Poor Leo! He just wants his new tenants to feel welcome and at home in HIS house, but they are so disturbed by Leo they order every form of ghost exterminator they can think of to come over and exorcise him from the premises. In Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, Leo only wanted his new house guests to like him when he brought them mint tea and honey toast, but they only said mean things… while Leo was listening. Leo decides if they want him out so badly, he will leave and find a new home; however, this is not as easy as Leo thinks.
It never is as easy as we think when we hear people say mean and cruel words to our good intentions. Christian Robinson has illustrated this effectively with the use of blues, blacks and gray throughout most of the book. Leo is sad and lonely as he has always been a house ghost and is forced to experience the new and unusual. Nothing is the same. The city scenes and the people Leo encounters are wonderfully drawn with facial expressions depicting the tone of anger, sadness and blissful ignorance. Leo is forlorn and feeling complete loss when he meets a girl coloring on the sidewalk whose name is Jane.
It is through Jane (and maybe a little bit of her blue smile) we get to see friendship can be found when all seems lost. Jane’s parents think Leo is imaginary and he knows he cannot tell Jane his true identity for fear of scaring her family as well. When Leo saves the day by locking up a thief in the night–and since an imaginary person cannot lock up a thief–Jane has to ask about Leo’s identity. Leo has to confess he is a ghost–which is just excellent because Jane would love to have a ghost friend and not an imaginary one.
I agree with Jane! It is much better to have a real friend than an imaginary one. AND it is even better to have a friend who treats us with respect and saves us from the cruel world. Both of these little people save each other and this is what we need children to learn. The world can be cruel. People can say and do mean things, but don’t give up hope. There is always someone who is nice and will be your friend.
In the classroom: I think the message in this book could be for everyone. Without the pictures telling me what mood to select, I was blue the minute the house guests said mean things about Leo’s good intentions. The inside cover says, ” Most people cannot see ghosts. Can you?” Excellent question Mr. Barnett. All of us could benefit from meeting a ghost of Leo’s nature every once and awhile.
I selected first grade as the target audience with my CCSS review. This is an excellent story for the young mind to retell. They can easily select key details from the text and demonstrate their understanding of the emotions found throughout. There is a clear and critical message/lesson to be found in this cleverly illustrated book. All of these components listed above meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.2
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle Books | 9781452131566 | August 25, 2015)