The Ghost of Sifty Sifty Sam
By Angela Shelf Medearis
New York: Scholastic Press, 1997
In this book, as can be the case in scary stories, the spookiest part is the anticipation. We get worried about the suspense and get overwhelmed with fear of what happens next. Or as our character Chef Dan from The Ghost of Sifty Sifty Sam might say, we get caught up in a plot that thickens like standing fatback in a fry pan.
In this story, a brave chef takes up the challenge to spend the night in a haunted house. It is told that in this house lives a horrible ghost and anyone who can spend the night in the house without fleeing will rid the house of the ghost forever. To sweeten the deal, the realtor in charge of the house offers a hefty reward for anyone who can cleanse the property of its supernatural resident. Dan enters the haunted house hopeful and excited, with an armful of groceries to keep him cooking throughout the night.
The storyline builds rhythmically and quickly in this picture book. In the style of short stories like What Do You Come For? and Me Tie Dough-ty Walker! (both short folktales retold by Alvin Schwartz in Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark), the ghost of Sifty Sifty Sam appears piece by piece. With each turn of the page, we see a new incarnation of the spook and a more intense feeling of fear registers with our beloved chef. As we get closer and closer to seeing the entire ghost, the suspense builds and readers wonder what will be Chef Dan’s fate upon meeting the ghost in full form. While the first face-to-face meeting shows a cowering chef and a very intimidating ghost, readers will be surprised by Dan's craftiness as he appeases the spirit and the two forge a friendship in a light-hearted and silly climax.
The watercolor illustrations in this text do a wonderful job of representing the soul of both Chef Dan and Sifty Sifty Sam. Dan is wrapped in warm layers of whites, yellows, browns, and pinks. Sifty Sifty Sam is portrayed with cool blends of blues, whites, grays, and black. Throughout the book you will notice this contrast between the ghost and Chef Dan. This artistic element plays upon the underlying theme of the differences in the realm of the living and the realm of dead. Overall I think this was a fun and quick picture book that would be appropriate to share with children of varying ages.
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