Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: THE BLADE ITSELF BY JOE ABERCROMBIE

Aug
04

bladeWhat I Was Reading:

In a wonderfully fun but hauntingly dark fantasy series, Abercrombie uses a trick throughout the trilogy to give us a unique perspective on one character, an Inquisitor (torturer) named Glokta, one of his primary point-of-view characters throughout the series. Normally adhering to the old principle of ‘show, don’t tell,’ Abercrombie avoids any kind of internal dialogue, letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves, but he makes an exception for Glokta – Glokta can walk and talk like any character, but he is the only one with an internal monologue, signified by italics:

‘Impressive, eh Inquisitor?’ he asked, before dissolving into a fit of coughing.
Not really.… ‘It certainly produces a great deal of smoke,’ he croaked.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

This allows Glokta to speak to himself, but it also allows him (and Abercrombie) to speak directly to the reader. We get a clearer picture of his motives and desires, and it also says a great deal about his character – he is explicitly two-faced. In almost every interaction we see him say one thing but think another. It also speaks to his intellect. Thinking and conspiring are Glokta’s main occupations, and with this running internal monologue Abercrombie can show the reader Glokta doing it in real-time:

The old man squinted across at Glokta. ‘Are you telling this story or am I?’
‘You are.’ And you’re taking your time about it.

Possibilities for Writers:

Think of a time you were speaking with someone but couldn’t tell them what you were really thinking. What was going through your mind? How might you represent that on a page, while writing dialogue?

Find an example of a dialogue where a character had to hide their true motivations. What might they have been thinking during this scene?

Guest writer Matthew Shaw is an education student and a longtime teacher of English as a Second Language and a former archaeologist. He lives in Fredericton, NB with his wife and three-year-old son, and likes reading and spending as much time as possible outdoors with his family. He hates how much time he spends on YouTube every evening.

GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS FRANKLY IN LOVE BY DAVID YOON

Jul
28

frankly in loveIn Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li, a Californian Korean-American, narrates his journey through his final year of high school, desperate for his first “Summer of Love”. But he will have to find the girl first. Early on, Frank and the white and wealthy Brit Means hit it off, so all should be golden, right? Not exactly. As the son of Korean parents, having a romantic relationship with a partner who is not Korean (the world’s most ethnically homogeneous culture and racial identity, we are informed) is rarely welcomed by mom or dad. Frank’s older sister Hanna and her African American boyfriend have already vanished to the other side of the country and are no longer spoken of in the Li household – so Frank knows what is at stake.

Race and racism are key to this unique coming-of-age story. Frank refers to himself and his fellow first-generation Korean American friends as the “Limbos”; who, ever since being born, have all been regularly thrown together at family gatherings. The parents drink and share stories in their mother tongue, whilst their children, who only truly speak the language of the only home they have ever known, try to enjoy each other’s company without ever having had anything in common outside of a shared culture. Yet it is through his fellow “Limbo”, Joy, herself dating a Chinese American boy, that a clever, covert plan is concocted: if they pretend to date each other, they will be awarded the time and freedom they need to date their real partners. The excitement that ensues as this plan is put into place gives the novel some real pace and takes the story in a direction that comes as a surprise.

One question that, as an immigrant myself, I love to ask students who were born in other parts of the world is, “Where is home to you?” Frankly in Love complicates this issue by helping the reader understand that, even if you have never set foot on the land that your parents were born and raised upon, the power with which this place casts over you and your family complicates the notion of what home is. As Frank complains, he “just wants to be carefree, like in those teen movies where all the kids (meaning all the white kids) get to… act out their love dramas… on moonlit lawns to gaze up at the stars and wonder about the universe and fate… not B.S like the racism of their parents.” The story tackles race and racism in a very interesting way. There are many current Y.A novels tackling these complex issues, but rather than focusing on the devastating effects of racist violence or xenophobic political climates, real or dystopian, Frankly in Love, looks at the tough question of what a young, liberal teenager does when the most racist people he knows are the two people whom he loves so much. Frank’s mom and dad, without any pause or irony, will openly state that “ninety-eight percent” of black people are criminals, without any of the knowing irony that they as immigrants themselves could be the targets of racism. And, also, they know that Frank’s best friend is African American.

