Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO BY GUEST WRITER IAIN MCMASTER: THE IMPORTANCE OF SCRUTINIZING SCI-FI AND FANTASY STORIES

Mar
28

What I was reading:

In preparation for a genre study on transactional writing that incorporates research, I had been looking for essays and articles that connect with the interests of secondary school students. After much searching, I had a collection of texts that demonstrated good writing, but were too dense and academic to serve as mentor texts for students. There will be opportunities to use these, but they were not what I had in mind. Finally, I turned to Twitter and realized that this task would have been much easier if I had done so in the first place (I realize that this is common knowledge for most teachers by now). For instance, I found an article by Ben Lindbergh in The Ringer called “The Importance of Scrutinizing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories” (28 June, 2022). In it, Lindbergh makes the case for engaging thoughtfully and critically with popular sci-fi and fantasy texts. Lindbergh sets up his argument by welcoming the passionate responses that people have to these genres, both positive and negative, while objecting to one particular stance:

“There’s only one strain of responses to stories like these that truly bums me out: the suggestion that they aren’t worthy of impassioned analysis or critical inquiry, be it primarily positive or negative. That stories about space wizards or dragons or superheroes are inherently silly or unserious, and that those who have issues with their plotting or pacing or depictions of characters should just stop overthinking things. That they aren’t supposed to make sense, and that the only way to enjoy them is to turn one’s brain off before boarding the ride. That they’re purely escapist, popcorn pablum. That they’re just for kids, and that it’s a waste of time to engage with them on an intellectual level as well as a visceral level.”

What moves I noticed the author making:

In this passage, Lindbergh presents the objections of a hypothetical critic of sci-fi and fantasy. He sets up his point in a casual tone – “bums me out” – before presenting a sequence of assumptions that a sceptic might bring to sci-fi and fantasy stories. Each new sentence builds on the last, always beginning with “that,” to emphasize the point he is making. This repetition is an effective way of conveying strong emotions.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using Lindbergh’s paragraph as a mentor text, writers might think about an assertion they are making in their writing and consider the counter-points that a hypothetical critic could make.
  • Writers might use Lindbergh’s paragraph as a template and structure a paragraph around the repetition of sentences beginning with “That” to emphasize an idea they feel strongly about.
  • Writers could be encouraged to think about a topic that they feel is not taken seriously and explain why they think it should be.
  • Writers might try moving between a casual and a formal tone, or between a playful and a serious tone, in a single paragraph.

 

GUEST WRITER HANNAH MCKAY RECOMMENDS SILVER IN THE BONE BY ALEXANDRA BRACKEN

Mar
26

Meet Tamsin Lark, an aspiring Hallower, and current tarot card reader working to support her younger brother. In Tamsin’s world, a Hallower is someone who possesses a magical talent and uses those talents to find magical objects and then sell to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, Tamsin does not possess a magical talent, however her brother does. After their guardian mysteriously disappears, Tamsin and her brother, Cabell, are left to fend for themselves. The siblings work together utilizing Cabell’s magical ability and Tamsin’s photographic memory and knack for language to find displaced magical artefacts to sell. The pair’s life is turned upside down when Tamsin is offered an extremely large sum to find an artefact that would also break a curse placed on Cabell when he was young. In the process of retrieving this artefact Tamsin and Cabell become friends with their arch nemesis, Emrys and a sorceress, Neve. The four of them embark on a dangerous and fantastical journey to retrieve the magical artefact and break Cabell’s curse. This journey leads the four unlikely friends to another realm where they find others who are in more desperate need of this magical artefact that can undo curses.

Alexandra Bracken’s “Silver in the Bone” is an exciting novel that offers an amazing fantasy realm revolving around an Arthurian world, with references to King Arthur, Merlin and Sir Bedivere throughout the novel. “Silver in the Bone” is action packed, and filled with romance and betrayal, offering something for readers who enjoy fantasy, action or romance. The novel offers 470 pages of thrilling storyline; however, the font is on the larger side, with not too many words per page so readers may get through the book faster than they think! This novel is the first of a series, with a strong hook at the end of the book, which may encourage readers to continue their reading journey by reading the following books in the series.

 

Hannah is currently attending UNB to obtain her teaching certificate through the Bachelor of Education program. If she isn’t at work or school, you can find Hannah out hiking, playing board games with family and friends or getting cozy while reading a good book!

 

CRAFT STUDIO BY GUEST WRITER TANYA SENECHAL: THE FIREKEEPERS DAUGHTER

Mar
21

What I Was Reading:

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine Firekeeper, who struggles to feel accepted within both the White and Indigenous communities in which she belongs. Daunis attempts to stay connected with her Ojibwe side, that of her late hockey-hero father but gets dragged into a local murder investigation that hits close to home. This novel is not only fast paced and well-crafted, but it centres Indigenous teachings at its core, as Daunis fights to save those she loves and protect her community.

