Margin Notes

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake


Mara and her twin brother Owen are extremely close.  When Mara, who is bisexual, broke up with her girlfriend and childhood best friend, Charlie, it was Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, who supported Mara.  Hannah is one of Mara’s closest friends, and when she accuses Owen of rape, Mara finds herself torn between believing that Owen could never do something like this and believing that Hannah would never make a false accusation.

The school community is largely taking Owen’s side and the Empower feminist group Mara founded has asked her to step down as leader.  Mara finds herself turning to Charlie, trying to make sense of Hannah’s accusation against Owen, which also means navigating their friendship post-breakup. (more…)

Escape from Aleppo by NH Senzai


Nadia is awoken in the early hours of October 9, 2013. As the sound of bombing approaches and helicopters appear, the family has decided it is time to escape their home in Aleppo, Syria for safety in Turkey.  They have a well-practiced escape plan, but Nadia is reluctant to leave, despite the imminent danger.  One year earlier, she was injured in a bomb strike and has hardly left her apartment since.

As they are leaving, a bomb destroys their apartment building and Nadia is buried in the rubble.  Fearing that a second bomb is about to strike, and not knowing whether Nadia is alive or not, everyone is forced to run, leaving her behind.  Injured and alone, Nadia must overcome her anxieties and keep moving if she hopes to be reunited with her family at their designated meeting place, Dr. Asbahi’s dental clinic.

Nadia finds shelter for the night in an abandoned pharmacy.  There she meets an elderly man named Ammo Mazen who agrees to take her to the clinic to find her family before they leave for Turkey.  When they finally reach the clinic, Nadia is heartbroken to discover a letter from her mother telling her that they had no choice but to leave without her.  There are instructions for meeting her father in Turkey and Ammo Mazen tells Nadia he will take her there.

As they travel, Ammo Mazen becomes increasingly mysterious to Nadia as he makes many unexplained stops along the way.  Ammo Mazen’s health is deteriorating and as more facts are revealed, Nadia begins to wonder about his true identity.

Each chapter is time-stamped and the story flashes back and forth to reveal events leading up to what became known as the Arab Spring and give context to the progression of the war in Syria.  We see how, over the course of a few years, life has changed drastically for Nadia and her family.

I was captivated not just by Nadia’s quest to find her family but also by how much this story taught me about the history and culture of Syria and the insight it gave me into the life of a child in a war-torn country.  Escape from Aleppo is a definite must-have for any middle-grade classroom library, but I believe older readers will also connect with Nadia’s story of bravery and determination.  This book has much to teach readers of all ages.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman


Scythe is set in a futuristic post-mortal age in which death and disease have been eliminated, along with crime, war, and government.  Instead, society is ruled by a virtual cloud called The Thunderhead.  Because, theoretically, everyone is immortal, the population is controlled by an elite group known as Scythes who are each responsible for “gleaning” a specific quota based on statistics from the “Age of Mortality.”

Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, both sixteen, are chosen to be apprenticed to Scythe Faraday.  They will live and train with him for a year, after which Scythe Faraday will select one of them to become a junior Scythe.  Ironically, they are competing for a role neither of them wants. In a shocking turn of events, it is decided by the Scythedom that, because Scythe Faraday has taken the unusual step of selecting two apprentices, they will increase the level of competition between Citra and Rowan. The apprentice selected to wear the ring of a Scythe will have to glean the unsuccessful candidate immediately. (more…)

Being the Change Week 3


This is the third week of #CyberPD and the focus is on Chapters 5 and 6 of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed.  You can read my previous #CyberPD reflections here and here.

Chapter 5 is about Finding Humanity in Ourselves and Others.  We are reminded that it is critical to recognize that “the social constructs under which we live can lead us to classify, label with symbols, and eventually dehumanize individuals and groups (p. 101).”  Sara suggests two important steps to counteract the resultant othering:

  • We fight these destructive forces by finding and examining our humanity first.
  • While we are working to build kids’ capacity for empathy, we can honor how they see the world.


Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


When I started listening to the audiobook version of Dread Nation, I found myself wanting to talk about it with others, but I had no idea how to describe this unique book.  Historical fiction with zombie twist and post-Civil War post-Apocalypse were the best I could come up with, but I have since discovered the category of alternative history, which does much more justice to this title.

Jane McKeene is in her final year at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore where she was sent at the age of 12 as required by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, established after the undead rose up and began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and requiring that Black and Indigenous children be removed from their homes and trained as zombie killers.  Because she is biracial, Jane was enrolled in the school despite being the daughter of the wealthy white woman who owns the Rose Hill Plantation.  Jane is being trained as an attendant who will serve an affluent woman and use her skills in slaying the undead, the shamblers, as necessary.  Her hope, however, is to return to her previous life at Rose Hill.

