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Mortina (Ghoulia) Books 1, 2, 3

Probably the most spot-on release of the season: the third book of the fantasy early chapter book series Mortina (translated as Ghoulia, in English), was published in Italian last week by Mondadori and Book 1 was released in English last month, in time to be featured in all Halloween booklists :)

Mortina is a girl, but she is different, as she is a zombie: she lives in Crumbling Manor (Villa Decadente) with her Auntie Departed (Zia Dipartita) and her albino greyhound named Tragedy (Mesto). In Book 1 she ventures out of the manor on the night of Halloween to meet the children living in the village nearby: as she doesn't need a costume it's just the perfect occasion to make new friends!
When the truth is revealed, after the shock the children welcome their new pale, purplish friend in the group and will start to visit Mortina secretly to play.

In Book 2 Mortina's new children all arrive at Crumbling Manor with the invitation to a party, which Mortina knows nothing about. In the meantime Auntie departed mysteriously disappears, while her annoying cousin Dilbert suddenly arrives to visit, also after receiving an invitation to the same party.
The children start a serious investigation, looking at every dark and dusty corner of Crumbling Manor, until and will finally find Auntie Departed, who had been captured by her nasty, quite lively ivy plant.

In Book 3 the colour palette embraces colder winter colours, black, dark red and white, as Mortina is involved in an amusing investigation about the identity of a mysterious young ghost wandering at Crumbling Manor on the eve of pluperfect New Year's (Capodanno trapassato).

Barbara cantini creates a gothic, dark imagery combining Tim Burton-style characters and atmosphere,  stories inspired by Mystery games (hello Cluedo) and the irony of the Addams Family writing a super-amusing story for Primary children, with incredibly rich, extensive and entertaining illustrations. A special note goes to the work done by the translator Anna Golding, as this was not at all an easy one to render in English.

The recommended age is 6+  and *not* 4-8 as stated on Amazon product page. Although I usually do tend to offer some 6+  titles to my 4 year old, this isn't the case for various reasons. 
Firstly, the books are full of word games and irony around the theme of death which a pre-schooler won't completely understand, as the ability to appreciate irony is something that children develop later in life. 
Secondly, the illustrations are fully enjoyable and entertaining when explored independently as there are many visual details and text in addition to the main story. 
Lastly, I believe Fantasy doesn't suit young children because of its fictional content. Pre-schoolers are still busy defining the limits between reality and imagination, and fiction can easily feed this confusion, resulting in over-thinking or nightmares.
I always say that parents should be more careful about the stories they read to their children at bedtime.
Although Mortina is a truly fun read (I myself enjoyed quite a lot:), it's full of potentially upsetting concepts, including dark and dusty rooms, zombies with detachable body parts resurrected from the graves and ghosts. Young children can't really understand the concept of death in first place, nor elaborate it to the point of wanting to make jokes on it. But a 7 or 8 year old child will start to fully enjoy the genre.

So, what about Halloween? [skip this paragraph if you wish to skip the preach:)]

That's another area of discussion that I had to face since moving from Italy to the UK, where Halloween is indeed celebrated by everyone (although not reaching the American Halloween-madness) and the British take on it is quite dark.
We still don't celebrate Halloween for various reasons, which I will list here, aware that my take on it will be highly unpopular:) Seriously, people love Halloween so much that they refuse to stop and think about it. I just try to survive the season ignoring it.
On one side I don't feel it's a sensible decision to encourage children to go trick or treating, even if accompanied, even if it's once a year, as I see it as a way to normalise the act of approaching strangers. On the other side I find it difficult to explain the tradition behind Halloween to young children for the reasons above, and I would never ask my daughters to dress up as a monster, a zombie or whatever fictional character, when they can't fully understand what she is doing and the meaning of it. I am quite strict on keeping a respectful approach on this and I never dressed them up at all (not even funny, animali-ish costumes)  when they were babies and then toddlers. That's something adults mostly do for their own enjoyment.
But they are free to explore imaginative play and dress up with silk cloths instead of with ready made costumes :)

This series will make a perfect gift for older children, who will devour it in one breath, giggling from the couch on a winter rainy afternoon.
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Mortina e l'amico fantasma [4th October 2018] available here
Mortina, una storia che ti farà' morire dal ridere [17th October 2017]
Ghoulia, making new friends can be scary [28th August 2018] English language edition published by Abrams Books available here
Mortina e l'odioso cugino [20th March 2018] available here
by Barbara Cantini
Italian edition published by Mondadori
Reading age: 6+
Themes: Fantasy, Zombies, Halloween




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