Graphic Novels -GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

The main character in this story, Catrina, has a younger sister who suffers from Cystic-Fibrosis.  Their family moves to a Hispanic community near the ocean hoping the air will help her be able to breathe better. Each year the town celebrates Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Catrina, does not want to hear about the ghosts because she is afraid of death and fearful of losing her little sister. Maya, however, is eager to meet a ghost because she wants to know what happens after you die. The author tells us that “Ghosts” was inspired in part by the death of her cousin Sabina at age 13 to cancer. (Look closely and you will see a note on a tree to Sabina in the book.)

Essentially then, this is a book about death for children!  Though death is everyone’s fate, it is not something we often discuss – especially with children.  So, why would anyone select a book like this for a child to read?

Because books are powerful!

Books containing characters that children identify with help them understand and deal with behavioral, emotional and social concerns. Using books to aid people in solving problems is called “Bibliotherapy.” This is why educators ask students to read Ann Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl when discussing war, To Kill A Mockingbird when talking about discrimination and 1984 when discussing politics. Topics introduced via a good novel are made real in a way that facts simply stated on the page of a text book cannot.

When I was in fifth grade, there was a girl who was taunted by several popular classmates for being poor. Our teacher read aloud the story “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes.  It was about a little girl who who was teased because she claimed to have 100 dresses in her closet, even though she wore the same blue dress to school every day.  Most of the kids were able to make the connection and the bullying behavior stopped. Empathy was a better teaching strategy than any admonishment.

When applying bibliotherapy to younger children, don’t just read the stories.  Ask them leading questions. Allow them to interrupt the story to talk about things.  Periodically summarize what has occurred thus far in the story so that “the message” doesn’t get lost in the details of the story. For children able to read on their own, the right book shared at the right time can make all the difference. Graphic novels (often described as long-form comic books) applied in this situation will allow those who are reluctant readers to have access to the same material.

Reading, writing, and discussion can provide an opportunity to work through grief, cope with a difficult situation, or just explore topics geared appropriately to each developmental stage.  At the end, review the book with them and ask them to come up with alternate ways the characters could have handled situations. The important thing is to allow them to reflect upon the material presented. Make them think.

A book will not answer all questions or solve all problems – because not all questions can be answered and not all problems can be solved. Books can, however, give us the tools we need to cope.  This book, GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier, simply presents the idea that death should not be frightening.  It suggests that life in some form goes on, and that those who are left behind can take comfort in memories.

Below are some samples of the topics that books can cover to aid you in performing some Bibliotherapy:

For Younger Children:

TOPIC                   BOOK TITLE and AUTHOR

New Baby            LITTLE RABBIT’S NEW BABY by Harry Horse

Divorce                FRED STAYS WITH ME by Tricia Tusa

Death                   THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY by Judith Viorst

Adoption             HORTON HATCHES THE EGG by Dr. Suess

Anger                   ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY by Judith Viorst

For Middle-Schoolers

TOPIC                   BOOK TITLE and AUTHOR

Bullying                ODD GIRL SPEAKS OUT by Rachel Simmons

Identity                OPENLY STRAIGHT by Bill Konigsberg

Divorce                RATS SAW GOD  by Rob Thomas

Suicide                 FALLING INTO PLACE by Amy Zhang

Abuse                   LOCK AND KEY: A NOVEL by Sarah Dressen


Born to read, forced to work.

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