Margin Notes



Heartbreaking, honest, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, this graphic memoir shares Tyler Feder’s story of losing her mom to cancer and just wanting the world around her “to get it”. Written 10 years after her mother’s death, Feder begins with the shocking diagnosis of late-stage cancer, takes us through the horrors of cancer treatment, and “the worst day”. And then the aftermath of the arrangements, “the new normal”, and living life without her mother.

The graphics in this memoir, such as “things that died with my mom” and “the little things that get me the most” provide an intimate understanding of the journey of grief and loss, and make you appreciate the author for sharing what many people are unable to share.

This story is a friend for anyone experiencing the loss of someone they love, and a guide for anyone who knows someone who is.




What I Was Reading:

Cast Away: Poems For our Time by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a collection of poems about trash that will inspire any reader to take more care regarding the things we leave behind. Recommended for ages 10+, the poems are accessible, relevant, and relatable. Here is one of the poems in the collection:


Trash Talk 326

Did anyone ever say you were their girlfriend
or boyfriend and you barely even knew them?

Did they tell your friends they had insight
and could guess what you might do next?

Did they say you called them when you
didn’t even know their number?

What did you do about people like this?
Did you argue, tell them off?

Or walk calmly past them in the hallway
as if they were a locker or a clock?


What Moves I Noticed the Writer Making:

  • The poet speaks directly to the reader (you), which creates a sense of intimacy between poet and reader
  • The poet tells a story by asking a series of questions
  • The poet never tells the reader how she feels about the situation. Her feelings are inferred through the questions she chooses to ask
  • The first three stanzas set up the problem and the last two stanzas is where she is asking how others have handled the situation

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the format of the poem (asking questions of the reader) to tell your own story of an event/situation
  • Write the story of what you think happened between the poet and this person
  • Write back to the poet, answering the questions as they pertain to you
  • Write a letter of advice to the poet on what to do if she is ever in this situation again



I’ve been a long-time fan of author Mindy McGinnis, and her most recent publications, The Initial Insult and The Last Laugh left me an even bigger fan. This YA thriller duology features fast paced, plot driven page-turners that many readers will devour in a single read. Allusions to many Edgar Allan Poe stories are found in both titles, adding another layer of allure for many readers.

The Initial Insult

Tress Montor wants answers and she’ll stop at nothing to get them, including killing her (ex) best friend Felicity Turnodo. When the girls were in grade 4, Tress’ parents were driving Felicity home late one night…and were never seen again. Felicity was found wet and unconscious and alone on the riverbank and claims to have no memory of what happens. Tress has a plan to “help” Felicity re member. It’s Halloween and the teens of Amontillado are celebrating in an old, abandoned house. Tress lures Felicity to the basement, ties her up, and brick by brick begins to build a wall that will be the last thing Felicity sees if she can’t give Tress the answers she is so desperately searching for. Add to all of this the fact that there is a black Panther on the prowl, making the situation more tense and dire.

Told in alternating viewpoints, we learn both the girls’ histories and their current realities, all while wondering, is Tress actually capable of killing her former best friend?


The Last Laugh

The story continues in The Last Laugh immediately following the final event in The Initial Insult. There is a search party organized to find Felicity, which Tress joins (even though she obviously knows where Felicity is). But Tress is barely hanging on. Her injury from the tiger is infected and she fears she is losing both her arm and her mind. She also knows there is no way she can tell a doctor what happened. Her best friends charm that she shared with Felicity suddenly seams to have it’s own heart beat and Tress is finding it more and more difficult to tell what is real. Her 18th birthday is approaching, and another twist comes into play. Tress’ cousin Ribbit simply cannot have her be alive for the occasion. As some secrets get revealed, many more are just coming into play. Prepare for some major twists and turns in the plot. Where The Initial Insult had readers wondering if there is any way Felicity could make it out alive, in The Last Laugh it is Tress’ life on the line.


Mindy McGinnis does not hold back for her audience of YA readers. There are dark and twisted plot lines, family secrets, and lives are lost. Readers who enjoy a good thriller are going to love this duology.



