Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for BahÃa de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in BahÃa de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake — and her own.
Discussion Questions for Ghost
1. At the beginning of Ghosts, Maya is the adventurous sister while Cat is the cautious one. What do they learn from each other by the end of the story?
2. In Ghosts, residents of BahÃa de la Luna are accustomed to the appearance of spirits. What do you think about spirits? What would you do if you saw one?
3. Halloween is a time for spooky scares, while El DÃa de los Muertos is a celebration of deceased loved ones — and an opportunity to see them again. What do you think these holidays mean to the people who celebrate them? Do you like being scared on Halloween? Who might you like to meet on El DÃa de los Muertos?
4. Moving to BahÃa de la Luna reminds Cat and Maya's mother of traditions she once shared with their grandmother, and she tells her daughters about them. What family traditions do you have that have been passed down from previous generations? Have you ever explained a family tradition to someone outside your family?
5. The spirits of BahÃa de la Luna help both Cat and Maya think through how they feel about the dead and about the possibility of dying. What do you think meeting the spirits means to Maya? How about to Cat?
6. Take a look at scenes with very little dialogue, including when Cat is looking for Maya and Carlos (pp. 78-81) and the booming celebration of El DÃa de los Muertos (pp. 204-205). How do these scenes express emotions and action with just pictures and sound effects? Pick out your favorite details from these pages and explain why they caught your attention.
7. Both sisters learn from each other over the course of the story. Who else helps each sister see the world differently? Pick one of these characters and explain how they help.
8. Cat and Maya have different ways of dealing with Maya's condition. How would you describe how Maya approaches life? How about Cat? How do you think the feelings of someone who is ill are different from the person who cares for them?
9. Cat doesn't like Carlos very much at first, especially because their first adventure ends with Maya in the hospital. Eventually, Carlos asks for forgiveness and Cat starts to see him in a better light. Why do you think she can't forgive Carlos at first? What changes her mind?
10. Look at pages 74 and 75. How does the change in color affect the way you read these pages? What does the color shift tell you about the mood and atmosphere of the setting?
11. Being brave is important in Ghosts: both proving to yourself that you can be brave and bravery as an example to others. It can be as simple as not being afraid to talk to someone, or as significant as leaping off a great height and trusting your friends to catch you. Pick a scene where you think a character is being brave and explain why you think it's a good example for the other characters (and for readers).
Thumbnail Theater Challenge
When Raina Telgemeier creates a comic, she is both the writer and the illustrator. She has to think through both ways of telling the story at once. Take a look at these examples of thumbnail sketches or look at the Hourly Comic Day that Raina takes part in every year to see how comics can be unpolished and sketch-like, but still tell stories well. For this activity, students can choose to be a writer or an illustrator, or they can try to do both!
Artists should draw a story in four to six panels with thumbnail sketches — these can be very rough pictures created with any medium (pencil, pen, digital tools, etc.). The images can be as simple as stick figures with a few setting details if needed. Students should draw speech bubbles where characters might be talking and leave space for words or sound effects to be added in!
Writers should write or type a story script that will fit into four to six panels. They must pay attention to the dialogue to make sure it works with the space and think about what sound effects or suggestions for the artist they might want to include. Students should provide information on the characters involved; notes to the artist on what and who needs to be in each panel; any sounds; and what is spoken dialogue versus internal thoughts versus narration.
Once students are finished with their thumbnails or scripts, have students swap their work with a partner. Students who decided to do both should team up with other writer-artists to swap scenes.
Students who receive a script must illustrate based on what the writer has written. Have students illustrate on a new page or on the back of the script. They should remember not to worry too much about making it perfect — these drawings should get a sense of the characters, their movement, where they are, and the dialogue.
Writers must figure out what's happening in the illustrated scene they receive. What might the characters be saying? Are any of the characters thinking instead of speaking? Could one of the panels work best with no dialogue? What sound effects would be written on the page, and how would they appear in the art? Writers should write out narration, internal thoughts, or dialogue on a separate page, on the back of the page, or above/below the panels.
