Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse belongs to a new breed of children’s book. Its seamless double-act of words and art by Chris Riddell is an indication of the depth in storytelling that it offers readers; each page is rich with the story’s magic, and that’s captivating. While turning the purple-tipped pages of this ornate hardback I realised that everything about the book promises integrity to a young readership. From the substantial weight of it, to the immersive artwork, to a bonus miniature story hidden in the back cover – the book handles its audience and their imaginations with sincerity. In essence, I think that this adventure of Goth Girl is about taking children seriously.
Ada Goth is our young protagonist and the only child of Lord Goth, a man bereft of his beautiful tightrope-walking wife, Parthenope, after an accident involving lightning on the rooftops of their home, Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Ada is taught to be “heard and not seen” and make herself scarce lest her similarity to her mother remind her father of his grief, and as such Ada spends most of her life being listened for, but not listened to. When one day the ghost of a mouse (called Ishmael) materialises in her room and asks for help moving on (and, incidentally, “moving on” the dangerously unchecked mousetrap that introduced him to his maker), Ada is launched into a journey that encounters sirens and centaurs and harpies, oh my, trapped inexplicably within her home. With the help of some friends and an unlikely ally in her new governess of the vampiric ilk, Ada discovers that a dark plot is afoot. To stop it, someone’s gotta speak up.
I find the fact that Goth Girl grapples with some grave topics, such as approaching authority or dysfunctional family dynamics, while remaining so buoyant and whimsical to be the most enchanting aspect of it. Ada and Ishmael share the same problem; they are small people with big things to say, and intimidating obstacles shushing them. This book encourages readers to ask for help when they need it while reminding them to trust their own moral compass, even when the chips are down.
Ada Goth’s world is offered to the reader as a celebration of oddity, full of colour and eccentricity. Characters like the author Mary Shellfish or the governess Jane Ear, and plants such as the Mimsy Borogrove nod to classic gothic literature with an authorial wink, and the wonderland of detail in every page proves how much care went into crafting this haven for the discerning young reader. Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a book with singular peculiarity and backbone – just like the readers who love it.
“Ada” illustration and words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing