The Ghost Belonged to Me
by Richard Peck. Novel. 146 pages. Grades 4-8.
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Meet Alexander Armsworth the narrator and unwilling hero of The Ghost Belonged to Me. This novel, the first in the Blossom Culp series, combines historical, comical and supernatural events in a most delightful way. The Armsworths of small town Illinois in 1913 are a family of means, although not yet accepted by society, a fact Mrs. Armsworth regrets and intends to remedy. Her pretentions are the comical background against which the story is laid. She is not above manipulating any of her family in her schemes to be one of small town society's most important families. She succeeds in her goal, but not in the way she planned.
The book is not difficult to read or understand and should be well within the reach of most fifth graders and could go up or down. It makes a good read aloud with some great slapstick comedy and not a little historical information.
In The Ghost Belonged to Me, Alexander has been told by a schoolmate, Blossom Culp (more about her later), that he has second sight and it isn't long before events prove her right. He sees and eventually talks to the ghost of a young Creole girl from the Civil War era who is haunting the barn. She warns him of an impending trolley car wreck and thus makes him a hero. His mother is appalled, but Blossom is delighted. So is Uncle Miles who is not to be squelched even by his sister-in-law. It is Miles who knows the secret story behind the ghost whose body must be first dug up and then laid to rest.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- Compare Uncle Miles to such characters as Uncle Parker from the Bagthorpe series by Helen Cresswell. Children should find lots of eccentric relatives in literature.
- Make a chart such as the one below showing the effect of the ghost on each of the characters from the book and adding lines to show relationships between characters.
- There are many historical references here, the Civil War, of course, but also life in Illinois in 1913: two automobiles, the Mercer and the Cadillac, outhouses, the Armsworth's house (the third finest house in town. What are the first two?), the St. Louis World's Fair, trolley and train travel, and the city of New Orleans. Any and all of these make good research topics.
- Also, much is made of the burial customs of New Orleans and the graveyard there is carefully described. Locating or drawing pictures of all of the above can make the book more alive, if we can use the expression with a ghost story.
- Speaking of ghost stories, tell them, read them, and find more.
- Many children will want to read the other Blossom Culp books: Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death (Delacorte, 1986 ISBN 0-385-29433-6, The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp (Dell, 1984 ISBN 0-440-42154-3) and Ghosts I Have Been (Viking, 1977 ISBN 0-670-33813-3) all of which are good.
- Compare Blossom Culp to have-not characters with spirit from other novels such as Sara Kate in Afternoon of the Elves (Orchard, 1989 ISBN 0-531-08437-X Library Binding Hardcover Paperback) by Janet Taylor Lisle, a far more serious book than this, and the Herdmans from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (Harper, 1972 ISBN 0-06-025043-7).
- You might be interested in another book by the same author, Voices After Midnight (Dell, 1990 ISBN 0-440-40378-2) in which people of today must lay to rest the souls from the past.
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