I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar hosted by Sherri of Literary Sherri, where she delved into the concept of Intersectionality. While this term might be unfamiliar to some, its significance cannot be overstated, particularly for educators. Intersectionality, as defined by Merriam-Webster, refers to the intricate way various forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and classism, intersect and compound, particularly impacting marginalized individuals or groups.

Personally, I already had several literary works that championed intersectionality in the classroom, including titles like Out of My Mind, El Deafo, Fish in a Tree, Freak the Mighty, and Wonder. These contemporary novels serve as invaluable tools for fostering understanding of diverse experiences and nurturing empathy and awareness, thereby contributing to the cultivation of a more compassionate and enlightened community.

Amidst discussions within educational circles, one title that stood out was Dusti Bowling’s 2017 novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. This book lived up to its reputation, offering a compelling narrative that not only sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with differences and disabilities but also manages to infuse humor into its pages. The protagonist, Aven, with her witty and contemporary perspective, draws readers in and prompts moments of genuine laughter. In many ways, I found myself even more captivated by this story than by Wonder.

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Benefits of Using Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus in Your Classroom:

  • Offers Diversity and Representation: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus features a protagonist, Aven Green, who was born without arms. Through Aven’s perspective, author Dusti Bowling skillfully explores themes of disability, resilience, and self-acceptance. By including diverse characters like Aven in the curriculum, teachers can promote empathy and understanding among students. This representation also offers an opportunity for students with disabilities to see themselves reflected in literature, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment.
  • Provides Themes of Friendship and Acceptance: At its core, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is a story about friendship, acceptance, and finding one’s place in the world. As students follow Aven’s journey of navigating middle school while dealing with her own insecurities, they are presented with valuable lessons about empathy, compassion, and the importance of embracing differences. These themes resonate deeply with young readers and provide ample opportunities for meaningful discussions about friendship and inclusivity in the classroom.
  • Presented in an Engaging and Accessible Writing Style: Dusti Bowling’s writing style is both engaging and accessible, making Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus an ideal choice for middle-grade readers. The novel is filled with humor, heart, and memorable characters that capture the imagination of students from diverse backgrounds. Its fast-paced plot and relatable themes ensure that students remain invested in the story from start to finish, making it a valuable tool for promoting literacy and a love for reading.
  • Integrates Multidisciplinary Topics: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus offers ample opportunities for cross-curricular exploration. Teachers can incorporate discussions about topics such as biology (exploring the science behind Aven’s condition), psychology (examining themes of resilience and coping mechanisms), and social studies (discussing themes of diversity and inclusion). By integrating these multidisciplinary topics into the curriculum, teachers can create a rich learning experience that resonates across different subject areas.
  • Empowers Students Through Personal Reflection: As students engage with Aven’s story, they are encouraged to reflect on their own experiences, challenges, and strengths. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus prompts important questions about identity, self-acceptance, and perseverance, inviting students to explore their own values and beliefs. Through activities such as journaling, group discussions, and creative projects, teachers can empower students to embrace their uniqueness and cultivate a positive sense of self.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is more than just a novel—it’s a powerful tool for promoting empathy, understanding, and self-discovery among students. By incorporating this book into the classroom, teachers can create an inclusive learning environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued. With its diverse characters, engaging writing style, and rich thematic content, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has the potential to ignite a passion for reading and learning that extends far beyond the classroom.

I offer a full novel study for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus that you can use with a whole class, small book groups, or individual students. It is easily adaptable and contains both a printable option and a Google Drive™ option.



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