Margin Notes




The Trail Cover

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto is the survival story of 12 year old Toby, a boy set on hiking the Appalachian trail solo. The power of The Trail comes from its relatability. Unlike some of the other great young adventure stories like Hatchet, middle school readers could realistically attain some of the same experiences that Toby does. Especially for students that are close to the setting geographically (anyone in southern New Brunswick), hiking part of the Appalachian Trail is a realistic goal. Mt. Katahdin, Toby’s destination, is a mere two and a half hours from Fredericton. In this same vein of relatability, the author introduces the equipment and processes involved in the world of hiking in very accessible ways, ensuring that all readers, regardless of background knowledge, become immersed in the daily realities of hiking and back country

Toby’s adventures, while set in the demanding physical environment of the Appalachian Trail, encompass the psychological, social and emotional as well. In the end, his battles with the elements, his past, and the people he runs into along the way, teach him how to trust himself so that he can move forward in spite of the pain the world throws his way and the uncertainty we all face in making decisions when there is no trail to follow, no clear answer to what we should do.

Students close to the same age as Toby will probably get the most out of The Trail, however anyone who enjoys outdoor adventure stories will enjoy The Trail. That being said, it is worthwhile to note that one of the strengths of The Trail is its ability to make hiking and back-country camping relatable and understandable to people for whom these things are completely foreign concepts, and may just inspire kids to get outside and see what experiencing nature through hiking is all about!

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.



Since joining Twitter in April, 2015 I by the inspiring, interesting, useful, creative, and practical ideas and resources available to me every single time I drop in, no matter what time of day or night.  Sometimes when I recommend Twitter as a source of personal professional learning and collegial connections, educators express concern that they don’t have time.

I thought it would be interesting to set a timer for 10 minutes, log onto Twitter, and show you what I find.  I’ve included Twitter accounts so that you can expand your professional learning network if you are not already following these accounts.

The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s via @Time: This list is surely to create debate as well as offer a few new TBR titles.

A List of 14 Children’s Books About Families of All Kinds via @pragmaticmom:Friendly reminder…picture books are fantastic for readers of all ages!

The NCTE Statement on Independent Reading via @NCTE: “Protecting this instructional time is imperative to supporting students in building strong reading habits that will carry outside of the classroom and create lifelong readers.”

Little Beasts: When did it become cute to dress kids up like a different kind of animal? via @Slate: This would be an interesting mentor text for writing to explore a recent trend.

An Interview with Steve Gardiner called How Sustained Silent Reading Keeps Students Curious and Engaged via @KeystoneReading: Gardiner reminds us of the benefits of daily independent reading and explains why 10-15 minutes of each day has a greater impact than one hour per week.

Comic Sans Turns 25: Graphic Designer Vincent Connare Explains Why he Created the Most Hated Font in the World via @goose_lane:An entertaining and informative history of Comic Sans and why we (love to) hate it.

Using Twitter as a professional learning tool doesn’t require a large investment of time. Just a few minutes each day is all you need to find ideas and resources and to connect with other educators. The challenge is not finding interesting things in ten minutes on Twitter, it’s limiting yourself to only ten minutes!



As teachers of reading, we know the importance and the power of book talks to increase the volume of our students’ reading. One type of book talk you may want to try is the Read-Alike Book Talk, where you take a book that has been flying off the shelf of your classroom library and share titles that have similar themes or characters or are of a similar genre. The following read-alikes for Refugee by Alan Gratz are a combination of titles written in verse and letter forms, graphic novels, pictures books, and biographies.


Refugee by Alan Gratz has been one of the most popular books in classrooms over the past few years. It is a historical (and present day) fiction novel that teaches us about what it was/is like to flee a country, seek refuge, and begin again. The novel tells three stories in three different time periods, all told through the eyes of three children. These children, Josef from Nazi Germany (1938), Isabel from Cuba (1994), and Mahmoud from Syria (2015) remind us to always, always have compassion and kindness for those around us, to not be ignorant, and to stand for what is right.

