This past summer I attended a seminar presented by Sherri from Literary Sherri, about Intersectionality. This is a newer term that may be unfamiliar to many, but it is meaningful and impactful and is worthy of everyone, especially teachers, educating themselves about. From Merriam-Webster, “Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.” You can read in more detail about how it is all intertwined at the Merriam-Webster website.
I am happy to say I already had several novel studies to support intersectionality in the classroom such as Out of My Mind, El Deafo, Fish in a Tree, Freak the Mighty, and Wonder to name a few. These modern novels help students understand the differences and challenges that others face and help build empathy and awareness that lead to a better educated and caring community.
I had heard a lot of chatter in teacher circles about the 2017 novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, as a good one to use to help build a stronger, more caring and kind classroom community. The chatter was right! This book is wonderful to help others really see through the eyes of another the challenges that can be faced by differences and disabilities. In addition to the empathy it sparks, it is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud many times at the humor of Aven, the main character. Students will relate to her snarky and modern take on living the life of a thirteen-year-old. I dare say, I may have even liked this book more than Wonder!
From the book jacket:
“Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.“
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is just so wonderful to use in the classroom to incorporate intersectionality. You have Aven who lives with a congenital disability, Connor who lives with Tourette Syndrome, Zion who deals with bullying over his weight, add in adoption, divorce, and money struggles told from both a male and female perspective and there’s a lot of areas that intertwine in the intersectionality of life to help build the bridges of understanding and empathy.
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.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I really, really loved it and I know you and your students will too. Aven’s voice is so funny and she really challenges the readers to open their hearts and minds to the differences of others.
Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!
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