Margin Notes



When I started reading Engaging Literate Minds: Developing Children’s Social, Emotional and Intellectual Lives, K-3 by Peter Johnston, Kathy Champeau, Andrea Hartwig, Sarah Helmer, Merry Komar, Tara Krueger, Laurie McCarthy, I knew I was in for a treat when, at the very beginning of Chapter 1, the authors say:

“We’ve come to believe that in intellectually healthy classrooms children should be: meaningful engaged (not merely complying), inquiring/ questioning, theorizing, seeking evidence, productively disagreeing, helping each other and seeking help when necessary, collaborating and expecting and engaging in different perspectives. We should not expect children to be held in place by intellectual hierarchies.-p. 1”


This quote is from the first paragraph of the book! And the rest of the book beautifully lays out a way to make those beliefs a reality in classrooms.

This book was born out of a desire for change. The co-authors (who wrote this book along with Peter Johnston) are all teachers.They were teaching in the same school and read Peter Johnston’s book Choice Words as a whole staff book study. Over the last 10 years, Peter Johnston has been working with, and observing and documenting the changes taking place in these teachers classrooms. Since beginning this journey, the teachers have all moved to different parts of the US but their collaboration has not ended. They have all been intrinsically motivated to improve their practice through collaboration and continued professional learning.

I really think that makes this book unique.

I love the dedication in this book, and I think it says it all.

“To all the teachers and their students searching for ways to value thinking together to build a more engaging, just and humane world.”

You can find a free preview about the book and learn more about the authors here. 



Padma Venkatraman was introduced to the plight of homeless children in India by her mother at an early age. Though a poor, single mother herself, she taught Padma to support charitable causes, especially those that provided education for children. Using a variety of true stories and characters as the basis for The Bridge Home, she creates a powerful look at what home and family looks like for the young and homeless.

Sisters Viji and Rukku do have a “traditional home” at the beginning of the book. However, when their abusive father starts beating not only the mother, who makes excuses and forgives him, but also the girls, Viji decides it is time to take control. The next morning Viji packs their school backpacks with necessities instead of schoolwork. Though the bags are heavy she adds the book her teacher had given her as a gift, unable to leave it behind.

The girls use most of their money on bus fare. Once they arrive at their destination, they struggle to avoid danger and find safety. Rukku is a special needs child and Viji has been taught all her life to keep her sister hidden, and avoid hospitals or schools where they would take Rukku away from the family. Viji worries about taking care of her sister, when in fact, Rukku finds many ways to take care of Viji. The girls meet up with two homeless boys when they seek shelter, eventually coming together as a family, complete with a dog that Rukku befriends.

This story shows how resilient and strong homeless children must be, and how trusting and working with others makes it better. However, they are children and need the support of good, kind adults to break the cycle.

This book is eye opening- examining poverty even beyond books like Paper Things, No Fixed Address, and Benefits of Being An Octopus. And yet, these children become a family and move towards a better life while enduring an incredible loss, together. Hope shines strong throughout.

Jean Anne Green is a middle school teacher in Florenceville, NB- the French Fry Capital of the World. She loves to read, watch hockey and talk books with her daughter, an aspiring librarian.






After meeting Darius for the first time a couple of years ago in the first installment of the Darius series, I was thrilled to hear of the second book. The first touched on mental health, the importance of speaking your truth, and understanding the importance of families. Khorram wrote about being in a multi-racial family and showed the beauty of learning about your own heritage and culture. While the second book in the series does have small parts that focus on microagressions and how they are dealt with (or not dealt with) Darius the Great Deserves Better reminds us what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. This book is about falling in love not only romantically, but learning to love yourself, too.

The best part of this book was what wasn’t there. We learn quickly that Darius has come out to his family and friends as gay – and what’s missing? There’s no fall out. There’s no dismissive or abusive parents. There’s no being kicked out of your church, family, or school. There’s support. And you know what? That’s needed. Books that show positive reactions to queer young people need to exist, and this novel is a fantastic example.

This is not meant to be dismissive of LGBTQ+ centered media that does shed light on the abuse and neglect that happens to queer people, but there is a serious lack of positive and affirming media that shows how being gay is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that your life will become dismantled in all ways, shapes, and forms. We are inundated with negative facts and statistics about LGBTQ+ youth, but so rarely is there a spotlight given to anything that may talk about the positives of being gay. There are times in Darius where there are characters that may say something homophobic, but there is not a central plot that focuses on any sort of abuse and this, sadly, is rare to see. Having three young male characters who are not heterosexual yet do not fall into stereotypes is fantastic and can often be a source of healing for many.

