The Folk Keeper Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Awards: A Publishers Weekly Best Book; a School Library Journal Best Book; a Booklist Editors' Choice; A Best Book of the Year, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Boston Globe-Horn Book award for fiction (2000); ALA Notable
Subject Area: Language Arts
Reading Level: 5.8
As the Folk Keeper of Rhysbridge, Corinna Stonewall's job is to appease the malicious Folk who live underground. Disguised as a boy, she prides herself on her strength and resourcefulness. But when the dying Lord Merton brings her to his seaside estate, Corinna wonders about her own mysterious past. Who are her parents, and why is she never cold, and why does her hair grows two inches every night? And will she find the answers before danger finds her first?
Students will discuss the various elements of this fantasy text, including the British Isles mythology woven throughout, and use of diary entries as narrative.
Standard: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fairy tales, folktales, fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fables, fantasies, historical fiction, biographies, autobiographies, chapter books)
One of the major elements of The Folk Keeper is the myth of the selkies, the seal-people. Before you start reading The Folk Keeper, read your students a selkie story. All anthologies of Scottish mythology and most good anthologies of British Isles mythology will have stories about the selkies. Here are a few specific sources:
The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper (Out of print, but still available in libraries)
Scottish Fairy Tales (Dover Thrift Edition) by Donald A. Mackenzie (A collection of eight Scottish fairy tales, specifically look at "In the Kingdom of Seals")
Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales by Duncan Williamson (A collection of short tales about the selkies)
- Discuss with your class the narrative technique of having the story told as entries in a journal. What other books have your students read that tell a story through diary entries? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this technique in terms of character development, narrative voice, and plot?
- Talk briefly about the character of Finian. How would your students describe him? What secrets did Finian reveal as the novel progressed? Was he a sympathetic, likeable character?
- Ask your students to write a series of diary entries from the point of view of Finian. Have them select a specific place in the book and reread Corinna's entries, and then write a series of diary entries from Finian. Remind your students that Finian often knows more than Corinna realizes; these entries should reflect what your students believe he was thinking all along.
- Take turns sharing your diary entries with one another. How do the Finian diaries compare with one another?
Folktales and Myths
- Large binder
- Hole punch
- Selkies are one of hundreds of imaginary creatures in myths and folktales. As a class, see how many mythical creatures your students can name and accurately describe, making a master list. (egg.: dragons, leprechauns, unicorns, gryphons). Bonus: How many part-animal, part-human mythological creatures can they come up with? (egg.: Minotaur, mermaid, centaur).
- Assign each student a mythical creature to write a brief research essay about. In their essay, they should state 1) what culture their creature is from; 2) what the creature looks like and how it behaves; 3) what myths or legends feature their creature; 4) what modern-day appearances in movies, television, etc, their creature has made, if any.
- Create a giant binder labeled "Mythical Creatures," and make a collection of the reports. Ask each student to bring in a picture of their creature on 8 ½" x 11" paper, whether it's drawn, copied, or cut and pasted, to also add to the book.
- Ask your students to speculate aloud about why they think their creature was imagined. Could it have been a misinterpretation of a real animal, or was it simply poetic license? Why is there still such a fascination today with imaginary creatures like dragons and mermaids?
BONUS: Have your students write their own fictional story based upon their legendary creature.
About the Author
The Folk Keeper is a fictional novel, but elements of the story are so vividly and accurately described, that the setting may seem like a real place. To find out how Franny Billingsley did her background research for The Folk Keeper, click here .
Other Fantasy Stories Based on Myths
The Dark Is Rising series
by Susan Cooper
This series incorporates the myths of the British Isles, particularly those of King Arthur, into present-day England and Wales in a magical battle of good vs. evil. Young Will Stanton, his mentor Merriman, and the Drew children must battle against the supernatural forces of the Dark.
The Last Unicorn
by Peter S. Beagle
A unicorn realizes one morning that she is the last of her kind, and starts on a quest to find the other unicorns. Joined by bumbling magician Schmendrick and tough scullery maid Molly Grue, they make their way to King Haggard's castle, where a desperate act of magic gives the unicorn a taste of mortal human life.
The Chronicles of Prydain
by Lloyd Alexander
Drawing heavily upon the myths and folklore of Wales, here is the imaginary land of Prydain, where danger is never very far. Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran, Princess Eilonwy, and their friends battle the evil Arawn Death-Lord in a mix of humor and high fantasy.
Other Books by Franny Billingsley
Teaching plan by Beth Doty