Friday, April 04, 2008

Ghosts of childhood

Everyone has a favorite childhood book that you never forget despite the intervening years and which, once you see the cover again, brings back ineluctable memories. One of mine was Peggy Bacon's The Ghost of Opalina. I read this book in 3rd or 4th grade, at a time when I would read anything with the word "mystery" "ghost" or "witch" in the title.
(Another favorite from that time: The Witch of Blackbird Pond.)

I recently went on a personal quest to find this book at one of the few places it is still available to read: a university library. Turns out the book only had one printing, which was sold exclusively to school libraries, and now it's on sold on the web for anywhere from $80 for a ratty copy to hundreds of dollars for a copy in pristine condition. Many copies have been lost or stolen from libraries, so I was afraid I wouldn't find it at this small Georgia university town library, but there it was! What a thrill it was to see it again!

This particular title was part of a personal collection that had been donated to the library. Most of universities' childrens literature collections are donated, lovingly collected by private visionaries (sometimes school teachers or librarians) who saw the value of children's books when no one else did and went to the trouble of preserving what were considered throwaways.

It was just as funny and entertaining as I remember! Which just goes to show that the truly great stories of childhood should just as enjoyably be read by adults.

I don't believe in age-demarcations for reading--some books may be better encountered at a certain time in your life but most good books are timeless and ageless. My parents never censored my reading and once I began to read I read everything within my reach. This omnivorous reading habit has continued, though I must say there have been some exceptions. I've never liked the Harry Potter novels, for example. But then again, I never was a big fantasy-lover, with a few remarkable standouts like Ghost of Opalina! I fell in love with science fiction at around age 10 and that took the place of old fantasy favorites such as the novels of Madeleine L'Engle (The Young Unicorns, A Wrinkle in Time series), Eleanor Cameron (The Court of Stone Children) and Philippa Pearce (Tom's Midnight Garden.)

UPDATE 2014:
The Ghost of Opalina


MoreMoosetracks said...

Hi. I was doing a Google search for "The Ghost of Opalina" and your blog came up. I too am a big fan of the book so rich with the history of one cat, one house and the many families who called the house home.

I didn't realize how impossible the book would be to find until I began to look a couple of months ago. The few that are out there are very expensive.

I wanted to let you know that I purchased this book sometime between 1976 and 1980. I had checked the book out at my school library while in elementary school in Pennsylvania. I moved to North Carolina while still a teenager and missed the book and went looking for it in my local public library to no avail. Somehow, I found a bookseller and vaguely remember ordering the book and picking it up locally at the mall. I want to say it was "Daltons" a national chain but can't be sure.

Perhaps the first printing all went to the libaries and other printings were sold to the public. The book was brand new when I received it. Unfortunately, it was ruined a few years later, much to my dismay now.

A group is now attempting to republish "The Ghost of Opalina" (Two Lakes Press- and I hope they are successful.


Nebula said...

Thanks for leaving a comment about _The Ghost of Opalina!_ It's nice to hear from a fellow fan of the book! (I'm also originally from PA.) I started looking for it through and when I realized that no local library had it, I went to

There, I read stories about people who had paid $700 for it and cried when they opened the box! Well, I loved the book but I couldn't afford $700! (Recently I've seen copies going for $400+--I can't afford that amount, either!)

I did discover recently that the Two Lakes press was going to reissue it (but thanks for telling me about it) and I put myself on their email alert list.

It was such a unique book--the way the different periods of history were spanned and the personality of the cat was so memorable! I have a white cat who is just like her! I should have named her Opalina but I had no idea she was going to become so Opalina-like!