Margin Notes

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: THE TRYOUT BY CHRISTINA SOONTORNVAT

Sep
20

“Stand tall. Be loud. If you can make it through this, you can make it through anything” 

This is a must-read middle-level graphic novel memoir hot off the press as it was released just this month. The Tryout follows the author’s story of growing up as an Asian American in a small Texas town. With essential themes of racism, failure and friendship, Christina retells the memories of navigating the social scene of middle school, the pressures put on a friendship and the relatable tale of trying to fit in.  

In her author’s note, Christina talks about the hesitation to include how it felt to deal with racism and her identity as an Asian American. She notes other discrimination that happened and how she had “accepted and internalized that that’s just the way things were.” With that reflection, she also acknowledges that sharing these stories is how we bring change. Readers see the racism disguised as jokes, mispronunciations, exclusion and obvious name-calling. 

The story centers around Christina and Megan’s friendship which was formed from shared experiences being minorities in a predominantly white town. They are both drawn into the social status of cheerleading and tryout for the squad together. The pressures of the upcoming cuts cause some conflict that is handled well and both girls experience growth and newfound confidence in the process.  

Readers are left with a description of growing up in Texas where Christina refers to the town as merely the setting and goes on to share the spotlight of her story – the characters.  Every middle schooler should read about her experience and see themselves in the characters, images and emotions.  

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THREE TOOLS FOR TALK 

Jun
23

In their resource, Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen guide educators on how to use book clubs to create a culture of reading.  

When students are placed together to carry conversation, the discussion might begin with the question “What do we talk about?” One response suggestion in this resource is to offer the three tools of talk. This strategy can help learners who struggle to find ideas worth sharing along with those who have ideas but need support to start a conversation. 

What’s on your mind? 

This question can start a conversation with any thought, sticky-note or quote to break the silence and teach learners that their ideas are valuable. It might be a thought about a character, an important event, an interesting detail etc.  

Audacious Questioning 

All group members can ask questions that may or may not have answers. The questions could be why something happened, what others predict will happen next, help to clear up confusion or ask about an event. Students can write sticky notes with questions as they arise in reading and bring them to the discussion or ask as the discussion progresses. 

Author’s Moves 

Once students learn to read like a writer, they know how to see the craft moves of an author. Students can discuss these moves together. They could talk about the structure, the language, the perspectives, the theme etc.  

Once you introduce, model and practice the three tools for talking, you can individualize feedback and support to groups when you notice which area they are leaving out of discussions or support them in including a variety of subtopics in each branch. 

If you are interested in learning more about starting, running and assessing book clubs, this title offers a practical guide to your teaching. The mini-lessons, tracking suggestions and immediately applicable advice is invaluable. 

Cherry-Paul, S., & Johansen, D. (2019). Breathing New Life into book clubs. Heinemann Educational Books. 

 

 

CRAFT STUDIO: FREAK THE GEEK BY JOHN GREEN 

Jun
02

What I’m Reading: 

John Green’s short story “Freak the Geek” is the story of two friends who have been named the targets in a school tradition to be pranked for a day. The pair run to escape and reflect on their friendship, school traditions and values. The author moves the story forward at a quick pace. He uses action mixed with short dialogue to demonstrate the quick movement that is happening during the conversation. 

Excerpt: 

“I never really thought about it before,” I tell Kayley as we simultaneously duck under a low-hanging oak branch, “but just the phrase ‘Freak the Geek’ is just hugely lame.” 

 “Yeah,” Kayley says. “True. It’s almost like the name was thought up by a bunch of mustachioed purple-hued maltworms.” Kayley likes using Shakespearean insults. I get down on one knee in a flash to pull up my sock — a girl has to protect herself from poison ivy. “Richard III?” I guess.  

“Henry IV,” she says. I nod. I can hardly hear the girls behind us anymore; I mostly just hear our breath coming fast and hard and the ground scrunching beneath us.  

