Goldfish Ghost

illus. by Lisa Brown. 40p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626725072.
RedReviewStarK-Gr 3—In a droll twist on the typical "beloved dead pet" story, this one opens with a death—reimagined as an otherworldly birth—of a boy's pet goldfish. Born upside down and floating on top of his fishbowl, Goldfish Ghost, who remains in that position throughout, slowly drifts out of the boy's bedroom and along the idyllic seascapes of Cape Cod in search of companionship. The many shrieking seagulls pay him no heed, the busy vacationers already have friends and family, and the mass of deceased sea creatures floating above the ocean aren't quite Goldfish Ghost's scene. Eventually, the melancholic little specter finds a forever home in a lighthouse with the former lighthouse keeper, a grandmotherly presence who places him gently in the warm light that "once shone for sailors at sea." Unlike most picture books about death, this take is wholly unconcerned with the emotional repercussions felt by the pet's owner, and instead focuses squarely, and with deadpan charm, on answering one of life's most baffling and enduring questions: What happens when we die? And his answer is, perhaps surprisingly for the author of the delightfully dark "A Series of Unfortunate Events," rather comforting. Brown's signature India ink and watercolor illustrations add to the subtle tongue-in-cheek humor, depicting the titular former pet in stark black-and-white (with a single flat and staring eye) against the colorful blues, greens, and coral shades of the vacation town. As in her previous works (The Airport Book; Mummy Cat), relatable details and visual Easter eggs add depth and dimension to the setting and supporting cast of characters.
VERDICT Can a book about death and the afterlife be refreshing and funny? In the hands of Snicket and Brown, indeed it can. This oddball offering should find a welcome home in any picture book collection.

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