Literature Circles

La-la-la LIT Circle! Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier


Ghosts is Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel. It is brilliant in its complex display of sibling relationships, between Cat and Maya.  The younger daughter Maya has cystic fibrosis so the family decides to move to Northern California for the fresh ocean air. Their new neighbors, the Calaberases are–like Maya’s mother–of Mexican descent, but have not assimilated to the degree that Maya’s mother has. Carlos Calavera, their son, shows the two sisters the town’s haunted mission, but when Maya ends up hospitalized, Cat is angry, blames Carlos, and worries that Maya will soon be gone forever.

Despite its storytelling brilliance, there has been controversy around this bestseller. Education professor Laura Jimenez remarked most stridently about the inaccuracy of the surname Calavera and the equating of the Day of the Dead ancestral devotion with seeing ghosts, “Then the name … The neighbors are the Calaverases. They are Mexican, and their name is Calavera (skull) and they live in a town full of ghosts. That is the equivalent of a family named Advent Calendar living in town with a reputation for elves.”

For our Lit circle, we will explore this controversy as well as the other elements of its plot and setting.

Everyone has an assigned role.


Investigator roles. Analyze and cite 2-3  sources.  Please cite your sources properly.

Participants, please comment in a maximum of four paragraphs, state your role as a header, and use your first name only. Please reply to at least 3 other participants.

  1. What is the controversy?  Take side of the critics like Debbie Reese. Why is it important to be culturally accurate? What liberties can a storyteller of a different culture take without harm?
  2. What is the controversy? Take side of defenders of RT and the research she did.
  3. What is the controversy? Explore the idea that RT could have written this as a ghost story without bringing in the Day of the Dead and its ceremonies and traditions.
  4. American beliefs about ghosts – How are they reflected in the book?
  5. Culturally accurate Day of the Dead books for middle grade students – Create an annotated list, with pictures, please!
  6. Cystic Fibrosis and Children – What is it? How does it affect Maya? What are her prospects for living a “normal” life?
  7. Day of the Dead celebrations: What is the contact between the living and ancestors during the El Dia de Los Muertos?
  8. Ancestor devotion in other cultures – How do other compare with Mexican Day of the Dead?
  9. Northern California coastal weather, esp. the fog – How does it help the pacing, the plot?
  10. California Missions: Why were they created? What was their role? What is their role in the book?

Literary Critic roles. Use specific pages to back up for analysis, and give readers the exact page numbers, please. Please cite your source(s) properly.

  1. Visual literacy skills needed to read this book
  2. How does RT tell her tale? How do specific panels relate the story in interesting ways?
  3. How does it work structurally? How does the author make visual transitions? What other structural elements are important?
  4. How does the relationship of the sisters change?
  5. What are the subplots and how do they create an overall arc to the story?

Participants, please comment in a maximum of four paragraphs, state your role as a header, and use your first name only. Please reply to at least 3 other participants.

Deadline: 11/28 at midnight.

Read and reply deadline: 11/30 midnight.


80 thoughts on “La-la-la LIT Circle! Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier”

  1. Visual Literacy Needed to Read Ghosts – Christian

    The medium of comics, like any other medium, has mechanics and devices used to tell a story. Through the combination of words and pictures, comics can tell stories in ways other art forms cannot. Yet while structurally they are similar to the format of novels, i.e. books that we read from left to right, the visual aspects of comics can show the reader concepts without the need to describe it in words. However, people who are unfamiliar with how comics are laid out often miss these cues, and thus don’t understand certain aspects of the story. Using examples from Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts, we can explain some of the more curious storytelling methods in comics.
    Panel layout and size can affect the way the reader perceives time in a comic. A small panel can denote a single moment, while a larger panel can show a longer period of time. Right on page 4, we see the Allende-Delma’s car dead center in the bottom panel, but the small size of the car within the very large panel makes shows off the long trip the family has ahead of them. The first panel of page 8 depicts the movers bringing everything into the new house. Notice how the panel bleeds off the top of the page, by which I mean there are no borders to the panel, and the artwork reaches the top of the page. This is another techniques that can denote a long period of time, since the artwork isn’t restricted to any type of boundary and seems to stretch on forever. You can see this same techniques used to an even greater effect on page 126.
    Since comics are read left to right similarly to novels, it’s important that that the artwork should also move left to right. Character layout and movement should all head towards the right, so help keep the flow of the narrative intact. Anything otherwise is jarring to the reader, and while Telgemeier sticks to this rule for the most part, there are a few instances where she breaks it. On page 145, the first panel depicts Maya running in from the right, which clashes with the direction we read her dialogue. This by itself isn’t terrible, but it affects how the next set of panels are laid out. The last panel on the page has Maya being the first to speak, despite being on the right side of the pane, and Cat and her friends are second to speak, despite being on the left. This causes their speech balloons to have to cross over one another, a method that is not only visually unappealing, but can cause confusion as to who is currently speaking. Readers who are unfamiliar with how the left-to-right rule is often broken can be thrown off when it is, so it’s important to keep an eye out for these kinds of situations.
    Sometimes, however, a creator can break the left-to-right rule to great effect. On page 183 we see Cat’s amazement at the Day of the Dead festival. She’s depicted superimposed over several panels depicting the party, and while the reader can read the panels in the proper order, they could also read them right to left. Or going up and down, or even in a circular fashion. In this instance, any order would still accurately depict how Cat feels when she first sees the massive party. If this sounds contradictory to everything I’ve said in the previous paragraph, that’s because it is. Comics are a weird medium where, if you’re talented enough, you can ‘break’ the rules for a greater effect. Knowing when and how to break the rules requires practice, and for readers to recognize these instances, they have to read a lot of comics for different examples. It might sound odd to say you need to practice to read a book, but when we first learn to read, we had to practice in our native language. And comics are a language all their own.

    1. Christian, I found your explanations really interesting and eye-opening- thank you. For someone who isn’t familiar at all with reading comics or their structure, your explanations definitely helped. Especially, I found it very interesting the concept of time in regards to panel layout and size. I had no idea that a larger panel can depict a longer time period and vice versa. I absolutely agree with you that individuals who aren’t familiar with certain cues of comics will miss their meaning, as I can personally attest to. After reading your explanations, I really feel that certain parts make more sense in Telgemeier’s story. I have gone back and reviewed some parts of her story with your comments as my guide.

      1. I had no idea that the size of the panel in a graphic novel related to the perception of time and I was very interested to learn this. Going back and looking at the book with this in mind adds a whole new dimension to my reading experience. People tend to think that comics and graphic novels are a simpler form of writing than other genres but there are so many complex details, like the ones you highlight, that go into the writing and designing of this form of literature.

    2. Christian, your analysis of panels creates a whole new dimension I never would have even thought of when reading a graphic novel. For example, the idea of a single panel represents a single moment in the story while a very large panel shows an extended period of time. I think that pictures create a sense of depth that words cannot always express. After reading your response I feel that I have a greater understanding of comics.

    3. Christian, you mention that there are a few instances in the book where the author broke the rule of paneling left to right. As a person who does not frequently read graphic novels, it is this use of creativity that often draws me away from reading graphic novels. As you say, it is visually unappealing and I personally find it so confusing that I often lose track of what is going on in the book. I cannot even imagine how students would feel reading a book that suddenly flipped the rules, especially if that student was already a struggling reader.

    4. I am not familiar with comics or graphic novels. This is only the second one I’ve ever read (Maus was my first). I had no idea about this: “Panel layout and size can affect the way the reader perceives time in a comic. A small panel can denote a single moment, while a larger panel can show a longer period of time. Right on page 4, we see the Allende-Delma’s car dead center in the bottom panel, but the small size of the car within the very large panel makes shows off the long trip the family has ahead of them”. I had to go back and take a look at this.

      I also found myself initially only reading text and I had to go back and “read” the pictures to look for visual cues. Now thanks to your insight, I have a better understanding for reading these types of novels. Definitely a different type of reading and I completely agree with you saying comics are a language all their own.

