Ghost Fever

Mal de fantasma

By: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Mona Pennypacker
With her grandmother’s help and advice, Elena solves the mystery of the ghost girl, recuperates from her ghost fever and, in the process, learns a valuable lesson about life.


Do you believe in ghosts? Well, Elena Padilla's father didn't, and that's a shame, because his disbelief ends up making Elena a very sick girl. In his classic bilingual style, Joe Hayes tells the story of Elena's ghost fever. The story starts in an old rundown house in a dusty little town in Arizona. Nobody in their right mind will rent that house because... well, a ghost haunts it. The landlord can't even rent it out for free! That is, not until foolish old Frank Padilla comes along thinking he can save some money. Lucky for Elena that her grandmother knows all about the mysterious ways of ghosts. With her grandmother's help and advice, Elena solves the mystery of the ghost girl, recuperates from her ghost fever and, in the process, learns a valuable lesson about life.

Awards and Accomodations

2006-2007 Texas Bluebonnet Award Winner

8 reviews for Ghost Fever

  1. School Library Journal
    In his signature easy style, Hayes tells the story of Frank Padilla, a man who will not admit to the existence of ghosts. When he moves into a haunted house in Arizona, he’s a little spooked by the strange noises and mysteriously moved items. It is his 14-year-old daughter, Elena, who finds out what the ghost wants, but not before almost losing her own life. At just short of 90 pages for both alternating English and Spanish text, this is a quick, riveting read. Definitely a step above R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series (Scholastic), it is reminiscent of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (HarperCollins, 1981). The frequent black-and-white pencil drawings extend the story, and the scary-looking cover of a skeletal girl in her quinceañera dress will definitely sell the book. This is an ideal choice, whether in English or in the informed Spanish translation, for reluctant readers. It is straightforward, but swiftly plotted.

  2. Críticas
    In his first novel-length chapter book, Hayes stays true to his southwestern storytelling roots while also expanding his base. Set in a small Arizona town in the 1950s and told as a childhood memoir, Hayes’s latest story presents a more modern world—with decrepit pickup trucks, family desertion, and the interaction of Hispanic and Anglo residents—than that of his earlier bilingual offerings, which mostly reflected colonial New Mexico. Traditional culture has not disappeared completely, however. While some of the characters in the story scoff at the idea of ghosts and haunted houses, others are convinced of their existence. At the heart of this story lies a haunted house with such a bad reputation that its owner has to lure his new tenants—a father and his 14-year-old daughter—with six months of free rent. While the father ignores the noises and strange occurrences in the house, his daughter cannot—she is not only aware of the ghost in the house, she also knows that it wants her help.

    The English and Spanish text flows smoothly and invitingly, and Hayes’s short chapters make this perfect for classroom read alouds, as well as for independent reading. Sure to be popular with young chapter book readers who enjoy a chill running down the spine, Ghost Fever is also recommended for reluctant older readers. Librarians and booksellers would do well to display and handtalk this title.

  3. San Antonio Current
    Un mensaje de los niños: Screw Newt
    The Texas Bluebonnet Award is a special dignity that third- through sixth-graders do not bestow lightly, if I remember my overly serious days in elementary, reading heavy hitters like Judy Blume (1982 Bluebonnet winner for the little brother disaster tale Superfudge) and the story of a starving stray puppy that Bill Wallace (1983 Bluebonnet winner, A Dog Called Kitty) wrote to break little kids’ hearts.

    For the past 28 years, the pool of Bluebonnet candidates have been selected by librarians, who put together a master list of 20 titles they’ve observed their tiny charges checking out or that teachers recommend. Eight- to 12-year-old critics commit to reading five books from the list — making the Bluebonnet the largest children’s reading program in the country. According to its sponsor, the Texas Library Association, more than 170,000 kids did the reading and 23,580 cast a vote for their favorite: 2006-07 Bluebonnet winner Ghost Fever/Mal de Fantasma by Joe Hayes.

    It’s the first time a bilingual book was selected. And in a state where 16 percent of school-age children have limited English skills, a figure that is expected to grow, this could be the dawning of dual-language Bluebonnet books.
    “I feel like my bilingual approach to storytelling has helped Spanish-speaking children feel proud of their heritage and at the same time has helped non-Hispanic children open up to and appreciate the Spanish language and Hispanic culture,” wrote Hayes, a native of Pennsylvania and current New Mexico resident, in an email. “I think it’s really important that my own heritage is not Hispanic. It defuses the ‘us and them’ way of looking at language. For Hispanic kids I’m one of ‘them’ honoring ‘our’ language, and for non-Hispanic kids it’s one of ‘us’ honoring ‘their’ language. Barriers are lowered; rigid attitudes are softened; a better sense of community is fostered.”

