It sounds like a creepy kiddy gothic: nine-year-old Mudge lives in the cemetery, and his life changes when his Aunt Ernestus comes to visit with her silent black dog Thanatos. But whatever the function of Thanatos, Aunt Ernestus--who is 27 years older than her brother Ned, Mudge's father--has really come to bring the family back to life. It seems that years earlier, Ned's close friend, a reform state governor, was assassinated; and Ned, in a grief-induced breakdown, left his law practice to live as caretaker in a cemetery gatehouse. The family is so isolated that Ned gives Mudge his lessons there in the gathering room (where relatives of the deceased used to gather). Now Aunt Ernestus has found them and come to talk sense; and Ned, who first resents the intrusion, gradually thaws. But Mudge remains adamant. Happy in the cemetery with his friends among the dead (they include a little girl, a ""Butterfly Lady"" who recites Poe, and a Captain and his aide from the War of 1812), Mudge resists any suggestion of change and won't even eat Aunt Ernestus' tempting cooking, for fear of poison. But Aunt Ernestus persists in friendly overtures; and after she leaves, Mudge too begins to open up (though he is realistically ambivalent for a while) when another boy who plays in the cemetery becomes his friend. Finally, when the historic cemetery dispenses with the gatekeeper's job and Ned has trouble arranging his return to the world, it is Mudge who calls Aunt Ernestus for help--on the very phone he had resented when she induced his parents to put it in. Rodowsky makes this a genuine, sympathetic, and patient observation of the family's, and especially Mudge's, return to life.