 

I love my Elders.

I thought I had no resources on the ferry, except for the one lone Elder. But one led to another, and another. A resource I never anticipated during my time of dire need.

I’m reminded that our Elders are our greatest resource, embodying our culture and community. Their stories connect us to the language, medicines, land, clans, songs, and traditions. They are a bridge between the Before and the Now, guiding those of us who will carry on in the Future.

We honour our heritage and our people, those who are alive and those who’ve passed on. That’s important because it keeps the ones we lose with us. (453)

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The Indigenous “We” connects not only a community but a people. Daunis is one part of the whole, forever connected to her Ojibwe culture.
  • The use of language such as “stories connect us,” “bridge between,” and “honor our heritage” focuses on the community, not on the individual.
  • Boulley capitalizes Before, Now, and Future, showcasing Time as animate, as a living entity.
  • The focus is on Elders being the holders of Indigenous culture and the importance of Elders.
  • Boulley begins with a simple statement, then expands on the idea until the reason for that statement is evident, showing the cyclical nature of all things.

Possibility for Writers:

  • Notice and name another interesting craft move in this passage.
  • Write a paragraph in which you use the Before, Now and Future, similarly to Boulley, making Time animate.
  • Write a simple statement and expand it until the reason behind that statement is evident while using the cycle technique.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.
  • Previously in the novel, Boulley mentions the Seven grandfather teachings that the Anishinaabe live by – wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth. Have students find examples of these teachings in the excerpt and have them write about their own words by which to live.

 

GUEST WRITER ZACHARY MCCOY RECOMMENDS THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF RUDOLF DIESEL BY DOUGLAS BRUNT

Mar
19

The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel: Genius, Power, and Deception on the Eve of World War I by Douglas Brunt is a succinct chronology of the Second Industrial Revolution, highlighting the pursuits of its representative cast of preeminent innovators, political figures, and business tycoons, all striving in a tense rat race to outdo and outlast one another. Brunt’s topical chronicle follows the fascinating life of Bavarian inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolph Diesel in his tiring ambition to create a world less reliant on the petrochemicals and coal which then and now corrupt our fragile biosphere, and, in doing so, developing the engine that bears his name today. Raised in the smog-filled industrial centers of Europe, Diesel became disenchanted with the polluting and inefficient methods of production of his day and thus sought, with matchless intellect and dogged determination, to produce a mechanism in which the type of fuel could be universalized, and the fuel itself utilized more efficiently. His untimely death at sea in September 1913 lends considerable weight to the suspicion that the great coveters of political power and industry, such as the Rockefellers and Hohenzellerns, had succeeded in maintaining the status quo and therefore the continued proliferation of fossil fuels into the modern age.

For those young adult students so willing to delve into this admittedly extensive historical narrative, they are sure to be gripped by the genius and forward-thinking nature of a man now inextricably connected to his now problematic namesake. Brunt presents compelling evidence that Diesel in fact aspired for a future emancipated from the contaminating sources of power that drove humanity into modernity, a sentiment that most of us hold unequivocally today. As a source of historical understanding, students will be inundated with cases of intrigue, sabotage, coercion, and power politics, but also conversely collaboration, innovation, progressivism, and even love. I strongly recommend The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel to any student with an interest in history, technology, politics, and/or economics. This latest of Brunt’s work appeals to a wide audience and engrosses the reader with a lead so thoroughly buried that one cannot help but read from start to finish.

INCORPORATING GRAPHIC TEXTS IN FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAYS

Mar
14

We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This post is part of a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers. Read the previous posts here, here and here.

Because one of the goals of First Chapter Fridays is introducing a wide variety of texts, you can easily add graphic texts and comics into this routine by projecting the first few pages for the class to view while you read. Of course, it’s important to remember that graphic texts are a form and not a genre, so within this category you’ll find a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction options.

Here are some suggestions for incorporating graphic texts in First Chapter Fridays:

  • Use the text like any other to support word study, vocabulary, comprehension, and criticality/text analysis. Revisit portions of the text in targeted mini-lessons.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of specific strategies to comprehend the combination of words and pictures.
  • Introduce some of the unique and specific features of graphic texts. This is a good source of basic terms and concepts.
  • Invite students to take a closer look at a portion of the text by using a variation of the NY Times Learning Network What’s Going on In This Picture prompts: What is going on in this excerpt? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • Use See, Think, Wonder, Parts, Purposes, Complexities, or other protocols from Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox to explore portions of the text in more detail.
  • If possible, compare the graphic version with a print version and invite students to articulate their personal preferences, analyze decisions made and the impact these have on the reader, etc.

