Margin Notes



DryScience fiction is always at its best when it reflects our societal or cultural anxieties. Great sci-fi leaves readers pondering the what-ifs of our own world and, more importantly, how we may respond to such events. This is the reason that this genre has always appealed to me, and Dry, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is no exception. This novel focuses on how society would respond to a major drought brought on by the effects of climate change. Spoiler: It is absolutely terrifying.

Set in southern California in the midst of a major draught referred to as The Tap-Out, Dry centers around Alyssa, a 16-year-old, and her family as they navigate their way through an unravelling society. Things go from bad to catastrophic as Alyssa’s parents go missing while trying to acquire water from government operated desalination machines. Now Alyssa is faced with decisions that could mean the difference between life and death for her friends and remaining loved ones.

Like all good science fiction, Dry will make readers begin to view the world differently. I found myself questioning what I would do in an event such as The Tap-Out and that idea alone can open up some undeniably great classroom discussions or writing prompts if the book was used as a read aloud. It should be noted that parts of Dry could be upsetting to some students. The novel doesn’t shy away from how animalistic humans could indeed get in such dire circumstances. With that said, I guarantee that this novel will leave you on the edge of your seat and unable to put the book down. The novel would be fantastic as a read aloud, as the story starts from the get-go and never really lets up. High school students will find a lot to connect with but even grade 8s who see stories of climate change on the news all the time will take something away from Dry. I would be hesitant to read this aloud to classes younger than 8th grade though, simply due to the intensity of some scenes and the mild language.

Overall, I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you have a bottle of water close by as you read it. You’ll thank me later…

Devin McLaughlin is a middle school teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School and teaches grade 7 and 8 Language Arts and Social Studies.



Shoe DogAs I was reading this book for Margin Notes, a student in my grade 8 class was sharing the book with me, as he couldn’t wait for me to finish it to begin his reading. I found a note he had scribbled on a post-it and left within the pages. It said: “This feels like my grandfather is telling me a story.” I think this sums up Shoe Dog very succinctly and clearly. This book chronicles Phil Knight’s adventures, successes and near catastrophic decisions as he chases his “crazy” dream of creating and selling shoes. And it really does read as if someone close to you is telling you a story.

This isn’t just a book for the sports enthusiasts in your classroom. Yes, this is the story of a runner who sees value in creating shoes that improve speed and endurance. But this is also the story of an entrepreneur. The book is replete with business jargon with discussions of equity, loans, and the fight for the title of sole distributer, but it is also a story of relationships and how we treat people “on our team”.

I am excited about having this “window” book that explores the initial resistance of banks/society to take running shoes seriously, but who are forced to, because Phil Knight’s ability to “dream crazy” is something nobody can contend with.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 8 Language Arts at Nashwaaksis Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.



Two years, ago I was planning a workshop for teachers on using an inquiry approach toward genre studies in writers workshop. I wanted the participating teachers to explore mentor texts through the lens of the question “How is this written?” Unfortunately, we only had 90 minutes together, so our reading time would be limited. My solution was to use flash fiction. Because, by definition, the pieces would be short, we would be able to read and discuss several of them in the time available. When I started looking for examples, I discovered they were everywhere, including on the cups and bags at Chipotle.

I recently discovered that flash fiction has a cousin, flash nonfiction (aka the flash essay). Spry Literary Journal offers this definition: “Flash nonfiction, just like flash fiction, is a story shrunk into miniature form. It’s a single story, a moment, or a scene shaped and compressed into a small capsule.”

Using flash nonfiction as mentor texts is a way of supporting writers in examining craft in a larger variety of examples than they might typically be able to when reading only longform essays. This can also be helpful during mini-lessons because students can see the craft move in the context of the whole text and not simply an excerpt.

Invite students to write their own flash essays as a fresh alternative to the traditional memoir or personal essay. You might challenge them to revise a longer piece down to its essence or ask them to create a flash essay that will eventually be developed into a longer, more detailed text.

There are many possibilities for incorporating flash nonfiction into the readers and writers workshop. Here are some sites/resources to get you started:

Brevity Magazine

The Writers Alliance of Gainesville

Hippocampus Magazine

The Artifice

Teachers & Writers Magazine



HeroineI am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.

Mickey Catalan is famous in her hometown for being the star catcher on a softball team that is supposed to make history this year. But just before the season starts, Mickey is in a car accident that leaves her with three screws in her hip, intense pain, and a prescription for OxyContin. And so begins a story all too familiar due to the current opioid crisis.

Before the accident, Mickey thought she knew what pain was. Her father had an affair and now has a new wife and baby. She rarely felt comfortable with people and always struggled to find the right thing to say. But this pain is so intense that she starts to take more OxyContin than she should, and then more, and then more…because what she comes to realize is not only do the pills alleviate her pain, they make her feel good. And with them she can train harder and recover faster and get back to where she needs to be – crouched behind home plate.

The fact is though, OxyContin is expensive. And hard to find. And nobody wants to share their “stash”. But there is something less expensive, that is easy to find, and that many are willing to share. Heroine. As a reader, you wonder if there is any way to stop this downward spiral that so many find themselves trapped in.

This book is a gut-wrenching account of how addiction slowly builds and how, once it exists, feeding that addiction will cost a person everything.



What I Was Reading:5658a7b4-underrated-social-card.jpg

In Underrated, his most recent essay published on The Players’ Tribune, Stephen Curry introduces a new venture he is calling The Underrated Tour, “a camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for a chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”

Stephen Curry opens this essay with a memory of being 13 and playing poorly at a tournament. At the hotel later, as he was questioning whether he was good enough or if basketball might be over for him, his mom “gave me what I’d call probably the most important talks of my life.” His mother’s words became a mantra for him: This is no one’s story to write but mine. It’s no one’s story but mine. He goes on to share experiences when he has drawn on his mother’s words of advice, including the time he thought Virginia Tech was interested in him, only to discover they were meeting with him as a courtesy to his father.

I’ve used other examples of Stephen Curry’s writing with students, including The Noise. I enjoy the way he infuses his writing with energy and voice. He incorporates punctuation and text features—italics, capitals, commas, dashes, ellipses, italics—to create pauses and add emphasis. What results is writing that reads as though Steph Curry is speaking directly to us.

The section that stands out most to me is Curry’s description of playing basketball at Davidson College:

I remember how……humble our whole experience was at Davidson.

Which, first of all, is funny—because it’s really nice now. Like, for real: if you’re reading this, go to Davidson. It’s an amazing school with an amazing hoops program. But back when I got there, what I mostly remember is just how loud and clear we all got the message that, you know—we were not playing Big-Time College Hoops. Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes. Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete. We were “cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper” athletes. We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

The progression of the last four sentences creates an image of what it meant to be a student athlete at Davidson. This combination of sentences makes the point in four different ways, each one layering on to the next:

  1. “Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes.” I can hear the emphasis on STUDENT in this sentence.
  2. “Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete.” The way Curry uses font size as an adjective here creates a visual image and paints a picture how much more emphasis was placed on being a student than on being an athlete.
  3. “We were ‘cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper’ athletes.” Curry turns a quote, presumably from a professor, into an adjective to replace the word student. Again, the effect is to show that academics took priority over athletics.
  4. “We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.” Here, the emphasis shifts from describing student to telling us about the state of athletics. What kind of athletes were they? The kind who didn’t even have their own practice court.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves, and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use a four-sentence progression like Curry’s to demonstrate the relationship between two words commonly paired (school vacation, long weekend, loyal fan, etc).
  • Describe how words might be written in font sizes or styles to signify their meaning.
  • Use a quotation as an adjective to create a specific image for your reader.
  • End a paragraph with a simple concrete detail that underscores your point and requires no explanation for the reader.



BrotherIt’s not often that I come to the end of a novel and immediately flip back to the beginning, but I did just that with Brother. David Chariandy’s mesmerizing writing and gripping storyline kept me reading so quickly that, coming to the end of its 187 pages, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind me.

Readers who appreciate Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give will find a similar storyline. Chariandy’s characters are the marginalized immigrants of early 1990s’ Scarborough, Ontario. They are hardworking and hopeful, but the obstacles in the way of achieving their dreams of a better life in this country are overwhelming. Parents navigate lengthy routes on public transit to work backbreaking hours at minimum wage jobs, forced to leave their young children home behind locked doors- with strict instructions not to open them. Children face racism at school; they are feared and shunned by their fellow students, driven into alternative programming, and, often, out the door entirely, by the educational system. The police are an omnipresent threat.

