May I Borrow Your Ghost?
A return to an ordinary happy family
May I Borrow Your Ghost? is the third book about the brothers Sil (10) and Geerten (9) and their little sister Mare (5), children who are as often naughty, rude and jealous as well as withdrawn, brave and immensely loyal. Selma Noort wrote the books because she saw a need for a children’s book about three children from a single family. Not only are the stories ‘a slice of (family) life,’ but they’re also so lively and fast-paced that from the very first page events seem to unfold as in a film.
Some stories are full of natural slapstick, as in the first when Mum takes her three youngsters to a sports shop. While Mum examines the children’s coats and sweaters on the sales racks, the boys try out a basketball and a skateboard and send a cardboard football player flying who knocks over an exercise bike which causes the collapse of a tent set up on imitation grass, like dominos tumbling over. Subtly and skillfully, Selma Noort then describes the dejected silence around the table that evening, after the storm of the day has subsided and Dad has bawled out the children.
Whether it’s the little accidents that happen around the house – as when Mum’s hand slips while cutting Geerten’s hair – or the fierce arguments out in the garden – when the boys kick over Mare’s witch’s cauldron of currant soup – , the writer knows how to turn the most ordinary family vicissitudes into gems of stories in which humour and gravity are carefully balanced. The children are fully three-dimensional: the boys are not only surly and rough, but they’re also endearingly sweet and affectionate. And when Gaarten goes to pick up his sister from flute lessons in the dark and freezing cold because Mum is sick and Dad’s still at work, he emerges a little hero. Even in the comical story of Dad becoming champion belly rubber at the town fair, the author is able to avoid clichés. That story has its own moving and funny ending: Dad and Mare are talking about the last time that Dad was belly-rubbing champ – six years ago, before Mare even existed. They whisper about how much they missed each other back then. Finally a return to an ordinary happy family in children’s literature, in a book that is both funny and touching. Selma Noort is a sensitive observer and a sublime stylist.
Lieke van Duin