By: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: Square Fish
Format: Softcover, 5.5 x 8, Black and White, 240 pages, $9.99
For any teacher or librarian who wants to highlight a solid story structure to their students, Anya's Ghost is the perfect middle level text. But, as if that is not enough for her first graphic novel, Brosgol weaves some brilliant thematic threads into her flawless storyline. Perfect for middle level students, Anya's Ghost brilliantly explores ideas such as body image, family, relationships, and, of most interest to middle level readers, the story features a seemingly helpful and friendly ghost.
The story begins first thing in the morning; Anya's daily routine. Her mom is making breakfast, her little brother is adorable but a little pesky, and Anya wants nothing to do with any of it. Anxious about her body image and her family's foreign background, Anya simply wants to fit in at school and be "normal." On this particular day, however, Anya will have anything but a normal day. With her insecurities mounting and a furrowed brow set firmly on her forehead, Anya sets off for school a little annoyed with everyone, including her crush and her best friend Siobahn. Deciding she needs an escape walk through the park to clear her mind, Anya decides to cool down before school starts. This day is not going well, already, Anya thinks. Little does she know, however, she is about to distractedly walk over on old well and fall deep within its recesses. And as if that's not enough, Anya finds a ghost at the bottom of the well, a ghost who just so happens to sneak one of her bones into Anya's bag in order to escape the well (the ghost must always be close to her bones). Will Anya and her new ghost-friend become fast friends and, as a result, make Anya more popular and secure at school? Or will Anya's new ghost-friend turn out to be a very eerie reflection of some of Anya's deepest adolescent insecurities?
I highly recommend that middle level teachers and librarians explore the amazing depth and thematic power of this new graphic novel. Anya's Ghost is an impressive first graphic novel by a new and upcoming talent. Hats off to Vera Brosgol, and, fingers crossed, I hope she is already planning her next graphic novel.
English Language Arts Elements of Story
Plot: Anya just doesn't quite feel right. And she's at that age too; you know, puberty. So when Anya accidentally falls down a well and encounters a ghost who seems to have all the answers she starts to feel a little more self-secure. But will it last? And what's so special or weird (Anya's not sure which) about this ghost?
Setting: Anya's home, school, neighborhood, park, library
Characters: Anya, Siobahn, Anya's mom, her little brother Sasha, Dima, Sean, Elizabeth, Emily
Themes: Identity, Friendship, Relationships, School, Community, Courage
Traditional Literature Pairing Suggestions: Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School & High School English Language Arts
Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*
- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE
1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.
4. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
Suggested Guided Reading Lesson Plan:
• Before Reading
Before students begin to read make a photocopy of each character. Give students a copy of each. On notebook paper, ask students to think about the word "foreshadowing" and how it might relate to the photocopies of each character. Write the word on the board as well. When students are done thinking, ask them to share their ideas and thoughts.
• During Reading
While students read, have them keep a character log. A character log can be a handout that you make that simply lists each character's name and picture. The student's job is to read, and when they meet each character (or learn something new about that character) record that information in their log.
• After Reading
When students are done reading, ask them to reflect again on the word "foreshadow." Discuss the word and its relationship to Anya's Ghost, especially in terms of characters. Lists the students' reflections on the board.
Finally, place numerous mini-photocopies of each character in the front of the room. Next, ask students to pick up as many of the mini-photocopies of each character as they think they will need for the following task: "Glue and/or tape characters on a large piece of paper or poster board, and explain how the events, relationships, dialogue, or situations in the story foreshadow the characters' relationships or connections. You can do so by drawing lines from one character to another, and, on top of those lines, explaining the relationship or connection."
When students are done, ask them to engage in a whole class discussion.
Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.