The title refers to the narrator Michael’s late brother, Francis, an intelligent, sensitive, popular and well-respected member of the immigrant community in The Park- a low-income housing complex in Scarborough. The novel is an homage to Francis and to all those young lives ruined and-all too often- lost, by oppressive ideologies at play in what is supposed to be the most welcoming of countries. Chariandy’s characters are complex; he fleshes out stereotypes and we fall in love with people like Anton, a small-time drug dealer who “never had the right sort of clothes against the cold and rain. . . couldn’t hide the fact that at dinnertime he wouldn’t be going inside.” Chariandy’s imagery is astounding, and we sweat in the summer heat along with his characters, like Michael and Francis’ mom, who comes home from work off the bus in a catatonic state to a stultifying, airless apartment- and a bowl of cold water for her feet, provided by a young Francis.

Chariandy, himself the son of Trinidadian immigrants to Toronto, is an important voice in Canadian literature because we need to read the truth about our country, and we need to have empathy for all of its citizens. We need to reflect on the oppressive systems at work in what is supposed to be a welcoming place, full of opportunity for all. Students need to be given the opportunity to hear diverse voices and to reflect on these important messages in our classrooms.

Kim is an English teacher at Fredericton High School. She loves to read, read some more, and talk to her students about how awesome reading is 😊.  She hopes one day soon to resurrect the Canadian Literature course at FHS, and to pilot an Indigenous Literature course as well.



Congratulations to Melissa Wilson-Smith for winning #ASDWReads for the month of May! Thank you for sharing your reading, and we hope you enjoy your new book.

If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a photo of a book you read in June, and post it on Twitter or Instagram under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books you are spending time with as spring is finally here!



When Sara Belong noticed some of her students refusing to read, fake reading, not being interested in the ‘popular’ books, and taking on the identity of “I don’t read,” she knew she had to do something. After sitting and conferencing with students about their interests and experiences as readers, she realized the gaps in her classroom library and set out to make some changes. The most prominent gaps she noticed were books about hunting, fishing, outdoor adventure, cooking, trucks, instruction manuals, and magazines. When she brought in a pile of cookbooks from home, she couldn’t believe the response. Her students were racing to grab them first, leaving the table empty, writing down recipes on the recipe cards she had available, and even telling her of their cooking adventures at home with the recipes they wrote down. When she learned about a student who eats vegan and another who “doesn’t cook but bakes cookies,” she brought in more cookbooks to address these interests, and the look on the students’ faces said, “You notice me!”


Stepping outside of the box of traditional classroom reading, asking her students “What will you read?” and embracing how her students respond to that question has allowed her to form new connections and break down preconceived notions of what reading is: “They are seeing that they don’t have to read what Ms. Belong likes to read.” When she presented some of these new forms of texts to her students, one question she received was, “I’m allowed to read that?” When her answer was, “Yes!” she knew that student felt noticed and supported: really seen.

Game Changer.jpgIn Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids, Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp emphasize that “Readers’ unique needs and interests should be the primary drivers of independent reading and matter more than mandates and expectations of teachers and caregivers” (p. 106). When Sara reflects on how honoring her students’ interests has affected her classroom reading community, she says, “It’s made all the difference for their engagement and motivation to read. I had one student who only wanted to read scary, real life stories, and now that we’ve found some titles she is interested in, she has gone from being disengaged to asking, ‘Can we read now?’ She seems happy to be here.”

Sara is constantly searching for various types of texts to include in her classroom library that will address the interests and needs of her readers. She is currently on the hunt for more cookbooks, instruction manuals, and outdoor adventure magazines. Her eagerness to honor these forms of texts reflects what Antero Garcia in Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids says in relation to cultivating passionate readers: “…we must consider the modalities of reading we are willing to include. More importantly, we must consider what opportunities are denied, and what interests are diffused when we exclude certain kinds of media” (p. 118).

When Sara hears a student say, “I’m not a reader.” She always says to herself, “Yet!” We love this. Thank you Sara and Antero for challenging us to examine our bookshelves and the books we talk about to kids!

