Some children find it difficult to connect to history. Historical fiction can help, by telling history through the lens of exciting stories, full of action and adventure. If that is not enough to attract a young reader, consider ghost stories.
Some ghost stories are also set in historical times, such as Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck, which is set in 1913. Still, the humor, chills, and spunky heroine will appeal to contemporary readers. Blossom Culp has visions, and here they connect her to the sinking of the Titanic.
Other books in the Blossom Culp series also feature ghosts with history connections. Check out an overview of the first book in the series, The Ghost Belong to Me, with some classroom activities and history links from Carol Hurst’s Children Literature Site.
For even longer ago history, try Lady Margaret’s Ghost: A Felicity Mystery (American Girl Mysteries), by Elizabeth McDavid Jones. Set in the 1770s, 11-year-old Felicity must run the household while her mother and siblings are way. Felicity has a sick horse, so this mystery will especially appeal to young horse lovers.
Set Today, Ghost of the Past
Many other ghost stories are set present-day, with a modern child connecting to a ghost. In some of these, the ghost is not especially historical – it simply a way to add mystery and chills. Peni R. Griffin wrote The Ghost Sitter about a girl killed in a firework accident who haunts her suburban home. Finally a family with a girl her age moves in, and the girl helps free her.
Laura Ruby wrote Lily’s Ghosts based on stories a friend told her about her family’s “haunted” house. “As a kid, I adored anything scary – ghosts, monsters, mummies, you name it,” Ruby says. “So, when I sat down to write my own books, I wrote the ones I would have liked to read when I was a kid.”
Ghosts at War
Other titles have ghosts strongly rooted in history. These spectral figures provide a glimpse of the past, without requiring the reader to be totally immersed in the historical setting. The Battlefield Ghost, by Margery Culyer, tells the story of a ghost who was a soldier with Washington during the Battle of Princeton.
The Nina Tanleven Mysteries, by Bruce Coville, all feature ghost adventures. The one with the strongest history hook is book 2, The Ghost Wore Gray: Nina and her friend Chris meet the ghost of a Confederate soldier. What is he doing hunting a hotel in New York State? A mystery as well as a ghost story, this fun novel touches on both the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.
The Civil War is a popular error for ghosts, apparently. Two books by Elaine Marie Alphin Ghost Cadet and Ghost Soldier – also involve Civil War ghosts.
Lois Szymanski and Shelley Sykes wrote the Gettysburg Ghost Gang series of six books. “We love the research that goes into writing civil war era ghosts,” Szymanski says. The Gettysburg Ghost Gang uses a contemporary setting with civil war era ghosts. “Our ideas come from our history research and our experiences on actual ghost investigations,” Szymanski says. “For instance, in our history research we found that hundreds of women fought in the Civil War dressed as men.” This inspired A Whisper of War.
Ghost Who Can't Forget the Past
In my Haunted series, thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical modern kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids help investigate a hundred-year-old tragedy in Colorado silver mining country. The Riverboat Phantom puts them on the Mississippi River on an antique riverboat. For The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania travel to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine. In this series, the ghosts are being held in this world by something that happened in the past. In order to help free the ghosts, Jon and Tania must understand that past.
Visit the Spellbound River Press website for a teaching guide to use with The Ghost Miner's Treasure. It includes discussion questions on topics from science to ethics, plus critical thinking, writing, and mapmaking projects.
If you are considering using ghost stories to connect kids to history, be sure to review the book first. In some cases the history connection is strong and accurate. However, this is not always the case. Still, if you have a very reluctant history reader, getting them started on ghost stories in general could be a way to ease them toward historical ghost stories and then other historical fiction.
While ghost stories are not usually the most historically detailed of historical fiction, they can be a bridge for young readers who prefer the paranormal to the historical.
What other middle grade ghost stories can you think of that use realistic historical elements?
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Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 40+ published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.