Sunday Sessions: Tumble Turn

I began teaching in 2009. Yes, I am a young, fresh, new teacher, some would say overenthusiastic, I would say those “some” don’t know me very well. My head teacher describes me as laid back, easygoing, and “makes it look easy”. Note: I am stressed 24/7. Teaching is one of the jobs you either love, hate, or just do it because you don’t know what else you’re going to do. I love it, and hate it sometimes too, but mostly love it.

I did my first year at a different school to the one in which I teach now. I began at my current school in 2010 and am a permanent placement at this current school. I love this school.

When I got there my head teacher showed me the book room. It’s dark, dusty and about 5kms from the English staffroom. I went down there to look at what books the school had and I found this one book which looked brand new, the spines hadn’t been cracked and there were no numbers in the front (numbering so we know which student has which book so we can get it back). The book had a bright blue cover and crazy writing. I grabbed it, flicked through, took it back to the staffroom and it read it over the course of the recesses and lunch that day. I loved it.

Tumble Turn is by Doug MacLeod and follows the life of Dominic Dear. An almost 13 year old boy, who is confused about his life, his friends, his loves, and his mysterious Uncle Peri. The book is written in a series of emails between Dominic and his Uncle Peri. Like most 13 year olds, Dominic is curious, struggling to fit in and questioning a friendship he has had since he was a little boy. His next door neighbour is his best friend, Christopher Ball, though because of a tv series the boys loved when they were young, Dominic calls Christopher Crystal, so it’s Crystal Ball. One of the many subtle jokes MacLeod uses to engage his audiences, and believe it or not, my year 8 students always pick up on these very subtle but very funny jokes.

Now before I go on, let’s remember, I teach in Western Sydney. An area that, if you didn’t grow up there, or have never lived there or known someone who lives there, you probably either don’t know what to think or think it is not the best area in Sydney, or so the media tells you. I’m going to argue that it is an amazing place, not only to grow up in but also to teach in. The kids are more open minded and more willing to undertake new things and question societies ideas and values than you could possibly imagine.

The reason this is relevant is because this book deals with Dominic questioning his sexuality. This fact is slowly revealed throughout the novel and the kids begin to ask me questions about whether Dominic is gay or not, and I avoid these questions, saying, “Let’s just keep reading and see what we find out”. The kids, eager to know, are more than willing to keep reading. You come to the end of the novel and it’s not quite clear whether Dominic has worked out his sexual orientation or not, and there will always be at least one student who asks “So Miss, is he gay or what?”

I’ve taught this book 2 years in a row now, and the first year I taught it I had a student ask that and to my surprise, another student, a male student, answered with “Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter whether he’s gay or not, it shouldn’t matter.” I stood there, a huge smile spreading over my face as the other students nodded and agreed. Did a 12-13 year old really just say that? Did a class full of 12-13 year olds really just agree? These kids give me hope for a better world in the future.

But it’s not only the themes which push the students to question themselves, society and things they have been told to believe in, it’s the subtle ways that MacLeod uses images, email structure, characterisation and dialogue to convey his story, his purpose.

The students are fully engaged with this novel, and have been two years in a row. I began it with an extension year 8 class and this year taught it to a mixed ability year 8 class. Both classes love the novel, love the questions it raises about acceptance, understanding, growing up, and being whoever you want and need to be. It brings the classes together and it is a great way to start the year. I run my classes as a team, RESPECT is the main rule and main focus when dealing with each other. This novel reinforces those ideas through acceptance and understanding, through teaching the kids how to see people for who they really are, rather than how the “cool” kids tell them to see each other.

I love this novel. I will teach it again next year to my year 8 class and I can only hope that the kids will continue to understand the themes and ideas, and apply them to their everyday lives.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Sessions: Tumble Turn

  1. Hello

    I am the editor of this book and I’ve worked with Dough MacLeod for many years. This book is very close to my heart, indeed to both our hearts, and I am so pleased teachers like you keep it alive. Thank you so much for your eloquent and impassioned appraisal.


    • No need for thanks, believe me, it is a miracle in the classroom. Thanks for writing something that deals with these issues that so many teenagers face, but making it accessible to these same teenagers.

      P.s I still laugh out loud in class when we’re reading the novel. Especially the dialogue between Dominic’s parents.


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