Margin Notes



How Do You Live? tells the story of Jun’ichi “Copper” Honda, a teenage boy growing up in Tokyo. The book was first published in 1937, but only recently translated into English for the first time after the announcement of a film adaptation directed by Hayao Miyazaki through his Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro).

After the death of his father, Copper forms a close bond with his uncle, who becomes a mentor figure as Copper navigates ethical questions about how to live a good life. The story follows a loose narrative, but is largely episodic: an event from Copper’s daily life at school or with friends is recounted and his uncle responds with insights and questions in a notebook he shares with Copper, helping his nephew to see how the event relates to larger issues that he will continue to reflect upon throughout his life. These cover a wide range of subjects, from friendship and heroism, to the relations of production and poverty. The uncle’s notes are not condescending, but supportive and challenging. For example, when Copper shares his discovery of a theory about human relations, his uncle explains that many thinkers have explored this idea before, but encourages him by remarking that it is an achievement to have come to that understanding independently. The writing is approachable and pleasing, with many beautiful descriptions, and readers will quickly become attached to Copper and his friends.

How Do You Live? is a great book for young people curious about exploring big questions. It is an excellent entry to philosophical thinking and will encourage young people to reflect upon themselves, their families and friendships, and their place in the world.

Iain McMaster grew up in Montréal and is an avid reader of translated fiction. He is working towards a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of New Brunswick and holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh.



What I Was Reading:

A Field Guide to the Heart by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a compilation of poems written and collected by two friends discussing their experience during the pandemic through a reflection of life on the topics of love, comfort and hope.

As I was reading, I came across the poem “Flight” by Georgia Heard and was reminded of a video from Jason Reynold’s series “Write. Right. Rite.”  The website describes the series by saying “Reynolds shares his passion for storytelling while discussing topics like creativity, connection, and imagination. At the end of each video, Reynolds shares a prompt that encourages young people to work toward a specific idea.”

Here are the texts:

Tell the Story of Jason’s Tiny Neighborhood

Jason Reynolds, seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, challenges kids to write about a tiny imagined neighborhood.

What Moves I Noticed:

  • The author uses descriptive language such as “oval window” and “snaking green river”
  • The author uses generic characters without detail such as “woman”, “man” and “teenage boy”
  • The author uses figurative language such as “constellation of ceiling cracks” and “roar of a plane”
  • The author uses a dash for punctuation
  • There is repetition in the sentence structure in the beginning of the stanzas marked by the commas and locations of the people




Opportunities for Writers:

Read the poem and watch the video.

  • Write whatever comes to mind
  • Using the structure of the poem, write about what other characters could be doing in the tiny houses
  • Use the beginning phrases of the poem but change the description of what they are doing. Try out some of your own figurative language!
  • Write about what you imagine when you look at houses you walk by or look down upon in a plane.



Bluebird is a book that will have you gripping its pages and turning them frantically to see what happens next, skipping over chapters, going back to chapters, and throwing the book because you are scared about what is going to happen on the next page. Reading Bluebird is not for the faint of heart!

Bluebird is about a young woman who is caught up in the aftermath of World War 2 and the power games surrounding those who had been involved in the experiments conducted in concentration camps. The story jumps back and forth between her new life in America and her past in Berlin. This combined with the addition of flashback scenes creates a vivid, dynamic plot that sucks the reader deep into the story.

As suggested by the above introduction, I would not give Bluebird to every reader. There is intrigue, conspiracy, and fictional events that are based on real history–subjects that many readers enjoy. However, it does also include brutal action, mind manipulation, parental abuse, and torture. This thrilling novel should therefore be recommended with some caution. Sharon Cameron pulls you into this world and her readers are left at the edge of their seats, waiting for the roller coaster ride to end–and the end never comes until you’ve suddenly reached the last page and you’re left processing the magnitude of what you have just read.

Taheera is currently working on her BEd at the University of New Brunswick, focusing on English and Music. Her free time is taken up with her many hobbies, including cooking, knitting, writing, and of course, reading. Some of her favorite genres include historical fiction, letter biographies, and adventure fantasy.



If you are looking for resources to give your students a behind-the-scenes view of the writing process, try Craft and Advice from Literary Hub and How I Wrote It from CBC Books. Both feature writers’ first-person accounts of their writing process and craft.

These would be a fantastic launching point for a craft and process study as an alternative to a more traditional form study. They can be incorporated into mini-lessons or used as invitations for students to reflect on and discuss their own writing processes. They are a powerful reminder that the writing process is not a linear one.



“Life is like…”

I believe that this community recognizes that different text forms can have value and impact a reader strongly, so I am happy to have the chance to share with you all a manga that moved me greatly.

Yoru Sumino is well known for her light novel I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, but today I would like to recommend the manga adaptation of her light novel I Had That Same Dream Again. The story follows Nanoka Koyanagi, an elementary student, as she attempts to find an answer to her school assignment “What is happiness?” She explores this topic through discussions with her three unusual friends, while also dealing with loneliness and other personal struggles. The manga has many relatable storylines, and I feel that all readers will be able to connect with the story in some way. It has a simple, yet profound, message that kept me turning the pages long after my bedtime. I Had That Same Dream Again leaves readers asking themselves as well, what is happiness for them, and I think this is a valuable question for students to reflect on.

Though the protagonist is a young child, this manga is targeted towards teenagers as it does deal with some serious topics. This is a coming-of-age story, though it has its own unique twist on the genre, which I will leave readers to discover themselves. Though many will predict the reveal early on, this does not take away from the emotional impact of the story in the slightest. Yoru Sumino manages to delve thoughtfully into the themes of family, friendship, courage, identity, happiness, and more in a contained and concise text. Content warnings for self-harm, suicide, and bullying.

Rowan Little is a pre-service teacher currently studying at the University of New Brunswick. They have had a passion for English as long as they can remember and are eager to share their passion with their future students.



Pitchfork describes its 5-10-15-20 feature as “Talking to our favorite artists about the music of their lives, five years at a time.” Musicians identify the music they were listening to when they were 5, 10, 15, and so on and reflect on the impact it had on them.

This is such an interesting structure for personal writing and reflecting—it could be easily adapted for students to write their own histories using the same format. Students can use music or think about any other recurring influence over time: books, movies, tv shows, travel, friends, places they have lived, etc. Depending on their chosen focus, students might also play with the timeline. For example, they could reflect on each month across a year, select something to represent every grade in high school, or use elementary, middle, and high school to organize their ideas.

Using 5-10-15-20 is a really flexible way to incorporate personal writing.



“It took me going far away

To feel this close to you

It took dreaming of a memory

To change what I thought I knew.”


David A. Robertson’s The Barren Grounds is a book I hope many get the chance to read. The Indigenous author and public speaker recently published The Barren Grounds in the fall of 2020 as Part One of the Misewa Saga. It is marketed as a middle-grade book although I believe it would be a fantastic read for any student who enjoys themes such as fantasy, adventure, and self-discovery. The story follows two Indigenous children Morgan and Eli who have been placed in the same foster home in a white suburban Manitoban town. Morgan is our protagonist, a strongminded avid reader who at times is a little hard-headed and blunt, offering comedic relief during tense scenes. Morgan has been through several foster homes and struggles to remember who her family is – only dreaming brief visions of a woman speaking to her in Cree. Although she is apprehensive about opening up to her foster family, she bonds with Eli over his hauntingly detailed drawings. While hanging out in the attic, the two discover a portal to another world that is stuck in a cycle of wintery famine. There Morgan and Eli meet a stoic Fisher and witty Squirrel, and the two children help them reclaim their land from the infections of human greed.

The Barren Grounds is a story of losing yourself and finding yourself, of insatiable hunger and contentment, of greed and generosity, and of fear and courage. If Cree is not a language that you’re familiar with, I recommend pairing this book with the audio version as there is Cree dialogue throughout the chapters. The audiobook helped to further immerse me into the land of Misewa and hear the language as it is spoken. It is a story rich in Indigenous culture and tradition and would open any reader’s eyes to the heartaches Indigenous families across Canada face after being separated from their loved ones, their languages, and their cultures. This book will make you laugh, cry, and put you back together again.