I lived in Korea for seven years, and more than the U.K, I miss it as home. In Frank’s parents, David Yoon has created two adults who, despite their flaws, I feel quite sure I have met a thousand times over back in Seoul. There are some long passages of dialogue, written exclusively in Korean, which, as a mirror, was fun for me to practice seeing if I could still understand it. Yet, like Frank himself, I had no idea what was being discussed, as the adults around Frank and Joy come into conflict over ideas just as complex as race, which eventually threaten to tear everyone apart. The passages written exclusively in Korean were of personal interest as I wanted to see if I could still read the language, but, like Frank, I had great difficulty following these parts that include the discussions about issues that eventually threaten to tear the families apart.

Though Frank’s voice may not be for everyone – this is an academically gifted student applying to schools in the Ivy League whose view on certain situations, the cutesiness to his inner voice, and his dialogue with like-minded friends can grate at times – this is a wonderful addition to my high school classroom library. Students in Grade 12 may make a particular connection with Frank and his friends as they move towards the exciting precipice of the end of high school. I have already recommended it to a Canadian student of Korean descent in grade 11, who came to me the next day and just gave a very firm nod. In Frank, David Yoon has crafted a nuanced character who, as the child of immigrant parents who have given up everything for their children, quite literally carries the full weight of their expectations on his shoulders. I know there are many students, regardless of where their parents are from, who can identify with that.

 

Ben Dowling teaches ELA9 at Fredericton High School. He has just gotten a lovely new armchair and Frankly in Love is the first of many that he hopes he shall consume in it.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE PIGEON HAS FEELINGS, TOO! BY MO WILLEMS

Jul
21

PigeonWhat I Was Reading:

Mo Willems’ The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! is a children’s book that tells the simple narrative of a pigeon who gets increasingly angry because those around him are constantly telling him what to do.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Using only speech bubbles to tell a story.
  • Emphasizing words by bolding and capitalizing letters.
  • Using different coloured texts, such as using red for the word ‘angry’ to grab attention.
  • Employing a variety of punctuation such as exclamation points.
  • Using body language to better express the intended message and emotion.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • When the message is being shown by illustration, such as in graphic novels and picture books, the illustration becomes the message. Explore body language and how posture and movement express emotion and intent, and ensure illustrations match the dialogue.
  • Have students find an existing text (their own or someone else’s) or write a new one, and pinpoint the words that they believe are important or best express what the writer is intending to get across. Explore ways to emphasize those words, such as using colours, different fonts, and bolding words.
  • Explore a variety of punctuation. Would an exclamation point or a semicolon work better than a period?

Guest writer Sylvie is a Bachelor of Education student at UNB hoping to become an English Language Arts teacher for a high school in or near her hometown. When not doing schoolwork she can be found with her partner, Samuel, enjoying a film (probably
horror), a cup of something hot (probably coffee), and/or whichever pet is closest
(probably Samuel’s doodles).

GUEST WRITER ELIZABETH ANDREWS RECOMMENDS GOOD ENOUGH BY JEN PETRO-ROY

Jul
14

goodenough2Jen Petro-Roy knows first-hand what is like to live with, and recover from, an eating- disorder.  Drawing from her own experiences, she created Good Enough—a realistic piece of fiction aimed at middle level students.  Structured as a journal, the story documents the experiences of the main character, Riley, as she undergoes treatment for anorexia nervosa.  Riley is struggling. No matter how hard she tries, she feels she isn’t “good enough”, that she will never measure up to her sister (the amazing gymnast) and that she isn’t a good enough runner, daughter, or friend.  Food however, and controlling her eating, well…that is something she is “good” at.

The story begins as Riley is forced into treatment and is required to journal her experience.  Each day she documents her struggles and successes on her journey to recovery.  With the help of her therapist, and some newfound friends, Riley works hard to silence the negative voice inside her head so that she can begin to heal.