    Tell that to former House Speaker and presidential doubtful Newt Gingrich, who dubbed bilingual education “the language of living in a ghetto” last month, and whose recent pained YouTube apology en Español seemed as wary of the Romance language as Téa Leoni is of a good role.

    “Newt Gingrich is appealing to people’s fear of change,” says Hayes. “It’s the old ‘there goes the neighborhood’ paranoia with a new twist. As those of us who lived through the era of the civil-rights struggle know, old attitudes die hard. But change does happen. People of good will work to channel the change in positive ways, rather than try to build dams and hold it back.”

    I doubt the kids who cast Bluebonnet votes at 1,700 libraries across the state consciously voted for change. They probably just dug the story of un inquilino, a renter, his daughter, and the ghost in the quinceañera dress — the symbol of Latina becoming — whose “head was twisted around at a crazy, unnatural angle, like her neck was broken. And the flesh just seemed to be dripping away from the bones of her face.”

    For all the xenophobic gestures Gingrich and his GOP party make — from proposing bills to deny automatic citizenship benefits to American born babies of undocumented immigrants (Texas’s House Bill 28, courtesy Tyler alarmist Leo Berman, who railed against “anchor babies” in the Houston Chronicle: “We’ve been invaded without firing a shot.”) to bills that would do away bilingual education requirements in schools (HB 3617, by Representative Bill Zedler from Arlington) — it’s reassuring to see kids can’t resist a good old fashioned gross-out cuento, en cualquier idioma.

    The Texas Library Association will honor author Joe Hayes at its 2007 Texas Bluebonnet Award luncheon Thursday at noon at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
    —Keli Dailey

  4. ForeWord Magazine
    It’s hard enough for a teenage girl to bear the embarrassment of having been abandoned by her mother and having to help care for a younger sister. Then, when Papa insists that they move to join his family in a little town in Arizona and rent a haunted house on the other side of the tracks, Elena simply can’t face the shame. She feels she will never recover from the spooky goings-on in that old house, or the illness that results from her brush with the world of the dead, until Grandmother shares her wisdom about ghosts.

    Elena’s Papa has spent a week in the house by himself, on the promise that they can occupy the place rent-free for six months. Elena is old enough to understand that her father is scrambling to make enough of a living to rent a better place. So when he persuades her that there is nothing to fear, what can she do? She can’t let Papa think she’s a scaredy-cat like her little sister, or that she isn’t willing to do her share.

    The girl’s first night in the haunted house is a sleepless terror for hours until she finally falls asleep from pure exhaustion. The sleep doesn’t last long. Is that footsteps on the roof? And what is that sound of moaning? She awakes with a scream, and Papa rushes to her bedside and gives her a hug. After all, the house is at the very edge of town. She must have heard a raccoon, or some other animal, and the wind can make a moaning sound. “Go back to sleep, hijita. Your Papa won’t let you come to harm.”

    But Papa is wrong. When Elena actually sees the ghost, she is smart and lucky enough to remember the advice of her abuela. She is also courageous enough to speak directly to the ghost, who turns out to be a girl her own age. The story unfolds with a poignant tale of a young girl’s desperate actions in the face of poverty and disappointment, a story that includes buried treasure, the resolution of a family’s tragic misunderstandings, and a happy outcome for Elena and her family.

    The author, a resident of Arizona for many years, learned Spanish from his friends as a child. He is a professional storyteller, and has written more than two dozen tales for children and middle readers, combining the traditional lore of the American Southwest with his own imagination.

    Simple black-and-white drawings throughout this bilingual book make it an easy page-turner and point up the important moral lessons included in the story. Fortunately, those moral lessons are based on compassion, tenderness, and hope, rather than dwelling on guilt and fear. Hayes’s experience and friendship with the Latino community make his work both authentic and engaging

  5. Reforma
    Highly recommended!

    The tale of an old house haunted by the ghost of a tormented young girl is deliciously told in action-packed, storyteller’s prose. When a house is offered with six months’ free rent, Frank Padilla, a widower down on his luck, is eager to move in. No one can dissuade him from going to live there with his daughters. He agrees to live there alone for one week. Although the bedcover slides off the bed, the lights mysteriously turn on, and one of his shoes comes up missing, Frank refuses to believe the house is haunted. The next week, he brings his oldest daughter, Elena, to live there. Abuelita, knowing that the fantasma will most likely appear to a teenage girl, coaches Elena on the three things she must ask. Is the soul (ánima) from this world or the other? What does it want? Once helped, will it promise never to return?

