I just finished reading the brilliant middle-grade debut, George, by Alex Gino with my sixth graders this winter. The novel is about George embracing her identity as Melissa. The book layers in so much about friendship, fear, and family relationships. Even though George is in fourth grade, students acknowledged the material wasn’t condescending or babyish. They found the gendered structure of George’s school and the examples of toxic masculinity accurately portrayed in the story. Gino uses E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web like a unifying tapestry, weaving the various students, teachers, and their families together in this tale of acceptance.
A student working on her English language skills read George independently, wrote a review, and then presented that write-up to the class. She was proud of herself for reading the entire book without a translator. She suggested I read the novel aloud for an all-class read. I agreed. Using the Sora reading app, I projected the story on a screen to share with the students.
George is part of Scholastic’s Gold Line, joining a list of award-winning titles like Esperanza Rising, Rules, and Freak the Mighty. The book will be reissued as Melissa in 2022. As a writer, I am both dismayed and heartened by the fact that Gino’s journey from first draft to final publication took TWELVE years!!
Since I love cross-curricular programming, reading and discussing George fell in line with a wider school discussion about identity during a recent all-school meeting.
Our Equity & Inclusion Coordinator walked students and their faculty advisors through a presentation about the Social Identity Wheel, including developmentally appropriate definitions of race, ethnicity, gender, and other personal identifiers.
In future advisory groups, we’ll work on “Where I’m From” poems made famous by teacher and writer George Ella Lyon. Here’s one of mine from a different advisory group several years ago:
I am from the farmhouse on Brown Road, from Campbell’s soup
and now The Barn.
I am from warmth by the wood stove.
I am from overflowing coleus plants in the living room.
I am from raisin toast on Christmas morning and trying to be on time, from
Brickhouse Nana and Chief.
I am from people who play Hearts and Spades, from
farm chores and freedom.
I am from share and talk and write.
I am from the North Country, garganelli, and sour cream apple pie.
I am from slides in carousels: the goats and Sally-the-pig, the rusty swing set, and
banana seat bikes.