The Night Diary.jpgThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani tells Nisha’s story in India in 1947 when her country separated into India and Pakistan, creating division and violence between Hindus and Muslims as they fled their homes to cross the borders to safety. Nisha is half-Muslim and half-Hindu, leaving her feeling even more confused about where she belongs. When Nisha’s family decides to leave their home and become refugees, Nisha writes about her journey in letters to her mom, who died when she was born.


Other Words for Home.jpgOther Words for Home by Jasmine Warga follows Jude and her pregnant mother as they are forced to flee Syria and move to America, leaving her brother and father behind. As Jude adjusts to a new culture while also longing for her home, she realizes, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time.” She is so wise and brave as she begins to find her way to feeling a sense of belonging while also feeling deep fear about her family’s safety back in Syria.


Inside Out and Back Again.jpgInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a historical fiction novel in verse that tells 10-year-old Hà’s story as she, along with her mom and brothers, are forced to leave their home in Saigon in 1975 because of the Vietnam War. After traveling by ship and spending time in a refugee camp, her family moves to Alabama to establish a new home. Hà dreams of what her new home will be like, but when she is met with racism, bullying, and constant worry about her father, adjusting to life in America is more difficult than she had hoped.


Grenade.jpgGrenade by Alan Gratz is a historical fiction novel that takes place on the island of Okinawa during World War II. When the Americans arrive on Okinawa to fight the Japanese, a group of middle school boys, including Hideki Kaneshiro, are recruited and given two grenades: one to kill an American soldier and one to kill themselves. Ray is an American Marine whose first mission is on Okinawa. When Hideki and Ray meet in the middle of a battle, they have some difficult decisions to make.


Sea Prayer.jpgSea Prayer [by Khaled Hosseini] was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015. In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.” This picture book is a letter a father writes to his young son about their home before the war and during their journey to escape the terror that came. He writes of his memories, his fears, his hopes, his promises, his love.


White Bird.jpgWhite Bird by R.J. Palacio is a graphic novel about one young Jewish girl being separated from her parents and hidden away by another family during The Holocaust during WWII. This beautiful story reminds readers of the powerful and miraculous nature of kindness and courage.



Anne Frank.jpgAnne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation beautifully illustrates Anne Frank’s voice and spirit from her diary, which details her experiences and feelings while being hidden away in a secret annex in her father’s business building for two years during The Holocaust.




The Unwanted.jpg

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, a non-fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Don Brown, details facts, timelines, and world politics while also telling of the horrors, the losses, the pain and the hope many Syrian refugees have experiences and continue to experience as they have fled a war zone and tried to find new homes.



Escape from Syria.jpgEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit is a graphic novel that humanizes the current events in Syria and the realities Syrian refugees are facing today in camps and during resettlement in their new homes. The story is told by Amina as her family is forced to flee Aleppo, seek refuge in Lebanon, and cross the ocean to find a new home in the West.


Let me tell you my story.jpgLet Me Tell You My Story: Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage, and Humanity is the compilation of photos and stories collected by a group of photographers, filmmakers, painters, and writers over the course of two years as they documented the flood of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa to find a new home in the West. This collection is beautiful, haunting, and authentic.



This is Not a Love LetterThis is Not a Love Letter is not entirely truthful in its title; though it isn’t a love letter per se, it is most definitely NOT lacking in love, nor the many other emotions the reader is certain to feel while reading this book.

When we first meet Jessie, the protagonist of the novel, she is just about to hear some devastating news; her boyfriend, Chris, has gone missing, and it seems there are reasons to worry about his whereabouts. We travel with Jessie through her physical search for Chris, and also through her search into the past for clues as to what may have happened. Kim Purcell tells a tale of heartbreak and hope, love and loss, and, more than anything, created real characters for whom we both laugh and cry.

