Thursday, October 31, 2013

Something HAUNTING for Halloween!

All month, I.N.K. bloggers have explored the promise of Common Core Standards when partnered with nonfiction books.   Here I am, on Halloween, bringing up the rear.  What can I add that hasn’t already been said?  

Not much, in terms of academic prowess.  I’m not a teacher.  People don’t even see me as a “serious” nonfiction writer because of the topics I tackle.  They say I’m a little goofy.   So I’ll give you my goofy point of view about ghosts. 

For eight years, kids have begged me to write a book about ghosts.  For seven years, I have politely declined.   Then I met a boy in New Hampshire who changed my mind.  

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”  he asked. I said yes.  

“A girl died in a fire in my house, and now she comes to me at night and it scares me,” he said.  “What should I do?”

Consider that for a minute.  This boy, eight going on nine, believes he’s dealing with an apparition --  a dead girl consumed by flames. 
What kid has the tools to deal with such a vivid imagination, much less the possibility of it being real?   And what brain trust thought it was a good idea to tell a 3rd grader a child died where he sleeps?

When I was a kid, I had night terrors – realistic bad dreams that felt real – and I explained that to him.  He said no, these were not dreams.  The ghost was real, so we moved forward on that premise.  Remember, it doesn’t matter what WE think if HE believes this is real.  

“Okay,” I said.  “She’s not a dream.  She’s real.  Want me to tell you what I’d do, if I were in your shoes?”

“Yes,” he said, not a flicker of nonsense in his eyes.  “What would you do?”

“If she came into my room, I’d try to talk to her,” I said.  His no nonsense look was instantaneously replaced by, are you crazy?   But he listened. 

“I’d say, ‘Hey, it’s really sad that you died and I’m sorry, but I didn’t do it.  So can you stop scaring me?”  

He nodded.  “What if it doesn’t work?”  he said.

“Ignore her,” I said. His hope began to evaporate. So I pulled him back.  

“Wait, hear me out,” I said.  “When I was a kid, I loved to scare my sister.  Do you know when I stopped trying to scare her?” 

He said no.  “I stopped trying to scare her when she stopped screaming.  If she didn’t react, it wasn’t fun.  If your ghost doesn’t scare you anymore, maybe she’ll stop, too.  So try ignoring her if talking doesn’t work.”   

“But how do I ignore her?” he said.   

“What would you do if a zombie showed up at your window?”  I asked.   He said he’d be scared, and I agreed.  “Me too, totally.”  
“What would you do if it came a second night?”  We agreed, we’d still be scared.

“What about the third night, fourth night, fifth?  What about the sixth, seventh, eighth?  What if that zombie came TEN DAYS IN A ROW?”  I asked him.  “By the tenth night, I wouldn’t be scared, I’d be mad. Stupid zombie, don’t you have anything better to do?”

He laughed and agreed, kind of annoying after ten days, not scary.

“Great, I said. “Skip to the tenth night with your ghost.  Because, eventually, she’ll be just like that zombie – a poor sad girl with nothing better to do.” 

A thousand pound weight lifted off his shoulders.  At least he had a game plan.  

That’s why I decided to write GHOSTLY EVIDENCE: EXPLORING THE PARANORMAL (Millbrook, 2014).  Thousands of kids are watching ghost shows on television, and almost no one has time to talk with them about those shows or the fears they invoke.  Most say, “Ignore it,” but they don’t say how (or why).  

And that’s where Common Core Standards come in.  

When effectively implemented, Common Core Standards empower kids, teaching them how to gather evidence of their own.  With hard core evidence, kids become critical thinks, making it harder for our multi-media world to feed them half truths and lies.  I hope books like mine help teachers and librarians to do exactly that.

For GHOSTLY EVIDENCE, I visited three haunted houses, a haunted prison, four haunted grave yards, two haunted hotels and a haunted ship.  I read dozens of books and articles and interviewed more than fifteen experts on medicine, electricity, photography, near death experiences, mediums, ghosts and skeptical analysis.  

I put eight years of hard research into my 64 page book, hoping it would help kids challenge the information strangers will feed them.  I wrote it, hoping they’d be inspired to do real research of their own. 

When educators and authors join forces, we can teach kids the facts, sure.  But via Common Core Standards, we can also teach them how to think – how to evaluate information presented as facts.  When we give them such powerful skills, they have a shot at separating lies from the truth.  

Did I come to any conclusions writing my book about ghosts?  Yes.  I decided there was enough information to justify further scientific study, but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.  We’re far too invested in superstition and disbelief to move past fear toward facts. 

Common Core Standards could change that.  It could usher a new generation toward discoveries we have scarcely imagined, much less proven.  And that’s an unfolding mystery I can get behind. 


Susan E. Goodman said...

What a great post and a great story. Where were you when I was sweating about what was in my closet a million years ago?

Kelly Milner Halls said...

Right there in the closet with you, Susan. I was so scared of all things that went bump in the night. And no one would talk to me about it. "Just go to bed, Kelly." They say write for the kid you were. I think "they" are right.


Melissa Stewart said...

Great post, Kelly. You'd think that after a full month, we'd run out of new ways to discuss what Common Core has to offer and how our books can help, but we didn't. I'm so glad you ended with a focus son critical thinking. It's SO important, and your ghost book is a perfect example of why.

Rosi said...

I love the story of that boy and his ghost. I hope he listened well to what you had to say. This is a great post. Thanks for it. I put the link up on my FB page.