A Review of this Book & an Activity Suggestion:
Knots in My Yo-yo String: the Autobiography of a Kid by Jerry Spinelli is an absolutely charming book. Jerry Spinelli is a favorite author of my middle school students, and I they buy right in to the effortless, storytelling style of this book. It weaves together the pieces of his childhood into a clear picture of what he felt like growing up. It does not delve into his life in college or beyond. The fact that it concentrates so clearly on the evolution of his childhood through being a young adult is very powerful. “Lash La Rue,” my favorite chapter, tells about how as a child you realize you need to grow up to be something, in Spinelli's case a cowboy, and how you eventually realize that maybe that isn’t as easy as it appears.
My favorite teaching point from this book is its details. Details are such an important part of writing a memoir. It is imperative to bring your reader into the moment. A good memoir makes the reader think of the author's memory as their own, and they can see, touch, hear, smell and taste (if appropriate) the moment as their own.
I love to have my students use pieces of the "Lash La Rue" chapter to model their own memoirs' descriptions. I have them to bring in a picture of a costume they wore, or a piece of artwork they can remember doing and why they drew it, or I have them think of a time when they were really excited about something that did not turn out the way they had built it up in their minds. Providing students choices allows them to really connect with their writing and this alone will bring richer images and detail to their pieces. Then read the whole chapter (or excerpts from the chapter.) Have the students close their eyes and visualize the details while listening. Then students use their artifact or memory to create a detailed description. Finally, have them trade artifacts and papers so that students can provide each other feedback.
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