200px-Seraphina_book_cover_(US_addition)by Rachel Hartman (2012), 8th grade reading level, but a complex plot that will appeal to older readers as well.

In the world of Goredd, there are dragons (who can morph into human shape, or saars), humans, and the secret offspring of forbidden dragon-human marriages (ityasaari). There’s a human court, whose queen has worked for 40 years to maintain peace with the dragons. There are ghettos in the capital city where quigs, a sub-species of dragon, live constrained lives. And there’s Seraphina, whose musical talent sets the plot in motion.

Last night we briefly talked about this book, focusing in particular on the characters’ secrets. All teens experience the need to hide something about themselves, and the fact that nearly every character in Seraphina has something to hide makes this a perfect novel for looking closely at how an author slowly builds the layers that give a character depth and reveal critical themes.

For instance, that idea about hidden secrets: I asked everyone in the class to create a Character X-ray for anyone from the novel. Students filled the figure outline (human or dragon) with images, quotes and notes about who the character really is, and surrounded it with images, quotes and notes about who the character pretends to be, that is, what that character is willing to reveal to others. Gorgeous Character X-rays were created for Seraphina, Lucian, Orma, Lady Corongi (see an example in this post), Miss Fusspots, and Imlann.

With more time, this activity would become the “first draft” of a character analysis essay. If created before they’ve finished the book, students could revise it as they read further and learn more about their characters. It could also be the starting point for more intensive discussions of character motivation, plot turning points, and some of the novel’s themes (identity crisis, of course, but also prejudice, bigotry, and “forbidden love”).

Next week: More fantasy, with Howl’s Moving Castle and Ella Enchanted.



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