I’ve got a group of students who are suddenly waking up and becoming more aware of the way sentences are formed. I’m so excited for them; I want to tell them the answers, but I am holding back, knowing meaning is more valuable if you find it on your own.
And so we found ourselves in a quandary on chapter two of Jerry Spinelli’s Loser, when he describes the town they live in as a “brick-and-hoagie town”. First we discussed the meaning, why would Spinelli call a town that? Were there Hoagie shops on every corner or were bricks crumbling and the town starting to fall apart? Is it close to a city? Does everyone know what a hoagie is or is the story taking place somewhere near us in Pennsylvania? We discussed, we argued, we stepped back and described our town.
Then somewhere in the middle of all of it Kyle says, “hey guys do you see those things there after brick and before hoagie?”
“It’s called a dash,” one of the girls says quickly and inquisitively, recognizing that Kyle might be on to something.
“Yeah, well I mean why are they there? Maybe the author is trying to tell us something? He doesn’t need them, does he?”
The conversation went on, and I let it; it didn’t matter that we had only covered the first sentence in chapter two. The kids decided that this was a town where bricks and hoagies went together. They compared the town to Detroit saying if the author wanted the setting to have been in Detroit he would have said, “highway-and-Coney city.”
After our discussion, the kids wrote the words “brick-and-hoagie town” in their language log and promised to be on the lookout for more cool ways Jerry Spinelli was playing with words.
After our discussion, I went to my journal and copied down “brick-and-hoagie town” & “highway-and-Coney city,” after it I wrote, the dash draws me in and connects me, reminds me that one without the other just isn’t right.