Fantasy Fiction: Our World and Beyond
“From Creative Process to Curriculum Connections”
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
March 22, 2014
Teaching Ideas by
Mary Ann Cappiello, Ed.D.
Texting the Underworld
Written by Ellen Booraem
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013
Googling the Underworld. Who are all of those creatures and people that Conor and his family meet on their trip to the Underworld? Where are they from? What countries, belief systems, and time periods do they represent? Have students map out the characters in small groups, researching individuals and contextualizing them by their time and place. Students can share their research findings using glogster, Prezi, Power Point or some other media that allows them to share photographs of artifacts from those cultures and images of the creatures/people from art work.
Cultural and Religious Beliefs About the Afterlife. In reading Texting the Underworld, we learn a lot about the O’Neill family’s beliefs about Irish beliefs, in particular the role of the banshee in the dying process. What are the cultural and religious beliefs about the afterlife that people in your community hold or have held in the past? What belief systems exist in the countries from which their families originated? In pairs or small groups, have students brainstorm, compare and contrast, and then select a series of interview questions on this topic. Have them conduct interviews with a family member or neighbor. Have them compare and contrast their results with one another, and conduct short research projects on the belief systems that they find most fascinating.
Map Making. Maps are a motif throughout Texting the Underworld. One of Conor O’Neil’s favorite things to do is create maps of the mythical words that he creates. These maps are not just a way to pass the time. Conor’s map making is something he shares proudly with his grandfather and best friend Javier. The maps also offer Conor an escape from his reality, into worlds of his own making. At one point, Ashling suggests that Conor apprentice to a map maker. How are maps made today? How were maps made in the past? Is the art of map making a dying art? Have you students investigate different maps from different time periods, and the art, craft, and science of map making. If Conor does not apply to Boston College (to his father’s regret), where would he go to school to prepare himself as a map maker? Draw on some of the digital resources listed below.
Writing the Fragments. Conor and Ashling knew one another hundreds of years before they met in Conor’s bedroom in South Boston. As we read Texting the Underworld, fragments of their backstory emerge. How did Conor/Declan and Ashling meet? What was like life in 5th century Ireland? Have your students conduct research into every day life and belief systems during this period of Ireland’s history, and then write the backstory. Students can choose when they begin and end their stories, in keeping with the limits placed upon them by the novel itself (Ashling’s death, what Conor remembers). As students write and revise, have them compare and contrast their characterization of the two with the characterization most evident in the novel. You might want to read aloud Rosemary Sutcliff’s Tristan and Iseult, also set in 5th century Ireland.
Center for the History of Cartography, Newberry Library, Chicago
Map Collections, Teacher Resources, Library of Congress
National Geographic, Map Making in the 21st Century (2001)
“Why Maps Matter”
The Miniature World of Marvin & James
Written by Elise Broach and Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2014
Playing in Pencil Sharpeners and Other Things. One of the most delightful scenes in The Miniature World of Marvin & James is when Marvin and his cousin Elaine discover the inside of a pencil sharpener. The two of them jump, bounce, and sail about the insides of the sharpener, reveling in the softness of the shavings. What other objects in the classroom or in students’ homes could become an amusement park experience for Marvin? As a class, brainstorm different possibilities. Have each student select a different object, and write a “missing chapter” from the book detailing the fun and the danger that Marvin and Elaine might experience. Be sure to include a sketch as part of this process, modeled on Kelly Murphy’s sketches.
Missing Someone. Why does Marvin say at the conclusion of the story that it is “good to be missed?” Have students write about a time when they felt lost or lonely without a special friend or family member. Where were they? Do they remember how long they were separate from their loved one? What special things did they do together upon their return? Students can illustrate their memories of either the time away or the reunion with their friend, using pieces of paper that are the appropriate size for the landscape, just as Marvin selected a long flat piece of paper to paint his picture of the beach for James.
Human Stand Ins. The Miniature World of Marvin and James is considered animal fantasy because we know that beetles don’t speak English, and don’t live like humans do, with tables, button chairs, and art studios under the kitchen sink. But other than that, the world exists in the book for James as it does for the rest of us. What magical animals can your students create that might live side-by-side in our world? Have students build a miniature world of their own that can exist in their home. What small animal might it be? Have students draw pictures of the animal and his/her family and friends, and create a map of where the animals live inside his/her apartment, room, or house. Students could also build a miniature room for their animal, using recycled objects found at school and brought in from home.
“Little” Intertexual Connections. While students are reading The Miniature World of Marvin and James independently, read aloud from A Tale of Two Bad Mice, The Borrowers, The Littles, or The Tale of Despereaux, to allow students to see how other novelists have also had people and creatures living side-by-side in homes.
