I love Shirley Hughes’ illustrations! Here she has taken her skills at drawing charming, old-fashioned pictures and matched them with memories from her own childhood in Liverpool in the 1930s, to come up with this story about Bronwen and Dylan and what happened on Christmas Eve.
The young brother and sister live with their widowed mother, who takes in washing to make ends meet. It’s a hard life, but their mother is skilled at making her children feel happy, despite all they lack. She often has to leave the children alone, and this Christmas Eve she has to go out one last time. On no account are they allowed to speak to the O’Rileys next door.
But when it seems there might be a ghost in the wash house, they need to talk to someone. And Mrs O’Riley happens to be the someone they find.
It’s an early version of how we often mistrust those who are not like us. In this case it’s chapel versus catholics, where today it might be other religions or skin colour.
I found myself getting quite nostalgic about a place and a time I never experienced. It’s the way Shirley remembers what Liverpool was like, over 70 years ago, which makes this book so much more than a mere children’s story. It’s a piece of history, and it taught me so much more than a history book would have done. And I’m very glad I don’t have to do my washing like that.
The Christmas Eve Ghost is a beautiful and low-key tale of Christmas past.