One thing I love about this book was the realness of it; Riley’s journey is not linear. There are setbacks and leaps of faith. There is growth and failure. And this does not just apply to just our main character, Riley, but to her parents, friends, and those in therapy with her.  This really reveals how this disease impacts a person’s life and the lives of those around them.  While the book ends on an optimistic note, Jen Petro-Roy leaves the reader with a healthy dose of realism:  Riley, like every other eating disorder survivor, will battle this disease forever. However, the most important thing is that she learns is that she is “good enough” and that she has the strength, and, ability, to overcome it.

While this is a difficult topic, the author presents it in an age-appropriate way.  She also fills the story with humor, warmth, and hope. I found myself laughing and connecting to Riley on the first page.  There is so much that students can relate to in this text, even if they have no prior understanding of disordered eating. They will connect with bullying and Riley’s experiences with school.  They will relate to her lack of self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy—feeling like you can never measure up to others.  This book will be perfect for students who enjoy character development; the driving force here is the connection to Riley and the desire to understand and empathize with her experience.

Finally, you may be wondering, how can I use this in my teaching?  For starters, I think it would make an excellent read-aloud.  It is a great piece of first-person fiction and the voice is strong right from the start.  Hearing this would be almost better than reading it; there are so many opportunities for expression and comedic timing.  You could also set the pace well this way and use it to build suspense for the reader, encouraging engagement from students that normally wouldn’t connect to this type of book.  There are also numerous examples of great writing for you to use for a writer’s notebook.  I know I have about twelve sticky notes in my copy, flagging some great writing opportunities.  My recommendation though would be to read this first, before reading it to your students. I think it will really help you make some choices in how you want to present it.

 

Don’t hesitate to add this to your collection of realistic fiction.  It would transition well to Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Skinny by Donna Cooner, or even Butter by Erin Jade Lange; although, these suggestions would be better aimed at grade 8 or 9 students.  Happy reading!

By HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN and MEG WOLITZER

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)

 

CRAFT STUDIO:SKELETONS BY IKKYU-SAN

Jul
07

What I Was Reading:

Ikkyu-san wrote a series of poems called “Skeletons” after falling asleep in a graveyard. He dreamt that the skeletons were all alive and living as they had when they still had flesh on their bones. One of them approached him and said the lines below. Ikkyu was one of the most prominent monks in Japanese history, yet he was irreverent about many things. He famously enjoyed alcohol and women until his end. He lived from 1394 to 1481.

This world
Is but
A fleeting dream
So why be alarmed
At its evanescence?

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • The author is trying to encourage the reader to forego any attachments to ‘this world’ and to embrace detachment.
  • He is sparing with his words and leaving pregnant pauses for dramatic effect.

Possibilities For Writers:

  • Ask students to write about all of the things that they feel ‘attached to’ in this world.
  • Ask students to write about all of the things they could easily live without.
  • Ask students to either agree with Ikkyu’s philosophy or disagree with it and give their examples/reasons.
  • Ask students to write about what advice someone who has died (either famous or personal) would likely give them.

Guest writer William Biolsi is an ESL/EFL teacher who spent 19 of his last 24 years living in East Asia. He is currently enrolled as a BEd student at the University of New Brunswick

GUEST WRITER ELIZABETH ANDREWS RECOMMENDS: TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH BY HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN AND MEG WOLITZER

Jun
30

9780525554561To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer will capture the interests, and hearts, of students that love realistic fiction.  I would argue that this title is also the perfect text to help transition a reader to this genre if it isn’t a typical choice for them. The book is a quick and engaging read, aimed at late elementary and middle level students. Presented in the form of emails and letters, students will need to draw on their reading and viewing strategies to comprehend the clever organization and text features. With a quirky cast of relatable characters, the authors have managed to skillfully blend representation and authenticity into the lives of two very-endearing protagonists.  Wondering if this book should become a permanent part of your classroom library?  The answer is undoubtably, YES!

