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Ghoulish Song


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About The Book

A brave girl flees a ghoul while trying to save her city in this lively companion to Goblin Secrets, the National Book Award winner that Kirkus Reviews calls “humorous, poignant, and convincing.”

Kaile lives in Zombay, an astonishing city where goblins walk the streets and witches work their charms and curses. Kaile wants to be a musician and is delighted when a goblin gives her a flute carved out of bone. But the flute’s single, mournful song has a dangerous consequence: it separates Kaile and her shadow.

Anyone without a shadow is considered dead, and despite Kaile’s protests that she’s alive and breathing, her family forces her to leave so she can’t haunt their home. Kaile and her shadow soon learn that the troublesome flute is tied to a terrifying ghoul made from the bones of those who drowned in the Zombay River. With the ghoul chasing her and the river threatening to flood, Kaile has an important role to play in keeping Zombay safe. Will Kaile and her shadow be able to learn the right tune in time?

Set in the delightful and dangerous world of Goblin Secrets, Ghoulish Song is a gripping adventure laced with humor and mystery from National Book Award–winning author William Alexander. His “graceful prose weaves an engaging fantasy that embraces the power of music” (Publishers Weekly).

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide to

Ghoulish Song
By William Alexander

About the Book

The last day of Kaile's life does not start well.

It's Inspection Day at the family bakery, and between her mother's temper, her little brother's antics, and her job serving breakfast to the demanding citizens of Zombay, she could use a break. Then a goblin theatre troupe offers to put on a play for the customers. Kaile treasures the gift they give her—an innocuous little flute made of bone—and plays its haunting song without hesitation. That's when her life officially ends, and her adventures begin.

Set alongside the National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets, Ghoulish Song weaves a story of music and mystery through the charmed, cursed world of Zombay.

Discussion Questions

Please use examples from the text to support your answers.

1. Foreshadowing is a literary device in which the author hints what may happen later in the story. How does the first line of the novel foreshadow what may happen later on in the plot? What do you think the novel might be about?

2. What was Kaile’s relationship with her grandfather like? What instrument did her grandfather give Kaile and what did she do with it? What eventually became of the instrument?

3. Although Ghoulish Song is not a sequel to Goblin Secrets, both novels are set in the town of Zombay. In addition to the setting, what other similarities can be found in Ghoulish Song and Goblin Secrets? How are the characters, cultures, and society the same in both novels?

4. How does the setting influence the plot in the story? Analyze how the setting shapes the characters and the plot of the novel.

5. The Fourth Verse shows a parallel plot from Goblin Secrets. What scenario in the Fourth Verse was also a part of the plot from Goblin Secrets? What is the overall impact of the parallel plots on the novel Ghoulish Song?

6. Kaile made a song for her mom. What does the song signify about their relationship? How does she feel about her mom? Use quotations from the text to support you answer.

7. What is meant by the sentence, “She wondered why Mother had sent for old Chicken Legs”? Who does the author mean by “Chicken Legs”? How do you know? What literary device is the author using?

8. Why does Kaile allow the goblin troupe to perform? What are the consequences of her decision?

9. How does Kaile respond to her family’s reaction about losing her shadow? How does Kaile respond at her own funeral?

10. How does Kaile’s mom’s reaction to Kaile’s funeral add to the drama of the story? What does being a ghoul mean?

11. The names of Mother and Father are not given in the story. What is most likely the reason the author chose not to give them names?

12. What does Kaile name her shadow? Why do you think she does this?

13. How does the author show the conversation between Shade and Kaile? What textual element did the author use to portray Shade’s voice? Why did he choose to structure the dialogue this way?

14. What is the most likely reason the author chose to organize the text in song format?

15. How does the structure of each novel, Goblin Secrets and Ghoulish Song, contribute to the overall effect of its style?

16. What is Kaile’s flute made of? From whom did the Goblin get it?

17. What happens to Shade and Kaile after meeting Fidlam? How does meeting Fidlam advance the plot?

18. Who is Luce Strumgut? Who is Cymbat? How are Luce Strumgut’s and Cymbat’s reactions to Kaile different? How are their reactions to Shade different?

19. Explain what literary devices are used in “Counting Song” in Verse Nine. Provide the literary device and definition along with an example from the text to support your answer.

20. How are superstitions woven into the story? What impact do the superstitions have on the major characters?

21. What is so special about the flute? How does background knowledge of the flute help Kaile to progress towards a resolution?

22. Who is the Reliquarian? How does the Reliquarian add to the tone of the novel?

23. Analyze how the Fourteenth Verse contributes to the development of the theme of the novel. What is the theme? How do you know? Use specific quotes and phrases from the Fourteenth Verse to support your analysis.

24. How will a new nameday for Kaile help her to move forward? How does Snotfish’s wave from under the table portray that Kaile has found closure?

This guide was written by Michelle Carson, Reading Teacher, Reading Endorsed, Palm Beach Central High School.

This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards ( has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph by Matthew Aronoff

William Alexander won the National Book Award for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets, and won the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His other novels include A Festival of GhostsA Properly Unhaunted PlaceGhoulish SongNomad, and Ambassador. William studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion workshop. He teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Like the protagonist of Nomad and Ambassador, William is the son of a Latino immigrant to the US. Visit him online at and, and on Twitter via @WillieAlex.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (April 1, 2014)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442427303
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 710L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"In Ghoulish Song, William Alexander returns us to the fascinatingly sinister world of Zombay. As with his previous novel, Goblin Secrets, Alexander's work is startlingly original, simultaneously funny and suspenseful."

– Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn

"Funny, smart, and gorgeously written."

– Jane Yolen, author of The Devil's Arithmetic

“Alexander’s storytelling is compelling and clever, and this tale of courage is by turns humorous, poignant and convincing.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“[Alexander’s] graceful prose weaves an engaging fantasy that embraces the power of music."

– Publisher's Weekly

"With wonderful economy, Mr. Alexander conjures a vertiginous adventure shot through with humor in this clever tale."

– Wall Street Journal

"Gorgeously creepy“

– Minnesota Post

"Kaile makes a likable heroine, at times admirably noble and at other times understandably frustrated and defiant. Her adventures are just scary enough to keep readers on edge without giving anyone nightmares."


Awards and Honors

  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: William Alexander