I am a huge fan of Margaret Mahy and she doesn't disappoint with this junior novel. Brilliant language, a laugh aloud plot, perfectly shaped storytelling and a very satisfying conclusion.
Monty Merryandrew is a conventional boy, well sort of, but he has very unconventional parents. His mother is a champion jigsaw contestant and his father works as a government philosopher at the Department of National Despair. In their backyard is an old car inhabited by a ghost called Lulu. I love the way Margaret Mahy leads the reader into the realisation that Lulu is a ghost. Listen to this scene.
"I'm never hungry"
"I miss the idea of breakfast"
"I loved eating when I was alive"
"It's so boring haunting a car that's never going to be driven ever again."
His mother does not believe in ghosts and she is sure sending Monty to a new, more sensible school, will cure him of this idea. That very day Monty arrives at the Brinsley Codd School for Sensible Thought. As he enters the office of the school principal - Ms Margiold Principal, he begins to sneeze. This is a sure sign there are ghosts in this school but of course no one believes him.
After a disastrous morning with his new and awful teacher, the aptly named Mr Sogbucket, Monty finally meets the ghost. It is none other than school founder Brinsley Codd. Brinsley sets a task for Monty. He wants to know the fate of three precious school students. Scrunley Filcher, Avery Crispins and Jessica Frogcutlet. These naughty children were sent to him to be punished but instead "I would talk to the naughty children in a sympathetic but sensible way, and then I would ... tell them to pretend to cry, so everyone would think they had been punished for their misdeeds."
Here is a Kirkus quote :
Along with a crisp pace, an abundance of silly words and silly names, and a cast of children who save the day by showing more sense than the adults can muster,
Here are some of the wonderful words :
squidlets, sausosnack and nipkin - these are foods
Prang Street, Impact Drive and Bowled-over-backwards Boulevard - street names near Monty's home
Triumph Podmore and Neroli-Pompas - vintage cars
Firkins of Jigjag Fizz "a wholesome drink much loved by jigsaw puzzle champions"
I was pleased to see the word horrakapotchkin. Margaret Mahy uses this delicious word in her book The Three Legged cat.
Here is an alternate cover for a newer edition of The Horribly Haunted School but (yes you have guess this) of course this marvelous book is out of print!