Ah, to be 13 again. Well, not really.
I’ve had 13, a collection of short stories edited by James Howe, sitting in my bookshelf for the past few years. I bought it based on the recommendation of a staff developer at the TCRWP who shared Rachel Vail’s “Thirteen and a Half” at a Calendar Day I attended. Since the book is geared towards a middle school audience, I put it on my home bookshelf and didn’t pull it out with my fourth or fifth graders.
Curiosity got the best of me yesterday and I finally retrieved the book, which contains “thirteen stories that capture the agony and ecstasy of being thirteen” from my bookshelf. I went to the T.o.C. in search of a story title that piqued my interest. I settled on one written by James Howe entitled “Jeremy Goldblatt Is SO Not Moses.” Thanks to Howe’s ability to capture the voices of the characters in the story (Note: It’s a story told from many different perspectives.), I was instantly transported back to that time in my life, which partially made me smile and partially made me cringe.
Once your students have a command over Standard English, you can teach them how to “break the rules” of writing. While “Jeremy Goldblatt Is SO Not Moses” is loaded with insertion commas and commas that are correctly placed before conjunctions, it rarely uses commas in lists. In fact, it uses the words or & and to create lists within the writing. This technique is quite useful since it makes the writing it sound like a teenager’s voice. There are several examples of this throughout the text, so it will be easy to show students several examples of this technique.
Another thing you can teach students to do with this text, which Ruth was just discussing with me yesterday, is how to whisper-in to the reader. Chelsea, one of the characters in the story, is a very self-conscious girl who doesn’t understand some changes of heart she’s having throughout the story. She whispers-in to the reader, reminding the reader not to rat her true intentions out, at a few points in the text. Each time she whispers-in, she puts her warning in parentheses. Each parenthetical reference made me feel as though she was saying something under her breath. We can teach students how to say something under their breath, only the reader can hear, by whispering-in to the reader inside of parentheses.
When students write narratives, it’s often hard to discern the difference between the adults and children when they’re speaking in the story unless there are strong setting details and plot structure in place. Since “Jeremy Goldblatt Is SO Not Moses” is artfully written from a variety of perspectives (e.g., Jeremy Goldblatt, his friends, his Rabbi, his mother, and his mother’s friend), we can use this text with students who are having trouble assigning words to make their characters seem believable.
If you teach middle school, consider getting 13. While you may only use a few of the stories inside, I’m certain this book is one to which your students will relate.