Tag Archives: Stargirl

Glory Days

My 4th grade book club is reading Stargirl, as I have mentioned previously. At this point in the novel, Leo, the narrator, has to choose between the affection of his girlfriend Stargirl and the “affection” of the rest of the school, comprised of a student body who is shunning them. I wonder how much my 4th graders connect to the social universe that is high school, but today one of my boys said, “I think he’ll choose ‘them,’ but he’ll regret not choosing Stargirl.” Then one of my girls chimed in and said, “Maybe things in high school seem like a big deal, and then later on you look back and laugh at it.” My response: “Ah, yes. That’s what we call having perspective.”

Just tonight we went to Husband’s high school alma mater to catch a basketball game. There were lots of parents, teachers, and fans from both schools, and there were the requisite cheerleading squads, students wanting to look cool in front of other students but acting like they weren’t trying too hard to be cool, and the athletes themselves, of course. It was, in fact, a good game, and it was so odd to be on the other side of being a teenager, when I played varsity volleyball and spent so much time with my regular high school crew. Maybe only odd because I don’t teach high school and don’t have any high school age kids playing; Husband and I only attended as spectators.

I do have great affection for my high school years, truly. I loved my teachers — they are a huge reason why I became a teacher — and wearing a uniform at Catholic school is comforting. It requires no thought process on a daily basis, and it certainly did its job of leveling out the social playing field and helping us girls to focus on the academics, athletics, and other extracurriculars we were working on at school. I absolutely loved attending an all-girls school, too; to this day I still feel empowered by that experience.

I look at high school kids now and recognize that they’re all going through the same sort of emotional roller coaster of adolescence that we all experienced to varying degrees. All I hope for them is that they learn to enjoy being young. High school lasts a measly four years, and there are a million years to follow when they have to grow up and act like adults. It’s so startling to me when I see sixth graders who have the bodies of ninth graders and hang out with high school kids. I just want to grab them and say, “It’s okay to be little. Don’t be in such a rush to grow up…” I look back upon my high school life, and I’m glad that I was a late bloomer. I’m glad that I experienced the glory of varsity volleyball and the unique geeky joy of playing in the school orchestra. I’m glad that my mom made me get a job as soon I was of age and could drive myself to work. I’m glad that my school lived out a value of community service. I’m glad that we were a community of faith.

All of those pieces of High School Me are still very much a part of who I am, but I never wish that I could re-live that time. I like being a grown up who can honor my past and who knows that the best is yet to come. Adult Me knows the value of having an opportunity in schools now to pay it forward.

Notes on Stargirl

If you don’t already read Young Adult (YA) literature, or if you haven’t read any since you were a kid, I’d say that you’re missing out. Teaching middle school brought me back to it, thankfully, else I never would have read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and what a shame that would be. In my mind they are part of the new era of the YA literature canon, and deservedly so. Now that I’m working with a small group of 4th graders who are already proficient readers for their grade level, I find myself exploring YA lit yet again. Before Christmas we read Jerry Spinelli’s Wringer, and currently we are reading another book by the same author called Stargirl. As a part of the book club myself, one of our hard and fast rules is that it is NOT okay to read ahead; it spoils discussion if anyone does so. In my effort to lead by example, I really haven’t read ahead at all, but right now I’m dying to know what happens… and we don’t meet again until Tuesday. (sigh)

One of the skills I am working on with the 4th graders is having them notice their thinking during reading — in other words, be metacognitive. As they read, they are expected to write Post-it notes in their books when they have an observation or make a connection or spot a lovely word or phrase or understand something new or different about a character, etc. Again, as part of the modeling process, I too write Post-it notes, at least when I’m reading Stargirl. We bring our ideas to discussion, which usually leads to more discussion. Read, Post-it, and repeat. The goal is not to come to definitive conclusions about the text or try to come to consensus; rather, we are learning how to think deeply and have thoughtful discussions. It requires practice. Not every person was born ready to participate in a Socratic seminar.

Since I have to wait for a few days for my turn to share at book club, I will do my writing here. Stargirl is an exceptional character. She is a free-spirited, self-nicknamed 10th grader who has been home-schooled up until the point of entering high school this year. She dresses strangely, plays a ukelele, and in general tries to spread love and kindness (in her hippie way) throughout an incredibly apathetic high school population. Leo, the 11th-grade narrator, observes this about her:

Of all the unusual features of Stargirl, this struck me as the most remarkable. Bad things did not stick to her. Correction: her bad things did not stick to her. Our bad things stuck very much to her. If we were hurt, if we were unhappy or otherwise victimized by life, she seemed to know about it, and to care, as soon as we did. But bad things falling on her – unkind words, nasty stores, foot blisters – she seemed unaware of…. She had no ego. (Spinelli 52-53)

This character sort of embodies one of the Four Agreements: Don’t take anything personally. When her peers or the community treat her as an outsider or misunderstand her intentions, it is more a reflection of their own insecurities and fear of the unknown. How could anyone be so empathetic? How could anyone be so sensitive to how others are feeling and desire to show them care? In one of my Post-it note musings, I wrote that she is a very Christ-like figure, in that she starts to be persecuted, yet never stops being kind or giving. She never complains or lashes out at them in public.

While I am not advocating for everyone to wear flowing clothes and sing in the lunchroom, I do think the world could make good use of people like Stargirl, whose actions make me believe that she knows that “shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is a half sorrow.” She’s not a bleeding heart martyr. She isn’t a self-righteous Pollyanna. But she is someone who has a genuine interest in other people and in wanting them to feel happily alive. I would love to have a Stargirl in my life, though I think a part of her lives in each of us if we spend some time looking for her.

Our next book club meeting can’t come soon enough.

My Day in Books

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.┬áTell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” -Native American proverb

8:45-9:15 am — 4th grade book club

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli



11:00am and 1:00pm — preK and K, respectively, at the end of their lesson on how to calm down

Leonardo the Terrible Monster - Mo Willems













12:30-1:00pm – 3rd grade, at the end of their lesson on how to deal with peer pressure

Frederick - Leo Leonni












1:30-2:00 pm — 2nd grade, at the end of their lesson on asking for help politely

Horton Hatches the Egg - Dr. Seuss

The End.