phantom Isles succeeds as an entertaining, informative and engaging novel. ” — and

“It's the fun kind of scary book that is a great story for anyone. It also seems like just the kind of book that parents could read to their kids.” —

“The Phantom Isles by Stephen Alter has what it takes to become a children's classic, imbued with the type of found in other great children's literature like the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, or the books of Roald Dahl, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Fantastic Mister Fox” —

“This unique story is sure to catch the attention of even the most skeptical and dismissive of readers. …[C]ompletely engrossing and thoroughly satisfying right to the very last page.” —Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Meet the Author

Stephen Alter was raised in India. The author of seven books for adults, he is the former Writer-in-Residence in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT, and a recipient of a Fulbright grant. Island of the Phantoms is his first book for children. He currently lives in India with his wife, where he is researching his newest book for adults - a behind the scenes look at the world of Bollywood.

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Phantom Isles 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I never really believed in ghosts or spirits but this shows the ghosts of Prithvideep or Islas de las Fantasmas in a new way. I really liked it!
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Late one night Ming, Courtney, and Orion sneak into the town library to find a very curious book. The Compleat Necromancer contains a spell that can supposedly conjure the ghosts of the dead. The friends perform the spell and... nothing happens. Or so it seems.

The next day Alma, the librarian, notices books out of place. Stranger still is the face that looks out at her when she opens one of them. It seems to materialize on the page, and it appears to be looking right at her! And it's not the only face stuck in a book.

Slowly a mystery comes to the surface. It seems to center around a place called Ilhas dos Fantasmas, and a professor who went to live there for awhile a long time ago. If Ming, Courtney, Orion, and Alma can solve the mystery, they might be able to free the ghosts from their books. But, the clock is ticking, and the books might be in greater danger than any of them realize.

This is such a fun book, and such an original idea! I love that it tells the stories of the ghosts, as well as has their faces on the page. It makes the story so much more vivid. Plus it has a crazy teacher, who at first is almost funny then turns creepy. It's the fun kind of scary book that is a great story for anyone. It also seems like just the kind of book that parents could read to their kids.