Novels That Spark Conversation and Empathy

This year, due to the ongoing job action, Forest of Reading looks quite different in our school. Rather than having a club where students read books at their leisure and then check in with the teacher who read the book for conversation, we’re reading some of the texts as a class.  Given a couple of Silver Birch texts and a brief synopsis of each, I was really interested in My Life as a Diamond. While I’m no baseball enthusiast, the storyline and the age of the main character is what drew me to the text. On their website, Orca Book Publishers Canada gives the following as a description of the book:

“Ten-year-old Caspar “Caz” Cadman loves baseball and has a great arm. He loves the sounds, the smells, the stats. When his family moves from Toronto to a suburb of Seattle, the first thing he does is try out for the local summer team, the Redburn Ravens. Even though Caz is thrilled when he makes the team, he worries because he has a big secret.

No one knows that back in Toronto, Caz used to live life as a girl named Cassandra. And it’s nobody’s business. Caz will tell his new friends when he’s ready.

But when a player on a rival team starts snooping around, Caz’s past is revealed, and Caz worries it will be Toronto all over again.

Will Caz’s teammates rally behind their star pitcher? Or will Caz be betrayed once more?

A heartwarming, funny, fast-paced story about the bravery it takes to live as your true self, no matter the cost.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how my students would react to the story but I knew that it would spark conversations around gender and gender identity. We’re about a week and a half into reading the text and students are really taking the time to empathize and some are even noticing their own bias as we’ve been writing reading responses.

Every day, I read the text to students – we only have 1 copy – and they are given a question to reflect upon while we read. Once finished reading a chapter or two, students get writing and talking about their thoughts on a particular section. Some of our reflection questions have included:

  • If you had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of the characters in the book so far, who would it be and why? What questions would you ask? How might those questions help to shape your understanding of what is happening?
  • What do you think Caz’s first day at school might be like? Why?
  • If Caz was coming to Sloane Public School, what 3 key things do you need to tell him about our school community? Why would those things be meaningful to him? Which teacher would you connect him to as a supportive or caring adult? Why?
  • Why is this book an important text for ALL readers?
  • Caz had his first sleepover at a friend’s house in his new city. Did he do the right thing by not telling Hank about his decision to identify as male although he was born female? Why or why not?

Earlier this week, one student was really excited that our questions haven’t been about getting the “right” or “wrong” answer but rather an opportunity to think and sometimes the chance to think something new. While we’re only about three-quarters of our way through the text, they’re making connections with the text and the real world and to their lives. It’s been pretty powerful for us as we think about Caz being just ten years old and yet so very brave. I have a number of students who are the same age and they have said they aren’t sure how they would handle such a decision.

Updated: February 29, 2020 — 5:44 pm

The Author

Arianna Lambert

I'm a Grade 5 Teacher in the Toronto District School Board who loves integrating technology and mindfulness in the classroom. Through inquiry and design, I work with students who are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities; developing core competencies, while creating ways to make the world an even better place. I am the recipient of a TDSB Excellence Award for the co-creation of #tdsbEd, Twitter chats for educators. Through conversations on trends in Education from STEAM to Mindfulness, it has become an online community of educators dedicated to improving their practice to ensure greater student success, well-being and achievement.

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