Margin Notes

Guest Student Writer Paige J. Albert Recommends Maybe A Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Dec
13

Maybe a Fox is a heartbreaker of a read, showing an eleven-year-old girl’s devastation at her sister’s sudden unexpected death and a fox hidden in the woods that will stop at nothing to help the young human.

Jules Sherman’s father had one golden rule, “never go near the Slip”. Her sister had one golden wish, “to run faster”. Jules still had the mitten that had slipped off Sylvie’s fingers when she tried to restrain her sister from running into the woods to toss her wish rock in the river. But Sylvie had gotten away. She had run too fast. And the Slip had taken her as a prize. They never found her body. Now Jules must find a way to keep hold of her sister, like the mother whose memory had dribbled through her fingers like water, leaving barely a wisp of anything for her to remember.

A parallel story develops alongside Jules’-deep in the woods, a fox is born. From the very first day, Senna, the young fox, knew that she was meant to find someone. She tingled with energy to track down the human girl she was destined to serve.

As the book progresses, Sylvie, Jules and Senna’s stories intertwine.  When Senna places a strand of the headband that Sylvie was wearing the day she died at Jules’ feet, Jules is plunged into a mystery and her burning desire to understand her sister’s wish intensifies. Jules will stop at nothing to solve her mystery, even if it means breaking her father’s golden rule.

Maybe a Fox is a beautifully structured novel that perfectly demonstrated the oblivion felt after a loss and the extreme measures to which people will go in order to do what they believe will heal them. Its burning display of characters driven by a dream is comparable to Beth Hautala’s, Waiting for Unicorns and Kathi Appelt’s, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Though it was a rather simple read, the raw emotions were crafted into words in a way that everybody can relate to. Maybe a Fox will keep you pressed between its pages long after you’ve finished reading.

Bio:

Paige is a 13-year-old student at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Outside of school, Paige is involved in Highland dance and enjoys creative writing, drawing and spending time on her scooter. Paige is passionate about literature and is more than pleased to share her personal opinions on various novels so that other children like her can share in the joy of reading a good book.

Guest Writer Meghan Lyons Recommends The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Dec
10

The fact that this book is about wolves, a girl who trains them, a rescue mission to save her imprisoned mother and that it takes place in the cold forest of northern Russia, makes “The Wolf Wilder” my favourite read of 2018.

Feodora, or Feo, is a young girl growing up in the frozen forests of Russia. Both she and her mother rescue abandoned wolves that have been dropped off in the forest by their owners who no longer can handle their wild pets. Their job is to retrain them to be wolves again. How to hunt. How to sense danger. How to survive.

Their unique job attracts the attention of a local army general who shows up at their cabin and takes Feo’s mother hostage. He is well known for exerting his evil power on the people in the surrounding villages. Feo manages to escape, but not before injuring the general. With her pack of wolves, she embarks of a long, cold journey to rescue her mother with the help of an unlikely group of children who also want to stand against the oppression from the general.

If you like adventure, unique settings, and girl power, this book is for you…oh, and wolves are pretty cool too!

Bio:

Meghan usually teaches grade 6, 7 and 8 in Stanley, New Brunswick but is on deferred leave this year working on her Masters in Education.

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

Dec
06

Christopher Johnson begins Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by explaining that we are living in the age of The Incredible Shrinking Message.

“Some of the most important verbal messages we encounter are also the shortest. Headlines, titles, brand names, domain names, sound bites, slogans, taglines, catchphrases, email subject lines, text messages, elevator pitches, bullet points, tweets, and Facebook status updates are a few examples.”

Johnson goes on to define microstyle:

“Messages of just a word, a phrase, or a short sentence or two—micromessages—lean heavily on every word and live or die by the tiniest stylistic choices. Micromessages depend not on the elements of style, but on the atoms of style. They require microstyle.”

Microstyle highlights many examples of short micromessages we encounter in day-to-day life and analyses what makes them effective or, in some cases, ineffective (and humorous). Through these examples and nonexamples, Johnson identifies the key ingredients of powerful and memorable micromessages.

His focus on taglines, those short memorable catchphrases or slogans often used to market movies, tv shows, and brands, made me think about possible classroom applications. Taglines are meant to capture and communicate the most important details or features of a product with precision and clarity, so why not invite students to create their own taglines to:

* summarize their learning,

* describe the book they are reading,

* identify the purpose of a piece of writing they are working on,

* introduce themselves to others,

* articulate the gist of a text,

* put words to an image,

* describe their performance on a task, or

* give feedback to a peer.

Creating taglines and other micromessages can be a quick, easy, and creative way to encourage students to consolidate and share their learning.

Guest Writer Sarah Bacon Recommends Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Dec
03

Good Bye Days is a novel that will no doubt touch the hearts of all who read it but it is especially relevant to high school students.

“Where are you guys?” are the four words that forever changed Carver Briggs’s life. A simple text message results in a fatal car crash, taking the lives of his three best friends, Eli, Mars and Blake The novel follows that aftermath of the tragedy, and the impact that the death of his friends has not only on him but their families. Carver can’t help but feel responsible for the accident and does not know how to move forward. One can’t help but feel Carver’s pain, as it is so raw and real. This novel sheds light not only on the importance of not texting and driving but how to make a wrong right and move forward.

Unfortunately, Carver is not the only who feels that he is to blame for the death of his three friends. Mars’s father is an influential attorney who is making sure that the accident is investigated, and Eli’s twin sister is using her social status at school to make Carver feel even more alone.

