From one of the most gifted British authors, a literary fairy tale that gleams like the pearls on its last page: perfectly rounded, imbued with subtly colorful glints of meaning, so smoothly told that its artistry may not be observed at first glance. Birdy is a little girl whose father, Papajack, rows his little ferry across the river, or, more dangerously, to a nearby island in the sea. After one old passenger tells Papa-jack that Birdy has second sight, Birdy realizes that ""it was perfectly true that she noticed more the second time she looked""--which proves to be lucky when a trio of ghosts summons the ferry to take them to an island that was never there before. Papa-jack can't see the ghosts, but they so weigh down the stern that he summons Birdy to sit in the bow for balance, Birdy sees three truly horrible (and marvelously described) spirits. Not wanting to frighten Papajack, she tells him that they're a wise king, a kind queen, and a child--and so they become. ""Well, what's true?"" asks Birdy--as the perceptive reader will also ask in a childlike parallel to an observation of Hamlet's: ""There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."" Easily accessible; beautifully evocative, pungent, concise language; a strong sense of its magical place, which could be Scotland--this spendidly original, winningly illustrated ghost story is the best easy chapter book this year. The low-budget format is unfortunate: the British paper edition with its skimpy margins is cased in paper over boards without so much as an endpaper. At least the text is intact.