As an adult reader, I can feel Jessie’s pain as clearly as though it’s my own, and her questions about her past and her future remind me of my own adolescence. For the young adult readers in our classrooms, Jessie can be a source of comfort, as students see that they are not alone in trying to navigate the world around them and the multi-faceted relationships in their lives. Jessie’s story is both simple and complex, making it very relatable. This book may be just right for the reader who is interested in a story where race and/or mental health struggles are issues of concern.

You will wish that you could climb into the pages to redirect these characters on where they are about to go wrong, but be prepared for the heaviness of plot and atmosphere. This is Not a Love Letter is a read that will make you want to keep your tissues handy.

Noella Jeong is a grade 9 teacher, mother of 4, and avid reader. She loves to explore young adult fiction as a way to connect with her students, and to also help guide them in their choices.

#ASDWREADS October Winners!


Congratulations to Jane Burke, Megan Young-Jones, and Melissa Canam for winning #ASDWReads for the month of October! Your prizes will arrive soon! You can enter our November draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker


Since reading The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker, I have found myself approaching my environment and regular routines differently. My trip to Costco last weekend became a The Art of Noticingwriting opportunity as I found myself taking Walker’s advice and mentally creating a “Field Guide to Cart Behaviors at Costco.”

Walker explains that “paying attention, making a habit of noticing, helps cultivate an original perspective, a distinct point of view.” But paying attention isn’t easy. To help us develop a habit of noticing, The Art of Noticing offers 131 “opportunities for joyous exploration in all it’s dimensions,” rated by degree of difficulty from “So Easy—Anybody can do this right now,” to “Advanced—Noticing has become an adventure.”

The exercises are grouped into five categories: Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others, and Being Alone. They are designed to “serve that spirit of curiosity and joy, whether it’s in the service of productive aims or leisure.” Many of the exercises have been inspired by the works of writers, artists, filmmakers, researchers, and Walker’s own students. For example, “Start a Collection” is based on a poetry collection by Rob Forbes, the founder or Design Within Reach, and “Take a Scent Walk” is modeled after smellwalks organized by urban planner and writer Victoria Henshaw. Links to many of the works referenced are available on At the end of the book, Walker invites readers to invent their own exercise in noticing and share it with him on his website.

This morning I challenged myself to try out “Find Something You Weren’t Looking For” as I walked a common route in the neighborhood where I have lived for almost twenty years. At a house I have passed almost daily on my walks, I noticed three small brass horse figurines perched in a window. Not only had I never noticed them, I spent the rest of my walk wondering about them. Were they a gift? Something purchased as a keepsake on a trip? Were they placed there so the owner or the public could better admire them, or both? That led me to pay more attention to other items decorating window ledges and soon enough I found two white ceramic cats looking out at me.

The Art of Noticing is a unique and fascinating book. Readers can dip into it for a few pages or read it cover-to-cover.  Many of the noticing exercises would work well with writer’s notebooks to encourage writers to be more curious about possibilities for writing in the world around them. If I can find writing inspiration at Costco, I can assure you that The Art of Noticing will help you engage with your surroundings on a more creative level.



ShoeDog.jpgIt seems like the iconic Nike swoosh has been around forever, but how did this empire actually begin? In Shoe Dog, Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, introduces readers to the world of dreams, ideas, and struggles he experienced on his way to becoming an international sports equipment manufacturer.

This memoir is a raw account of the challenges Knight faced as he began to follow through on his dream to begin a company to import high quality, low cost running shoes from Japan. From that awkward moment of asking to borrow fifty dollars for his first shipment from his father, to quickly being notified that, “…the Bank of Dad, he said, is now closed…”, Knight reveals the challenges he faced as he pursued his dreams.

As a member of the University of Oregon’s track team, Knight began to dream about designing a better running shoe. Once an MBA student at Stanford University, he began to examine the prospect of having Japan manufacture running shoes. What seemed like a far-fetched idea began to take hold when he discovered that his shoe import business, Blue Ribbon Sports, was selling the shoes faster than the factory could produce them.

