Get a FREE ebook by joining our mailing list today! Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read.
Reading Group Guide The Spin
by Marcus Stroman About the Book
Marcus Stroman is a middle school student who expects the school year to be full of schedules and responsibility, especially as he juggles a schedule with two sports he loves – baseball and basketball – while keeping up with his schoolwork which, as his parents always remind him, comes first. While Marcus continues to adjust to his parents’ divorce, some parts of his day are consistent. Practicing baseball each morning with his dad is always how he begins his day. After school, it’s time for basketball practice. Marcus is a competitor on and off the field, but can he sustain and improve his athletic ability on both the basketball court and the baseball field? At the same time, Marcus’s class is working on a media literacy assignment and the class will be publishing their own newspaper. While working on his assignment, Marcus realizes that he has a lot to learn about the power of words. He discovers that how people spin their words is just as important as the spin on a ball. But will he realize it before his life spins out of control with social media? How will he handle it when one of those articles is a pretty harsh criticism of his performance on the court? Discussion Questions
1. Marcus Stroman introduces the book with this quote, “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.” What do you think it means, and how do you think it foreshadows events to come?
2. Mom and Dad have different personalities and parenting styles. It is challenging for Marcus and Sabria to adjust to their new arrangements since their parents are divorced going from house to house, where expectations differ. Discuss the similarities and differences of each parent’s style. Whose style is most similar to what yours would be if you were a parent? Why?
3. Marcus says he’s “competitive in all things—on courts, on fields, and in classrooms.” (Chapter one) Cite evidence from the text supporting this truth about Marcus. Do you think people can be competitive in all facets of their lives, or is it impossible? Explain.
4. Marcus loves both baseball and basketball. He is a good athlete in both sports, but he states that he doesn’t feel the same pressure playing basketball as he does playing baseball. Explain why. Do you ever feel pressured to succeed at something even though your heart is leading you in another direction? Explain.
5. Marcus explains, “But I don’t like people deciding things for me. I want some choices, and if I feel like I can work hard and be great at more than baseball, why wouldn’t I at least try?” (Chapter one) What does this say about Marcus’s character? Do you think this attitude will help Marcus succeed in life? Explain. At the same time, Dad feels differently about Marcus playing basketball and baseball. How does Marcus feel about his father’s attitude, and how does it affect him on and off the playing field?
6. Gary is Marcus’s mental health coach. What is a mental health coach? How does Gary help Marcus? Do you think Marcus enjoys working with Gary or not? How can you tell?
7. Marcus, Kai, and Robbie are considered the “Three Musketeers.” Even though they are best friends and sidekicks, they have different personalities. Describe Kai’s and Robbie’s character traits and how their relationships with Marcus are different. Throughout the story, notice how Kai and Robbie interact with Marcus in various situations. What does this tell us about their friendship?
8. While Marcus is a good basketball player, he knows that his average height is a challenge on the court. He hears people say, “Oh, that shortie isn’t going to be able to play . . .Don’t worry about blocking that one
.” (Chapter four) But Marcus surprises them and then hears, “Well, what do you know, that short baseball kid can press the court with the best of them.
” Discuss the ways Marcus sees his height as a challenge and his feelings associated with that. Do you have a skill that surprises people? Explain.
9. Sabria and Marcus sometimes have a complicated relationship. Growing up can be challenging. Marcus states, “As annoying as my sister is, she’s the one who’s there, going through the same things I am. She understands a lot of stuff about me that nobody else can.” (Chapter four) Cite evidence that explains their relationship and how they both help, as well as hurt, each other.
10. Dad always expects Marcus to do his best with everything he does. Similarly, Marcus also expects himself to do his best. Gary says that you have to learn to accept that things are not always realistic. What does this mean? How does Marcus feel about this advice? Give examples of how this statement can pertain to your life.
11. Marcus is always trying to prove that basketball means something to him. What are some ways that Marcus does this? Do you think he’s trying to prove this to himself or to others? Explain.
12. Mrs. Tyler is very excited about the big project she has set up for her class. Publishing a newspaper consists of many key roles and decisions. Explain what is needed to set up a newspaper, what the format is, and who is taking on each role in the Warrior Times
13. “Sometimes you have to tell people what you need,
says Gary’s voice in my head.” (Chapter eight) Why does Marcus keep hearing this voice in different situations? How does this message affect Marcus’s actions throughout the book. Later, Marcus realizes, “I guess sometimes you can ask and still not get what you ask for.” (Chapter eight) Have you ever experienced a time when you could have used this life lesson? Explain.
14. Marcus needs to interview Mr. Spring before writing his article about the new outdoor classroom. He lies to Mrs. Tyler about being prepared for the interview. What should Marcus have done to plan for this interview, and why is it important to be prepared? Discuss the importance of unbiased reporting and how it affects the reader, in addition to what Marcus learns about the idea that words matter.
15. When the basketball coach, Coach Fuller, says that Marcus is a tremendous basketball talent, Marcus remembers his dad saying, “‘You take it in . . . but . . . no gloating.’” Marcus thinks, “If I work hard and the praise is earned, I can still celebrate it.” (Chapter ten) Do you agree with Marcus or his dad? Explain your reasoning.
16. In chapter eleven, while practicing with his dad, Marcus flips out at his parents and says he’s upset because they’re “‘not supporting me playing basketball.’” Retell this scene and how we’ve seen Marcus’s character change. How do Mom and Dad react to his outburst?