 

GUEST WRITER KATE MATTHEWS RECOMMENDS LANDBRIDGE: LIFE IN FRAGMENTS BY Y-DAN TROEUNG

Mar
12

Landbridge: Life in Fragments by Y-Dang Troeung is a memoir that is fundamentally a reflection of the author’s family’s experiences as Cambodian refugees who fled the Khmer Rouge regime, ultimately finding sanctuary in Canada. However, this book can also be seen as a powerful exploration of the human experience as seen through the lens of a fragmented world.

Throughout the novel, the author takes us on a journey through time and space, weaving together narratives from different eras and regions. This book is not just about history, it’s about how history shapes our lives today. It spans continents and generations, revealing the hidden threads that bind us all. Through this book, we are invited to reflect on the concept of a “landbridge” and the idea that land is not just a physical space but a bridge between cultures, peoples, and memories. Troeung opens a window with her stories for readers to catch a glimpse of the challenging landscapes of immigration, memory, and family. This book challenges us to rethink our understanding of borders and divisions, showing us how they can be both unifying and divisive forces in our world.

Landbridge is a celebration of diversity and a call for unity. It’s a book that reminds us of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage while embracing the interconnectedness of our global society. This is a thought-provoking read that will stay with you. For students interested in history, culture, and the human experience, ‘Landbridge: Life in Fragments’ is a must-read. Y-Dang Troeung’s storytelling will captivate your mind and touch your heart.

Kate is a student in the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick and is passionate about teaching. She is dedicated to fostering a love for learning and believes books in the power of books to inspire and teach.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: WORDS ACROSS CONTEXTS

Mar
07

Kylene Beers, in When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, shares this simple but effective idea for teaching homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. She first asks the reader to consider what the following words have in common:

  • leave
  • good
  • interest
  • date
  • type
  • fast

They are all words that have multiple meanings. As she explains, “Leave can mean to remain (Please leave the book there.) or to be absent from a place (She is on leave from her job.). Good can be a moral value (She is a good person.) or a level of skill They did a good job.) or something you can count on (The car was good for another year.)”.

What makes this important for teachers to consider is that words with multiple meanings are problematic for students who know the most common definition of the word, but not the lesson common definition(s). When reading a text, if a student encounters a word, and only knows the common definition, comprehension breaks down. While skilled readers, and students who have broad vocabulary and reading experiences know when to consider other definitions, “…students with reading difficulties often default to the only definition they know”.

So, with this knowledge, how can we support readers in our classrooms?

Beers explains that although wide reading exposure will help students with the multiple meanings of words, we can introduce discussions on homographs in the classroom by simply selecting a homograph found in a text students are currently exploring, and increase their understanding of multiple meanings through an activity she calls “Words Across Contexts”. Here are some examples:

What would jersey mean to

  • A rancher?
  • Someone from New England?
  • A football player?

What would bank mean to

  • Someone standing near a river?
  • Someone who wants to save money?
  • A pilot?

What would bolt mean to

  • A carpenter?
  • A weather forecaster?
  • A runner?

What would engage mean to

  • A couple?
  • Someone chosen to do a job?
  • A mechanic?

What would novel mean to

  • A writer?
  • A creative problem solver?

Beers then shares a list of words with multiple meanings that you can find here, as well as a template for this activity here.

 

GUEST WRITER SPENCER MACKEEN RECOMMENDS DUCKS BY KATE BEATON

Mar
05

Ducks tells the emotional story of the author, Kate Beaton, and her journey from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to the oil sands of Alberta. Her story will resonate with many Canadians, but especially those from the East Coast who so often need to leave their hometowns for financial reasons. This familiar theme makes Ducks a great addition to the classroom library as many students would have someone close to them who must travel for work, and will empathize with the issues Beaton articulates. The trials and tribulations Beaton experiences during her time in the oil sands of Alberta are very real, and because of this Ducks is best suited for mature readers who are prepared to grapple with, and reflect on, experiences of misogyny, coarse language and assault while working in the predominately male centered fields. On the whole, this slice of life story is a great way to get readers interested in different types of texts and can be a great resource to show that autobiographies can come in many more forms than students may have previously realized.

Besides the emotion present in Beaton’s story, the decision to make it a graphic text allows it to beautifully illustrate her journey.  This element allows readers a clearer window into the reality of these events to the point where one can almost feel as though they were present. As well, because this work is the culmination of many individual comics, it can be broken into smaller, individual, sections rather than needing to be read as a whole, and as well makes her story accessible to a wider audience of readers. Overall, the images and text work together to reveal Beaton’s struggles in a thoughtful manner.

Spencer is currently working towards his BEd at the University of New Brunswick, focusing on English, Social Studies and the International Baccalaureate. He grew up in Nova Scotia and studied at ST.FX University before continuing with his education in New Brunswick. Spencer has been an avid reader through much of his life and wants to promote different forms of texts, like graphic novels, as an equal form of literature, compared to traditional texts, in his future teaching.