What a fantastic week I had at my school library learning commons!
Boxes of new, exciting books arrived back from the head cataloguer (it’s like Christmas morning!), I officially received my Teacher Librarian certification, and to top it all off – we had an amazing visit and ghost story writing workshop with Canadian author Charis Cotter (below left).
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Charis (rhymes with Paris) Cotter is the author of The Swallow: A Ghost Story.
The Swallow is geared towards children in grades 4 -7, and has been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Silver Birch 2016 Award this year (and personally I think it should win!).
Ever since I read the book, and enthusiastically gave my students a booktalk about it – it has been in hot demand (and we have 8 copies at my school)!
After all, this book has everything a Junior reader wants – mystery and suspense, creepy ghosts that may (or may not) want to suck children’s souls, secret attic hideaways, and characters that become so alive, you will keep thinking about them weeks and months later.
But best of all, it is a tale of true friendship between two young teenage girls who are struggling to find their place in life.
Polly is growing up in a large family where she feels lost and overlooked. And Rose, is an only child whose parents are constantly working and have little time for her.
When the two girls meet by accident, after discovering that the attics of their homes are adjoined, they develop a quick friendship – despite the fact that Polly believes Rose to be a ghost!
When Polly’s little brothers start warning her that Rose may be dangerous and not who she appears to be, Polly embarks on a journey to defend her new friend and to find out the truth.
Reactions to the Book
With an incredibly suspenseful plot told in the alternating voices of Polly and Rose, this book was nearly impossible to put down and kept me up way past my bedtime for nearly a week!
My students say they like it because of the suspense, the ghosts, and the surprise ending.
I love it because of the universal themes of friendship, loss, the struggle to not be alone – and the desire to understand what is beyond this life. And I always appreciate an ending that brings me to tears! It’s also a great book to use for teaching point of view, or the basics of a suspense story.
Meeting Charis Cotter
I was especially excited to be able to bring Charis to our school to run her Ghost Story Writing Workshop called: Imagining The Bones. (You can read about all of Charis’s workshops on her site at: www.CharisCotter.ca)
Charis herself was a delight to meet and definitely a mix of her two characters from The Swallow (self-described). She has the twinkling eyed spunk of Polly, and a mysterious touch of the beyond of Rose.
Charis grew up in Cabbagetown, Toronto, but now calls Newfoundland her home.
In The Swallow, she incorporates pieces of her own childhood (growing up next to a cemetery), and her current life and the ghost-storytelling culture of the East Coast, with experiences from her own daughter’s childhood (she could apparently see ghosts as a little girl which gave Charis the idea for the character Rose).
“Imagining the Bones” Ghost Story Writing Workshop
After a brief introduction, Charis had the students close their eyes and listen to her voice as she described Polly and Rose in turn.
Next, she asked the students to describe what they had “seen” during specific parts of her story.
Of course, what the students had imagined was different – which was the point Charis wanted to make. She helped our students understand the true power and pleasure in reading fiction…that we create the story too as readers!
For the rest of her workshop, Charis truly captivated the students.
She is a trained actor and a natural teacher, and with a combination of ghostly story examples and her own ghost story acronym (see below), Charis helped our students see that anyone can learn to write a great ghost story!
The staff and the students at our school thoroughly enjoyed Charis Cotter’s Imagine the Bones ghost story writing workshop. Our Junior students were highly engaged, entertained by Charis’ wonderfully creepy stories, and came out of the workshop with the “bones” of a wonderful tale of their own.
It was an inspiring and hands-on afternoon, not soon to be forgotten by any of us!
(And don’t worry Charis, we’ll remember…”Ghosts are everywhere!”)
Keep on “READ”venturing!