Book Review: Through the Cracks

Posted By: Shelly Norris AASPA Blog,

Fun fact #1:
I “accidently” came upon this thin, purple, hard-back book, Through the Cracks, (Sollman, Emmons, & Paolini, 1994), anchored at the bottom of a gargantuan pile of educationally-relevant clearance items at a well-known bookstore in 2002. (By the way, I think I faintly heard
it scream my name! So, I had to purchase it!)

That said, you may be already thinking to yourself, “2002, that book is old, outdated, and no longer educationally relevant! It would have been best if Shelly had provided us with a book review about a more contemporary piece of literature, reflective of education in today’s world,
not with a copyright date of 1994!”

But, please oblige me, just stay with me, and wait for it!

Fun Fact #2:
I don’t believe I found this treasure by “accident”. Whether by divine intervention, perfect alignment of the planets, or sheer Karma, the day I found this literary prize was definitely my day! The contents of this 51-page picture book have critically impacted the way I think, reflect, decision-make, and plan for self and others, all in the name of joy in student learning. In turn, should you decide to give it a read, I hope it will impact you in the same way.

Of any book that I have relied upon, used, and perhaps maybe abused, repeatedly over the last nineteen years in supporting school professional development, teaching workshops etc., it is Through the Cracks that has served as my mainstay. My personal copy is laden with a weak and unraveling spine, folded and crinkled pages, sticky notes to tab important points, coffee cup spills, and personal notes and doodles outline the borders of favorite paragraphs. Moreover, Through the Cracks has served as my vagabond-like travel companion, accompanying me on numerous professional journeys. It has made its home in dirty book bags, piles on shelves, hotel night stands, milk crates, travel suitcases, school boardrooms, and literally under and through the cracks of the seats of my car. (I think you get the picture!) However, these physical markings, reflecting use-over-time and travel-journey experiences, well-illustrate how the content included within these 51-short pages has sparked and premised some of the most critically eye-opening and emotionally-charged conversations I have been engaged in throughout my educational career. Through the Cracks has long-served as my best educational friend and literary partner!

Before reading any further…Reflect upon and recall the name of your favorite teacher from the past. What made that person your favorite? Was it the learning activities they planned? Was it their educational “delivery”? Was it the way they made you accountable for your own learning? Did that person make learning “come alive” for you? Was their classroom environment embellished in a diversity of oddities, curiosities, and resources which transported you to imaginary and uncharted worlds and lands? Perhaps that person appeared a bit quirky, and unique.

Now, think of a teacher who could have easily allowed you and your cadre of student peers to “fall through the cracks.” Were any, if not all, of the attributes mentioned above absent from your learning experience in that person’s classroom? Contemplate and compare the juxtaposition in attitude, creativity, and the physical learning environment of these two teachers and how these attributes affected you as a student and learner.

As we think about our favorite and most notable teachers, an assumption is that the majority of us create a vivid mental picture of a person who engaged us in physical and cognitive activity, exploration, creativity, risk taking, and joy-making. Through the Cracks presents a triangulation of metaphorical, allegorical and seemingly literal experiences that many of us possess as part of our own educational stories. Told in the form of an easy-to-read children’s book, accompanied by dynamic tell-all illustrations, Through the Cracks captures the crucial essence of educational relatability, relationship-building, community, connectivity, and above all, the need to engage students in authentic learning experiences, thus keeping them from “falling through the cracks”.

The author and illustrators take us on a journey, depicting an excited child’s first day of school, unfortunately to be met with classroom experiences that served to “shrink” him and the peers around him. Through the poignant voice of the authors and vibrant brush strokes of the illustrator, we are reminded about the “darkness” that exists for students when learning is not engaging or relevant. However, we are also reassured by the “light” that appears for students when educators take transformative strides to assure that learning is authentic, engaging, and joyful. These metaphors of darkness, transformed by light, serve to reflect the academic, social and emotional experiences that yesterday’s and today’s students long for and deserve in their learning.

While evidence suggests that education and educational reform is typically cyclic, we are continually reminded, whether at the year of this book’s initial publication in 1994, or on the day in 2002 when I “accidently” found this treasure, or at the onset of 2021, student’s learning needs have not changed! Although the copyright date may suggest otherwise, Through the Cracks continues to present the contemporary needs of today’s learners, and perhaps now, more than ever, as we navigate new and uncharted waters in student learning, the overarching message depicting joy in learning and authentic engagement may be more relevant more than ever in keeping students from “falling through the cracks” of education.

Moreover, by capitalizing upon the current, unique educational learning environments which have been propelled by a current global pandemic, students may-well thrive in what could now be celebrated as the new age of educational opportunity. These profound experiences could serve as a critical component in shedding new life, light and joy in meeting the diverse learning needs for a greater number of learners who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks.

Fun fact #3:
Early childhood educator, Loris Malaguzzi, coined the phrase, “Nothing Without Joy!” Malaguzzi’s work posits, “Joy is the lifeblood of the learning process”. ( I can think of no better mantra that synonymously aligns within the context and overarching message reflected in Through the Cracks; Thus reminding us that joy, relationships, play, and laughter don’t come with a time stamp. These indispensable components of authentic learning will forever serve as a vital catalyst in the learning needs of all children.

To order your copy of Through The Cracks, go to: