Margin Notes



Congratulations to Amy Bourgaize for winning #ASDWReads for the month of September!  Thank-you, Amy, for always sharing your reading with us on Instragram – your prize will arrive to you soon!

We are excited to see what everyone is reading as this cozy weather settles in. You can enter our October draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!



Orphan.jpgAfter her mother gets shot and killed at a checkpoint, Sarah finds herself isolated and running for her life. Being a Jewish 15-year-old in Germany in 1939 tends not to grant you many allies, and Sarah soon finds herself desperately trying just to survive. But a chance encounter with a mysterious man gives her a completely new objective. This man of mystery needs Sarah to infiltrate a Nazi boarding school and become friends with the daughter of one of the top Nazi scientists, all to halt the production of a bomb the likes of which the world has never seen before.

Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy is a thrilling story of overcoming seemingly impossible adversity and staying true to yourself and your ideals. The story has both scenes of thrilling espionage and quieter scenes of contemplation, and neither ever seem out of place or forced. Orphan Monster Spy captures Sarah’s flaws and strengths in stride, taking the time to examine each one while still keeping the story alive and well-paced. Whether you enjoy grounded, bleak realism and historical fiction or brilliant and cunning spies, Orphan Monster Spy is the right book to read.

Zander Strickland is a student who enjoys reading, writing, and cracking jokes about his unparalleled egocentricity. Or, at least people think he’s joking.



What I Was Reading:220px-Wintergirls.jpg

When I was reading Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was reminded of a technique I had seen this author use in Wintergirls, the story of two girls with two different eating disorders who compete with each other to be the thinnest, which turns out to be a deadlier competition than either of them could ever have known.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Throughout Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson uses the technique of strikethrough. Occasionally, words, phrases, or whole lines are written with a line through the middle. The words that are crossed through are the ones Lia believes to be the real truth, but they are never the details that she shares with anyone.


  • There are other places where strikethrough is used to express her hunger and desire to enjoy food again. The strikethrough in those situations represents Lia literally striking these thoughts from her mind. She does not let herself even fully realize these thoughts or desires she has; they must be crossed out as soon as they even briefly flit across her mind.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about a conversation you have had where what you said and what you were actually thinking were quite different. Use the technique of strikethrough to recount this experience.
  • Think about an internal conversation you have had in which you try to push certain thoughts out of your head. Use strikethrough to show this internal struggle.
  • Dig into previous writing or your writer’s notebook for places where the technique of strikethrough could be used.



Bea.jpgMiddle schoolers have one thing in common: they all want to belong and find their “people.” Who doesn’t? I think it’s safe to say adults also crave this security.

The Way to Bea is a fiction novel that explores important themes, such as belonging, self-confidence, and acceptance. Beatrix Lee is questioning who her true friends are when she returns to school after summer break and is devastated that her best friend isn’t speaking to her.

Bea has a passion for poetry and this passion is woven throughout the story. She writes poems in invisible ink and leaves them in a special portal in the woods, hoping to get a response. Despite the snickers from others, poetry is Bea’s one true thing. She can count on it to bring her joy.

Throughout the story, Bea spends much of her time waiting for others to bring her happiness. She eventually finds her own way and realizes that she is the author of her own happiness. By helping a new friend out of a “dead end”, Bea discovers her true self. The author, Kat Yeh, captures the beautiful “give and take” of friendships.

Bea’s journey will speak to many middle school students about true friendship. She reminds us to be true to ourselves. I hope our students set off on a journey of self- discovery and feel proud of who they are after reading this book.

Sara BeLong teaches grade six at George Street Middle School. Her favourite genres are memoirs and realistic fiction.



One trend we have noticed, and also fallen in love with, over the last few years are novels written in free verse. Students are devouring them, and we are too! This is what Pernille Ripp has to say about novels in free verse in her classroom:

“These brilliant books with their impactful, but shorter, text is one of the biggest tools I have in getting students reconnected with reading.  There are a few reasons for this; students who are building up stamina in their reading concentration can stay focused with a faster-paced story, students where “regular” books intimidate them do not feel as overwhelmed due to less text on the page, and finally; the stories are enchanting.”

We are often asked for a list of our favourite novels in verse, so we decided to compile them here for you! As always, you know your readers best, so reading brief summaries of each title will guide you to know which titles to recommend to your readers.

Happy Reading!



York.jpgAs proclaimed by the book’s opening line, “the true story of any city is never a single tale; it’s a vast collection of stories with many different heroes.” The city in question for Laura Ruby’s York is New York City (hence the title), though not the one you may be familiar with. This version of The Big Apple is now overflowing with new technological wonders powered by solar energy and Lion batteries, thanks to the elusive and genius twins that had helped shaped the city many years ago: the Morningstarrs. But incredible technology wasn’t the only thing the Morningstarrs left behind; they also forged the Old York Cipher, an elaborate puzzle spanning the entirety of the shining city they helped to create. A treasure beyond all imagination lies in wait for any who can solve it.

Twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in one of the few remaining Morningstarr apartment buildings – that is, until a powerful real estate developer buys it. With the building due to be demolished and no relief in sight, the trio decide that to save their home they’ll need to prove the Old York Cipher is real. And to do that, of course, they’re going to have to solve it.

