Title: Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost by Hazel D. Campbell
Carlong Publishers, 172 pages
Reviewed by: Veronica Carnegie (originally published in the Sunday Observer)
Hazel Campbell, an established Jamaican author and editor of children’s books, excels again with yet another exciting story about six orphans, between ages 10 and 11, who spend their holidays in Green Valley, St. Elizabeth. Each one becomes a mystery-solving hero or a secret-unravelling heroine moving swiftly from one hair-raising adventure to another, despite what appeared to be physical handicap.
Campbell points to “the promise and the possibility” of these special children.
She shows from one episode to another, how brilliant, fascinating and thoughtful the children can be. Meet the unforgettable Bernie with his short left leg and special round-point boot and crutches which very often get in his way. Byron is small and asthmatic, nervous, has three fingers on his left hand and cannot move far from his inhaler. Tall Adrian, with his oversized head, his remarkable mental agility, and his ability to play unrecognizable tunes on his mouth organ, can pick a lock like a pro “and whittle away a piece of old wood”.
The three girls are just as good. Kaymara, too big for her 11 years, wears thick glasses “over her scary unfocused eyes”, has a strong voice and can outrun and outsmart her peers. Lisa is crippled, measures her words and manages her wheelchair around cliffs and corners. Patsy, humped-back, is 10, much smaller than the others, and sucks her thumb and hugs her cloth doll.
Author Campbell works them as an investigative team. They are brought to a beautiful place. “The children had never seen anything so spectacular” and felt they were watching TV. “Green Valley, a beautiful place between land and horizon, the water seemed to be painted many different shades of enchanting blues and greens, paler near the shore and deeper in the distance.” They gape at the rare beauty of the place and five of them say “Wow” when Mrs. Polly tells the story about Lovers Leap. Kaymara is not impressed, however, and sees no romance in the tale.
“But them stupid, Miss. I wouldn’t want to kill myself for nobody,” she says disapprovingly.
The author points to normal, “no problem” situations like the hungry children on the right of their arrival, who stuff themselves with stew peas and yam and suck the pig’s tail.
“They ate heartily. The best they had ever tasted,” while their guardians made serious pronouncements.
“Stew peas sit down on your chest and give you nightmares.” The children get along sometimes and other times they argue about duppies, Mrs. Cedrick’s top house and the mystery captain.
“But Mrs. Polly, we saw him”, Bernie says.
“He had a lantern and he was wearing sailor clothes. If the van never stop it would a kill him!”
“Then if the van nearly killed him he couldn’t have been a ghost, right? So there was no need for Isaac to be frightened.” The children know though, that there is a cover-up and plan to get to the bottom of it.
Aunt Hazel, as I guess the children call her when she visits schools and reads her stories, relates the episodes in Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost, with clarity and plainness. The orphans are socially aware; they know the language, ask questions, give answers and make appropriate comments.
The plot thickens with each day and the children sneak around to find out the secret of Green Valley.
The characters are alive and busy with a phrase, sometimes one single word, telling much about them. Campbell puts on stage a “chattering Mrs. Polly”, “frightened-looking Elsie”, “unfriendly Polack”, “laid-back Leroy and we want to know what happens to them afterwards.
In her action-packed story, Hazel Campbell champions the cause of special children. All six, she explains, are accustomed to being stared at and singled out and hear remarks passed by unkind people. But at Green Valley they exercise their curiosity and independence, gather their own strength and prove they can do anything other children can, though it may take a little longer.
This is Campbell’s sixth children’s story and it could easily be her best in terms of message and activity. She is at home with her characters; funny, honest and sincere. A mother of three, grandmother of four, lecturer, high school teacher, administrator, editor, hazel Campbell packs her real-life bag of experience in this local ‘Hardy Children’s’ mystery. There are steps leading to doors in the hill, drug pushers, caves with cocaine, and these children, after solving he mystery, are later praised by the reliable police, the grateful community of Green Valley, and having won the hearts of the wealthy “old lady twins”, all six of them are rewarded in a way they do not foresee.
This is a good read for all special-needs children and their parents. Campbell has also made it easy for potential movie makers as the script, the dialogue, the narrative, the characters/actors, backdrop and location, are all readymade.
When Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost is made into a movie, which it deserves to be, I hope parents will form orderly lines for auditions. This could be a big-screen production.