“Like, admittedly I am not an expert in slang,” I say, “but isn’t freaking usually kind of sexual?” Kayley turns around to me and runs backward just long enough to say, “Example?” 

 “‘Madam, I wish to freak your body.’ Or, ‘My heart desires to become freaky with you.'” 

Moves I Notice the Author Making: 

  • The author uses quotation marks to show the words spoken. 
  • Sentence punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. 
  • Each time the speaker changes, the paragraph changes. 
  • The quotation marks close for the speaker tag (“Kayley says”) and re-open to finish the dialogue. 
  • The characters have internal thoughts while speaking out loud. 
  • The character actions are described between speech. 
  • When description sets up the dialogue, there is a comma before the quotation mark. 

Possibilities For Writers 

  • Write whatever comes to mind. 
  • Write about traditions that your school has and whether or not you think these are good traditions to have. 
  • Write a conversation trying some of the craft moves in this model. 
  • Write about slang words in you vocabulary, when to use them and how they might be misinterpreted by someone who is “not an expert in slang.” 

CARRY ON BY RAINBOW ROWELL

May
17

I’ve always been a fan of Rainbow Rowell. She’s recently been back on my radar for her compilation of short stories, Scattered Showers, due to be released in fall 2022. While her readers await the new release, it is a perfect time to recommend the Simon Snow series finishing last summer with the third book, Any Way the Wind Blows. This trilogy begins with Carry On which introduces readers to the world of Mages and Normals, magic and darkness, along with, in true Rowell fashion, a cast of characters that will keep the pages turning.

The exposition from several perspectives sets the stage to help the reader understand Simon, his best friend Penny and how they got to be at Watford School of Magicks. Simon’s nemesis, Baz, is mentioned often and missing in action. The pace of the story picks up when his absence is explained, and his voice is added to the narration. The three realize they have a common enemy and begin the challenge of working together instead of trying to kill each other. Woven into the plotline is a subtle political debate between the old vs new ways and parental influence in belief systems – bringing a contemporary twist causing reflection on who the “good” people are.

Sure, the book deals with magic, ghosts, vampires and monsters; but it also deals with human emotion. The reader sees characters battle their family history, their peer relationships, their sense of belonging and their sexual identity. The fantasy element will satisfy those looking to escape reality and the connections in the novel will appeal to those wanting to see themselves. This book has something for everyone; but don’t expect to leave completely satisfied because there are two more in the series to read after you finish Carry On!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: CONSIDERING DICTION IN POETRY USING CONCENTRIC CIRCLES

Apr
14

The resource Teaching Living Poets by Lindsay Illich and Melissa Alter Smith offers several engaging ideas and activities to incorporate poetry in your class. This activity is one used to introduce poetry and teach theme.

Materials:

Instructions:

  1. Place students in small groups with a poem and ask the simple question “What is the most significant word?” to represent this poem. Ask the groups to discuss their word choice and extend their discussion by explaining why they chose each word.
  2. Give each group a piece of chart paper with a marker. You will give a mini-lesson before they begin.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the concentric circles (found in the image below) to record your thinking on a poem. The focus is to defend the word choice as there are no right/wrong answers. The center circle is what the group has decided is the most important word. The next circle is for images and connections to that word. The third circle is theme. One way to consider theme is to ask, “What message is the author trying to deliver about the word written in the middle circle?”. Lastly, the outer area is for the text evidence that supports the word and theme.
  4. Students will copy the concentric circles on their own page.

For more ideas, follow the hashtag #teachlivingpoets on Twitter.

Illich, Lindsay, and Melissa Alter Smith. Teach Living Poets. National Council of Teachers of English, 2021.

YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME BY KAREN MCMANUS 

Mar
15

“We all make mistakes, right? And almost never see the fallout coming.” 