Daruis and his extended family are easy to fall in love with – his gifted younger sister, his workaholic but loving mother, and of course, his father. The real relationship that should be spoken of is the one between Darius and his father – both of whom suffer from depression. Having an adult character who is dealing with mental health issues in a realistic way is important for young readers to see. This novel sheds light on the fact that parents do not always have the answers, and that’s ok.

While I would suggest reading the first book in the series beforehand, you will be happy to have this novel on your shelf. Covering many relevant and current issues, this book is one that will inspire and encourage young folks to be their true selves – and what more could we ask for?

Laura Noble teaches English and Writing at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. She is an avid reader of true crime, realistic fiction, and feminist literature.




The New York Times Learning Network series Annotated by the Author invites writers, student writers and journalists, to annotate their writing and bring their process to life. In their notes, the writers describe the craft decisions they made while composing their piece, how their writing supports their topic and purpose, and the impact they hope to have on their audience.

These are fantastic opportunities to get an inside view of a writer’s process and would make wonderful additions to craft, process, or form studies. They are also powerful mentor texts for students to use for reflecting on their own writing. Consider asking students to reflect on their growth as a writer by selecting a piece of their own writing to annotate in this way.

Annotated by the Author is yet another incredible free resource made available by The Learning Network.



I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is a beautifully written picture book that celebrates the worth of every child. Vibrant illustrations capture the reader’s attention, and the lyrical text resonates with self-affirming “I messages.”  

As with most picture books, this book has endless opportunities for classroom use at all grade levels. The easy-to-read text makes it accessible as an independent reading choice. This book can be used to open discussions around value, importance, empowerment, and resilience. My students naturally went to those discussions after I shared it in my classroom. If you are looking for a mentor text to introduce spoken word poetry, this book is a natural fit. “I am one eye open, one eye closed, peeking through a microscope, gazing through a telescope, checking out the spaces around me and plotting out those far-off places I have yet to go -but will.”  Writing opportunities could include students writing their own “I message” in the style of the book. 

This book needs a place in every classroom library. It will be a book that students go back to again and again, each time digging a little deeper to find new meaning. It will meet students where they are and nudge them to deepen their thinking. “I am a sponge, soaking up information, knowledge, and wisdom. I want it all, and I am allllll ears.” Our students need to know that they are “every good thing” and to look for that in everyone. Happy reading! 

 Angie Graham Debertin is a Grade 2 teacher at Centreville Community School. She has spent her career questioning and learning alongside her students and instilling a belief that anything is possible. Her passions include inspiring lifelong readers and writers, encouraging a love of science, using meaningful technology, and lifelong learning. 



I find Twitter to be endlessly fascinating. It never fails to surprise me. One day, as I was scrolling, I saw a tweet that stopped me in my tracks. First, I laughed out loud (which is a rarity for me lately). Then, I thought to myself – this would make an amazing mentor text for review writing!

Let me introduce you to Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom):

So, their twitter handle tells the whole story. They rate the rooms of people being interviewed from home. This treasure of a twitter account would not exist if it weren’t for the pandemic.

I can see so many possibilities for use as a mentor text:

-The authors write the reviews with short, concise sentence fragments – but they flow beautifully and tell a complete story.

-They give a rating out of 10.

-They give specific feedback and also give specific suggestions for improvement.  So, these tweets could also be used if you’re working with your class on improving their peer feedback.

Here’s another example:

Students could try it out and rate some rooms!  Here are some room interiors.

You can find Room Rater on Twitter. a bonus, here are some reviews of public bathroom sinks on TikTok (@sinkreview):

(Click the picture to check them out)



Author Ruta Sepetys, well known for historical fiction novels such as, Salt to the SeaBetween Shades of Gray, and Out of the Easy has once again offered readers a powerful and hauntingly beautiful novel entitled The Fountains of Silence. Set in 1957 post war fascist Spain, 18-year-old American, Daniel Matheson has come with his oil tycoon parents to Madrid.  His father’s company has hopes of inking an oil deal with dictator Franco, while Daniel hopes to learn more about his mother’s birth country, Spain, through his passion for photography. 

