The Ghost of Howlers Beach (The Butter O'Bryan Mysteries, Book 1)

Jackie French

The Ghost of Howlers Beach (The Butter O'Bryan Mysteries, Book 1)
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The Ghost of Howlers Beach (The Butter O'Bryan Mysteries, Book 1)

Jackie French

Howlers Beach, 1932   

Butter O'Bryan lives in a Very Small Castle with his father and three aunts - Aunt Elephant, Aunt Cake and Aunt Peculiar. These aren’t their real names, of course, just as Butter’s father isn’t really called ‘Pongo’. And even though Butter is only twelve years old, and the grandson of one of Australia’s most successful Jam Kings, he is very aware of the hardship many people are experiencing.     

Butter has been told there are ghosts at the nearby isolated Howlers Beach, but are there? And how can the children Butter plays cricket with on the beach simply vanish? Who are these children and why do they refuse his help?   

Butter is certain they’re hiding a secret and he’s determined to uncover it.

Review

This remarkable adventure is set in the early 1930s when much of Sydney’s population was homeless, jobless, starving and living in squalor and abject poverty. But lovable twelve-year-old Butter lives in extreme privilege with his doting family. From the outside looking in, Butter appears incredibly fortunate, but all is not well; he grieves for his mother, longs for absent friends and questions the profound inequities in his community.

Of course, today’s children are unlikely to be familiar with the challenges of the Great Depression. Fortunately, they’re in the hands of Jackie French, a masterful storyteller!

When a scruffy three-legged dog drops a human skull at Butter’s feet, everything changes. Suspecting foul play, Butter’s mission to uncover the truth and solve the mystery leads him to an extraordinary and disturbing discovery.

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach tackles challenging themes – poverty, starvation, racism, and Indigenous dispossession – but never at the expense of the story. This is a moving yet extremely funny adventure with a gratifying ending. (And, luckily, it appears to be the first book in a series of mysteries.) Highly recommended for children ages 10+ and a wonderful read aloud for any family or classroom (especially for those who read the invaluable author’s notes).


Athina Clarke is the children’s book buyer at Readings Malvern.

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