If you enjoyed her books One of Us is Lying or The Cousins, you will be happy to pick up You’ll be the Death of Me. I enjoy a mystery and, even more than that, I appreciate how McManus captures the complexities of relationships in high school. Students gather together in one spot each day yet their experiences inside and outside that building are vastly different. This story centers around Ivy, a rich blonde who feels unseen under the comparison to her brother; Mateo, a mysterious student who is working multiple jobs to support his mother while also protecting his cousin; and Cal, an artist who romanticizes a middle school adventure as he experiences the life of an outcast in high school. 

The unlikely friendship that connects these three begins with the desperate need to escape their current situations. The trio once happened to experience “The Greatest Day Ever” in the 8th grade and circumstances have brought them together to try to recreate this before graduation. The fantasy of this adventurous escape, paired with the deep nostalgia of good times passed, is one with which teenagers can relate. Unfortunately for them, “The Greatest Day Ever” sequel starts with the discovery of a dead classmate and a witness describing one of them as the murderer.  

McManus’ writing is fast paced with vivid description casting a movie in your mind. Her depiction of the complicated nuances of relationships with friends, parents, siblings and partners creates a connection between the reader and characters. The book is another title to add to your mystery collection.  

 

THE PASSING PLAYBOOK BY ISAAC FITZSIMONS 

Jan
25

This book is everything. The cover quote from Kacen Callender calls the novel “a simultaneous warm hug and a lightning strike of courage” and I couldn’t agree more. I was so invested in the lives of the main characters, Spencer and Justice, that I read the entire book in one sitting. To be transparent, I love a good romance; whether the romance is the main plotline or a subtle background story, I am hooked. And there is so much love in this book. There is love between friends, parents, siblings, support systems, coaches and, of course, romantic love.  

The synopsis of the book highlights the conflict Spencer confronts playing as a transgender athlete on the boys’ team. For his own safety, Spencer transfers to a new school where he believes it is safe to be queer but is hesitant to be out as trans. This repeated message is an important reality that safety comes first, with no one pressuring Spencer to risk that by coming out as transgender. This emphasizes the fact that maintaining your own safety does not mean you are living a lie. 

Although these events do take place in the story, it is not what makes up the bulk of the narrative. 

The Passing Playbook takes the reader to a new school with Spencer where he experiences acceptance by his peers, teachers and coach; support in a GSA and success playing soccer. It also parallels this experience with that of Justice, Spencer’s crush and teammate, who has the same acceptance at school, but is not open at home. Their relationship is the sweet and romantic love that was a delight to read. 

Alongside the budding romance, this book deals with trans rights at school and in sports. It gives a positive example of what an accepting team can look like without a grand coming out, but also what the support of a team looks like when faced with adversity. Spencer fits in easily as a queer player and that comradery never waivers as the eventual conflict of playing as a trans athlete is realized.  

Another important storyline is the juxtaposition of parenting between the families of Spencer and Justice. On one side the reader sees parents who are desperate to do the right thing, attend support groups and bond with their child. On the other side are parents who are homophobic leaving a child who is scared. Spencer’s story has a happy ending. While the book ends with Justice being safe and loved, I can’t say his ending is a happy one. Fitzsimons does an excellent job highlighting the positives and showing strong Allyship without ignoring the hard realities being faced in the LBGTQ2AS+ community.  

Although left with a heart-warming feeling, this book does not shy away from hard topics. Readers will see characters faced with homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, misgendering and references to school violence. This is Isaac Fitzsimons’ first novel. He captures the characters so realistically with a pace that feels natural and I can’t wait to read more from this author. 

 

“I think that the more people who are out and visible, the safer it is for everyone. BUT, and this is a big but, you need to make sure that you’re safe first. Physically safe, yes but also emotionally and psychologically.” 

“Whether you come out tomorrow or in five years, or thirty years, I guarantee that the fight will still be going on in some form or another. And I promise that when you join us, we’ll welcome you with open arms.” 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: TWO-PAGE SPREAD

Jan
20

In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s new resource, 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they discuss using two-page spreads as a way to generate student thinking and prepare for discussions about their reading. They begin by giving students no more direction than to ask that students use the two pages to bring evidence of what they were thinking as they were reading. They then used student models to show different ways readers might show their thinking. 