    5. If you all are interested in learning about the language of comics, then you should read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s a comic-about-comics, and McCloud breaks down what makes the medium unique. Not only is there a chapter devoted to seeing how time flows in comics (which goes deeper than what I wrote about for this assignment), but there are chapters dedicated to examining how line and color affect the story, a chapter on the space between panels, a chapter on how words and pictures work together and balance each other. I can’t recommend the book enough.

      1. Understanding Comics is a fantastic book to recommend for people who are interested in learning more about the ways comics work. To take it a step further, you can also analyze panels as is they are frames in movies, only our brains supply the motion. It is just as important when reading comics to “see” what happens between the panels, which helps readers gain better visual literacy.

    6. I never realized that panels were so significant in reading comics (maybe because I’m always dismissing them). You have opened my mind to understanding how they represent the story and how the aim in directing plots. I found your explanation quite interesting and resourceful. Thank you for the breakdown and I will try to read the title you recommended.

  2. Literary Critic roles.
    Question 4: How does the relationship of the sisters change?

    The relationship between Cat and Maya is one that I feel most people with siblings can relate to. I personally can relate, I have a younger brother, and I remember all too well growing up and the struggle between wanting to get away from him and have my space and my friends to myself, while still being close to my family. In the novel there is a constant back and forth with Cat wanting to stay close and wanting to branch out on her own. Cat and Maya also have good balance between their personalities. Where Cat is more reserved, Maya is friendly and outgoing.
    In the beginning, there is the stress about moving to a new town, Cat does not want to move and leave her friends behind, but she wants Maya to be healthy. What can be interpreted as thoughts or narration from Cat, the square boxes of text, such as on page 3 that reads “I’m not trying to be selfish” and on page 7, “of Course I don’t want to die. And I want Maya to be as healthy as possible. Duh!” show the initial resistance.
    The sisters bond when they go explore their new town, and you can see on page 25, Cat’s older sister-protectiveness comes out when Maya runs and has some trouble breathing and Cat gets angry with worry over her. Cat also becomes angry with Carlos when he takes Maya and her to see the ghosts and Maya ends up having a coughing fit and goes to the hospital (pages 100-103). On pages 106-107, Carlos tries to apologize to Cat, but she does not want to hear it. While Maya tends to annoy Cat, as most younger siblings do, she knows she wants her around and healthy. A thought bubble for Cat on page 115 reads “it’s too quiet when you’re sick” and on page 116, she plays Maya’s favorite song and lays with her.
    On pages 145 and 146, when Cat is out with friends and Maya runs into them, Maya becomes upset that Cat didn’t tell them she was her sister and Cat feels embarrassed for lying and pretending Maya didn’t exist. While Cat is trying to adjust to the move, new school, new friends, and be her own person, she still feels the need to protect Maya. She is also fearful of trying new things, and Maya knows it, which is why she questions why Cat doesn’t go to the midnight celebration for Dia De Los Muertos (on page 173). While at the celebration, Cat begins to open up and have fun, but misses Maya and wishes she could be there with her. But with the help of Carlos’ uncle, they go to Maya. The relationship between Cat and Maya ebbs and flows, has its ups and downs, like all relationships do. I think the author does a great job of portraying the relationship between siblings.

    1. Amanda, I agree with you as well. I have a younger sister and growing up, our relationship was very similar to Cat and Maya’s. We didn’t really get along much. We had our own friends and didn’t connect. Regardless, like Cat, I did care for my sister, but just simply didn’t get along. I concur that Telgemeier captures the typical sibling relationships very well. Like in the story, my relationship with my sister did change for the better with the years and after struggling together through personal familial struggles.

      1. I also agree that Telgemeier does a good job portraying the nuances of sibling relationships. She especially captures the depth of the confusion Cat feels about her mixed emotions toward Maya. I found it to be heartbreaking that Cat was given so much responsibility regarding her sister. I think it is a realistic depiction of living with a sibling who is sick, but as in real life, the needs and feelings of the healthy siblings are often ignored. Ultimately Cat is shown to be mature, selfless, and compassionate, all qualities that make the story that much more rewarding.

        1. Amanda, I agree I think the relationship between Cat and Maya is very relatable. Even though they have very different personality traits you can still see the bond and love between the two sisters. Cat definitely wants her own identity but is quick to defend and protect Maya at any cost necessary. The bond between the two is both admirable and touching.

    2. Amanda, I think my favorite part about this book is the addition of Maya being sick. This takes the sister relationship above and beyond, especially when Cat is blamed by the parents when Maya gets herself into a coughing fit. I think it shows that strange responsibility older siblings have to be a surrogate parent and protector, although they themselves are still learning how to be an adult.

      1. I agree that RT did a great job capturing the sisters’ relationship and I think that making one sister ill allows for a richer more complex relationship. I am especially glad for this added layer otherwise, there would have been very little change in the family background of her last three books.

    3. Amanda you nailed it! I have a younger sister and she is my world but …….:). I would say this is one of the reasons why teens would be drawn to this books. Because of the drama that unfolds between the sisters, it reminds us of that close but awkward relationship between siblings. That’s where I give Telgelmeier an ‘A’. She starts the relationship as a rivalry then builds a slightly jealous momentum which eventually turns into a display of great love between the two.

    4. I completely agree that the author did a great job portraying the sibling relationship. I have always been close with my siblings, but there is always that struggle of learning who you are while they still want to be a part of every aspect of your life. Even when embarrassed or annoyed, you always want your sibling to end up being okay and needing them and Maya and Catrina’s relationship showed that really well.

    5. I liked Cat’s development in the story, but it felt like their relationship didn’t change too much since Maya didn’t develop much as a character. My heart broke for Cat and Maya when Cat lied to her friends (by omission) since she never told them about her sister, although I wasn’t sure why she felt she had to lie in the first place? Her friends would be pitying her sister, not her, and if she wanted friends of her own, that’s really up to the parents to help Maya navigate making friends, not Cat needing to “share” hers. Cat is figuring out her identity, and I think that this book shows that there are no perfect solutions, and that it’s okay to be flawed-even when it comes to your relationship with your sister.

  3. Investigator role-Yael
    3. What is the controversy? Explore the idea that RT could have written this as a ghost story without bringing in the Day of the Dead and its ceremonies and traditions.

    The controversy surrounding Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, Ghosts, is that many critics accuse Telgemeier of inaccurately depicting the Day of the Dead and its traditions and of cultural appropriation. The story is about the loving relationship between two sisters and their move to a coastal California town in the hopes of helping the younger of the sisters in dealing with cystic fibrosis. However, the town is obsessed with the celebrations and observance of the Day of the Dead and at first, Catrina, the older sister has a hard time participating in the town’s enthusiasm. Many people are not happy that Telgemeier decided to incorporate the Day of the Dead in her novel because they feel that the event is arguably celebrated by people in Mexico only and should not be by White people or be commercialized or colonized. Also, many have accused her of using someone else’s traditions and culture for her own gain. For instance, the Day of the Dead is a holiday in Mexico that celebrates the life and memories of dead relatives and friends, but critics are upset because they feel that Telgemeier in her story took this aspect too far. For example, they aren’t pleased that she showed the older sister with white paint on her face, an act reserved for Mexican people.
    The element of the ‘Day of the Dead’ is completely entrenched in Telgemeier’s latest novel and adds a cultural depth and relatedness to the story. Catrina and her family move to a town where this holiday makes up the town’s very identity and it is very prominent in the novel. However, the question remains: Could have Telgemeier omitted the Day of the Dead holiday and written a ghost story only? Would the story have the same effect? Would it be the same? Honestly, I think that the story would not be the same and the concept of the Day of the Dead adds to the story. If Telgemeier wrote it as simply a ghost story, the whole element of Catrina’s ancestral background and heritage wouldn’t be included. Her maternal grandmother wouldn’t be mentioned nor would her familial connection to Mexican food and traditions. It’s as if Catrina discovered her family ancestry and roots because of this holiday. She tried to find her deceased grandmother in the celebration to ask her about how her sister will cope with death. She wasn’t successful, but this aspect would not be included either. The familial connection in Telgemeier’s Ghosts is somewhat similar to the connection in Anya’s Ghosts, a graphic novel, by Vera Brosgol. In Anya’s Ghosts, the main character is a Russian immigrant and the ghost is from World War I (Brosgol, 2014). So, in that story, the author decided to add a historical and cultural element as well.
    Additionally, Telgemeier’s story would be a simple ghost story that might not even be scary, as most ghost stories usually are. Telgemeier paints a realm where kids can comprehend human death not as hushed-about horror, but rather as a normal act that does not sever our ties to our ancestors, bound as we are by love and memory (Cavna, 2016). Often, characteristics of a ghost story are keeping it simple, adding a sense of fear, little sense of hope, and being vague. If this graphic novel took away the holiday and just focused on the ghosts then, Telgemeier would have had to make it more scarier, strip it of many details in order to keep it simple and vague, and offer Catrina and Maya little hope. The ghosts in this story were not scary, but seemed friendly and comic like, unlike in a real ghost story. As famous children’s author, Roald Dahl said in reference to a good ghost story, “Spookiness is, after all, the real purpose of the ghost story. It should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts (Dahl, 1983).” Also, in the story the ghosts were of dead relatives who purposefully visit on the Day of the Dead.
    In sum, the plot of, Ghosts, if devoid of the holiday and its traditions would be completely different. Telgemeier added a level of depth and substance to the novel by not writing a basic ghost story. How would the story sound then? It would be about two sisters moving to another town to help with the younger’s health condition, but then, the author would have to devise another way to introduce ghosts into the storyline. Would the ghosts be friendly, mean or scary? What would be their connection to the sisters? Would the sisters embark on a spooky adventure with the ghosts? On the other hand, Telgemeier grounds her story by centering it around the Day of the Dead and its celebrations thus, connecting the sisters to the ghost feature. Telgemeier would need to write the story as a ghost story by adding fear, mystery and suspense to the mix, but then it would not be such a unique tale like she wrote.

    Works Cited

    Brosgol, V. (2014). Anya’s Ghost. Square Fish.

    Cavna, M. (2016, October 31). Raina Telgemeier’s ‘Ghosts’ is an inviting Day of the Dead feast for young minds. The Washington Post. Retrieved November 26, 2016, from

    Dahl, R. (1983). Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

    1. I completely agree with you–I cannot imagine this story written without the Day of the Dead as a main element. The cultural holiday adds a type of warmth to the plot, even though it is talking about dead ancestors. If it had been written as ghost story, like you said, it would be scarier and less accessible to a young audience. There is a certain vibe given off by having the mixture of Maya’s illness, the ghosts of ancestors surrounding them, and the colorful depictions of the costumes and skeletons that make all the elements of the story go perfectly together.

      1. What about if they had added an aspect of seance–connecting to deceased relatives through a medium? That might have worked….spirits rather than ghosts? And the neighbors could connect Maya’s mom back to her culture?

    2. While I do agree that the book would not be as effective if the element of “day of the dead” was left out, I also think that the author should have been more culturally sensitive in the writing of this book. As you mentioned, the use of face paint was inappropriate, but also the depiction of happy ghosts that only speak Spanish. Depending on the age of the ghosts, it is possible they spoke in a native language and may not have been “happy” as the introduction of the Mission disrupted the lives of many and contained many violent situations as detailed in my full response below.

      1. True, but these are “younger” ghosts. Carlos’s uncle appears, and he didn’t come from that tragic history.
        RT could’ve included ghosts from that time period, to acknowledge the roots of the holiday. She could’ve featured a few panels of ghosts explaining this history to Cat. But seeing as it wouldn’t be a significant part of the plot, I think many would’ve seen it as a throwaway line and would’ve found that as disrespectful as not including it at all.

      2. Christian,
        A Drown Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz features a seance. It is very late 19th century. When I was a kid, we played seances. We tried to bring George Washington back to life. I think it could have been used as a motif.

    3. I agree that eliminating the “Day of the Dead” element to the story would completely change it the whole story however, I think that some elements could have definitely been changed to make it more culturally correct. The family could have moved to Mexico for example instead of Northern California because the use of the Mission as the haunting ground very wrong (see my answer below for more info on the California Missions).

    4. I agree that this would not be the same without The Day of the Dead. As you say, it adds culture and depth to the characters. We can see the characters appreciate their history. Of course the portrayal of the holiday is not 100% accurate, but it is a nice, simplified view of it and it may inspire some readers to learn more about it.

      1. Is simplified nice? Some critics would say that inaccurate is never nice, but harmful. Just trying to make everyone think. We all should be pushed in our thinking. This is not being politically correct, but being aware of the sacred in everyone’s cultures. The Day of the Dead is a sacred holiday for Mexicans. I appreciate your optimism though, A. We all need to read Funny Bones next! I’ll bring it again next class.

        1. Ok.. so I’m taking the two sides. Eliminating the Day of the Dead would some how probably weaken the plot because the storyline is developed through that idea. I think she could have mentioned that some cultures celebrate their dead and at that particular party they are putting a twist one things or something. But Telgelmeier gave no indication that the information may not have been so. This is just plain inaccurate. As a writer she should have researched the information and not just merely relying on one or two experiences that she observed in a place that is foreign to even that culture. And simplified does not necessarily mean inaccurate or misleading. Just a thought…

    5. I disagree with this, I think Telgemeier using Day of the Dead celebrations doesn’t add anything to this story, and I see it as a distraction. What is the focus supposed to be for this story? What does Cat gain by partaking in her ancestor’s traditions? What does that add to the story itself? This isn’t a story about Cat feeling lost in terms of her heritage, it’s about her internal struggle with her sister’s illness–the ghosts are a better way of illustrating that struggle since they, from my interpretation, steal Maya’s breath away and make her sicker. Yes, it’s a story about death, but it grounds itself in the belief that when someone is gone, they’re not /really/ gone, which is fine for making Cat and Maya feel better about Maya’s inevitable departure, but does it really offer any tangible solace for a person reading this that’s missing someone or dealing with something similar? Furthermore, this could have been accomplished without using Dia de los Muertos, and especially the deus ex machina of Carlos’ ghost uncle whisking Cat and Carlos back to her home to have that “feel good” talk with Maya. Ultimately, it falls flat and rings insincere.

      And then there’s also the fact that Raina Telgemeier is a white woman attempting to tell the story of a culture she is not a part of, and doing “sugar skull” make-up in the back of the book which has been labeled as culturally appropriative by many individuals in the Mexican heritage community. All in all, not super impressed with her story or her unnecessary use of another community’s culture.

  4. Christian, I found your explanations really interesting and eye-opening- thank you. For someone who isn’t familiar at all with reading comics or their structure, your explanations definitely helped. Especially, I found it very interesting the concept of time in regards to panel layout and size. I had no idea that a larger panel can depict a longer time period and vice versa. I absolutely agree with you that individuals who aren’t familiar with certain cues of comics will miss their meaning, as I can personally attest to. After reading your explanations, I really feel that certain parts make more sense in Telgemeier’s story. I have gone back and reviewed some parts of her story with your comments as my guide.

  5. California Missions:

    Why were they created?

    From the 14th Century, Spain has been expanding their empire and has successfully done so by using Christianity. Spain colonizes in the name of the Catholic faith and their first task is to convert the natives. Then these natives are made to labor in newly established farms or haciendas to support the crown and its endeavors. The California Missions or the Missions of Alta California were established for this very reason.

    In 1769, the Sacred Expedition was dispatched from Baja California to settle Alta California. Franciscan Father Serra led the group of priests and soldiers and embarked on an overland journey and a group of three ships sailed with them. It was a long and difficult trip, many men died and all three ships were lost. The first mission, San Diego de Acala, was founded by Father Serra at a temporary location on July 16, 1769. Eventually 21 Missions were built in the 54 years between 1769 and 1823 in a chain that stretched from its southern edge in San Diego to north of the San Francisco Bay.