When students are happy with how they have interpreted and added to their partners' pieces, have them swap back and see what their partners did to enhance their original pieces. Encourage students to work together to create a finished thumbnail sketch with pictures and words together for both of the stories, combining the strongest parts of each person's work.
Present students with a sequence of panels starting with panels one, two, and three of page 34. After that sequence, follow the panels with blank panels and ask the students to fill in what they think happens next.
Fill in the Blank
Hand out examples of comic sequences with the text removed and have students fill in what they think the characters might be saying. See what they can gather from the visual context, and finally reveal the actual panels with text to see how everyone’s brainstormed ideas compare to what the author intended.
Mix It Up
Give each student, or group of students, a selection of panels featuring around ten different scenes or images, with each panel on its own sheet of paper. Have each student/group move the images around like tiles in a word game to create a story using six of the given panels. Once they’ve recorded their story, ask them to swap out one image with one not yet used. How does that change the story?
Introduce the concept of onomatopoeia using the sound effects from graphic novel panels as examples. Hand out copies of pages from graphic novels that use onomatopoeia, and have the students create their own three- to four-panel comic strips using similar words.
Graphic Novel Book Reports
Instead of writing up a traditional book report, have your students present their book reports in comic format. Encourage the students to think carefully about which scenes they will feature, what the dialogue will be, and what details are necessary to convey the important parts of the story. Students may create their own art or use online comics creators, like ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator, to illustrate their chosen scenes.
Graphic Novel Creation
For older students, through a few basic story prompts and an investigation of how graphic novels and comics are created, each can try their hand at writing a script and then see how an artist might adapt their script.
Mix and Match
Have students pick a number from 1–15 (corresponding to the character listing below) and from 16–37 (corresponding to the attributes listing), keeping the characters and attributes secret until students have made their selections. If you want to add another layer of complexity, ask students to pick two numbers from the list of attributes.
Once everyone has chosen, reveal to each student their character and attributes as assigned randomly by the numbers.
When everyone has their characters and attributes, present the class or small groups with one of the scenarios and have them write a story or discuss what would happen with their characters.
1. It's the first night of the school play, and your player needs to go on stage for the first time with only a day to prepare. Who will save the play? How?
2. It's the first day of school and your player overhears one student being mean to another in the hallway. Would your player step in? What would they do?
3. It's the first day in a new town, and you're exploring the neighborhood. What would your player most want to find?
4. Everyone has been invited to go on a hike through the creepy woods just down the street. Who will have the most thrilling adventure?
5. In a group of friends, one person has just gotten new braces and they feel awkward and self-conscious. What would your player do to make them feel better?
6. Everyone is going to explore the house down the street that’s rumored to be haunted. Would your player be first or last in line to go? Who would be able to remain inside the house the longest?
7. The town is having a big costume party that's happening in a few hours and everyone’s invited, but your character doesn't have a costume yet. What would your player choose to wear?
Have students choose two characters from different books by Raina Telgemeier. Ask students to think about those two characters and their potential to be friends, and then imagine answers to the following questions:
- How would they meet? Would they become friends?
- Name three things they'd like about each other.
- List something about one character that would annoy the other.
- Describe a joke or secret they would share.
- What would they like to do together?
- What kind of family or friend drama would they commiserate over?
- What kind of music would they like? Would they share a favorite song?
- What favorite book would they want the other to read? Movie to see?
Give students this prompt:
Write about what would happen if characters from different books met.
Show students images of various characters from Raina Telgemeier's works and discuss the trademarks of how each character is designed: their body shape, their expressions, their clothing, and the colors used in each illustration.
As an artist, Raina has a consistent style, so how does she make each character unique?
Ask students to think about what would define their look if they were drawn in Raina's style. Do they have a favorite piece of clothing they frequently wear? A hairstyle? Jewelry? Would they never be without their phone?
Give students this prompt:
Draw a character of your own! You can base it on yourself, a friend of yours, or any character you want to create!