Here are some examples: 

Students used lists and categories.

Students used sticky-notes in their books and transferred them to the two-pager. 

Students organized their thinking with different colors of sticky-notes. 

Students wrote notes and highlighted the main points. 

Students took the guiding questions and created their own charts of character, quotes and craft. Making thinking visible is an essential part of any classroom. I love that these authors discuss how this same thinking model can be used in other content areas, such as this one on anatomy.  

Some students may require support with such an open-ended activity and this resource provides other options that are more guided, while maintaining the goal of student-generated talk. Here are some guiding questions that might help students get started on their two-page spread: 

  • Find a gossipy moment in the book. 
  • Identify the turns in the book. 
  • Discuss a critical decision made in the chapter or book. 
  • Capture a shift in your thinking. 
  • Discuss a minor character of major importance. 
  • Pick a passage and read it the way the author intended it to be read. 
  • Identify and discuss the most important word in the passage, chapter, or book. 
  • Annotate poetry 

You can find more student spreads under “Book Love workshop handouts” on http://pennykittle.net  

Kittle, Penny, and Kelly Gallagher. 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency. Heinemann, 2021.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: READING AND/OR WRITING TIMELINES

Dec
16

The students who enter our classrooms each day have histories we desperately want to know.  These past experiences tell the stories of how they arrived at our door, who influenced them along the way and how we can support them as a learner. It can be informational overload when we try to navigate all these new-to-us learners. In her resource Leading Literate Lives, Stephanie Affinito talks about creating reading and or writing timelines to provide insight into who we are today as readers and writers.

Stephanie recommends doing this practice yourself to learn about your own writing identity. The same practice can be used for students.

  1. Start by drawing a timeline on your page. The image below shows the timeline drawn as a roadmap.
  2. Create some prompts that address some specific times in your students’ lives and ask them to record positive memories above the timeline and negative memories below the timeline.
  3. Stephanie provides great prompts for you, the teacher, to reflect on your own life. Several of these could apply to students as well. For example, on page 6 she says:
    1. Think back to the earliest memory you have of reading and/or writing. What was it? How old were you? How did it make you feel toward reading/writing?
    2. Reflect on your experiences with reading/writing at home. What were they like? Who supported you? How did you feel?
    3. Think of your experiences in elementary school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    4. Think of your experiences in middle school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    5. What recent experiences have you had with reading/writing? How does your reading/writing life feel?

Add your memories to your timeline.

Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. Heinemann, 2021.

GAME CHANGER BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Dec
14

After reading Tommy Greenwald’s latest book, The Rivals, we had to return to recommend the first companion novel, Game Changer.

You may recognize the title from a craft studio you can find here. The craft studio post highlights the modern storytelling that allows readers to piece together the story from dialogue, texts, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, a social media page and inner thoughts. The modern format and compelling narrative will appeal to all young readers navigating the world of social media, secrets, and friendships.

What do you do when team loyalty means going against your own values? With so many different stories, whose will be heard? And who is telling the truth?

This fast-paced storyline is engaging as readers follow the mystery of 13-year-old Teddy Youngblood fighting for his life in a coma after a football practice at Walthorne high school. It quickly becomes apparent that the accounts of what happened to Teddy are not lining up and there are people who are working hard to keep the truth a secret and silence those who know.

Game Changers is an important read for any sports fan as it addresses the dangers of hazing rituals and the responsibility that parents, coaches, and teammates have in keeping the players safe.

Not only a recommended book for athletes, but this book also appeals to any suspense-lover as the different perspectives and text forms give subtle clues to the facts surrounding this injury. When enough people start talking and asking questions, the truth always comes out. The is an important book to have on a classroom shelf.

Stay tuned for our recommendation of The Rivals!