    What was their role?
    The mission served as the base for the missionaries and soldiers. Within the mission was housing for the Spaniards. There was well as the church which is central to the colonization process.

    What evidence is there for mistreatment of natives?
    Soldiers rounded up Indians who, once taken inside the missions, became slaves. Those who tried to escape were severely punished; some were killed. Indians’ tribal names were usually forgotten, and instead they became known by the names of the missions they served. During the sixty-five years of the missions, Indians were inflicted with disease and despair, and their numbers were depleted by over 80 percent (Jones, 2003).

    Mission era meant the end of the Native Californians’ lifestyle and lead to the death of thousands of them. The Missionaries had planned to eventually turn over the Missions to the tribes but this never really happened. Europeans of in the 17th and 18th century didn’t understand civilizations different than their own. They looked at them as primitive and that by changing them they were helping the primitive civilizations to join the modern world. Another problem was the diseases that the Europeans brought with them. The Natives had no immunity to the diseases and thousands died. Before the Spanish came scholars estimate that there were about 300,000 Native Californians. By 1834 records show that there were about 20,000 and by 1910 that number had dropped to about 17,000 (Weber, 2009).

    I think that the fact these Native American tribes have lost their identity, no longer even being referred to in literature by their tribe names but by the name “Mission Indians” and their lands, and that their descendants are now living in small reservations in Southern California is the greatest evidence for mistreatment.

    Jones, V. B. (2003). Mission Indians of California. In S. I. Kutler (Ed.), Dictionary of American History (3rd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 408-409). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
    Weber, T. (2009, February 09). Mission History. Retrieved November 26, 2016, from
    The Missions of Alta California. (2012). Retrieved November 26, 2016, from

    1. “I think that the fact these Native American tribes have lost their identity, no longer even being referred to in literature by their tribe names but by the name “Mission Indians” and their lands, and that their descendants are now living in small reservations in Southern California is the greatest evidence for mistreatment.”–

      Leova, I completely agree with your statement on the greatest evidence for mistreatment of Native American tribes. These missions are once again another perfect example of the ugliness and cruelty of White people overpowering and enslaving Natives, same as the African American slaves and many others. Colonialism and the expansion of the New World is probably one of the ugliest periods in recorded history. Over time, new information emerges that sheds more light on further atrocities. It was interesting to read your account since, I am not really familiar with this time period or event (Spanish missions/California).

    2. I am glad you mentioned the fact that 17th century Europeans did not “understand cultures different than their own.” It is hard to imagine the lengths to which they justified and rationalized the mistreatment, but it is something we have to reckon with today, and all the subsequent violence done in that purported mission to help, to educate must be acknowledged. Thank you for your post.

    3. I found this information so interesting, Leova! I’m a self-professed history nerd, but I’ll confess my only knowledge of the California Missions stems largely from repeated reads of The Island of the Blue Dolphins, which in my mind is suitably depressing of an end for the history you’ve drawn. The timeline and map were great inclusions, I found it particularly interesting that there was a period where the missions were secularized. As you stated, so much of their original purpose surrounded upon ‘saving’ the natives through religion.

      I feel like this history wasn’t even glimpsed in Ghosts–the Mission was just an old place where ghosts liked to hang out. I can certainly see how the happy ghosts in Ghosts and their Day of the Dead celebration conflict with the sad history of the missions. So much of Ghosts/Day of the Dead was about honoring the lives of those who came before us, but what honor was given to the lives of those who toiled in the mission?

    4. This is all so interesting and it was a part of history I was not previously aware of. It always seems that the parts of history that are less than pristine seem to be hidden and all that stands is the part that makes the oppressors look better. I think it is very important to teach all sides of history, so this is something that should be discussed more in schools (unless it was just mine that did not teach this).

  6. Ancestor Devotion in Other Cultures–Karin

    Mexican Day of the Dead honors ancestors in a celebratory and playful way. Other cultures adopt their own attitude toward the dead. In China, July 15th begins a month-long festival called the Hungry Ghost Festival. According to Chinese tradition, this is a time when the gates of hell are opened, releasing ghosts who search for food and attempt to get revenge on those who wronged them when they were alive. Some people offer food and burn money and incense in front of their homes during the month to please the visiting ghosts. Others send out small paper boats and lanterns on the water, which is said to guide the lost ghosts. Most people do not leave their homes on the first night of the festival, as they believe that if they run into a ghost they will suffer bad luck the entire year.
    Japan has Obon, a traditional Buddhist celebration that honors ancestors whose spirits are believed to return to visit relatives during the festivities. Many Japanese citizens travel back to their hometowns in order to be around family members during this holiday. In Kyoto, people light huge bonfires on the last day of Obon and perform a traditional dance that is intended to welcome spirits back into the world of the living.
    In Korea the largest national holiday is Chuseok, during which ancestors are honored. Since it is usually celebrated during the harvest, people give thanks to their ancestors for their help in delivering food to the living. As a result, the holiday is centered around food, which is prepared throughout the day. Koreans also clean their ancestors’ graves and at night enjoy folk games and cultural dances.
    Gai Jatra (festival of the cows) is a holiday celebrated in Nepal. Those who have lost a loved one in the past year lead a cow, which is one of the most honored animals in Hinduism, down the street in a parade. The family members believe that the animal will help lead the soul of the dead relative into the afterlife.

    Geiling, N. (2014). Festivals of the dead around the world. Retrieved from

    Zhang, W. (2009). How do we think about death?–A cultural glance of superstitious ideas
    from Chinese and Western ghost festivals. International Education Studies, 2(4), 68-

    1. Karin, it is so fascinating to read about all different cultures and the way they honor and pay tribute to the deceased. In regards to your last comment, the cow does indeed play a significant role in Hinduism and death. Since Hindus believe in reincarnation, the cow is believed to guide the departed soul to their next birth. Some Hindus also believe that when the soul travels they must cross rivers and mountains and the cow is there to protect them until they have reached their next birth.

    2. It is interesting to learn about these other cultures and their views on the dead and ghosts. I was aware of Day of the Dead and what it meant for Mexican culture, but had no idea about these others. The Chinese one sounds frightening to me! Who wants to mess with angry spirits?!

      I think there’s a particular interest to ghosts and spirits because in American culture, people are either fascinated and believe in ghosts/spirits/psychics and all that, or they are terrified thanks to horror stories and movies. I personally feel that (outside of a cemetery) we don’t really respect the dead here as much as other places around the world.

    3. Karin I know a lot about Day of the Dead because of my mother who teaches Spanish and really loves celebrating here in her classroom. The other traditions I never heard of but I found your information so interesting! I feel that I have read about a lot of traditions that started decades ago whether it be in the United States or other countries. I have found a lot of the time that certain traditions fade because the newer generations don’t follow or take it seriously as much anymore so it is nice to see some traditions still being respected and practiced.

    4. Since all of these cultures are Asian, it makes me wonder about the Asiatic nomadic tribes that made their way across the Bering Strait. Could the cultural strands of the Indigenous Mexican Day of the Dead be connected to their Asiatic ancestors? I love how learning new ideas generates more and more questions…

  7. Though I had known about how the Native Americans had been abused and driven off of their land in America, I had never known about how this related to the California Missions. It is a sad fact that people were not able to appreciate the customs and practices of the native inhabitants and instead felt the need to dominate them. I think it is similar to what goes on in our country today–many people do not celebrate the diversity of others and want a country that is devoid of difference. They are afraid of embracing and learning from those who are not exactly like them and do not have the insight to understand how much other cultures, religions, and languages can add to their own way of living.

    1. My parents house was built when I was in 4th grade and we moved in when I was in 5th grade and my father tried to tell me it was haunted and built on the gravesite of Native Americans. Mind you, every weird sound made me freak out, even though it was not true!

  8. Investigator: Day of the Dead celebrations: What is the contact between the living and ancestors during the El Dia deLos Muertos?