Sarah Levita is a pre-service teacher in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of New Brunswick. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and language from the Memorial University of Newfoundland and has a background in teaching English as a Second Language. She loves to write, travel, and spend time with her Pomeranian, Chloe.



What I Was Reading:

Why the USMNT Couldn’t Go Any Further by Eric Betts (Slate, Dec 3, 2022) is an analysis of the US men’s soccer team 3-1 loss to the Netherlands at the World Cup.

This paragraph caught my attention as an example of the way a writer can create flow within a paragraph by using details to narrow and widen the lens:

More importantly, though, the USMNT simply looked drained by the effort it expended to get through its group. While it grinded out its win against Iran, the Netherlands got to coast to victory against Qatar, and the difference showed. Every team wants to make it hard to play through midfield, but this time Adams, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie couldn’t summon the energy to brute-force their way through the Dutch marking by outsprinting them or winning the most important duels. Much of the game was played at a slow pace that favored the Netherlands, and the U.S. didn’t have the horsepower to push it and put the Dutch under stress. They finally managed it toward the end of the second half, but that was the only moment when it looked like a comeback from a 2-0 first-half deficit might be possible.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

Breaking this paragraph apart sentence by sentence helped me see how the writer uses each sentence to shift the perspective by widening or narrowing it:

More importantly, though, the USMNT simply looked drained by the effort it expended to get through its group. (Wide lens: introduces the topic of the paragraph very broadly—the team was tired from the game it had played before its match with the Netherlands)

While it grinded out its win against Iran, the Netherlands got to coast to victory against Qatar, and the difference showed. (Narrows the lens: supports the introductory statement with details of the previous game and a comparison with the experience of the Netherlands)

Every team wants to make it hard to play through midfield, but this time Adams, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie couldn’t summon the energy to brute-force their way through the Dutch marking by outsprinting them or winning the most important duels. (Zooms in: specific examples of the team’s lack of energy)

Much of the game was played at a slow pace that favored the Netherlands, and the U.S. didn’t have the horsepower to push it and put the Dutch under stress. (Lens widens slightly: an analysis statement of the team’s overall play)

They finally managed it toward the end of the second half, but that was the only moment when it looked like a comeback from a 2-0 first-half deficit might be possible. (Zooms back in: offers a specific non-example but brings it back to the overall point)

Opportunities for Writers:

  • Use this as a model for experimenting with perspective and flow in a paragraph.
  • Revisit a paragraph in a draft and try using details to shift the perspective.
  • Find places in their reading where the writer uses a similar technique.
  • Notice and name other paragraph flow techniques they find in their reading.




The Girl that Fell Beneath the Sea is a beautifully written historical fantasy that reimagines the classic Korean fairytale “Shim Cheong”. Mina, the novels protagonist, takes the reader from a cursed Korea, forgotten by the Gods they love, and plagued by war and violent storms. An unsuspecting heroine, Mina, sacrifices herself to become the Sea God’s bride to break the curse and save her people. However, Mina soon realizes that the Sea God’s underwater
kingdom where spirits, immortals, and mythical beasts roam, is just as dangerous as it is enchanting. As she races against a ticking clock to save her village, Mina will form unbreakable bonds with magical friends and allies, but never forgets what she holds most dear.

Axie Oh’s standalone novel is perfectly suited for a younger YA audience. Oh cleverly explores themes of free will versus destiny through each characters’ relationship to the idea of fate. Fate is both literal in the red-string that connects soul mates for eternity, but acts of agency, bravery, and loyalty are also required in Oh’s world for characters’ to meet their fate. Through beautifully interconnected realms of mortal and supernatural, Oh also confirms the power of love and family to overcome all.

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki will enjoy this novel for its similar themes of friendship, love, culture, history, and nature. However, any reader that enjoys magical settings, enchanted characters, adventure, mystery, and mythology, will love The Girl Beneath That Fell Beneath The Sea.



In our final post of 2022 we would like to thank you for your following and wish you a restful and joyful holiday. We hope you enjoy great company, food, and of course, a book you’ve been waiting to read! We look forward to connecting with you in 2023!



By Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,

lists of vegetables, partial poems.

Orange swirling flame of days,

so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.

I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,

only the things I didn’t do

crackle after the blazing dies.