Sara Belong teaches grade 6 at George Street Middle School. She adores her husband and three children and loves yellow curry, coffee, and peanut butter balls. Sara is currently reading To Know and Nurture a Reader by Christina Nosek and Kari Yates and is excited to try out the strategies in her classroom reading conferences.

BOOK RELAY 2018-2019


Last week we met with a wonderful group of middle and high school literacy teachers to wrap up our year-long book relay.  Teachers first met in their relay teams to discuss the titles they had read throughout the year, and then we asked teachers to vote on what title impacted them the most as readers. Here are the results:

The favourite title in the high school relay was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

poet xThis novel, written in verse, tells the story of a Xiomara, a young girl living in Harlam, who finds her voice and her courage in the pages of her journal where she writes her slam poetry. Her poetry is her heart on paper, and it explores her strained relationship with her mother, cultural expectations, religion, first love, and heartbreak. The story, as a whole, brings the power of poetry and love to life.

For fans of audiobooks, the author narrates the audio version of this book, and it is highly recommended as well!



The middle level teachers voted Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake as their favourite title in the middle level relay.

ivyThis coming of age novel follows the journey of Ivy, a 12 year old girl whose life is in turmoil in so many ways. Her house was wiped away by a Tornado, her mother recently had twin boys, and she feels lost in so many ways. But what confuses her and scares her the most is that she doesn’t feel the same way about boys as her best friend…she feels that way about girls, and she’s not sure if her family, her friends, and her town will accept her for who she is. This beautifully written book explores topics that will resonate with so many middle level readers.



Although these titles were voted as the favourites, as teachers of readers, we were able to discuss how all the titles we read would be loved by different students, and how much we appreciated having the opportunity to fill some of our book gaps.

And then we had cake!







Captured Memories Cover.pngTap. Tap. Tap.

Have you felt the silent shoulder tap prompting you to do something?

My taps began in July. I was planning for my upcoming grade 9 English class and considering new opportunities for learning. Tap. Tap. Find ways to connect teens and seniors. Discuss the role that stereotypes play in our lives. Help students understand their role in their community. Every time I picked up a book, a story, or an article I was drawn to selections that explored these ideas.

In late September I traveled to New York City with a team of teachers to visit the annual Maker Faire – an interactive display by passionate learners. The taps struck again. Find authentic writing and publishing opportunities for your students. Take learning beyond your classroom walls.

And so, the inspiration for this intergenerational writing project was born.

With the assistance and encouragement of Katie Prescott – a Literacy Lead with Anglophone School District West – our project was launched. Students began reading and talking about the relationship between teens and seniors. Together, we questioned the stereotypes that try to define us, and we sought to understand how we can move past them.

We reached out to a local seniors’ residence and invited a group to join us in our school library. They each brought a cherished object that had an important memory connected to it. What ensued was a delightful hour of storytelling, listening, connecting, and understanding. The nervous energy in the room quickly melted into comfortable conversation as smiles and laughter dominated the atmosphere. Our guests felt welcomed and valued, and students realized the power of responsibility and service.

The weeks that followed were filled with writing, editing, and rewriting as we sought to carefully craft the stories of our guests. We learned a lot about a writer’s voice and the impact of words. When writing for an authentic audience, precision matters. We wanted these stories to be just right.

As a grade 9 English class at Fredericton High School, we learned many lessons throughout the project, sometimes in unexpected ways:

  • We are writers and our words are important.
  • We have stories, regardless of our age, and these stories deserve care and respect.
  • We are more than stereotypes.
  • We can overcome fear and doubt through careful preparation and a determination to succeed.

This project confirmed for me the importance of heeding the silent tap on the shoulder. I witnessed students stepping up to their responsibility in a way that does not happen in a regular classroom environment. The compassion and care demonstrated by my grade 9 students is proof and comfort that our future is in good hands.

Valerie Marshall is a grades 9 and 12 English teacher at Fredericton High School. She believes every student has a voice to be heard, a talent to be explored, and an opinion to be valued. Her best days are spent with students, sharing ideas and learning together.

** To see an overview of this project on local media sources, click on the following links:

Initial Interviews with Seniors – CBC Video – November 29th, 2018

Presentation of Books to Seniors – CBC Article – May 20th, 2019