    El Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican celebration that pays tribute and remembrance to family members that are deceased. Special food and alters are made in honor of those who have departed. On this day in Mexico, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of flowers, candy, skulls (often associated with this holiday) and parades. This holiday may seem a bit strange to others, but in Mexico death is not only associated with mourning and sadness but many Mexicans feel a sense of happiness and joy. In Mexican culture, this celebration is there to pay respect to the deceased and to invite the departed souls back into their homes for this short period of time.

    It was often believed that the souls of the dead had a profound influence on the lives of the living, therefore, a dedication to the deceased was seen as something necessary for the survival of the community. Some Mexicans feel that death is a solemn occasion, but with elements of celebration because the soul is passing into another life. Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. In some parts of Mexico family members wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Others will dress up in the deceased clothing to pay respect to them.

    A major focal point of El Dia de los Muertos is the alter prepared at home to welcome and honor those that have passed away. Traditionally, families spend time around the altar praying and telling stories about the deceased. The act of preparing an altar is considered very scared in the Mexican culture. Photographs, flowers, candles, favorite foods and drinks of the loved one are placed on the alter. This provides a special time to remember, and to transform grief into acceptance for the family. The living invite the spirits of the family to return home for a few hours of laughter, tears and memories (King, 2003). Even though tears are shed the memory of the deceased is kept alive through this celebration.

    An important aspect of the holiday is the closure that it provides for families who have lost a loved one during the previous year (King, 2003). In addition to creating an alter many families visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. Many stay to visit, eat, drink and pray while they keep a vigil during the night. During this celebration throughout the cemetery there are family reunions of huge extended families. A major belief during this holiday is the reunion between the living and the dead, through stories, memories and dreams, the dead can reunite with the living. On this special night the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

    Day of the Dead. (2016). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:56, November 26, 2016 from

    King, J. (2003). Los Dias de los Muertos (the Days of the Dead). Retrieved from

    1. Reading about the “Dia de los Muertos” and the different activities associated with it reminds me just how similar my culture, Filipino culture, is to the Mexican culture. We too celebrate the lives of our departed loved ones on November 1st, a holiday we call in our language, Kalag-kalag. We visit their graves and basically have a party. We say prayers, bring food, exchange stories and spend the night in the cemetery.

    2. I enjoy that it is not all about sadness, while death and funerals are, it’s important to remember to celebrate the deceased ones’ lives. I have a friend who is Irish, and he said that when they have a wake/funeral, they celebrate. They tell stories and jokes and take shots in honor of the one who has passed. I think it’s nice to try and be happy, because it’s important to remember the good memories you have with that family member or friend.

      1. I had no idea of this country or its culture until now and quite frankly I am shocked to learn that after reading it that the information is ‘not quite so’ or
        misleading. Leova, since this celebration is similar to the one you celebrate in the Philippines, would you have agreed to a presentation of your culture in such a vague and inaccurate way in an effort to teach children about it? While I can a appreciate the idea of celebrating the life of your love ones, I do not support twisting and winding information for likes or great reads.

    3. This is such a great tradition that honors those who have passed. The celebration of the person to bring closure and keep their memory alive is a great way to remember someone beyond the sadness. Hopefully this book will inspire others to learn more about the traditions of Dia de los Muertos to see how other cultures celebrate their loved ones.

    4. This emphasis on memories reminds me of RT’s afterword when she talks about her cousin who died at age 13 and was so joyful and accepting of her own death that RT wanted to remember her and create a homage to her by creating the characters of Maya. Her intentions fit well into that aspect of the holiday. We could defend her on that point! When we write about another culture, we have to really take things out of our perspective and plop them down in the heart and mind of another. That is hard to do. It takes practice and everytime we do it, we help build the unity that we all strive to create in our society by giving everyone–regardless of economic status–equal access to quality information. Long live libraries!

  9. What is the controversy? Take side of the critics like Debbie Reese. Why is it important to be culturally accurate? What liberties can a storyteller of a different culture take without harm?

    The controversy among the graphic novel Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier begins on page 93 when Carlos tells Maya that most of the ghosts speak Spanish. However, it is far more likely that the ghosts were fluent and comfortable with an indigenous language and learned Spanish out of necessity because of the mission’s goal to turn Native peoples into Catholics and claim that land for Spain. The joy of the ghosts is also unrealistic as this time was brutal for native people (rape, enslavement, whipping and death, etc). This can be seen on page 94-97. It is unlikely they would joyfully speak spanish while smiling the whole time.

    Debbie Reese argues that the brutal history is often kept away from children and that this is a misrepresentation of history and creates a false representation of a “diverse” book (Reese, 2016). Reese references several books that do not attempt to shelter children from the brutal history, and all are done in a sensitive manner that, while it may be uncomfortable for some students, accurately describes Missionization. Raina Telgemeier, while she wrote a good story, fails to address cultural implications which drastically changes the effectiveness of this book as a diverse graphic novel.

    Reese, Debbie. (2016, September). Not Recommended: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier. Retrieved from

    1. I found a quote in School Library Journal from a librarian regarding Ghosts: “It DOES matter if the children you serve love a book. It DOES matter. I have Mexican-American students who LOVE this book. What do I say to them? ‘You can’t check this out because it’s supposed to offend you?'”

      I do understand the need to accurately represent other cultures, and it’s something we should strive for. But I think people misuse the term “cultural appropriation.” Telgemeier isn’t claiming that Mexican traditions are her own traditions. She’s depicting people native to the culture celebrating their culture. Is it misrepresentation? Very possible. But it’s far from the worst misrepresentation of Mexican heritage.

      (Side note: Why is it so bad that Cat is wearing skull makeup when the character is half-Mexican? Does that mean only full-blooded Mexicans can wear the makeup?)

      I’m not saying Telgemeier should get a pass. But when there are readers out there who love the book, as the quote says, we should see it as a gateway to show them more books and stories about Day of the Dead, ones that more accurately depict the holiday. Especially if the readers in question are children. We need to foster their enjoyment of reading, not deter it.

      1. You make a very good point, C. And, it is a perfect moment to give them other books about the Day of the Dead. None of this conversation is black and white, or right and wrong. At all. It is about educating ourselves to be able to read from the diverse perspectives that make up the world that walks through our library aisles every day. I am not sure why the face painting is part of the conversation. The only complaint was that at a publishing party, they entertained with face painting. It is part of Cat’s cultural heritage. No problem with that as part of the graphic novel. But if someone started selling face painting kits based on the Day of the Dead, that would be cultural appropriation. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      2. Christian I really love the book, but I strongly think there are other interesting, fanciful and engaging ways gateways to show kids and educate them them about cultures. Remember that the idea of diverse books is to allow others to experience different cultures, but as librarians if we support inaccurate representation, what does that say about our profession? You may also want to think about from the natives perspective. You may not be able to say you can’t check out the book, but it may be a way to start a discussion with that teen and further educate them.

  10. What are the subplots and how do they create an overall arc to the story?

    There are a few episodes that take place to develop Cat and Maya’s story in Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. Although the main focus of the story is the family’s move to Bahia De La Luna, California for Maya’s sake, the discovery that the town is frequented by ghosts peaks the interest of younger sister Maya. The move also helps in healing Cat’s inner fears.

