When teaching literature, introducing an engaging book can be daunting. However, Marcus Sedgwick’s My Swordhand is Singing offers an exciting opportunity for teachers and students to engage with a remarkable story filled with adventure, courage and friendship themes.
Through this blog post’s overview of planning activities related to the novel, you will gain insight into approaching its varied components best to reap the most significant rewards from its compelling narrative.
Related: For more, check out our planning overview of The Merchant Of Venice by Shakespeare here.
The Storyline of My Swordhand is Singing
“My Swordhand is Singing” by award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick is an original interpretation of the timelessly fascinating vampire myth. Winner of the Booktrust Teenage Prize and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this captivating story is set in a remote and forbidding landscape in 17th-century Europe.
Tomas and his son, Peter, arrive in Chust during a cold winter. Though the locals are not welcoming, they settle there as woodcutters.
Tomas carries a mysterious box he won’t tell Peter anything about and builds a channel of fast-flowing water around their hut to isolate their little island from the rest of the town.
When a band of gipsies comes to Chust, Peter’s dull life is turned upside down. He becomes enamoured with their beautiful princess Sofia and is drawn into their quest – they are Vampire Slayers determined to rid the village of its undead inhabitants.
What follows is an exciting journey full of loss, redemption and resolution as father and son come to terms with each other, and all that has happened.
Key Themes In My Swordhand is Singing
The Power of Love
Love is a driving force in “My Swordhand is Singing”. It connects Tomas to his son, Peter, and draws Peter to the mysterious gipsy princess, Sofia. The love between Peter and Sofia inspires him to come into his power and join her in the fight against the undead.
Ultimately, love helps them defeat the vampires, saving Chust’s villagers from destruction.
Fear of Death
Death casts a looming shadow throughout “My Swordhand is Singing” – from Tomas’ secrecy about his box being rooted in fear of his past actions catching up with him to the vampire slayers’ epic battle for survival.
In the end, though, death eventually brings peace when Tomas and Peter must confront their mortality and differences.
Isolation and Community
The story starts with Tomas and Peter living on an isolated island in Chust – far away from other people. For most of the novel, they remain on their own until Sofia and her fellow vampire slayers join them; then, they become part of an extended community which gives them strength and hope. Ultimately, it’s this collective sense of belonging that helps them survive.
Characters in “My Swordhand is Singing”
Tomas is Peter’s father and a woodcutter. He is mysterious and secretive, carrying a box that he won’t tell Peter anything about. Despite his distance, Tomas still cares deeply for his son and helps him come into his power to help fight the vampires.
Peter is an introspective young man who lives on an isolated island with his father. When he meets Sofia and her group of vampire slayers, he finds himself pulled out of his shell as he falls in love with her – and learns how to use the power within himself.
Sofia is a beautiful gipsy princess who leads a band of Vampire Slayers dedicated to conquering the creatures from Chust. She captures Peter’s heart and inspires him to join her fight against the undead.
Teaching Opportunities in “My Swordhand is Singing”
Peter and Tomas start estranged but eventually learn to work together when they join forces with Sofia and the vampire slayers. As they come together, it’s demonstrated that people can accomplish more if they work together instead of alone.
The characters must confront their fears throughout the story to achieve their goals and save Chust’s villagers from destruction. This teaching opportunity could be used to learn how to deal with anxiety and move past it to achieve success.
The characters face several obstacles throughout the novel – from confronting their fears to facing off against powerful vampires. But despite all the odds being against them, they never give up and are ultimately successful in saving Chust’s villagers. This could be an example of never giving up, even when things seem hopeless.
Lesson Plan 1: Working Together
Students should be able to:
- Understand the importance of working together to achieve success
- Develop strategies for successful collaboration
- Identify the benefits of working as a team.
Introduce the students to Peter and Tomas, two characters from the novel ‘My Swordhand is Singing’. Explain how they are estranged initially but eventually learn to work together and how this helps them achieve their goals. Ask the students if they have had similar experiences overcoming obstacles by working with someone else.
Main Teaching Points
- Discuss why it’s essential to work together to achieve success.
- Introduce different strategies for successful collaboration.
- Explore the benefits of teamwork (e.g. more ideas, better decision-making, etc.).
- Examine how Peter and Tomas overcame their differences and worked together towards a common goal.
Reflection & Key Questions
Reflect on what has been covered during the lesson and ask open-ended questions such as:
- How could you use this idea of collaboration in your own life?
- What techniques can be used when collaborating?
Lesson Plan 2: Overcoming Fear
Students should be able to:
Identify different types of fear
Learn practical techniques for overcoming fear
Develop an understanding of why it is essential to confront fears to succeed.
Introduce the students to some of the characters from ‘My Swordhand is Singing’ who must face off against powerful vampires to save Chust’s villagers from destruction.
Ask them why these characters might be fearful, and discuss how fear can prevent us from achieving our goals if we don’t learn how to confront it.
Main Teaching Points
- Examine different types of fear that people may experience (e.g. fear of failure, fear of change, fear of not belonging), and explore how these fears can prevent us from succeeding if we don’t confront them head-on.
- Introduce practical techniques for overcoming fear (e.g. mindfulness meditation, talk therapy).
- Discuss examples from ‘MySwordhand is Singing’ where characters must overcome their fears to succeed in their mission (e.g., Peter confronting his fears before joining Sofia).
Reflection & Key Questions
Reflect on what has been covered during the lesson and ask thought-provoking questions such as:
- Have any characters we discussed today inspired you? How so?
- What advice would you give somebody who is feeling fearful about something?
- My Swordhand is Singing is a teaching resource from TES that provides resources to help teachers lead fun, engaging lessons on Marcus Sedgwick’s novel “My Swordhand is Singing”.
- Amazon offers the story for purchase in paperback and Kindle formats.
- Teachit provides a creative writing task related to the book for secondary-level learners that focuses on using descriptive language and understanding characters’ motivations for their actions in the story.
- TeachingBooks offers additional resources such as teaching guides, activities, book talks, and multimedia to help teachers teach around “My Swordhand is Singing”.
What is ‘My Swordhand is Singing’?
‘My Swordhand is Singing’ is a novel by Marcus Sedgwick about two estranged brothers, Peter and Tomas, who join forces to overcome a powerful vampire. The story follows the characters facing difficult choices as they tackle their mission.
What age group is this book suitable for?
The book has been written with a young adult audience in mind. However, it can be enjoyed by readers of any age.
Does the book include any educational elements?
Yes, there are several themes and topics explored within the novel which can be used to promote meaningful discussions around environmentalism, death and grief, history and family relationships.
Are there any teaching resources available?
Numerous online teaching resources are available, including lesson plans, activities and multimedia materials, which can be used to explore these topics with students further.