The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke
The year is 1844. The place is Lyttleton, a small and bustling harbour town. Elsie is waiting for the fish to bite. She has her reasons for coming down to the waterfront so often, the main one being the memory of the lost boys. She was one of the last people to see them alive, and now she's haunted by their fate.
When the opportunity arises for Elsie to follow in their footsteps over the Bridle Path, and put their ghosts to rest, she doesn't hesitate. But no one knows the weather is about to change.
So begins The Ghosts on the Hill, a fantastic new book for upper primary school readers, about eight to 13 years old.
Based on actual events, the story encompasses the death of Davie and Archie on the Port Hills of Christchurch in 1883. The book also includes newspaper reports from the time to flesh out the story. Memorial pillars for the boys can also be found along the Rāpaki Track to this day.
Author Bill Nagelkerke is a masterful storyteller, and the book is perfectly pitched for its audience. He deftly weaves te ao Māori and tangata Tiriti stories together, adding extra layers and meaning to the ghost story.
While it has the potential to be quite dark and scary, Nagelkerke understands his readers, possibly due to his former roles as a children's librarian. It is a sad story, but it is also full of love, emotion and understanding.
I can see this book being a huge hit in schools, with older readers being inspired to dive into the history of their area and create similar stories. It can be hard to find middle grade stories that reflect New Zealand, but The Ghosts on the Hill helps plug that gap.
The short book also makes for a great read aloud, and one that adults will enjoy too. Short punchy chapters and age-appropriate language, combined with an interesting storyline and fast-moving plot, will help capture the attention of reluctant readers.
The Ghost on the Hill is a brilliant book from one of New Zealand's great storytellers, weaving fact and fiction into a ghost story full of courage.
Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell
The Cuba Press, RRP $22.