In a nutshell, the book is a series of communications by, and about, the two main characters: Avery Bloom (Night Owl) and Bette Devlin (Dogfish).  Bette is an adventurous girl from California.  She loves surfing, thrill seeking, and keeping a watchful eye on her dad.  When Bette finds out her dad is in a serious relationship with a man from New York, and that the two plan to have their daughters meet at the prestigious summer camp, CIGI, Bette sees no option but to take matters into her own hands.  She puts her sleuthing skills to the test and tracks down Avery via email.  Avery is cautious, anxious, and clever, and although she is hesitant to believe Bette’s claims, soon comes to realize that she’s going to need to work with Bette if there is any hope of keeping their dads apart. Through their regular communication and experiences at camp, the girls from an unexpected bond, showing the reader that family is what you make it.

As I flipped through the pages, I felt like I was reading a modernized version of the Parent Trap, starring Hailey Mills—one of my all-time favorite movies.  The central focus of the novel is on the bond that develops between Bette and Avery. What I love most though, is the inclusion of  relatable and authentic characters representative of our world, particularly when it comes to skin color, ethnicity, age, family status, and sexuality.  While other texts I have read mention same-sex parents, or even had a central conflict relating to same-sex parents, none have celebrated it in quite the same way.  It wasn’t something a character was upset about, nor was it a side story. This book made it a focal point and made it beautiful and normal and worth celebrating.  While there were dissenting voices in the text, they were brushed aside, acknowledged, but not given power.  Despite some serious themes, this book was perfectly balanced with loads of lighthearted humor and zany antics.  I think that students will be able to interact with it on different levels, depending on their own experiences and prior knowledge.

Finally, the teaching potential in this book can’t be overlooked.  There are so many opportunities for mini-lessons and excerpts that would make great mentor texts.  I would focus on the text features, organization, context clues, inference, and voice (particularly in relation to word choice and expression).  While I feel that this book would make a fantastic read-aloud, I think that it would be important to discuss or find ways to help your students keep track of who is telling the story, as it does have alternating narration.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer is a delight.  In fact, reading it has inspired me to pick up other books by these authors.  Be sure to check it out!

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)

 

CRAFT STUDIO:THE SWIM TEAM BY MIRANDA JULY

Jun
23

What I  Was Reading: 

swimteam

“The Swim Team” is the second story in Miranda July’s collection of short stories titled No one belongs here more than you. All of the stories in the collection are compelling due to the wildly imaginative inner lives of the usually lonely, bizarre, and socially outcast characters. While reading through the book, I noticed that July commonly excludes quotation marks to denote speech. In “The Swim Team”, this lack of punctuation serves a unique and interesting purpose. This story starts with a paragraph about how it is being written for the narrator’s ex-boyfriend in order to explain a specific time in her past that the ex-boyfriend had wanted to know about, and which may have contributed to their break-up. The story goes on to explain what happened during this secretive time and includes multiple characters speaking to each other without using quotation marks. The lack of quotation marks made me feel like I was not reading exactly what was said, but the narrator’s memory of what was said. Additionally, it made it so that the narrators voice was the only voice I heard while reading. In this way, the story sounded the way a story would if a friend was recounting an event that happened to them. This method of delivering the story made me feel a connection to the narrator, I was standing in for the ex-boyfriend and the narrator was telling her story to me.

SwimTeam1

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • No quotation marks to denote who is speaking and when
  • Lack of separation between dialogue and description
  • Writing as if recounting a story to a friend
  • Writing as if you are speaking to a fictional reader

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Write a story from your past as if you were telling the story to a friend
  • Try telling a story with dialogue from one character’s perspective without using quotation marks to separate the speakers
  • Write a fictional story from the perspective of a fictional character to another fictional character

Guest writer Julia Mortimer is currently a student teacher at UNB. When she is not busy studying she enjoys staring up at trees in hopes of seeing a bird, talking to her cat, and spending too much time wandering in grocery stores.

