After deciding on reading Wonder with my supported ELA class next year, I was trying to think of a similar book to use with my unsupported class. Wonder is an amazing book, but I had a fair number of above grade level readers in that class this past year, and I wanted something that would be a little more challenging. Additionally, since everyone will read our second novel, The Lightning Thief, this is a good chance for some clear differentiation.
The Thing About Jellyfish is a pretty perfect novel to teach alongside Wonder. Both center on a middle school student who feels incredibly isolated–who feels both invisible and too visible all at once. For August, it’s because of his physical appearance, but for Suzy, she feels it’s because of who she is–because she always says the wrong thing, because she doesn’t communicate the way other people expect her to. Both books also deal with bullying and the idea of kindness–and what it looks like in middle school.
The Thing About Jellyfish is a lovely book that has so much going on in terms of character, subject matter, and structure. The book is broken up into different parts, with each part prefaced with a quote from Suzy’s science teacher about the scientific method. This means the story itself is in the structure of the scientific method–there’s a hypothesis, there’s background, there’s results–which is a structural manifestation of Suzy’s obsession with facts and the comfort she seems to find in science. There’s also this odd idea that Suzy’s fixation on facts and with the world around her–something adult–makes her too childish for Franny and the other kids at school. As I read, I wondered if Suzy is on the autism spectrum in some way. Whether or not she is, students who are–as well as students who are having trouble socially adjusting to middle school–can find a lot to relate to.
I’m not sure what final project to do–I want students to discuss the book in literature circles, and I have prompts written and a reading schedule, but I’m not totally sure what it’s building to yet. (Other than an essay!) I’ll have to think about it some more.