“[They] would never understand what I am finally

understanding, which is that

bodies aren’t lawless spaces

like mom said.

They are


places we are trapped inside,

and the world just gets to

look and


who we


                                                                                -Mimi, Lawless Spaces

Through the journals of four generations of women in the Dovewick family, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu explores the lasting impacts of living in a patriarchal society. The story starts with Mimi, in 2022, who, following family tradition, is gifted a journal for her 16th birthday. But because she has been emotionally (and at times physically) abandoned by her mother, this is all she receives – there is no celebration at all. It is as confusing for the reader as it is for Mimi to understand how her once loving mother has turned into such an unrecognizable stranger who, seemingly, feels nothing towards her daughter save the occasional bursts of anger. To understand this new “mother” Mimi turns to the journals of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

The stories, written in verse, that are shared by the different generations of sixteen-year-old include stories of sexual assault, harassment, and trauma. For Mimi, in 2022, it is an image posted on social media that she was coerced into taking. For Tiffany in 1999, it is the non-consensual relationship with a powerful man as she attempts to enter the world of acting. For Betty in 1954, it is the pressure to give up a child to maintain her family’s reputation. And for Virginia in 1924, it is living the life expected when you are the wife of a soldier sent to war.

The generational trauma of these four women leads to intergenerational family trauma where silence, repression, and hostility reign. While it is too late to amend some of these relationships, Mimi is determined to break this cycle of trauma, and salvage what relationships she can.

Ultimately, this is a book about women’s bodies, the ways they have been and continue to be consumed by men, and the power of women joining together and sharing their stories. The message for women to continue to tell their stories is an important one, and many students still need to hear it, and for that reason this novel is an important title to add to a classroom library.



Ain’t Burned All The Bright is the collaboration of author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin. Set in the year 2020, during lockdown, the story consists of three sections, three breaths. The narrator is a young adult trying to make sense of lockdown, what is means to be black in America right now, and how both contribute to his lack of oxygen. The reader can feel the suffocation as he details his father’s battle with COVID quarantine, his mother’s paralyzed consumption of the news and his siblings’ distracted avoidance of all issues. He becomes every reader as he struggles to find oxygen and desperately searches for air, both literally and figuratively. The hope that comes when he does find that breathe is contagious and provides the promise that society can find the strength to move forward, make changes, and finally breath.

Reynold’s lyrical ability to play with words, combined with Griffin’s art, pair together to express the complicated emotions of our narrator, leaving the story, and the ideas expressed within, resonating with many young adults long after closing the book.

The beauty of this piece does not end with the rejuvenating breath. After the story, this book includes a little gem of a conversation between the two collaborators. In a final section titled, “is anyone still here?” Reynolds and Griffin share the journey of creating this piece of work together. This interview style closure is one that reveals the trust between the two creators, their trust in the writing process itself, and offers up some great advice for student writers and artists.



Each week, THE WEEK, invites authors to share six book titles they recommend reading. Students can use these book lists as mentor texts to select six books (or movies, games, songs, etc) they would like to recommend and write short descriptions of what makes them worthy of making the list. These lists are also great mentor texts of voice in short pieces of writing.

Here are some lists you might choose to use as mentor texts:



In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s newest joint publication 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they share a great idea for writer’s notebooks. The idea is borrowed from William Stafford, former U.S. poet laureate, who suggests starting each day by returning to the last line written the day before and asking if there is more to say about what was written. What Kittle and Gallagher recommend is: after students have had a few weeks of notebook writing they can be invited to underline the last line of each of their notebook entries and choose one to copy onto a new page. They then use this line to write what more they have to say. As they remind us, part of the writing opportunities that a writer’s notebook opens up is the ability to go dig into what is already writing and find, “…the inspiration needed to move a writer forward.”



