Wright's (Haunted Summer) lackluster ghost story about a haunted school comes off as more silly than eerie. New student Matt Barber quickly loses credibility with his peers when he tries to impress them with tall tales about his mother, who "does stunts" in the movies, and his "treasure hunter" father. Tagged as a liar, the fourth-grader has trouble convincing anyone he has seen a phantom teacher roaming the halls outside classroom 11. But the ghostschoolmarm Whipple who "died at her desk, correcting papers"is real, and she vows to haunt Matt until he improves his spelling. As unconvincing as the novel's strained plot is its cast of two-dimensional characters: a principal who shares Matt's spelling problem; a teacher who calls the Barber home regularly to report Matt's shortcomings; and an irritating apparition, who badgers students with the motto: "Try Hard. Then Try Harder." Fans of spooky school stories will find few thrills here. Ages 7-9. (Dec.)
- Patricia A. Timbrook
Like stepping into a nightmare. That's what new student and terrible speller, Matt Barbar decides it's like-that first time he encounters the ghost of Miss Whipple, the former elementary schoolteacher whose portrait hangs in the hall of Healy Elementary. What begins with a dare to Matt from some of his school peers, soon results in the scare of his life. He not only sees the icy figure of the elderly Miss Whipple; but she speaks to him in her shrieking, reprimanding voice. In the school. Alone. In the dark. But convincing anyone else of Miss Whipple's shadowy existence proves impossible for Matt. He tries telling his parents, his teacher, and, of course, the peers who dared him, about his encounter. No believers. He tries writing about the encounter in a story-writing contest, for which he places first because, as the visiting author says, Matt's story sounds so real. But still, no one believes Matt actually saw a ghost. The ten full-paged black and white scratchboard illustrations certainly add a greater dimension of spookiness to this believable ghost story. But, underneath all of the scary, spirit stuff, lie several timeless truths that the Miss Whipples everywhere still teach students. One: Learn how to read, write and spell well. Two: If you don't, your teacher's words may come back to "haunt you forever."
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5Matt Barber is the new kid in his fourth-grade class. His adjustment troubles are compounded by his poor spelling skills. He feels the need to impress his classmates with talk of his former big-city school and his "real" parents' professions as a treasure hunter and a stuntwoman. His classmates are not easily fooled, however, and Charlie, the class ringleader, and his gang begin to taunt and tease Matt with tales of a ghost living in the school. The ghost is a former Healy Elementary School teacher, Miss Whipple, whose pet peeve is poor spelling. She haunts those students, both past and present, who have not put forth the effort to improve. Wright adds levity to the story when it is revealed that the principal is Miss Whipple's former student, and she still has to "instruct" him from time to time. This is a solid ghost story woven around a number of universal subplots: making new friends, making an effort to improve oneself, and (one kids like to hear) the fact that grown-ups don't like to admit they are wrong. With just the right amount of scary moments wrapped around the theme of a young boy's lack of self-confidence, this story shows what you can do if you "try and then try harder." Rogers's full-page drawings reinforce Matt's feelings of frustration, fear, and isolation. Recommend this one to that new kid in town.Kit Vaughan, J. B. Watkins Elementary School, Midlothian, VA