Shirley Jackson, Charles, and the sixth-grade student

By day I’m a teacher and from time to time, I’m tasked with teaching 5th-grade English.

The class is a joy and one story I enjoy teaching is Charles by Shirley Jackson. It is a terrific short story and the kids, for the most part, enjoy it. It is an easy read and serves as a great introduction as we move into reading fiction.

Spoiler alert.

When teaching Charles, we ask the question. Who is Charles?

The kids have all sorts of answers, and most of them revolve around Charles being made up by the main character, Laurie. He’s made up so Laurie can explain all the trouble he’s getting into at school but place the blame elsewhere.

Like I said, it is just a cute little story.

The girl

I had a student one day who tentatively raised her hand. I called on her.

“Is Charles a ghost?” she asked, kind of looking around the room.

“Restate as a claim,” I said.

“Charles is a ghost only Laurie can see.”

I asked what her evidence was.

She noted that Shirley Jackson was well known for writing “scary” stories so perhaps this story wasn’t as simple as making up an imaginary friend to avoid trouble.

Text evidence from the story would suggest otherwise, but remember liking where the student was going, and she did try to use text to support her claim as well.

Is Charles a horror story, one admittedly for kids? I don’t know. It doesn’t rise to, say, ‘Salem’s Lot, but it very well could have some horror elements in it. But it is a great story and maybe, just maybe, it helped turn one student on to horror.

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