Robert Frost fifth-graders meet the inspiration behind Jason Reynolds’ young adult novel, Ghost

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For Giovanni Candido, Jason Reynolds’ novel, “Ghost,” had ups, downs and everything you need in a book.

Candido, like many of his fifth-grade peers at Robert Frost Elementary, has been absorbed in the story about Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw, who is raised by his single mother and lives with a troubled past. He joins a middle school track team and with the help of his coach and friends, he learns practice, teamwork and friendship. 

When Candido learned that Robert Frost was hosting a special visit with Matthew Carter — Reynolds’ childhood friend who serves as the inspiration behind the main character — he was stunned.

“It’s kind of heart dropping to realize that you’re actually talking to the guy that’s in the book,” he said.

Carter met with Robert Frost fifth-graders Tuesday, sharing his personal story, answering their questions about what’s fact and fiction from the book and encouraging them to share their own stories. 

“Our super powers are stories,” he said. “What I learned in my life, the story that I kept hidden, has really changed me. We all have those stories. It doesn’t matter if everyone’s stories aren't exactly like mine — All of our stories are powerful. Don’t keep your story hidden. Share it with the world.”

The visit also offered students a unique opportunity to dive further into the book, learn more about its characters and discover how real-life stories can be influential in developing a story, fifth-grade teacher Nate Van Sickle said.

“They are familiar with the story in the book but to hear it first hand is a really special experience,” said Van Sickle, who invited Carter to the school. He met Carter at an author’s event with Reynolds several years ago and invited him to meet with students at Huber Ridge when he taught there. Carter also visited Heritage Middle School in 2017.

Ghost has been a favorite among the novels Van Sickle reads to fifth-graders each year. He said the novel touches on topics that students can relate to: humor, complexities of trauma, love of friends and family and the inspiration of becoming who you want to be despite hardships. After reading chapters of the book, Van Sickle leads class-wide discussion where students can share their thoughts. 

So when it came to Carter’s visit, his students, as well as other fifth-graders, were primed with questions from the book: Did you steal the shoes? How frantically did you run away from the store? Do you like sunflower seeds?

And they also wanted to know more about him, how he met Reynolds, what he thought when he learned a character was going to be based on him and if he actually liked the book.

“Yes, but it’s actually not my favorite book of Jason’s,” he told students. “My favorite book of Jason’s is ‘The Boy in the Black Suit.’”

Students welcomed Carter with a banner decorated with brightly colored sneakers — a symbol that plays throughout the novel. Following the discussion, he signed books and cards as a keepsake from his visit.

“I’m fan-girling on the inside,” fifth-grader Kayarah Green said after meeting Carter. 

Students said the visit was an amazing opportunity to connect what they read to an actual person.

“I’m surprised there’s a lot of things different in the book than in real life,” Addison Ellis said.