First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen. It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book. Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.
I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago. Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person. After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers. She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis. So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.
I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed. The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms. Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer. She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore. However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona. Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different. Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences. Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.
This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up. To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author. If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.