Knight does not sugar-coat his journey to success. He speaks candidly about the financial struggles he endured and the unconventional methods employed to establish his company. From hiring an art student for thirty-five dollars to design the Nike logo, to selling running shoes out of the trunk of his car, Knight’s methods may have appeared unconventional, but they established him as a no-nonsense businessman.

Shoe Dog is not a list of “How To” steps, or a checklist for starting a business; it is simply an honest account of one man’s journey. It is honest and unapologetic. Knight concludes his memoir with a candid comment: “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick. She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.

Reading Conferences: Three Things I Know About You


I am working with a teacher in grade 8 on intentionally building a community of readers, writers, and thinkers, and now that we have shared our own reading identity numerous times with the students, we are ready to help them to know more about themselves as readers.

We were inspired once again by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s book, Cultivating Readers, and tried out an idea they have on p.40 called, “Three Things Reading Conference”. We had administered a reading survey the second week of school and from this we gleaned three things we learned about each student, wrote it on a recipe card, and sat down to chat with them.

What we liked about starting with three things about them was that it lent validity to the reading survey (we actually used it for something rather than it just being a time filler or homework assignment), it was a gentle way to start our first conferences vs getting students to read from their book and ask them strategy/skill based questions, and the students felt connected to us through this simple act of caring and showing interest in them as readers.

We found the conversations full of helpful information to move the students to better recognize their own reading identity so they can become more adept at finding books they can enjoy. Plus, there were many assessment opportunities, especially in the area of reading strategies and behaviours.

Below are examples of the recipe cards with the initial information from the reading surveys (the bullets) and the anecdotal notes made after our first conversations:



Best FriendsBest Friends, a graphic novel by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham, tells Shannon’s story of transitioning from being a “kid” to being a “tween” as she enters middle school: balancing wanting to play and pretend with wanting to be accepted and cool.

Shannon’s story reflects her experiences with anxiety that are unpredictable and often unexplainable. As she grows older and becomes more aware of the world around her, and the possible tragedies it could offer, her anxiety becomes more difficult to understand and control. Thinking back to my own childhood, I could personally relate to her fears of her parents dying and her house burning down, while also battling the very real feelings of fear and irrational coping mechanisms: “Maybe she’s [her mom] okay because I worried. Maybe I need to keep worrying so that she stays safe” (p. 155). I think many students will be able to relate to these feelings too.

Shannon authentically tells her story of growing up and heading into middle school with her experiences of being left out, trying to fit in, what values she compromises for popularity, being preyed on by an older boy, not being ready to “like boys”, and being worried about what it means to say, “No.” One of her childhood coping mechanisms illustrated in this graphic novel is her use of visual art and storytelling as therapy and a way to process her experiences. This allows her the opportunity to try out ways of responding to situations, to fail without repercussions, and possible ways to find her inner truth and power.

As a teacher, Shannon’s story also reminds me of the power of our words. When Shannon tells her teacher that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, her teacher responds, “The evidence would suggest that you already are a writer” (p. 215). This simple, and maybe even unrecognized, encouragement empowers Shannon to stay true to who she is in all parts of her life.

In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Shannon tells her readers that she hopes we have room to make mistakes. This reminds me that whether we are going down a new, unfamiliar road, taking a risk, meeting new people, moving to a new city, or taking on an unexpected surprise, these experiences may be full of fear, but they are also full of possibility and hope.



As we continue to build community in our classrooms by modeling our own reading identity, another easy way to make our reading lives visible is with this great bulletin board/classroom door/out in the hallway idea. Check out these displays by Mrs. Muise at Ridgeview Middle School and Ms. Bourgaize at Fredericton High School:

You can photocopy the cover of your book, write it on a piece of paper, display the books, or use a whiteboard: the point is that the students see you as a reader. It’s a conversational starting point; it’s authentic, and it’s a great way to share your reading life with your students. Making your reading life visible will inevitably lead to discussions about books you loved, abandoned, struggled to finish, new authors you discovered, genres you tried for the first time – all the reader-to-reader conversations we want to be having with our students.