Beth’s Books – Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

I bought Ghosts because it was Raina Telgemeier’s latest book, not realizing that I would have a deep, emotional connection to it.  My fifth-grade students, my daughter and her third-grade friends and I have loved her semi-autobiographical Smile and Sisters. This crazy thespian also especially related to Drama.  I also enjoy Raina’s graphic novel re-imaginings of Ann M. Martin’s classic The Baby-sitters Club series, a favorite of mine growing up.

            The main character of Ghosts, Cat, has a little sister, Maya, with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a disease which affects 3,000 Americans and is genetically handed down through generations of families.  Families like mine.

I first heard of CF when a routine blood test when I was pregnant with my daughter came back with a red flag.  I remember a nurse saying, “We’ll need your husband to give blood so we can see if he carries the gene before you start to panic.”  Too late.  It was an anxious few days as we waited for the blood work to come back from the lab.  We rejoiced when it was clear that my husband is not a carrier of the gene.

Later my sister became pregnant and got the same red flag on her blood test.  “Not to worry,” I told her reassuringly.  “Steve just has to give some blood and everything will be fine.”  Except that, it wasn’t.  Steve is a carrier, too.  The chances of the baby having it were 25%.  Cate was born and had to have stomach surgery right away to fix an intestinal blockage.  CF affects the entire body but it is most brutal on the lungs and stomach.

I read the book in one sitting, expecting to cry.  After all, this is a lot of baggage to bring to a book.  Instead, I amazed myself by laughing.

We spent some time with my niece this summer and got a lesson in the treatments she has to complete daily when she’s healthy.  She has to take enzymes to eat because CF makes it impossible to digest food.  She has to be given twice daily thirty-minute breathing treatment to loosen the sticky mucus buildup in her lungs along with inhaled medicines.  And that’s just when she’s healthy!  When she’s not healthy, she needs four vest treatments a day and it takes a long time and a lot of medicine and sometimes lengthy hospital stays to get her well again.

My mom, very well-versed in giving this rambunctious two year old her treatment, grabbed her favorite books before getting her into the vest.  I had to laugh watching the process – it looked like my mom was trying to put socks on an angry octopus.  Like her mother, grandmother, aunt, and cousin before her, books are the choicest form of entertainment and one of the few things she will sit down for.   Cate selected the fabulous Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin.  Great choice, Cate!  One of my favorite series for little people.  Vest treatments are designed to shake the sticky mucus loose from the lungs so they can be coughed out.  Cate’s tiny, raspy voice (another side effect of CF) shook and trembled as she read along with her grandma, “I love my red shoes!  I love my red shoes!”  It was a moment my husband and I will never forget as we laughed and laughed at that little voice.

Ghosts had realities that people with CF face: vest treatment, frequent, long-term hospitalization, and shortened life span.  But it also had love and hope and laughter, just like all of Raina’s books.  New treatments have added years to the lives of people living with CF. Today their life expectancy is close to 40. This is an improvement from the past when a child with CF rarely lived past ten years old.

Ghosts is currently being passed around my classroom with high praise from all who read it.  Many of my students like the Dia de Los Muertos theme and the slightly eerie setting in northern California.


There is currently no cure for CF.  But researchers are approaching new medicines that have the potential to significantly lengthen the lifespan of a person with CF.  If you are so moved, please donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation;jsessionid=74EF1DA9F9D559FFE65DCB760E0F8CDD.app212a?1761.donation=form1&df_id=1761.


Beth’s Books: Favorite Author-Dan Poblocki

Sometimes people are surprised that I read many of the books that are in my 1,000+ book classroom library.  I do that for many reasons, one main one being that I love to read, including YA.  Modeling book commercials is another (see my Book Commercial post here).  But I feel like one of my “specialties” in sixteen years of teaching (and thirty-something years of devouring books) is connecting my students to books and connecting with them through our discussions.

Many of my students this year love the horror genre, so I am always on the lookout for quality grade level horror beyond R.L. Stine and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.   Age appropriate material is always an issue when we’re talking about horror, too.  Enter author Dan Poblocki.

The Ghost of Graylock and The Book of Bad Things are favorites of my class but I also enjoyed The Stone Child and The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe.

I just finished Poblocki’s The Nightmarys, which leads me to another reason I read so many of the books that end up in my classroom library.  I’ve planned a writing lesson using this book.  I’m going to read aloud one particularly creepy locker room scene (begins on page 66) to review the use of sensory details in our writing.   My class will love the spooky scene, and it will be a great review of a concept of which I’ve noticed we need a bit of review.  Awesome side effect?  It will generate buzz about the book and author, sparking a frenzy of reading, discussing and trading the books back and forth.

What favorite horror books do your readers enjoy?

Book Commercials

Book Commercials are a highlight of my Language Arts block in fifth grade.  The rubric (below) is passed out early in the year so they understand the expectations and how they will be graded.  I model Book Commercials many times at the beginning of the year to teach the procedure, but also to introduce my students to books I think may get them reading at the pace I expect.  It is also a great way to review genres at the beginning of the year.  Modeling Book Commercials also begins the dialogue of sharing great books between myself and my students as well as my students to each other that lasts all year.

When a student is ready, they choose a date and sign up.  I usually allow two Book Commercial spots per class.  That way, it only takes 2 minutes but we always have a steady flow of books to learn about!  The students are very familiar with the procedure since it has been modeled so many times.  I keep a stack of rubrics on a clipboard by my desk for easy grading.  The clipboard also has a class list where I can easily reference who has already done a Book Commercial that quarter and who may need a gentle reminder to sign up.

The purpose of a Book Commercial is to share great authors, books, or genres that other classmates may not be familiar with.  For that reason, we don’t do book commercials on books that have movies or books that someone in class has already done a commercial on.

One great aspect of Book Commercials is being introduced to amazing books and new genres.    Last year, after my students’ raved about graphic novels, I finally tried a few.  I’ve discovered a love of graphic novels!  But the best outcome of Book Commercials is the shared dialogue and experiences we have as a class.

Book Commercial Rubric

Reader’s Name: ___________________Date:__________

Outstanding- 10 Satisfactory – 7 Unsatisfactory – 4
Student shows evidence of having thoroughly read the book.
Book is a “just right” book level for student (not too hard or too easy).
Student brought realia to link the book to real life (to link the book to a real object).
Student shows evidence of having practiced the book talk at home (prepared, not stumbling over words).
Student made eye contact with the audience.
Student used an appropriate volume.
Student told the name of the book and author, and showed the book’s cover.
Student read aloud the lead or favorite part (PRACTICE AT HOME, KNOW ALL THE WORDS).
Student thoroughly summarized the book, but didn’t give away the ending.
Student persuaded the class to read the book within the one minute time frame.