I confess that I did not choose Jinnie Ghost to read because of the story by Berlie Doherty, although in general I admire her work. I chose it because of her collaboration with the artist and illustrator Jane Ray. Doherty and Ray have collaborated before on a series of re-tellings of traditional fairy stories. The book is so beautiful I have bought it in several iterations for my own pleasure, for schools, for gifts and for anyone I could think of who might love it as much as me.
Ray’s work is absolutely stunning. Rich and jewel like it is almost a tapestry in mixed media that you simply cannot take your eyes off of. Once seen, never forgotten, and if you are a fan of children’s books, you will undoubtedly have seen Ray’s work somewhere either for her own re-tellings of myth and bible stories, or for her collaboration with Michael Rosen over his version of Romeo and Juliet or her work on Jeanette Winterson’s wonderful; The King of Capri, to name but a few. She has had an incredibly prolific career both as an illustrator and an author.
This work is, it has to be said, not my favourite. I think the story, such as it is, is pretty weak. I think it’s more of a poem that sort of sometimes rhymes where the story is thin and the conceit has been done before, but rather better. It tells the story of Jinnie Ghost, who flies from house to house, infusing the dreams of children with wonder. It reads rather like the BFG meets Under Milk Wood, but without the humour or the edgy noir quality.
What saves it is undoubtedly the skill of Ray, who weaves her usual magic, creating dreamy undersea worlds, or grim Pienkowski style bogeymen, and who plays tricks with silhouettes and cut outs of houses within houses that make you think of rooms of self reflecting mirrors. Cats are dotted about as feline protectors, or night prowlers or sly shadows. There is always something to catch your eye and make you look deeper and deeper. There is always something that gives a richness to the story, that allows a way in to discuss something that for smaller children certainly, might not be clear from the phrasing of the words.
I would recommend this book for older children, given that it is not entirely straightforward and the question of Jinnie’s ghost hood and what she died from and who her parents were, and why she does this job, and where she goes etc, might well pop up. They did in our house anyway, and are still being hotly debated. The book does attempt to deal with the issue of children’s dreams and particularly how bad dreams can be turned into positive, magical experiences, but it does it rather clumsily, and the fact that the weaver of these dreams is a ghost herself might cause more anxieties than it allays.
Although this would work for boys and girls, the story seems rather more appealing to girls, but having said that, my son enjoyed it, and mostly for the beauty of the illustrations rather than the story.