The Grey Ghost
by Julie Hahnke
illustrated by Marcia Christensen
In 16th century Scotland, eleven-year-old Angus was out with the sheep when his family, members of the Macnab clan, were attacked and killed by the rival Campbell clan. The Campbells are bent on destroying all the clans and controlling the Scottish Highlands, and Angus finds himself alone in the wilderness. But when help arrives in the form of a pine marten and a goshawk, who are able to communicate mentally with Angus, he decides to take matters into his own hands and do what he can to help his clan.
The Grey Ghost is a short book that's a fairly easy read, although some of the words, including a few Scottish ones, may be challenging for some readers. The language and descriptions are lovely, without slowing down the pace of the story. The beautifully-detailed pencil sketches are an integral part of the story; they provide additional information not included in the words, and in some cases help the reader to understand what's happening.
The story is moving, as the losses Angus suffers are tragic, and there are themes of loyalty and leadership. Comic relief is provided by the goshawk, Yann, and the ever-hungry pine marten, Tethera, easily my favorite character in the story.
Angus doesn't try to take on the entire Campbell clan by himself; instead he sets out to accomplish achievable goals that, while still requiring significant risk and heroism on the part of the boy, are fairly believable. Angus is quite an appealing character. As he works towards his goals, displaying both heroism and compassion for the people of the land, Angus develops maturity, depth, and leadership that he has no idea he possesses.
With its illustrations and simple, humorous, and exciting story, I think that The Grey Ghost would be an appealing book for reluctant readers, although the language may be challenging for some. A few scenes, such as a severed head and a picture of a corpse with worms coming out of an eye socket, may be too intense for sensitive readers, although those same scenes will appeal to other readers.