Carman, P. (2009). Skeleton Creek: Ryan's Journal. New York: Scholastic Press.
Carman, P. (2009). Skeleton Creek: Ghost in the Machine. New York: Scholastic Press.
Appetizer: This multimedia (or multi-modal, if you prefer) series shares teenaged Ryan's fears and concerns after he has suffered a serious accident at a local landmark that he and his friend Sarah were exploring. While in their small town's dredge (a building that was used to help dredge up gold) Sarah uncovers that it may have been a ghost that caused Ryan's accident. The teens begin researching more deeply and uncover a conspiracy that may encompass the whole town.
Here is the book trailer:
Please ignore the misspelling of "it's" toward the end there. Just pretend the video was made in a rush. By a teen. Being stalked by a ghost. That's the only excuse I can think of.
While Ryan's thoughts are all in his journals, Sarah's part of the story is shared through videos. (Warning: This is a ghost story, so a few of the videos could scare some viewers.) The media are meant to be paired together with the researcher accessing specific videos based on the passwords Sarah gives to Ryan.
However, in practice many of my students admitted to skipping out on the videos. I had a little trouble with this as well. I'd be reading lying down and I'd come to a page with a password. And Macky, my laptop, was juuuuuust out of reach. Sigh. That usually meant I'd stop reading until I was less lazy and would pick up both the videos and books later.
Plus, there are issues of access. Lots of kids don't even have a computer or internet access at home.
Even though Sarah and Ryan are teenagers, this book actually seems to appeal most to middle graders. The characters' maturity level seems to be just right. And the fact that Ryan's parents are constantly trying to keep him separate from Sarah and regularly invade his privacy will probably be easier for some younger readers to accept.
The reason I'm reviewing both of the Skeleton Creek books together is simple. The first book ends with a massive cliff hanger. It annoyed some of my students so much they vowed not to read the second book. (And here I'd thought it would be a good way to discuss series and expectations in the children's publishing world. But no, they would have none of it!) I did manage to drag out a discussion of why one story was split into two books:
1. Make more money
2. Sense of accomplishment of reading two books instead of one
3. Less intimidating to see a 200-page book that ends dramatically than a complete 400-page story
My students were still unhappy campers.
I personally was tempted not to continue on to the second book because of Ryan. In the first book, he almost never leaves his room and is SUPER paranoid. I found it annoying (but younger readers may say that it adds to the tension). But the second book does have a different tone. Ryan gets out more. Instead of constantly being afraid he focuses more on what his relationship with Sarah means to him (Student: "So, do they like-like each other? I can't tell. Me: It's something you can read for. I'm sure there's fanfiction somewhere.).
video of the site where the Skeleton Creek videos were actually recorded (another warning, the dude swears early on) to help them visualize what a dredge is). The books could be paired with a social studies lesson on the gold rush.
On the science side, it includes a biographical sketch of Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle, so students could take over researching where Ryan leaves off.
"There was a moment not long ago when I thought: This is it. I'm dead.
I think about that night all the time and I feel the same fear I felt then. It happened two weeks ago, but fourteen days and nights of remembering have left me more afraid and uncertain than ever. Which I guess means it isn't over yet" (p. 1).
"I can piece this together. Between the video and my notes from the dredge, I'm sure I can do this. Brand-new journal, brand-new memories. I'm glad I started with a blank slate. It's like a new lease on life. THis is totally going to work" (p. 3).
"I hadn't told her I was seeing ghosts, hanging out with Sarah, and wandering around the dredge in the middle of the night getting trapped in secret rooms. My mom wanted a normal son, who was in school and didn't get into strange kinds of trouble all the time. I can't really say that I blame her" (pp. 22-23).
"[Sarah] wants to do something, I don't necessarily care one way or the other, and so we do it. Eight years later, I have come to discover this is no way to lead a life.
It can get you into a lot of trouble.
It might even get you killed" (pp. 64-65).
Tasty Rating: !!!