LeBron James and Andrea William’s newest release We Are Family is the story of five middle school students with different struggles and circumstance bound together by their love of basketball. Jayden Carr is a talented player with dreams of basketball scholarships, but also of pulling his family out of poverty. Tamika Beck is a young female player determined to show Hoop Group how archaic their gender rules are while finally getting the respect she deserves from her father. Anthony Pierson needs this group to keep him out of the trouble that is fueled by his family situation. Dexter Dingal needs a place he finally belongs. And Chris King thinks he needs Hoop Group so he can finally be named captain, but actually needs something much different.

Grade 7 is the year that the middle school basketball players have been waiting for – it’s the year they can finally join Hoop Group – the group that can open all the doors they hope to walk through in the future. But the coach is sick, and Hoop Group is in trouble, and the young basketball players are feeling defeated. With equal doses of hope and commitment, these young ballers come together to try to do the impossible, and end of learning about much more than just the game of basketball.

Although a story about basketball, it is also a story of hope. LeBron James says in his letter to readers that he wrote this story because he hopes everyone who reads it “…knows that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it”. This is a great story for any middle school reader who needs some hope in their lives.



What I was reading:

Kathleen Glasgow’s You’d Be Home Now is a beautiful story told through the eyes of Emory Ward, whose brother is addicted to drugs. The story explores a variety of topics connected to youth today, specifically addiction and identity. Interspersed throughout the story is Instagram posts called Mis_Educated. These posts become another character of the story. Here are some examples:























What Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

  • through these posts, the reader also gets the chance to hear from other students in the town of Mill Haven (in the comment section) about what’s really happening and how they feel about their lives and all the messiness that comes with being a teenager.
  • These posts broaden the story from that of just the main characters
  • Posts are written as poems
  • How the hashtags used set a tone, for example #nightmare in one post and #itgetsbetter in another post
  • How the comments are not always connected to the post or to other comments, but reveal a great deal about the youth culture in Mill Haven

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read these posts as a writer and notice the craft moves inside each post
  • Read these posts as a reader. Write about your thoughts on what you are reading.
  • Write an Instagram post that would fit with the novel you are currently reading. Add in the hashtags and comments
  • Choose one Instagram post/poem and follow the format of the writing
  • Find a poem and write the comment section to depict the youth culture in your life
  • These posts discuss notable people in Mill Haven. Write about the notable people in your city/town/community.



“Everyone thinks it must be totally awesome to be so good at something, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the greatest feeling in the world. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s too much. Too much attention, too much pressure, too many expectations. I mean, look what happened with the cheating thing – I don’t even love basketball that much, but even so, I did, like, this really dumb thing because I thought I had to. I literally thought it was the only choice, that if I couldn’t play basketball then everything would be ruined. I mean, I like basketball, I really do. Maybe I even love it. But sometimes it felt like I had to LIVE it. And I didn’t want that.”

Tommy Greenwald’s newest release, Rivals, takes us back to the town of Walthorne, but this time readers are embedded in the across-town rivalry between the north and the south middle schools. Based on the real-life experience of watching his son play basketball, Greenwald’s story serves as a warning of what happens when sports become something they were never meant to be for a kid: their job.

Once again using different formats students loved in Game Changer: social media posts, interview transcripts, newspaper articles, and flashbacks, this story is both powerful and relevant. Two young basketball players used to meet up on Saturday mornings and love every second they were on the court. Fast forward a few years, and we have Austin Chambers, from the north, who is so busy trying to live up to his parents’ expectations of him to be the best player, he impulsively jeopardizes the safety of a teammate. The other young player, Carter Haswell, from the south, is trying to perform under the pressure that his athletic ability is his ticket out of financial hardship, and makes a risky decision that could cost him more than just his place on the team.

Interspersed throughout the story we hear the voices of many young students caught up in the “win at all costs” mentality that is pervasive in youth sport culture and shows us who really loses out: the kids. While I recommend this title for many readers – sports fans, realistic fiction fans, readers who like a page turner they can’t put down, readers who recognize the impact of social media – I also recommend it to their parents. The message of this author is one we can all learn from.