43 Old Cemetery Road, Book One: Dying to Meet You. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Harcourt. $15.
Regarding the Bees: A Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating, and Other Sticky Subjects. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Sandpiper. $5.99.
Bad puns, convoluted plots, and a storytelling style that brings the epistolary novel firmly into the era of instant messaging – those are the ingredients of books by Kate and M. Sarah Klise. And the sisters have just started a new series that, while not as madcap as their Regarding the… books, promises to have plenty of its own twists, turns and corkscrew motions. 43 Old Cemetery Road is the address of a decrepit house in Ghastly, Illinois, that is rented for the summer by faded and writer’s-blocked author Ignatius B. Grumply (I.B. Grumply, that is) while owners Les and Diane Hope are on a ghost-debunking tour of Europe (“less hope” and “dying hope,” see?). The Hopes have left behind their 11-year-old son, who of course is named Seymour (“see more hope”), a cat named Shadow, and Olive C. Spence, the woman who built 43 Old Cemetery Road and just happens to have died 97 years before the story begins. So much for debunking ghosts. Other characters here are a real-estate agent who needs a sale and is therefore named Anita Sale, and a private detective named Frank N. Beans because – well, just because. The story is told in letters, occasional drawings and some on-screen computer messages, with everything done in different type styles; and there are occasional issues of The Ghastly Times, the local newspaper, included as well (the paper’s editor is Cliff Hanger, the town’s chief librarian is named M. Balm, one ad is placed by Shirley U. Jest, and so on – you get the idea). The basic plot has Grumply attempting to write No. 13 in his Bartholomew Brown “Ghost Tamer” series so he can retire some of the considerable debt he has built up, while trying to cope with the presence of Seymour (who he did not realize was in the house) and Olive (in whom he does not believe, until he does). Grumply grumpily complains to his lawyer, E. Gadds, who is in charge of the dried-up writer’s relationship with his editor, Paige Turner, and the whole scenario becomes a fine mess until eventually Seymour and Olive help Grumply sort everything out – and, not incidentally, free Olive from the circumstances that led her to haunt her old house in the first place. And this is but the first in a series so filled with charm and silliness that it has the potential to go on for many further books.
And that would put it in the same league as the Regarding the… series, which includes the new paperback edition of Regarding the Bees. Originally published in 2007, this book fits neatly with Regarding the Fountain, Regarding the Sink, Regarding the Trees and Regarding the Bathrooms in its disregard for conventional storytelling in favor of lighthearted absurdity that just happens to include snippets of honest-to-goodness accurate information (about apiculture, in Bees). Drawings, postcards, phone-message pads and lots of old-fashioned “snail mail” letters are the media for this tale of a seventh-grade correspondence course being taught by Florence Waters (Flo Waters, and yes, she originally showed up in Regarding the Fountain) as her students prepare to take the BEES – a standardized test known as the Basic Education Evaluation. There’s a spelling bee here, too; two of them, in fact, one actually being a bee, and the other involving a contest with the Yellow Jackets – whose teacher is Polly Nader (“pollinator”) and whose names are “Moe” Skitto, P. Daddy Longlegs and Horace Fly. Let’s see, what else? There is the HIVE Prize (for a “Highly Innovative and Victorious Educator”); there are marital problems for the acting principal and his pregnant wife; there are romantic entanglements within the seventh grade itself; and there are lots of genuine and fascinating facts about bees – and even a bit about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which of course contains the famous line, “To be or not to be.” The great thing about all the Klise sisters’ books is that descriptions of their contents make them seem completely incoherent, but everything actually fits beautifully together – like a jigsaw puzzle – for readers. So by all means visit Ghastly, Illinois and/or Geyser Creek, Missouri – or, better, both. The sites…err, sights…are definitely worth seeing.