Jane’s exceptional skill in slaying shamblers draws the attention of the Mayor who invites her to serve at a formal dinner at his home.  Jane and her friend Jackson are hoping to take the opportunity to uncover some information about the mysterious disappearance of several local families.  Unfortunately, they are caught searching the Mayor’s files and are sent, along with Jane’s classmate Katherine, to Summerland, a walled community run by a racist preacher and his sheriff son.  There they must do whatever it takes to survive if they have any hope at all of escaping.

Dread Nation is fast-paced and fascinating, gripping and gruesome.  This unique blend of history, social commentary, and the undead raises themes of racism, religion, power, corruption, and gender inequality. Once I started it, I didn’t want to stop listening, and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel.


Beyond Literary Analysis


In Beyond Literary Analysis: Teaching Students to Write With Passion and Authority on Any Text, Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell present an exciting and fresh vision for student writing and creating an environment where this can thrive.

According to the authors, “authentic analysis is a piece of writing that explores a text.” Their expanded definition of text includes “anything that has a beginning, middle, and an end that can be broken down into smaller (more…)

Book Relays


Why Relays?

In Teaching Reading Using YA Literature, Jennifer Buehler uses the expression “teacher as matchmaker” to describe the work we do to connect students with books. She says, “If we as teachers truly want to support teens as readers, we must develop broad, deep, personalized book knowledge.  As we build this knowledge, it makes sense to invest a good portion of our effort in building knowledge of young adult literature.”  In other words, if we want to match kids to books, we need to know the books they will want to read.

We’ve previously written about recognizing and addressing our reading gaps and the necessity of reading well outside of our personal comfort zone.  This helps us to have conversations about books with all the students in our classroom and make recommendations to them based on their individual interests and needs as readers.

How it Works

I puzzled over how to give the middle level teachers I work with the opportunity to sample a (more…)

Young Canada Reads at Fredericton High School


Here at Margin Notes, we love the opportunity to celebrate students as reading ambassadors, so we were very excited to hear that four Fredericton High School students are participating in the local youth version of CBC’s Canada Reads. Each reader has chosen a Canadian novel to champion:

Sarah Kelly – Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Juliette Tristant-Akret – All the Things We Leave Behind by Riel Nason

Patricia Forestell – Saint and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Jake Dow- Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

You can hear them talk about their books on CBC’s Information Morning this week and you can show your support by voting for them on the CBC Facebook page until Friday. Their book pitches will be aired on the Daily Roar video announcements at FHS this week as well.

These four students are doing an outstanding job representing FHS and youth in general as articulate and insightful readers. We are very appreciative that CBC Fredericton has created a forum for teens to engage in authentic reading talk and we look forward to seeing how this programme grows!

You can read more on the CBC Website

Spread the word to your fellow book lovers!

In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman


Sammy Wallach is feeling the pressure of looming AP exams and wondering if Jamie Moss is going to ask her to Junior Prom.  Things aren’t much better at home.  The bank where her dad is CEO has been targeted by protesters and that’s creating tension for everyone.  On top of all that, her best friend got tickets to see their favourite band, but Sammy’s parents have forbidden her from going.

Things quickly get far worse than Sammy ever could have expected when one of the protest groups hacks into the Wallach family’s private cloud and posts everything online—texts, emails, and, worst of all, Sammy’s diary.  Not only are Sammy’s innermost thoughts exposed to the world, but she also becomes privy to email conversations between her parents that they never meant for anyone else to read, especially their children.

In Case You Missed It invites us to reflect on how we differentiate between our public (more…)

Read Like a Teacher of Writing


The title of this post comes from one of my all-time favorite professional resources, What You Know by Heart by Katie Wood Ray.  It is the title of Chapter 6 where we are reminded:

“Every time we see writing, we are seeing examples of what’s possible in writing, and so we have to read the texts we encounter across our lives differently than other people.  We read these texts like teachers of writing.  We are on the lookout for interesting ways to approach the writing, interesting ways to craft sentences and paragraphs and whole texts, interesting ways to bring characters to life or make time move or get a point across.  When we read, we are always on the lookout—whether we intend to be or not—for interesting things we might teach our students how to do” (Wood Ray, 90).

In September, when I was setting up a new writer’s notebook, I created a space to record mentor text possibilities I find while I’m reading.  I am challenging myself to record them when I discover them so that I am only noticing but also naming the choices I see the writer making.  Plus, when I write them down, I know I can find them later when I am looking for them!  Here are four examples from my recent reading: (more…)