    Mr. Hayes adds immediacy to his ghost story by setting it in the real town of Duston, Arizona, where he grew up. The ghost’s story is “verified” with the chance finding of the newspaper story reporting the tragic death of a young girl. Spanish phrases, easily understood in context, are integral to the English version. Appropriately spooky black and white pencil illustrations punctuate the text; Spanish translation by the author.

  6. Children’s Literature
    Kids used to have to sneak “ponies” into the classroom, but now bilingual books are acceptable teaching tools. What better way to learn or improve your English or Spanish than to read a bilingual ghost story! The chapter book tells of fourteen-year-old Elena Padilla’s encounter with a ghost about her age. In Duston, Arizona, in the 1950s, there’s a haunted house on the other side of the railroad tracks. Only Frank Padilla is willing to take up landlord Cole’s offer of free rent for the first six months of a one-year contract. But his elder daughter is the one who sees and talks to the ghost dressed in a white quinceañera dress. Although Elena tries to follow her grandmother’s advice to the letter, the girl ends up with a bad case of ghost fever anyway. The fantasma is appeased at last, with Elena, the narrator, other children of Duston, and the reader all learning from the misguided behavior of the dead girl. The storyteller does not shrink from the ghost girl’s tragic fall and her broken neck, or the death of the superstitious grandmother. The ghostly descriptions and illustrations are quite scary too. Even with the text switching back and forth from several paragraphs of English to a loose translation in Spanish, the suspense builds.

  7. McAllen Monitor
    Everybody knows the story of “La Llorona” and many have passed it on to new generations. Joe Hayes is considered one of the authorities on the story and has retold it countless times. He’s also authored a version recently reissued in hardback, which tells the infamous story in both Spanish and English.

    “My version is largely based on things I heard about La Llorona when I was a boy in Arizona, with some of my own inventions thrown in, of course,” he writes in an addendum to his book. I give the tale a more logical structure than it had in the renditions I heard in my youth, but I leave some loose threads untied for future speculations,” he writes.

    Hayes thinks there is a timeless quality and a geographical resonance to the story. “I think the secret of La Llorona’s success as a ghost is that she’s always local. Wherever you are, she’s seen right around there. It’s also a deeply moralistic story. And it combines shocking and outrageous deeds done in the past (sensational in the way contemporary news stories of mothers murdering their children are) with a present and imminent threat. And, of course, that threat is made real by all the reports of people having seen or heard her,” he writes in his version.

    Hayes is one of America’s premier storytellers and he travels all over the United States. He’s been sharing his stories in print for over 20 years. His most recent one is Ghost Fever: Mal de Fantasma about a young girl who gets sick because of her father’s disbelief in ghosts.

    Hayes, 59, was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Arizona as a young boy and became enchanted with the area. “The beauty of the Southwest isn’t opulent and sensational: you have to learn to see it,” he wrote in a recent e-mail interview from his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    Growing up, his father was a role model for storytelling. “His parents immigrated from Ireland, and I guess he inherited the gift of storytelling. He was quite a charmer and a raconteur,” he says.

    “The Hispano storytellers of northern New Mexico, whose stories were transcribed by folklorist in the 1930s, also provided me with a model for my own telling,” he adds.

    As for that tradition of storytelling in the Southwest, Hayes believes it shares a lot in common with other European traditions. “But it has a distinctive role in the United States because it blends earthiness with a wild, irrational quality.”

    And what is it exactly that makes a good storyteller? “A generous and sincere spirit and a constant awareness that it’s the listener who really create both the story and the storyteller,” he believes.

    Hayes also thinks kids love ghost stories because they are a sort of safe scare. “They get the thrill of being scared without any real danger,” he says. “And a ghost story defies reason and explanation. There’s something satisfying in this super-rational age to contemplate things that science can’t explain.”

    Which is his favorite story to tell? “This is one of the questions kids most frequently ask. I tell them my favorite story is the one that really seems to be appealing to the group I’m talking to at that moment. The same story may not go over so well with another group, and then it’s not my favorite,” he said.

    How about the burning question of whether or not he really believes in La Llorona? “What I tell children who ask me that is I don’t think the things really did happen, but if you think about the story you find a lot of truth in it,” he said.

  8. Yellow Brick Road
    In this chilling tale of a haunted house in a small Arizona town, Grandmother “knows all about the ways of ghosts.” She helps Elena solve a mystery and learn “a valuable lesson about life.” The text is in both Spanish and English.

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