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SEL with ALM: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Posted by Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO on Aug 15, 2022 2:58:44 PM
Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling has SEL themes that relate to all three grades for Emozi® Middle School. This book has themes of fitting in, living with a physical disability, and perseverance.


Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is an award-winning book about a thirteen-year-old girl named Aven Green. She is a strong-willed, believe-in-yourself girl who doesn't let anything stop her, even though she was born without arms! This story shows the reader what it's like to feel and be different. Aven moves to Phoenix, AZ, when her father takes a job running a Western theme park called Stagecoach Pass. She has to start a new school and try to make new friends while simultaneously solving a mystery. This story is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny while dealing with the serious topics of being physically disabled, having Tourette's, weight issues, and fitting into middle school.

This book presents several powerful social-emotional topics rarely addressed in literature for this age group. The themes to highlight are self-awareness, self-confidence, human diversity, dealing with differences, finding your voice, gaining confidence and facing your fears, learning about who you are, reaching out for resources, and who are your true friends - all of these topics are fundamental to the development of middle schoolers. This is a really good read! It's fun and deals with meaningful topics!

Socratic Seminar Questions

"My missing arms weren't an issue for me or my parents...They always said things like, "You'll have to do this differently from other people but you can manage," and " I know this is challenging. Keep trying," and "You're capable of anything, Aven." p 1-2.

  • How do the messages that Aven hears from her parents affect how she thinks about herself?
  • How do you think the messages you hear affect how you think about yourself?

"I think I can do all these things because my parents have always encouraged me to figure things out on my own - well, more like made me figure things out on my own. I suppose if they had always done everything for me, I would be helpless without them. But they didn't, and I'm not." p3

  • Besides being able to do things for herself, what's something else that Aven has learned as a consequence of having to figure things out on her own?

Aven tells the reader that she made up a story about how she lost her arms which upset another child. Her parents remind her to be truthful and not upset other kids...and she did for a while. But by fifth grade, she begins to make up stories about how she "lost" her arms. This time she doesn't get into trouble.

  • Why is it different this time for her to make up stories when it wasn't before?
  • What is the difference between teasing and taunting?

Chapter 1 ends with the paragraph, "Then again, I never imagined I would save the Old West, perform for an audience in the desert, and solve a mystery. You'd be surprised at all I'm capable of, though. Even without arms." p7

  • Do people underestimate Aven just because she doesn't have arms, or is there something else?
  • Do you think that people underestimate you? Do you underestimate yourself?

Emozi Lesson Connections for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus 

Grade 6 

Unit 1

  • Lesson 2: Understanding and Building Self-Confidence and Self-Esteemalm-insignificanteventsinthelifeofacactus1
  • , Lesson 3: Understanding and Appreciating Character Strengths 
  • Lesson 4: Using Compassion to Stand Up to Bullying 
  • Lesson 5: Pressure and Stress
  • Lesson 8: Growth Mindset 
  • Lesson 9: Teamwork and Collaboration

Unit 2

  • Lesson 1: Self-Perception
  • Lesson 4: Identity
  • Lesson 6: Diversity
  • Lesson 9: Making and Maintaining Friendships

Unit 3

  • Lesson 1: Resilience
  • Lesson 3: Fear Less
  • Lesson 4: Reaching Out for Resources
  • Lesson 6: Community Involvement
  • Lesson 9: Go for Your Goals
  • Lesson 12: Perseverance and Hope

Grade 7

Unit 1

  • Lesson 3: Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Lesson 4: Confidence
  • Lesson 5: Flexible Thinking
  • Lesson 8: Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Lesson 10: Healthy Choices
  • Lesson 12: Self-Perception

Unit 2

  • Lesson 3: Advocacy
  • Lesson 4: Stereotypes
  • Lesson 5: Fear
  • Lesson 7: Overcoming Obstacles
  • Lesson 9: Bullying
  • Lesson 10: Perspective
  • Lesson 12: Empathy

Unit 3

  • Lesson 1: Dealing with Disappointment 
  • Lesson 6: Relationships
  • Lesson 7: Resilience
  • Lesson 9: Being Responsible
  • Lesson 10: Forgiving
  • Lesson 12: Community Involvement and Giving Back

Grade 8

Unit 1

  • Lesson 2: Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Lesson 6: Community Support
  • Lesson 7: Belonging and Rejection
  • Lesson 12: Kindness and Compassion

Unit 2

  • Lesson 2: Human Variation
  • Lesson 4: Self-Talk
  • Lesson 6: Extracurricular Activities
  • Lesson 7: Perspective Taking 
  • Lesson 8: Relationships
  • Lesson 10: Apologies and Forgiveness

Unit 3

  • Lesson 2: Happiness
  • Lesson 3: Healthy Relationships
  • Lesson 4: Prejudice and Racism
  • Lesson 7: Point of View
  • Lesson 11: Standing Up for Yourself
  • Lesson 12: Transitions

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Topics: Social and emotional learning, Resources, Emozi® Middle School, Anna-Lisa Mackey, M.Ed., Socratic Seminar, SEL with ALM