Spinning by Tillie Walden
I do not often read graphic novels, but after reading Spinning by Tillie Walden, I was left wondering why not.
This graphic memoir spans almost a decade of Tillie Walden’s life over almost 400 pages, which may sound and look like a lot to students, but her story is so engaging that it is impossible to stop once you start. Words and images combine to transport you to the world of competitive figure skating, which truthfully, sounds quite terrifying (the skating moms alone would have made me run). Walden shares stories of testing, coaches, teammates, performance anxiety and the ways all of this affected both her skating and her understanding of herself.
But, as all good coming of age stories do, Walden’s story touches on many other topics. Woven in against the backdrop of the rink, are Walden’s experiences with bullying, family dynamics, friendships, sexuality, and a sexual assault by a tutor. In the author’s notes at the end of the memoir, Walden explains how she set out writing, “…ready to do [her] tell-all about the seedy world of glittering young ice skaters”, but the story changed as she realized the way her experiences outside the rink shaped her performance on the ice.
When recommending titles to teachers, the question we are most often asked is what age/grade the book is for. And most of the time, I am not sure how to answer this question. Spinning is no exception. My initial response is to respond with: everyone (my ten year old daughter loved this book as much as I did). However, as always, this question speaks to the importance of reading the books you place on your shelves and talking about them. In doing a book talk on Spinning I would include the themes that students may to be ready/interested in reading, and leave the choice to the reader themselves. What I do know for sure, is that there are many readers in classrooms who will connect to Walden’s experiences, and this alone speaks to its relevance and importance in the classroom library.