    Some of the subplots detected in the story were:
    Page 17: discovering a secret pathway
    Choosing to embrace the discovery of the unknown and doing it together. Maya discovers a secret path and Cat follows. As they continue down the path, they hold hands and together embrace their new found world just as they learn how to embrace their new life.
    Page 60: Maya shows ofrenda for her grandmother
    May shows she is embracing death as something familiar and not something to fear
    Page 84: Maya, Cat and Carlos see the ghosts and Maya falls gravely ill
    Cat is unable to effectively protect Maya from the effects of the experience as with the effects of her illness
    Page 166: Cat discovers additional information about the ofrenda and rushes back to the house
    Cat learning that Maya’s acceptance of death by creating the ofrenda for the grandmother allows other ghosts to feel welcomed in the home – maybe even Maya’s ghost once she meets her demise

    Other subplots in the story that assisted with its development were:
    Page 19: meeting Carlos and finding out about the town being haunted
    Page 57: mother explains strained relationship with the now deceased grandmother
    Page 73: Maya and Cat learn about the Mission from Carlos and goes there to see the ghosts
    Page 113: Maya learns about the midnight party on November 1st
    Page 120: Has a personal encounter with a ghost and announcing her fear of losing her sister
    Page 140: Lies about Maya to her friends and discovers the Day of the Dead icon La Catrina – who she is named after
    Page 192: Cat interacts with ghosts at the mission party and meets her ‘ghost’ self
    Page 224: Maya speaks to Carlos’ uncle’s ghost Jose who comforts her regarding death

    Overall, the events and adventures that the girls take part in, contribute to the overall arc of the story, the importance of being together and embracing the time that they have in the present. The events aide in capturing the development of Cat from being pessimistic to being more open to accepting life. For Maya, it is her love for life and family and embracing death.

  11. Ashley, I concur with your explanation of the controversy that Telgemeier’s new graphic novel has stirred. I do see the reasoning of critics such as, Reese, in regards to the book misrepresenting history and trying to pass as “diverse”. I feel that Telgemeier could have been more sensitive in incorporating this time period into her novel or perhaps, rethought this storyline altogether. Overall, the story has a good plot, great illustrations and morals, but the historical implications cannot be ignored. Interesting to note, in the back of the book, Telgemeier mentions her inspiration to write the story was from visiting such a town and becoming interested in the holiday’s traditions, yet, perhaps, she could have done a bit more research. I wonder if the actual readers, young adult or teens, might pay so much attention to this controversy as have critics and book reviewers.

  12. 2, What is the controversy? Take side of defenders of RT and the research she did.

    Unfortunately, there aren’t very many articles out there specifically defending the controversy behind Ghosts! Many people are upset at Raina Telgemeier’s portrayal of Dia de los Muertos, a sacred Mexican holiday. This is a new controversy of a subject that isn’t old: cultural appropriation. Most commonly, cultural appropriation refers to the adoption of certain aspects of another culture, while ignoring its deeply personal roots. This is usually in reference to the white majority appropriating pieces of a minority culture without paying tribute to that culture.

    So, here we have Ghosts. Cultural appropriation is an issue that is still being explored, and as Low (2016) states, “When it comes to diversity, most of us are still rookies. Not even people of color are automatic experts” (para. 6). If you’re Mexican, you might be an expert on certain aspects of your culture. Maybe you know all there is to know about the history of Mexican cuisine, but have never celebrated Dia de los Muertos a day in your life. That is Low’s implication here. Most can’t truly state that they know everything there is to know about diversity.

    Many arguing against Telgemeier suggested that she shouldn’t have written about Dia de los Muertos at all. We’re fighting so hard for diversity in books, and many times when we see it, we are very critical of it. This feels to me like one step forward, two steps back. Telgemeier states that she has gone to Dia de los Muertos celebrations. She was writing about what she saw. She saw people celebrating. Is she appropriating, or being true to what she saw? When Mexican people celebrate this holiday, do they view it as tragic? If the holiday is a solemn affair, then a celebration wouldn’t be the right way to portray this holiday. Any inaccuracies about this holiday found in Ghosts should be acknowledged. However, leaving out certain parts of a holiday’s history does not automatically mean it’s inaccurate. Leaving out the holiday’s tragic roots is different than Telgemeier including things that aren’t true.

    Perhaps the solution isn’t to strip away any elements of culture white writers include, but to also make an effort to include more writers of color. We still don’t have very many of them. We need to work harder to have Mexican writers describing a Mexican holiday. Diversity in books is still a problem. Whether Telgemeier’s work is cultural appropriation or not, if anything this controversy has shown us that we still don’t have enough writers of color writing about their experiences. That is why we are so analytical of a white writer doing it. People of color aren’t wrong for this. They just have so little representation, and want to make sure it’s done right.

    Low, J. (n.d.). When Publishing and Reviewing Diverse Books, Is Expertise Overrated? | Opinion. Retrieved November 27, 2016, from

    1. It’s true when you say it feels like one step forward,two steps back. We want diversity, yet are quick to judge or fight against it. While the portrayal of something, such as Day of the Dead, may not be 100% accurate, it’s a good starting point. It may not tell they entire history or story, but by having it at all will certainly inspire others. I think it will inspire other authors to try and write better about it and it will inspire readers to seek out more information.

    2. People of color in children’s literature have repeatedly been misrepresented as well as under-represented. There is a big move now toward cultural competency in all professions of public service (it started as a movement in the health care system), and as new librarians, we need to be able to discern which books depict historically marginalized cultures with respect and reverence, and in the best cases, are also written from their own perspectives, not from outsiders.

      I think RT had intentions of doing just that, and paradoxically enough, the ghost element and what ghosts represent to Americans wasn’t well thought out nor was the Mission element, and therefore, adding the kitsch element of American secularism (Halloween and ghosts) and the under-acknowledged history of Spanish colonial domination to the most important indigenous of all Mexican celebrations–UNESCO recently granted the festival a status of “intangible culture heritage”–just went haywire and sadly, became a kind of circus. Read more about it here:

      Indigenous Festivity Dedicated to the Dead. 28 Nov 2016.

      No writer should have to strip any culture away, in fact, that is problematic when we feel we need to or want to–it was the subplot of Maya and Cat’s mother and her rebellious assimilation, which I thought was so important and honest–but we do have to ask ourselves as writers, why do we want to write this story? According to Jacqueline Woodson, writers need to really have lived and breathed and have spoken the language in a culture in order to write about it. Her essay “Who Gets to Tell My Story” is a deep reflection about books written about other cultures than one’s own, and she herself has written about Deaf culture, Jewish culture.

      Woodson, Jacqueline. Who Can Tell My Story? Horn Book Magazine. Accessed at

      Click to access Woodson.pdf

      Thank you, J. This was one of the most difficult roles of the Lit Circle. Thanks for your response.

      1. I may cry…I just spent like half an hour/45 min writing out a response to this post and it disappeared when I hit post! Don’t know if my log in timed out or something? =(

        I don’t really have it in me to go through all of it again BUT the TLDR version was: Everything’s a problem.

        Today it seems we’re a culture of social justice warriors who are ready to jump all over everything that isn’t perfect…which is everything. The issue of cultural appropriation is such a paradoxical one. If we don’t include diversity we’re racist. If we do, it’s cultural appropriation unless we’re from that culture ourselves. Just look at the minefield explosions JK Rowling navigates as she publishes anything about the North American Wizarding community. I completely agree that we need to encourage a greater diversity among authors, but at the same time if authors only ever write about their own cultures we’ll never have enough diversity. Look at deaf culture, for example. This is a culture that includes something like 3% of Americans. That’s a comparatively tiny pool to draw from! Does that mean that only books written with deaf characters by deaf characters are valid/should be included in our collections? Absolutely not. Authors need to fully explore the cultures they are writing about, but if we keep telling them they can’t do diversity correctly eventually they may stop trying to do it at all.

        I think that we as librarians must diversify our collections, and make sure we have good sources to back up books like Ghosts (see my book list post below). We know Ghosts is popular right now, so maybe we do a lesson unit around Funny Bones to help kids gain a more in-depth view of the Day of the Dead traditions.

        I agree with Sara in that Ghosts seems to pick and choose from a variety of cultures, pulling those elements which suited her story rather than fully flushing out any one. However, to me, the book is more about Cat coming to terms with her sister’s mortality and illness and learning to celebrate life rather than fear death. It’s a coming of age story, and I think that it’s a good one–something that can get stomped on and passed over on our rush to condemn RT for the elements she didn’t fully flush out.

        1. “Today it seems we’re a culture of social justice warriors who are ready to jump all over everything that isn’t perfect…which is everything. The issue of cultural appropriation is such a paradoxical one. If we don’t include diversity we’re racist. If we do, it’s cultural appropriation unless we’re from that culture ourselves.”