17. In chapter twelve, the Warrior Times
has finally been published. While Marcus’s article about the new classroom seems okay, the article written by Melanie about Marcus and his basketball team seems harsh. Discuss the following questions: Should news articles have a comment section? What kind of comments were published?
18. Concerning Melanie’s article about the basketball, what do you think was her intent when she published the piece? Should the reporter be qualified to write about a certain topic? Should people stop at the headline and make a judgment or read the whole article? Is it important to mention context when quoting someone?
19. The same event can elicit different reactions from the people involved. Think about the basketball article in the Warrior Times.
Explain how each character—Marcus, Robbie, Kai, Sabria, Mom, and Mrs. Tyler—reacted to the article and how their reactions showcase their personalities.
20. After the upsetting basketball article, Mom suggests Marcus talk to Gary about it. What is Gary’s technique in understanding how Marcus feels? Explain the advice, “‘Hang on to helpful. Hurl the hurtful.’” (Chapter thirteen) How does Marcus react to this comment? What do you think of it, and can it pertain to your life?
21. Marcus does not want to go camping with Sabria and Mom. However, when they go on a long hike to the top of the mountain, Marcus’s demeaner changes. Explain how. What is Marcus feeling and how do the surroundings affect him? How does Marcus’s attitude change as he goes down the mountain? Are you surprised? Why?
22. Dad puts up a basketball hoop to surprise Marcus. Dad states, “‘If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,’” as he tightly hugs Marcus. (Chapter sixteen) How is Marcus’s relationship changing with his dad? Do you think this new bond will affect Marcus on the basketball court or the baseball field? Explain.
23. In chapter seventeen, Marcus returns to school for the first time since the basketball article was published. After Mrs. Tyler begins talking about it, Marcus and Melanie discuss it in front of the whole class. Discuss the debate they are having and the demeanor of each character. Who do you think has the stronger argument, or do they both provide valuable support for their opinion? Discuss Robbie’s part in this argument too.
24. Marcus is stunned by the comments that come in via the comment section for the Warrior
. Do you feel people are honest when they post or comment on social media platforms? Do you think most people who post certain things would also say them directly to a person? How does a screen change what someone says about another person, place, product, or organization? What do you think is the best way to handle comments that are truly hurtful?
25. When Dad finds out about Melanie and Marcus’s conversation, Dad explains that there are two different types of criticism. One intends to help you get better at something, and the other is just people “‘giving their opinion.’” (Chapter eighteen) Explain both types of criticism and how intent and motivation play a part in it. Give examples of both, citing evidence from the text and your own life.
26. During the next basketball game, Marcus is feeling some pressure. What causes him to feel this tension? How does he control it? How does the word spin
factor into his success?
27. Throughout the story, Marcus has gotten advice from many important people in his life. In the end, he writes an opinion piece as his next newspaper article. Discuss the many lessons he’s learned from his advisors, which he includes in his writing. Think about what Marcus has learned, what you have learned, and how these lessons can be applied to real life. What do you think is the message(s) the author truly wants to leave you with? Extension Activities
1. Many people who experience stress can relate to Marcus’s struggles throughout the book. One way to relieve tension is to focus on mindfulness. Try a breathing exercise where you breathe deeply and slowly for around five minutes. Count to four on the inhale and four again on the exhale. Or focus on Gary and Marcus’s Senses Game as a way to reconnect. Relax and ask yourself: What are five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, one thing I can taste?
2. Mrs. Tyler teaches the students about the word bias
by comparing two newspaper articles on the same event. While one is more factual, the other includes a reporter’s opinion to get people to keep reading. Choose a current event, and read two articles on the same topic. Do you see any evidence of bias in the articles? Why do you think it was included? How do you feel bias affects readers as a whole? Explain your reasoning.
3. Publish your own class newspaper. Think about the components of a newspaper and what Marcus and his class learned about creating one. Things to consider: newspaper title, what news to include, facts, how things are reported, and how they are perceived. Share your newspaper with your class, school, or even your community!
4. Take note of the book’s title. In chapter eight, Marcus is practicing his pitching with his dad. He repeatedly mentions the word spin
, which is then repeated throughout the book. As you read, take note of when the word spin
Is it a noun or a verb? Note the significance of the scene and what it has to do with the title or overall plot of the story. Make a list of these instances.
5. Marcus is responsible for interviewing Mr. Spring about the new outdoor classroom. He says, “‘The outdoor classroom is… an invitation to open your eyes about the world around you. There’s nothing like being outdoors to see life close up.’” (Chapter eight) Take a class trip outside to observe nature’s beauty and write poems about the elements you see. Share them with the class.
6. Marcus consistently argues that he wants to be known as a great baseball and basketball player. Research athletes who played more than one professional sport. Some suggestions are Michael Jordan, Danny Ainge, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Jim Thorpe. What did you learn about them as players and about their personal motivations?
7. Marcus Stroman, the author of The Spin
, is a professional major league baseball player. However, off the field, Stroman has created the HDMH (Height Doesn’t Measure Heart) Foundation to share his message with kids about achieving their own dreams and building confidence in themselves. Research this charity and learn more about Marcus’s mission off the field. See how you can help. https://hdmhfoundation.org/Angela Benevento is a Literacy Specialist and elementary school teacher, who lives with her family in New York. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.