As a child of privilege Daniel is soon learns that not all Spaniards enjoy a comfortable and secure lifestyle.   Ana, an employee of the hotel at which Daniel is staying, and the young daughter of teachers who sided against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, slowly introduces to him another Spain. A Spain that encompasses hardship, hunger, and fear.  Fear of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s military force), fear of landowners, and fear of one’s neighbors. Daniel soon realizesSpain, its institutions, and its residents have many secrets. 

 Sepetys masterfully and slowly begins to peal back the layers of the secretthrough the short and fast paced chapters narrated by multiple characters.  Each narrator powerfully begins to shed light on the dark corners of Spain in eye opening detail. In addition, to the prose, Sepetys weaves primary sources throughout the story at the end of each chapter to provide a greater depth and context to a time in history previously unrealized by many western nations. 


The Fountains of Silence like other novels by Sepetys, explores heartbreak, love, and the lasting repercussions of hate and war. Once I began this novel, I was immediately invested in the characters and their journey. I didn’t want the story to end. 



With a target audience of Grades 3–8 teachers, Jennifer Jacobson, a former elementary school teacher and the author of fourteen children’s books, has drawn upon a treasure trove of experience in writer’s workshop to create No More How Long Does It Have to Be: Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019).

 A useful compilation of strategies to implement in order to engage and support writers in the classroom, this manual begins with sections on planning for independence, routines to support independent writers (minilessons, building stamina, conferring, and author’s chair), and moves into explicit lesson plans when exploring units on the narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. The final section is a chapter on assessment, standardized testing, and publication.

Each chapter contains useful tips and ideas that can be put into use right away. One such gem is the fun suggestion to approach the focused editing of conventions by using a designated crayon or pen color for each target (use a blue crayon for capitalization errors, green for punctuation, and purple for spelling).

Jacobson’s section on what to do during writing conferences is explicit and valuable. The focus, she writes, should: 1) be on the student’s writing goal (ex. adding voice), 2) use “mirroring” when the teacher retells what they heard to increase the sense of audience for the student and create value for the student’s writing, and 3) give the opportunity for the student to extend the subject matter while experiencing the writing in a fresh way, and 4) teach one new skill.

The lesson plans offered in units for teaching narrative, informative, and persuasive writing are brief and easy to read. Organized into approximately five days of lessons, they include exploring mentor texts, brainstorming, think aloud possibilities, rubrics and activities that encourage metacognition of the writing process. A five-minute quick write activity she suggests, for instance, is “What will readers gain from reading your story?” Each unit also incorporates suggestions for additional lessons related to the teaching focus.

This book is another teaching resource worthy of a look-see for its discerning focus on writing in today’s classroom.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a bilingual educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.






The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a fun, fast-paced, riddle-filled, Cinderella story, perfect for readers who like to crack codes and solve mysteries. With riddles that are reminiscent of the Truly Devious series, The Inheritance Games sees female protagonist, Avery, living in her car, when she is summoned to  the late billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s estate, just to find out that he has made her the heir to his fortune. Avery works alongside Tobias’ four disinherited grandsons, who believe this is all just some elaborate game by their grandfather, to try to solve years’ worth of clues and riddles, and to figure out why a complete stranger has named her as the main beneficiary on his multi-billion-dollar estate. However, the inheritance comes with a catch. Avery must also live in the house with the remaining members of the Hawthorne family that are certain she must have conned her way into the inheritance, and are determined to get the money back from her, whatever the cost.

This would be such a fun addition to a high school classroom library, especially if you have students who love mysteries and solving riddles. Perfect for readers who need a high-interest novel, Barnes does really good job of hooking the reader right away by immediately digging into the plot and mystery of the Hawthorne estate. So much so, that even after the short first few chapters, the reader will be trying to figure out what is going on. Another real strength in this book is the characterization of the Hawthorne House itself. The sprawling mansion and grounds are a twist of secret passageways, hidden clues, and dark secrets. Barnes brings the house itself to life and, in doing so makes it a major player in this book, and these sections could easily serve as a mentor for other descriptive and personification narratives. This book will get everyone who reads it trying to solve all the puzzles and readers will want to talk about them once they finish the book. I cannot wait to talk about this book with my students!

Lauren Sieben is a High School ELA teacher at John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.