GUEST WRITER ROXANNE MORNEAULT RECOMMENDS THE MIGHTY HEART OF SUNNY ST. JAMES BY ASHLEY HARRING BLAKE

Jun
16

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The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake tells the story of a twelve year- old girl named Sunny, as she begins her “new life” after a recent heart transplant.

Throughout the novel the reader learns that Sunny is unhappy with many of the decisions she made in her “old” life. (pre-heart transplant).  Secrets were told and friendships were broken, which causes Sunny to create a to-do-list that she wants to accomplish as the new Sunny.   Her list includes doing awesome amazing things that she could never do before including finding a new best friend and finding a boy to kiss.

As Sunny sets out to complete her list, she meets her mother who abandoned her 8 years ago. She feels confusion and has a lack of trust. Although she wants her mother to be a part of her life, her mother’s alcoholism, and new family are barriers to their relationship.

When Sunny meets Quinn, she instantly has a new best friend.  Together they look for boys to kiss so that Sunny can cross this off her list.  Sunny and Quinn’s friendship makes Sunny question which feelings are hers and which belong to her unknown heart donor as she finds herself attracted to Quinn.  In the end, they end up sharing a kiss and discovering that they have feelings for each other.

This novel would be a good read for many students as Sunny is a character that many teens could relate to.  There are themes of health, friendship, adoptive and biological parents, and romantic relationships.  Also, this novel explores the idea of trying to change who you are and whether this is possible.

Roxanne teaches grade 7 and 8 LA at Sunbury West School.

CRAFT STUDIO: GAME CHANGER BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Jun
09

What I Was Reading:

Game ChangerWhile I was reading Game Changer, I was struck by the many different ways Greenwald introduces different characters and dialogue without actually using any “traditional” writing styles. The story is about a thirteen-year-old boy who is in a coma from an injury on the football field, but the majority of the story circles around other characters who are trying to unpack what exactly happened to Teddy. We see a lot of different interactions with people within the story, and we get a lot of insight about how the characters are feeling about the protagonist’s journey, without getting an overload of information about them. I thought this was a very interesting and unconventional way to provide perspectives throughout the story.

Game Changer3Game Changer2Game Changer1

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • Conversations are happening in messaging format with the dates and times of when they were said and by whom.
  • You can see what perspectives of the characters are more widely shared in the book by looking at the number of “likes” the message has.
  • There is no description given to the characters speaking, but instead information about who they are and how they are involved are happening through online discussion.
  • Updates on the protagonist are given through hospital reports, or through what he hears from the people around him while he is in a coma.
  • Ambiguity around the circumstances of his injury is heightened from the amount of characters giving opposing perspectives.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use one of the messaging conversations in Game Changer as a mentor text to get students to write out their own dialogue between 3 or more people. Have them use standard messaging techniques to provide meaning to the conversation.
  • Get students to write dialogue in a traditional sense, then have them try to take that same conversation and transfer it to a messaging platform – IMessage, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat – How does it change between platforms?
  • Have students think of a time they heard a conversation that they were not a part of, and get them to come up with a way to express that dialogue without using standard quotations.
  • Using the Game Changer example of the hospital report, have students describe their current mood or situation in a similarly unique manner.

Guest writer Lauren Sieben is a UNB pre-service teacher currently interning with Sara BeLong in Grade 6 English at George Street Middle School. Game Changer combined two of her favourite things: reading YA and football.

Resource Round-Up

Jun
08

Every Monday we’re sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students.

CBC Books has compiled a list of 20 Canadian titles for kids and teens to read for National Indigenous Heritage Month.

What’s Going On in This Graph, is a regular series hosted by the New York Times Learning Network. Students are invited to read and respond to a wide range of graphs, maps, and charts.

CBC Books has curated a collection of 73 Canadian Short Stories available online for free.

Teaching Tolerance offers a vast collection of resources and teaching strategies with an emphasis on democracy, social justice, and anti-bias.

Lyrikline is a searchable website of poets and poems (in print, audio, and video format) from around the globe.