          ^ I completely agree, Heidi. This is sort of along the lines of the point I’ve been trying to make.

      2. We need to treat all cultures with respect and be careful not to misrepresent them. But it is literally impossible to ever write a POC character and make everyone happy. Take a look at any book that features POCs (The Help, for example) and you will find at least one negative review about misrepresentation. This makes sense, because there is no way to accurately represent a culture, when that culture includes billions of people who all have different ideas of what their race means to them. It leaves writers in a very confusing position, though.

        No matter what, RT was never going to please everyone. Which means, if she wanted to avoid criticism altogether she should’ve taken out the holiday, which I think now edges uncomfortably close to the territory of censorship.

        I’m curious what everyone’s opinion is on this. How can white writers (or POCs even), who want to write about cultures other than their own do so when, so far, no book has ever managed to without raising controversy?

    3. I agree that it is hard for authors to write about cultures that they don’t belong to. There is definitely a need for colored authors to portray and show the world what really happens in their cultures. Authors can research and attend a celebration for a particular culture but in my opinion I don’t think that it will be represented the right way if the author isn’t in the culture themselves. The book will be given a type of feel where the reader is given accurate depictions of a culture rather than trying to just make it work for the story.

      1. It is true that authors who haven’t experienced what it’s like to belong to a particular culture will have a harder time portraying that experience authentically than authors who do belong to it. However, telling people that they don’t “get” to write about something because they haven’t personally experienced it is harmful. If we had that attitude about everything, the genres science fiction, fantasy, and much of historical fiction wouldn’t exist. JKR never went to a school to learn magic, but as a writer it’s her job to imagine what that experience would be like.

        Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, and it is very much inspired by both Greek mythology and her father’s stories about his time fighting in the Vietnam War. She borrowed from both of these factors. If someone had told her that she couldn’t write the story because she didn’t fight in the Vietnam War, or that she shouldn’t borrow from Greek mythology without paying proper tribute to that culture, then a series that has inspired so many reluctant readers wouldn’t exist.

        I understand that it’s different when you’re telling a story that’s inspired by a marginalized culture, but I think it’s very dangerous to tell people it’s “not their story to tell”, and, again, leans toward censorship. We shouldn’t debate who “gets” to tell the story. We should take care to make sure the culture is represented respectfully. Those are two different things, and the distinction is important.

        1. Just to clarify, my use of quotation marks in the last response isn’t quoting anyone specifically here. I just hear those arguments commonly used in this subject, and am referring to that.

  13. So I’ve found that there is a shocking dearth of Day of the Dead books aimed at Middle Grade readers! As in…Ghosts may not be 100% accurate, but it is filling a gap that exists in the literature nonetheless. I was able to find some Day of the Dead books that may appeal to middle grade readers, though some on the lower end of the age range/reading/interest level, some on the high.

    Please check out my Goodreads shelf to see cover images and publisher blurbs for each book:

    Perhaps the most ideal book for this purpose is one Prof. Paulson brought to class a couple of weeks ago:

    Tonatiuh, D. (2015). Funny bones : Posada and his Day of the Dead calaveras. New York, NY: Abrams.
    Grades 3-6

    Winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and lauded in many reviews, including School Library Journal, Funny Bones is a biography of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada and a celebration of his calaveras. Calaveras are skeletons dressed in clothing doing everyday or festive things–this artwork has become synonymous with the Day of the Dead celebration.

    Others I found are as follows:

    Sabel, L. (2014). Vivian Divine is dead (First Edition.). New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books, imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
    Grades 8+

    This book isn’t about the Day of the Dead, but it does feature it. Vivian Divine is Dead is about a Hollywood starlet who escapes to Mexico while fleeing a murderer. There’s a romance, mystery, and lots of action. School Library Journal states that the “writing shines in the scenes of a richly described Día de los Muertos celebration”.

    Granfors, E. C. (2010). Some rivers end : On the day of the dead. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
    Grades 7+

    It’s particularly difficult to say whether or not Some Rivers End: One the Day of the Dead is or is not an accurate portrayal of the Day of the Dead largely because there aren’t that many sources out there regarding it. It is a self-published novel; the coming of age story of Marisol, a Hispanic teen whose father has been murdered and who has been separated from her mother and their California home by wildfire. She seeks to reunite with her family in Mexico and honor her father during the Day of the Dead traditions.

    Canales, V. (2005). The tequila worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.
    Grades 5-8

    This novel centers on 14 year old Sofia, a Mexican American living in rural Texas who works hard to outshine her tormentor and thus earns a coveted place at a school in Austin. It is said to be very rich in culture, and while the Day of the Dead is not a focus of this book, it does include her family traditions and the celebration. Winner of the Pura Belpre award for narrative and was an honoree for the Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature.

    Deutsch, S. (2014). The book of life : Movie novelization (First Simon Spotlight edition.). New York: Simon Spotlight.
    Grades 3-6

    This is the novelization of the movie The Book of Life, which takes place during the two day celebration of the Day of the Dead. This backdrop serves to impart lessons about the holiday and traditions and show that it is a holiday to celebrate life as well as honor the dead. In my experience, movie novelizations are quite popular (a fact that never ceases to amaze me).

    I found these titles by searching Goodreads, read reviews on Amazon, and utilized the following sites:

    Dalen, Anna (2014, October 28). Celebrate the Day of the Dead with these YA novels. The Hub. Retrieved from

    Reading Club Staffer (2014, October 17). Books to celebrate the Day of the Dead! / ¡El Dia de los Muertos! Bookbox: The Scholastic Reading Club Blog. Retrieved from

  14. How does it work structurally? How does the author make visual transitions? What other structural elements are important?

    Raina Telgemeier’s “Ghosts” is part of an ongoing expansion in middle grade and children’s comics that has been the trend for the last year or so. Her characters are relateable, her story easy to understand, and also includes subtle nuance that shows Telgemeier has done her homework when it comes to creating a town with supernatural and cultural influences. The trick, with ant story that’s told via comics, is how well the words and the art compliment and add to each other.

    Visually, Telgemeier’s work is reminiscent of a hybrid between minimalist European comics, tied into the big eye style of drawing that’s common of Western cartoonists. Her most successful transitions occur when she plays with the wind and her main character Cat. On page 48, Cat isn’t just walking and it’s more than just windy. The wind is surrounding her, and that sense of forebodance she carries with her is only reinforced with every further depiction Telgemeier makes of the wind and the air.

    Telgemeier also uses panels as her dominant format in this story, and so on the pages when she breaks from a traditional format, those pages are more emotionally evocative. Consider the page turn in the beginning, pages 21-22, where Cat and her sister Maya come out from the secret stairs and suddenly the oceanside is there waiting for them. It’s huge, and it dominates them and the reader’s eyes. It’s a lot to take in, considering up until that point every frame has been broken apart by gutters and lines, so with the sudden freedom from those constraints, readers also feel an approximation of wonder at the splash page.

    Another effective method of visual storytelling she employs wordless panels. In particular, the scene following Cat’s betrayal of Maya by not telling them about her (p 147). In the car, on the walk in to the house, and until the door “SLAM!”s, there are no words or even thought bubbles to show how either of the girls is thinking or feeling, which is great for readers to take time to process on their own how both of them might be feeling at this time rather than taking the side of one based on only reading their thoughts. It also visually shows the temporary disconnect between the sisters.

    Telgemeier, R. (2016) Ghosts. Graphix. New York,NY. Print.

        1. I wrote about this as a reply to my post, but in case you missed it: I recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics for learning more about the mechanics and structure of the medium.

  15. Investigator role on Northern California, coastal weather especially the fog. How does it help the pacing of the plot? – Briana.

    Northern California weather co-insides with the pacing of the plot in Ghosts perfectly. The main purpose of the story is due to Maya who has cystic fibrosis which results in the whole family moving to Northern California for the better air quality. The cool, salty air will help fill her lungs with healthy and less-polluted air. The average temperature that the Northern California coast reaches is about 70 degrees F and the highest around 80 degrees F in the summers. Northern California’s coast is known for the fog just in the mid morning and comes back later on at night (Weather and Timing Your Visits, 2016). This explains the fog throughout the story because the fog is considered a pollutant for those who have cystic fibrosis and since it is seen as a bad thing it correlates with the story because when fog is mentioned nothing good happens.