When dressing up, Cat decides to celebrate her name and her heritage by dressing as La Catrina. Ask students what they would choose for a costume if they had to dress up in honor of their names. What types of clothes and accessories remind your students of their families and homes? Are there any myths or folklore associated with your students' family backgrounds, their names, or their interests that would make great costumes?
Give students this prompt:
Draw a costume inspired by your name or your family. Be sure to point out the details!
Setting the Table
In Ghosts, Cat and Maya enjoy all sorts of delicious food and drink made by their mother and by the people of BahÃa de la Luna.
For many people, home and family are always linked to the food they love, the treats they make together, and the smells and tastes of dinner at home. What kinds of food are your students' favorites in their houses? Do family members make specialties? What does the food look like? Smell like? How would students describe it so that someone else would want to try it?
Give students this prompt:
Draw a picture of your favorite family dish. Add notes to let people know what ingredients make it tasty and what decorations make it just how you like it.
Discussion Questions for Raina Telgemeier's Graphic Novels
Raina Telgemeier charms readers everywhere with her engaging, artful comics highlighting stories about girls, growing up, and the push and pull of relationships between family and friends. Use these questions to consider the similarities and differences between her books.
1. Raina adapted four titles in Ann M. Martin's Baby-sitters Club series into graphic novels, wrote her own story with Smile and Sisters, and then turned to fiction with Drama and now Ghosts. How do you think writing one's own story is different from writing another person's story?
2. When Raina adapted the Baby-sitters Club books into graphic novels, she had to make decisions about what the characters looked like and how to depict their surroundings. How do you think she decided what each character looked like and the outfits they wore? What their rooms looked like? Do you think it's difficult to create a picture of a character from someone else's description?
3. Drama is a fictional story but also draws from Raina's real-life experiences in theater during her middle- and high-school years. If you had to pick one activity you're passionate about and write a story about it, what would it be? Do you think it would be close to your own life? If you wanted to turn it into someone else's story, what story would you tell?
4. Raina's memoirs, Smile and Sisters, are both about a specific time in her life and events that happened while she was growing up. If you had to choose a time period or event from your life to write about, what would it be? Who would you want to help you remember those times?
5. Raina's stories all feature girls as main characters. Are there any girls in your life who could be the subject of stories like the ones Raina tells? Why do you think their stories are interesting?
6. Raina tells the stories of people who may “fly below the radar”: kids who are not the most popular in school, or who prefer to stay behind the scenes of a theater production instead of going on stage. Why do you think she likes to tell the stories of these kids? What do you think the advantages of being outside of the major action are, whether it’s on a stage, during a game, or in everyday life?
7. Think about the people in your life. Who might have an unexpectedly interesting story? Who do you know who may not be recognized for their talents or personalities?
8. Some comic creators are only writers, or only artists, and then they work with a team of people to create a complete story. When Raina creates comics, she both writes and draws them. When you tell a story, do you think in pictures or do you feel more comfortable with words? If you wanted to tell a story, would you prefer to use pictures, words, or both?
About Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier is the author and illustrator of the graphic novels Smile, Drama, and Sisters, all #1 New York Times bestsellers. She also adapted and illustrated four graphic novel versions of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-sitters Club series. Raina's accolades include two Eisner Awards, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, a Stonewall Honor, and many Notable lists. Raina lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Books by Raina Telgemeier
Common Core Standards Used in This Guide
Key Ideas and Details: RL 4.1, 4.2, 4.3
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL 4.7
Speaking and Listening
Comprehension and Collaboration: SL 4.1a, 4.1b, 4.1c, 4.1d
Key Ideas and Details: RL 5.1, 5.2, 5.3
Craft and Structure: RL 5.5, 5.6
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL 5.7
Speaking and Listening
Comprehension and Collaboration: SL 5.1a, 5.1b, 5.1c, 5.1d
Key Ideas and Details: RL 6.1, 6.2, 6.3
Craft and Structure: RL 6.5
Speaking and Listening
Comprehension and Collaboration: SL 6.1, 6.2, 6.3
Key Ideas and Details: RL 7.1, 7.2, 7.3
Speaking and Listening
Comprehension and Collaboration: SL 7.1, 7.2. 7.3