I could tell you about York‘s intriguing plot, its sense of humour, or the clever puzzles it deploys, but those qualities pale in comparison to its sheer amount of personality. Each chapter follows a different character than the last, which in itself isn’t an uncommon practice. But where York differs is the stark contrast between each of its characters’ different viewpoints. Everything from the word choice and terminology to the overall mood of the chapter to the humour varies significantly depending upon who’s currently telling the story, making each character’s thoughts and desires seem all the more real and tangible.

For all of the reasons detailed above and many, many more, York will make an excellent addition to your classroom’s library.

Zander Strickland is a legend in the making, due to his dashing appearance, his constant attention to detail, and his unrelenting egotism. He was born in New York and now resides in New Brunswick.



file2-2For the first six weeks of school, teachers are often focused on building a community of readers and writers in their classrooms – this is a great investment that pays off dividends for the rest of the year.

A word of caution, hold off on getting your students to do their own shelfies until everyone has read a few books. This prevents some students from being embarrassed by their lack of reading over the summer. Remember, we want to grow their reading identity, not stunt it!

Take a look at the shelfies below from two middle school teachers at Ridgeview Middle School and one of our literacy coaches:



Every year I look forward to the announcement of the CBC Short Story Prize. When the longlist was announced (shout out to New Brunswick for making the list), I reviewed the interviews with some of the nominees. I love how each entry is described in five-ish words and my “reading like a teacher of writing brain” started thinking about ways students could use this strategy:

  • Describe the books you are currently reading in five-ish words
  • Summarize this text in five-ish words
  • Work with a group to consolidate your five-ish word summaries into ten-ish word summary
  • Explain the piece of writing you are currently working on in five-ish words

The “ish” gives students a bit of flexibility but challenging students to grasp the meaning of a full-length text in about five words requires them to be precise and deliberate in their choices. Try inviting your students to use five-ish word summaries or descriptions.



“If learning, particularly that which takes place in a classroom, floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And, what kind of learning?” ~ Simpson and Mercer

Bigger IdeasIn Building Bigger Ideas Maria Nichols defines talk as purposeful when it honors constructive intent, harnesses the power of varied perspectives, and engages participants over expanded time and space. Purposeful talk thrives in a dialogic space, “the shared dynamic space of meaning that opens up between or among participants in a dialogue. It forms as we immerse fully with thoughts that compel us, wrestle with the tug of varied perspectives, and construct unexpected new ideas with others.”

According to Nichols, two critical conditions for cultivating dialogic spaces are supporting children as they engage with each other and supporting children as they engage with ideas. In this context, “learning communities put talk to work, and the work of talk creates social bonds that continually strengthen the community.”

We can teach purposeful talk by teaching about talk as our students make meaning through talk. Building Bigger Ideas offers a responsive three-step framework:

  • focus children on aspects of purposeful talk behaviors,
  • facilitate as children engage with ideas and each other, and
  • offer feedback that links purposeful talk behaviors to the process of constructing meaning.

Using this framework, we can teach students to hear all voices, grow ideas, and negotiate meaning. The goal is to establish an environment where students use talk with independence to collaborate and build community. Purposeful talk, in the words of IDEO’s David Kelley, helps “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

Building Bigger Ideas may be targeted to Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it will support teachers of all grades and levels in establishing purposeful talk in the classroom. This resource is a terrific complement to professional resource libraries that include Teaching Talk by Kara Pranikoff and Choice Words by Peter Johnston.



When we heard about Kim Skilliter’s initiative The Humans of FHS, we asked her to please share with us (and you!) all of the details around this project. We are so happy she agreed! Here’s what she had to say:

I have always LOVED the Humans of New York site. I love how these stories work to soften the edges of a huge city, and to remind us that, at the core of society, no matter what is happening in the world, are people with incredible burdens, triumphs, challenges – and all it takes are a few questions to reveal what is below their facades. It is a reminder of how extraordinary we ordinary people are. As a teacher, I am an eternal optimist, and it does my heart good to know that, as Brandon Stanton describes in a TED Talk,, even the most intimidating people have been willing to share their stories with him. All he has ever had to do is ask.

In my never-ending – and, honestly, often unsuccessful – quest to find something that will appeal to my English 123 classes, I thought I would try to see how a Humans of FHS project would work. We explored the HONY site, learned a little bit about its history, and then I set the students loose in the halls for a few days. Admin loves when I do that! All jokes aside, they, and all the FHS staff, were incredibly supportive of this idea. Many of them are the subjects of the students’ profiles, and this is a testament to their kindness and approachability.

Once the work was complete, I printed the slides, and, with the enthusiastic support of the librarians, students displayed them on both floors of the library, facing out to the hallways. The response from the FHS community and our supporters was very positive. I still have a few tweaks to make; I was too hands-on with the proofreading of the slides, for example. I need to find more time to sit with students and to guide them toward, let’s say, more conventional English spelling and grammar, instead of just cleaning the slides up myself on the weekend. I need to encourage them to reach out to people they do not know. It is a work-in-progress, but it does work, and I got a huge validation of this one day from a normally very unimpressed student who, when asked how I can improve this experience for next year’s students, said “Well, the least you can do is put our names on the slides. I mean, we did the work!” She wanted everyone to see her name. She wanted to take ownership of her work. She was proud. For me, it does not get much better than that.


Kim is a teacher at Fredericton High School. She teaches 112, 122 and 123 English. She is always looking for new ideas, so she loves to read this blog!