A review by ikuo1000
Ivy + Bean and the Ghost That Had to Go by Annie Barrows


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

Two stars seems too low, but in Goodreads it's labeled as "it was ok", and that is how I feel about the book. (On Amazon, "It's OK" translates to 3 stars.)

First off, I have to give this book praise because it is the first chapter book that Isabelle read all on her own, cover to cover. She got it as a gift, and though she was at first indifferent to it, once she picked it up, she read the entire book in one sitting. She is now very excited to go back and read book one - this book is the second in the series - and the rest of the series, too. The reading level is exactly appropriate for her, and clearly she finds the content amusing.

I want to say, too, that I really liked Ivy and Bean's teacher, Ms. Aruba-Tate. I thought she was kind, yet firm, and just what an elementary school teacher should be.

So, why do I think it was "just okay"? Basically, I don't like the way the two girls behave. I'm probably over-thinking it, but here goes...

Sure, Ivy and Bean's antics appeal to young readers. But I just can't get over the worry that maybe Isabelle will pick up some bad ideas, with disastrous results. Yes, Ramona Quimby (whose books I love) behaved badly, too, but usually, by the time she got to be school-aged, she was well-intentioned, though sometimes misguided or misunderstood. Ivy and Bean, on the other hand, cause trouble even though it seems like they should know better.

Early on in the book, I was appalled that Bean physically tackled another student to the ground and then smashed plums into his hair - at school! Okay, I can see the humor in the situation, and in the book, Bean and the other student were simply told to "work it out." Yet, in these days of hyper-awareness regarding bullying, most schools have a zero tolerance policy, and if something like that happened in real life, Bean would be sent to the principal's office for sure, maybe even suspended. Bean also uses phrases like "shut up" - which I work hard to get my kids NOT to say - and she cuts her sister's hair in her sleep. Ivy, though sweet and quiet on the outside, misuses her active imagination and tells a tall tale at school about a ghost in the bathroom, eventually leading to another girl literally being scared to tears. She does end up feeling bad about getting in trouble, yet she doesn't learn the lesson about not spreading false stories. She continues to adhere to her ghost story, causing even more trouble. In the end, she basically gets away with her antics, never having to take responsibility for the mess she made in the bathroom.

Another issue I have with this book is that I think it unnecessarily exposes young readers to ideas they may not be ready for. First of all, there is this talk of ghosts and death and graves. I actually didn't mind it so much, personally - I know Isabelle can handle that kind of talk - but I can imagine that maybe there are other first graders who might not be ready for a book about ghosts and the underworld. Second, the girls at one point want to make a blood oath. Even though they didn't go through with it, I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the idea that my young daughter now knows that some people will actually consider purposely making themselves bleed just for fun. Finally, when Ivy makes her ghost-begone potion, she finds that "ponie" is an ingredient, but she doesn't have a "pony", so she glosses over it. Now, I am a mother who encourages my daughter to look up words she doesn't know. Luckily, Isabelle doesn't use Google on her own yet, but one quick search tells me that "ponie" is slang for a "sexual female being that dances in a weird yet shexual [sic] manner". "Shexual" is apparently another slang word that means especially sexual. Not exactly the types of words I want my first grader exposed to...

I ended up spending a lot of time talking with my daughter about the difference between "book life" and "real life", and how things that happen in book life are entertaining and funny, partly because they are things we would NEVER do ourselves in real life, or else we'd get in REALLY big trouble.

In the end, I am allowing Isabelle to read the rest of the books in this series, but I plan to read the books, too, so I can talk to her about specific concerns, if any more should arise.