Review: The Ghosts in the Castle by Zetta Elliott

Paperback, 114 pages
Published 2017 by Rosetta Press
Source: Author

Zaria has dreamed of England for as long as she can remember—according to the many novels she’s read, everything magical happens there! When her grandfather suffers a stroke, Zaria and her mother head to London to help care for him. Zaria reads fantastic tales to her grandfather every afternoon, and she’s thrilled to discover that her cousin Winston shares her love of wands, wizards, and mythical creatures. But Zaria soon finds that life in London is actually quite ordinary—until she goes on a day trip to nearby Windsor Castle. There Zaria meets two extraordinary ghosts who need help finding their way back to the African continent they once called home.

Ghosts in the Castle at the same time as I was reading Why I No Longer Speak to White People About Race which is concerned with race politics especially in UK. As the official synopsis reveals, the main character finds herself in London with her England-born mother, helping her grandfather pack up and move to a care home. It is Zaria’s first time in London and while she may be comfortable at home in Brooklyn, in London she is out of her depth.

Her time in London is not spent as she had envisioned it as her mother is busy taking care of Zaria’s grandpa. However, once Zaria’s aunt and adopted cousin come over, things start looking up and Zaria is able to get some sightseeing done. For such a slim book, The Ghosts in the Castle packs a punch. Eliot uses the story as a vehicle to introduce issues such as colonialism, racism, and slavery to name a few.

The titular ghosts, interestingly enough, present two different facets of colonialism which can lead to rich and rewarding discussions about colonialism and post-colonialism facilitated by an enthusiastic teacher. The book deals with class issues as well and rather than presenting sides to any issue in stark shades of black and white, Elliot portrays complexly rendered themes.

The Ghosts in the Castle presents a work that grapples with contemporary issues pertinent to children in ways that are accessible to children without once condescending to them. The book is not didactic–in fact, it encourages readers to question, wonder, and research. Above all, the book tells a story that is both engaging and entertaining. I recommend this book for both libraries and in-class use. It will be an invaluable resource for social studies teachers as well.