    With living on the coast the wind that comes off from the ocean helps Maya breathe better. Not only does the wind benefit Maya but in a way it also benefits the ghosts throughout the story. The ghosts tap into the wind to absorb the essence of the world breathing around them (Fleishhacker, 2016)

    Not only does Maya try to rise above her cystic fibrosis but also tries to rise above the ghosts who pollute her town (Cavna, 2016). This is such irony because Maya cannot be around any air quality that is polluted but she is surrounded by a town polluted by ghosts sharing her very same air.

    Weather and Timing Your Visits. (2016). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

    Fleishhacker, J. (2016, July 11). Grab Them with Graphic Novels. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

    Cavna, M. (2016, October 31). Raina Telgemeier’s ‘Ghosts’ is an inviting Day of the Dead feast for young minds. The Washington Post. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from

  16. Marlene
    Investigator Role #4: American belief about Ghosts- How are they reflected in the book?

    Catrina moves to a new town where they celebrate the Day of the Dead. She meets her next door neighbor, Carlos who believes in ghosts. Catrina shows her reluctant and negative side as she insists there is no such thing as ghosts. This is much like American’s belief in ghosts. According to Pew Research Center, “Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey. An even greater share – 29% – say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died,” while ghosts were real to this 19 % the other percent did not report this. Americans often believe in what they can see and touch.

    Catrina was skeptical at first and adamant there was no such things as ghosts. Her ordeal is also of Americans belief due to the fact that often Americans do not think of ghosts until they are faced with one.

    1. Oooh, the numbers you’ve found for American belief in ghosts are very interesting, Marlene! I’d be really interested to see how these numbers tracked over the past century–I bet that fewer Americans are likely to believe in ghosts today than say 100 years ago when spiritualism was still all the rage. I’d also love to see how these numbers compared currently to a country like Mexico.

      I do find the American tendency to believe in what they can see and touch and nothing more very interesting, and something that is increasing in our culture as we move forward in the digital age. It’s not just ghosts, but religion, and even Santa Claus is a belief given up much younger than it once was.

      Not only do we tend to believe what we can see, we often fear what we can’t. I think that Catrina is caught between a logical reluctance to believe in ghosts and a desire not to believe in something that to her is “scary”, but to the culture of the Day of the Dead is something to be honored and celebrated. I think her fear also has to do with her sick sister whom she worries will die. I think by embracing the culture of her town she learns to celebrate her sister’s life more than fearing her death.

  17. Investigator Role – ‘A look through Telgelmeier’s eye’s but a closer look through others’
    Published as a positive review in the New York Times, Kios writes that Telgelmeier’s book ‘Ghosts’, “sensitively explores the many dynamics of Mexican-American family life.” He adds that kids will find it interesting because it is filled with “knotty issues of tween and teenage social and family life,” because there is the drama of separation of friends, and mild sibling rivalry….A “fanciful and engaging book with look-alike cartoons.” This actually sounds like a material that’s worth purchasing for any children or young adult collection. Through Telgelmeier’s research and experiences, she writes of two sisters who lives change since living in a new country, with a different culture. Seemingly, geared towards a multicultural approach, it raises concerns of ambiguity, inaccuracies, and culturally inappropriate. A closer look at its content may change your thoughts on this ‘great book’.
    Authors write from their perspectives. One needs to remember that whatever was written was what Telgelmeier observed and recorded or in her words ‘sketched’ while visiting a celebration. We must remember too, that every culture has sub-cultures and sub sub-cultures and so, there will be many variances to any one practice. Telgelmeier’s story is that during her visit, these were some of the things she saw and though it may not reflect the view of the entire culture, there has to be some degree of accuracy to the storyline because this is what she experienced. As storytellers we often want to take others into our world because we ourselves find it fascinating and want others to visualize it too, however, we must be careful how we sell our culture and most importantly we have to be careful how we sell other cultures.
    One area of concern was the inclusion of the ‘mission’ depicting in the book. Critics like Debbie Reesee who holds a Ph.D and Masters in Education as well as a MLIS, strongly disagrees that this book is ideal for children and because if its inaccuracies should not be recommended. Ressee’s stand point is that the information presented in the book are completely inaccurately. As the story of the missions seen in Telgelmeier’s book is not true and so is the idea of ‘the ghosts’ will only be warm to others only if spoken in Spanish. These inaccuracies she explains paint a picture that is untrue and is therefore an insult to the Mexicans, or people of color. Ressee explains that though the true story of the mission may be too complex for children to understand, the concept painted in Telgelmeier’s book is just not true and is therefore tainted and misleading information. She explains that the missions were to turn Native peoples into Catholics and to claim that land for Spain. Some see missions and missionary work as a good, but if you pause for a minute and think about what they and that work is designed to do, and if you do a bit of reading, you’ll learn that it was far from the benevolent character with which it is regarded by most of society. At the missions, life for Native people was brutal. There was rape. Enslavement. Whippings. Confinements. And of course, death. Analyses of the bones at the mission burial sites that compare them with bones found elsewhere show that the bones of those who died at the missions were stunted and smaller than the others.
    But not because I visit a country while they are celebrating another culture means that is the best avenue to use to decide that that is how all citizens operate. So it is Telgelmeier’s although was fortunate to experience a celebration of a culture during her visit does not mean that what she saw, or experience was the actual culture. One must remember that activities are adapted and may be re-cultures appropriately to accommodate its new home. Having said that, it is important to be culturally accurate. When an author decides to write a book about a particular country or place, he/she allows readers to ‘visit’ that world and it is from that view, that the reader’s perception is drawn. Hence, whatever is read gives a visual impression of what truly exists in that culture. It therefore means that authors need to thorough research before they begin to write. When representing a culture there are liberties we must take into consideration to prevent harm, hurt or inaccuracies.


    Jeminez, L. (2016, September 9). Ghosts. [Ghosts: Swing and a hard miss]. Retrieved from

    Kios, D. (2016, August 8). Why kids will love Raina Telemiger’s new graphic novel. New York
    Times. Retrieved from

    Reading While White. (2016, September 9). Allies for racial diversity and inclusion in books for
    children and teens. (“Ghosts and the ‘Magic’ on the Day of the Dead”).

  18. Emily- Investigator

    3. What is the controversy? Explore the idea that RT could have written this as a ghost story without bringing in the Day of the Dead and its ceremonies and traditions.
    In reading Ghosts, it is very apparent that Dia De Los Muertos is a major part of the story. In trying to think of the story without the holiday, I believe the story would not have had the same impact for Catrina. The purpose of having the Day of the Dead in the story was to have Catrina relate to her heritage while learning to come to terms with death. Without the Day of the Dead celebration, Catrina would not have had the same growth, however, the depiction of the holiday should have been written more accurately. The way the Day of the Dead was portrayed involved stereotypes Jiminez, 2016) that could have been changed to respectfully and accurately portray the holiday.

    As a person who was unaware of the traditions of the culture, I did not initially think of how the holiday should have been portrayed. Jensen (2016) said, “From a storytelling point of view, I absolutely understand why Raina Telgemeier chose this tradition to tell this story. And as I read it, it seemed like there was nothing but respect for the culture and traditions being discussed.” As a whole the story seems to work very well and to tell the story without this version of Dia De Los Muertos would change the outcome and atmosphere of the story. As long as one is not reading this book for the purpose of learning about the Day of the Dead, there is a great deal that can be learned about this book, particularly about the fear of loss and the effects of cystic fibrosis. One could still use this book in a classroom, just make sure the students then become aware of the actual traditions of the culture.

    Jiminez, L. (2016). Ghosts: Swing and a Hard Miss. Retrieved from

    Jensen, K. (2016). Reading and Wrestling with GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier. Retrieved from

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