Lucy at Sea from the “The Voyage of Lucy Simmons” series
Written by Barbara Mariconda
Published by Harper Collins, 2013
Researching References. Lucy at Sea is packed with references to mythical creatures, legends, and history. How do these allusions deepen the story? What is a siren and why is Marnie compared to one? Who was the Pirate Queen of Ireland? Is the story real or not? Why were the sailors referring to the Flying Dutchman each time they saw the ghost ship? Who was Medusa and why did Grady start chanting about her when they were out to sea? As students read, have them track what references they recognize and what they don’t understand. Have them share that information with one another and research to fill in the missing pieces.
“The Ballad of Mary Maude Lee.” Using the musical score on p. 311 of the novel, have a student prepare to play the ballad on a musical instrument, ideally a flute. Play the ballad during a read aloud of the moments when Lucy is hearing it in her head. What does the ballad sound like? How does it help students understand the mood of the story?
Prediction. What happens next to Lucy and her friends? Will they easily travel from Australia to Ireland? Will the ghost ship appear once again? Are the cards now at peace or will they continue, along with the flute, to guide Lucy towards her family’s treasure? Where did Quade go? Will he, too, reappear in the third book? Have your students write the first chapter of the third book in “The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons” series. The beauty of predicting within a series it that eventually, you really do get to find out what happens next.
Girl Sailors. Lucy at Sea is a work of historical fantasy. Although it is fantasy, the author chose not to have Lucy attempt to captain a ship on her own; she hired a professional crew including a captain. Some say that Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is also historical fantasy, because in the novel, set during the 19th century, Charlotte winds up commanding a ship. Yet, there is a history of women at sea that might reveal a wider range of roles that readers might think. Have some students in class read Lucy at Sea and others read Charlotte Doyle. While reading, have them researching women at sea and what might have been possible and permissible during the time periods in which these two books were set. You might want to have some students researching the Pirate Queen of Ireland, too.
Women at Sea Resources
Women in Maritime History, National Park Service
The Maritime Heritage Project
The Hostage Prince, Book One of “The Seelie Wars”
Written by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Published by Viking, 2013
Maps of Magical Realms. The Hostage Prince begins with a map. This map not only grounds the reader In the world of the story, in this case the Seelie Lands and the Unseelie Lands. The map also serves as a preview of what is to come within the pages of the novel. The action that unfolds transpires within the locations important enough to be identified in the map. Compare and contrast this map with other maps of magical lands, such as Narnia, Oz, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. What does each map tell you? How can readers mine maps in order to predict action as the story unfolds? You can even look more closely at the interactive version of the map from the book: http://theseeliewars.com/map.html.
Researching References. Like Texting the Underworld and Lucy at Sea, The Hostage Prince is filled with references to folklore, myth, and legend. As students read the book, have them keep track of words they do not recognize, and what they mean. In some instances, it may be a folklore reference. In others, it may be an example of Yolen’s extensive vocabulary at work. For example, ostler is an uncommon word, but it references someone who works at an inn or manages a stable, not a mythological creature. Have students research the origin/background of the fantastical creatures mentioned, such as, but not limited to: ogres, satyrs, feys, Queen Mab, bogles, and goblins.
Prediction. What happens next to Prince Aspen and Snail, now known as Karl and Nomi? Have students write the opening chapter of the sequel that Yolen and Stemple are currently revising. Where do they go next? How do they stop the war from starting? How will their friendship change? What mistakes will they make? Who can they trust? The beauty of predicting within a series it that eventually, you really do get to find out what happens next.
History of Hostages. Where did the concept of the “Hostage Prince” originate? While the story may be fantasy, the reality is that hostage taking, particularly among ruling and politically elite families, has a long history in our world. Break your students up into small groups to research and explore this history. Perhaps you can divide up your students into different continents, to see what role the exchange of hostages played at different times in history in different representative countries.
Alternating Perspectives. What’s it like to try and write from more than one first person perspective? Before, during, or after your reading of The Hostage Prince, share other stories for young people that offer alternating chapter narrations, such as The Pigman (Zindel), The View from Saturday (Konigsburg), Behind You (Woodson), and Same Sun Here (House and Viswani). Have students then write a short story that is told in alternating points-of-view between two characters. If this is too difficult, some students could choose to co-author a story, work out the plot and characterization, and then each writes from one perspective.
Combined Teaching Idea: Grades 5-8
Who’s Who of Fantasy. Have students in small groups read one of the following: Texting the Underworld, Lucy at Sea, or The Hostage Prince. As students are reading, have them research and keep track of the different creatures and humans mentioned associated with myth, folklore, and legends (see above entries). When students have completed the books, have them identify the creature that they are most interested in reading about next. Work with students using a database like Titlewave, lists from the Cooperative Center for Books for Children, and your local library’s digital database to identify another novel which features that creature. When the students have finished both novels, create a class “Who’s Who” book, in which students complete entries for the different creatures they researched, informed by their reading of both novels. What crossovers occur? Which creatures are mentioned in some books? Most? All?