Margin Notes

Summer Reads 2020

Sep
17

To further introduce the ASD-W literacy team, we asked everyone to share their top 3 summer reads. Looking at the titles the team sent in, I appreciate the variety in form, genre, and mode. Over the past couple of years we have been working towards broadening the definition of text and balancing print and digital texts in classrooms, and this is certainly reflected in the individual choices you will see below!

Jill Davidson:

Sonja Wright:

Tracy Davis:

Colleen Dyer-Wiley:

Signe Williams:

Melissa Walker

Welcome to Margin Notes 2020-21!

Sep
14

Welcome to another year of Margin Notes! We are very excited to introduce our newest members of the team Tracy Davis, Colleen Dyer-Wiley, Signe Williams, and Sonja Wright.  

When we created Margin Notes in 2018, our target audience was teachers of Grades 6 to 12. This year, thanks to the expertise of the new members of our blogging team, we’re going to expand our content with a K-12 focus. 

We look forward to connecting, learning, and growing with you this year! 

CRAFT STUDIO: EVERY LITTLE SCRAP AND WONDER BY CARLA FUNK

Aug
18

What I Was Reading:

As I neared the end of every little scrap and wonder by Carla Funk I came across yet another passage that at once transported my senses to the scene from the author’s childhood and into a memory of my own childhood. Her description of all the distinct gun noises that kids make while playing war were so perfect that I was simultaneously drawn into her narrative while re-living scenes from my youth. My mouth silently formed the noises she was describing, while my memory’s ears heard my childhood friends and I voicing the same array of gun noises.

every little scrap and wonder 2every little scrap and wonder 3

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Specificity: The different gun noises are all linked to a specific gun.
  • Onomatopoeia: Descriptions of the noises use original onomatopoeia.
  • Functional description: By describing the gun’s firing mechanism, the reader is given a sense of the cadence the gun’s noise has.
  • Physical description: The reader is encouraged to try each sound as they read because the author describes how the mouth is shaped and which part of the vocal system is used for that sound.
  • Combinations: Most descriptions use a combination of multiple of the above-mentioned techniques in order to create a richer auditory description of the sounds.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Brainstorm noises and create an original onomatopoeia for those noises.
  • Think of details you can include about how whatever is making the noise operates in order to give the audience a more complete picture of the sound.
  • Describe the physical shape of the mouth or use of the vocal system in a description of a noise someone is making.
  • Try to combine different noise descriptors to create a multi-faceted description of a noise.
  • Explore other ways of communicating sound through text (physical sensation of the sound waves, rhythm, font, spacing, metaphor etc.).

Guest writer Michael Reeder is currently in the UNB education program, hoping to teach English Language Arts to high school students soon. He has always loved reading and believes that, since reading is one of the most powerful tools and individual can use to advance their lives independently, instilling a love of reading in students is one of the most important things a teacher can do.

CRAFT STUDIO: WITH THE BEATLES BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

Aug
11

beatlesWhat I Was Reading:

While reading Haruki Murakami’s short story, “With the Beatles”, I was drawn in by the intimacy his prose can generate, and I asked myself how he was doing it? One rhetorical move I observed I’ve taken to calling, The Interrupting Self.

In this craft move the author offers a phrase to modify the phrase that came previously in order to be more precise and to indicate stream of consciousness. Consider this example from Haruki Murakami,

There’s one girl—a woman who used to be a girl, I mean—whom I remember well. I don’t know her name, though. And, naturally, I don’t know where she is now or what she’s doing. What I do know about her is that she went to the same high school as I did, and was in the same year (since the badge on her shirt was the same color as mine), and that she really liked The Beatles.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • This move is made in the first sentence and the last. Murakami breaks into his own discourse to clarify that the girl is a woman now. In this way we learn where we are in time relative to the moment being remembered and it makes the prose conversational, as though the author were telling you what was on his mind. This interruption makes his communication feel more direct and immediate.
  • The second iteration is performed in a different way, brackets instead of dash, but it achieves the same effect. Here we are given the detail of the badge colour they shared, which focuses attention to a precise detail. From that detail we glean that Murakami’s speaker attended a school with a uniform. Again, this little aside evokes a conversational tone in the piece that feels like confession.
  • This piece does something else that I really like, which I call “Load the Last”. The above paragraph is taken from Murakami’s short piece, “With the Beatles.” So, bringing his meandering paragraph to its conclusion with this particular noun allows it to land with weight.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • I think the former of these two moves would be a great way for students to practice structured stream of consciousness writing. One exercise might be to write a simple line in a direct voice. Then, go back and insert a detail that reveals what your speaker is thinking in ‘real time’.
  • With the latter move, students should experiment. Try writing a paragraph with one important idea in mind. Provide supporting details throughout the middle of the paragraph, try to ‘land’ on that final word. This is a practical tactic that writers can use in a variety of writing forms.

Guest writer Scott Connelly’s experience with music, theater, and the performing arts, combined with his years of experience in corporate telecommunications, help to provide students with a variety of essential skills in literacy.  Scott teaches English Language Arts and Social Studies in Saint John, NB.

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)