Just a Couple of Barn Cats

Today I closed the closet door in my office.

For two ailing cats for over two years
the door has remained open
for easy access to the litter boxes.

For them, because of legs that didn’t work so well
For me, to monitor what was coming out and going on.

Two pans.
They’ve always had two pans
Since we got them
The lady who gave them to us said,
“I don’t know why, but they’ve always needed two. Both use either, but if there ain’t two… well…
Wouldn’t think they’d be so picky. They’re just a couple of barn cats.”

Even when the first one died nearly a year ago,
still, there had to be two.

And the closet door was open
plus a new box of litter, because with weak kidneys, you go through a lot
plus a covered one for the scoopings.

All that is gone now

and that corner
door closed
boxes gone
It is so empty
looking large in this small room.

Those small cats
mostly sleeping
only occasionally wanting
a lap
a treat
a meal

small things

but the house
and I

feel so empty now.

the echoes
I catch myself looking
for where they are hidden

they are hidden

Just a couple of barn cats
gone back to the barn.

8/2021 Steve Schatz

Ghost Girl Lesson Plans

Lessons for Ghost Girl

updated 3/25/2021

Here are some writing and research lesson plans. You are free to use them. You can also draw pictures and write stories. Send them to me at Steve@SteveWrites.com . I’ll post some of them. If I have time (I spend a lot of time writing), I’ll make comments on your writing.

If you are a teacher and would like to schedule a classes meeting, please contact me. If you are interested in class sets of the book, let me know.

If you are interested in listening to the book, you can purchase the audiobook (I read the story) from most online bookstores. You can also find a version of me reading the book on my youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQOVDhkyQOYH1aYaEPoxVQ

1. Creating a character. If you could make up a ghost friend, what would they be like? What would they look like? Does anything about the way they look stand out? Can anyone else see them? Do they always look the same?

What would they sound like? Can they talk? Do they have an accent or talk differently than you do?

What would make them happy? What could they do, as a ghost, that you can’t do? What can’t they do? What makes them different? Are they scary or friendly?

What kinds of things do they like? What things do they not like? Does anything scare them? Does anything about them scare you?

What makes them mad? If you could have them come over to visit, what would you do? Do they have powers you wish you had?

Do they have problems that you can help them with? Would you help them? Why or why not? What would you do?

When do they show up? When do they go away?

Exercise: Try introducing you new ghost friend to your group or the class. Let the other members ask you questions about your friend. Then have the other members of your group either draw a picture or write a description of your friend. See how different your idea of your friend and their idea is. Where is it the same? Where is it different? When you write, different people get different “pictures” of what you write.

2. Getting help. Mattie’s pa was a bad person. She says that when she was alive, there wasn’t anyone to turn to for help. If she were alive today, what are some of the things she could do to protect herself and her sister? Who could she talk to? Where could she find out more information? Make a list of websites and people she could talk to.

3. Making Friends. Before he met Mattie, Nate felt very alone. He didn’t want to be in the small town and all his friends were back where he used to live. Have you ever had to move? Do you remember what was it like for you? Where did you meet your first friend? How did you make friends? If you had to move to a new school and a new town, what are some of the ways you can make friends? It’s hard to be the new kid. When someone new moves to your school, what are some of the things you can do to make them feel a little less lonely?

Write a paragraph to tell how you would introduce yourself.

4. World Building. The story makes up rules for how a ghost can get into a cemetery. In fiction, this is called world building – what are the rules for a world. Make up a world – it can be a ghost world or a miniature world (like you suddenly shrunk down to the size of ants, or a world of talking animals, or a world on another planet. Describe your world. What is the same as this world? What is different? Who lives there? Who is in charge? What are some of the rules that are different than the world you live in?

Write down some of the rules.

Write a description.

Then do something in that world – you can take a walk or have an adventure or find a friend. What do you see? Who are you with? What do you do?

5. Investigating history. Primary sources and secondary sources.

Ghost Girl is a fictional story, but it takes place in a real place. The flood described is based on a real event. Often, events from history can be interesting places to start a story. To find out more about a place or an event, you have to do research. Historians talk about primary and secondary sources for research. In Ghost Girl, Zina, the librarian also uses these terms.

A primary source is information about a time or place or event usually by a person who had direct experience. Primary sources report facts and experiences but do not try to offer analyze. Examples of primary sources include letters by people of the time, official registers such as people who were living in an area or death notices. Secondary sources contain information about a place, time or event. A secondary source usually pulls together information from many different sources and offers an opinion or conclusion about what this information means.

Newspapers, television reports and internet sites can be either primary or secondary sources. If the story reports just the facts, it can be a primary source. If it offers analysis or opinion, it is a secondary source. Sometimes, when you are researching secondary sources, it is useful to notice the opinions that are expressed both openly and implied. These can give you insight into the people of that time.

Finding Bias:

Look at some sites on the internet. Many of them clearly support one set of ideas. This is called bias. Find some sites that support different sides of the same issue and see how they report the same events in different ways.

Researching Ghost Girl

Ghost Girl is a fictional story that takes place in a real place. Becket, Massachusetts is a small town in Western Massachusetts. Find their library’s web site (it is called the Becket Atheneum). On the site, you can find some primary sources. A flood like the one talked about in the story took place there. See if you can find pictures and descriptions. Extra credit: There is a difference between the actual flood and the one in the story (not including the made up story of Maddie). Can you find it?

Research primary sources in your town

Find a place where you can look at primary sources in your town. In many places, you can find these online. Search for your local historical society. Check with your library. Many libraries have local history rooms that have primary sources you can look at, but not check out.

Find an interesting person, place or event through your research. Tell about what you found.

Now, using that research, make up a short story – a paragraph or two about the person, place or event you found. One of the things I like to do is look at the names of people buried a long time ago (you can often find lists of people buried in cemeteries). Then I image what they were like. What kind of work they did. What they liked to do for fun. Who their friends were. I also like to look at old pictures and image what it would be like to be there in that time. What would I be doing?

6. Changes Nate had a very different view of living in Becket by the end of the story. What was different? Why do you think Nate changed? Can you think of some alternative endings?What would you do if you were writing the story?

7. Writing Challenge – action. There were two big action sequences in the book. In one, Maddie described what happened when she and her sister ran away, their father found them and she was killed. In another, Nate is swept away in a flood and nearly drowns. Writing action drives a story forward. It engages the reader. When you write action sequences, you add more detail. Think about what the character feels – both physically and mentally.

Is it hot? How hot? Is it hot like when you are outside in the middle of the summer when all you want to do is jump into a swimming pool and your clothes stick to you because you are sweating so much? Is it hot like when you are inside and the heat is turned up way too high and it’s hard to breath and your clothes are itchy?

What is the character doing? How easy or hard is it? What does the character see, feel, hear?

Why is the character doing it? Are they trying to get away from something? Are they going to a friend’s house or home for supper or to school? Do they want to do this or are they forced?

Are they happy, mad, scared?

Can you think of other things that can make the action more alive? What will help the reader imagine they are right there?

Here’s a sentence. I walked down the driveway.

Can you make this into an action segment?

Here are some pictures of different driveways. Pick one and think about if you were walking down that driveway. Tell the story of your walk down the driveway. You can also imagine a different driveway.

8. Creating a character Maddie was able to do things that regular people couldn’t. She also couldn’t do some things that you take for granted. If you were a ghost, what special powers would you like to have? What limitations do you think you would have? What would be your favorite thing about being a ghost? What would you miss the most?