Carver does not have many people in his life whom he can trust and find support. Blake’s grandmother reaches out to Carver and asks him to help her say goodbye to her grandson. She proposes that they spend one day together sharing memories and doing everything that she would do with her grandson Blake if she had just one last day with him. The other families learn about the “Good Bye Day” and want the same for themselves. Carver wants to help his friends’ families grieve, but at what cost?

Bio:

I am a grade 9 English teacher, wife and mother of a three-year-old. I do my best at keeping up with the latest young adult novels, as I strongly believe in knowing what my students are reading.

Try This Tomorrow: Judging a Book by Its Cover

Nov
29

Judge

Literary Hub is one of my favorite bookish websites.  They regularly post round-ups of their favorite book covers of the month with brief explanations about their choices-for example-October, September, and August .

These brief reactions make terrific mentors for students to pay attention to and reflect on the covers of the books they are reading.  Why not ask students to discuss if the cover played a part in their book selection, whether or not the cover captures the essence of the book, what connections they can make between the cover and the content, how the cover has changed over different editions, etc.?  Students can read these round-ups to create a running list of options for commenting on book covers.

Designer Chip Kidd has made a career of trying to make readers judge a book by its cover.  This Time photo essay highlights some of his most iconic covers.

So, go ahead and judge a book by its cover and invite your students to do the same.

Craft Studio: Takedown by Laura Shovan

Nov
26

What I Was Reading

Takedown is a wonderful middle-grade novel about wrestling, friendship, and facing stereotypes. Mikayla “Mickey” Delgado is ready to start a new season of wrestling. This year she is excited to finally be able to compete with the Eagles, however, her coach has different ideas about girls wrestling competitively. Lev Sofer is determined to make it to State this year. He’ll have to defeat his biggest competitor and nemesis, Nick Spence, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes. After they are paired as practice partners, Mickey and Lev develop a friendship. Unfortunately, the reality is that only one of them can win.

In this passage, Lev is reflecting on his love for the sport of wrestling:

“Why do I love this sport? Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend? It’s cold enough to freeze the boogers inside my nose. But late this morning I’ll have a great match. I’ll feel my opponent hesitate for a second, my instincts will kick in, and the other guy will be on his chest and Slap! The ref’s hand will come down and I’ll be standing in the center of the mat, victorious.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* This short paragraph is organized as a question-and-answer. The first question is general, but the second one, “Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend?” acknowledges that Lev recognizes that the commitments required by his beloved sport might not hold the same appeal for everyone. He then answers his own question with the best-case scenario: a victory.

* The specific detail about the temperature being “cold enough to freeze the boogers in my nose” makes the early morning travel seem even less appealing. This small observation also adds authenticity and personality to the description.

* As Lev goes on to answer his own question, he begins the first sentence with “but,” signalling that he is transitioning from the negative aspects of his sport to the positive. He acknowledges the challenges, but he is going to tell us about the things that make them worth it. He envisions a victory that will compensate for all of the hard work and sacrifice.

* The sound effect “Slap!” adds energy to this brief scene. Lev is imagining every detail down to the sound of the ref’s hand on the mat when he pins his opponent.

* The structure of the final sentence adds a nice element of sentence variety. It also ensures that the last word is the most important of all, “victorious.”

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Describe something you love (or maybe something you don’t) by trying out this organizing structure:

Why do I love (despise) __________? It’s… But…

* Find a place in your notebook where you can revise a description by adding a detail like “It’s __________ enough to __________” so that you also reveal something about the speaker through the comparison they are making.

* Add a sound or action detail to a description.

Craft Studio: 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow

Nov
22

Vote

What I Was Reading

I subscribe to the Literary Hub Newsletter.  It is a never-ending source of excellent information and inspiration.  On November 5, the day before the US Midterm Elections, they posted 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow: “To remind you of just what’s at stake in tomorrow’s elections, we thought we’d do something a little different and turn to those contemporary fiction writers who have brought some of the most pressing issues currently facing this country to the forefront of their recent work.”

 What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

 Each of the twelve selections in this collection is accompanied by a very short summary followed by a brief review that combines summary, reflection, and analysis. (more…)

Craft Studio: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Nov
19

What I Was Reading:

Puddin’ is the much-anticipated and equally joyous companion to Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Puddin’ focuses on Millie Michalchuk and Callie Reyes, two characters we met in Dumplin’. Millie and Callie seem to have little to nothing in common, yet they are brought together unexpectedly when Millie identifies Callie on security footage taken the night her uncle’s gym is vandalized. Callie, who mistakenly blames the members of her dance team for turning her in, begins working with Millie at the gym to repay her debt. I loved this book as much as I loved Dumplin’, which tells you a lot!

The book opens with an introduction to Millie:

“I’m a list maker. Write it down. (Using my gel pens and a predetermined color scheme, of course.) Make it happen. Scratch it off. There is no greater satisfaction than a notebook full of beautifully executed lists. (more…)

Guest Student Writer Paige J. Albert Recommends Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Nov
15

Finding Perfect is an emotional story arraying a twelve-year-old girl’s heartbreak at her parent’s separation alongside her struggling attempt to tame her unhealthy requirement of obsessive perfection. Molly Nathans isn’t just a hardcore perfectionist, for her, the need for perfection is absolutely quintessential. After her parent’s sudden separation resulting in Molly’s mother leaving in pursuit of her juice business in Toronto, Molly’s organizing fixation doubles. And now it is not only a strange mania but an actual neurosis. Molly thrives to perfect everything into the late hours of the night, fails to complete tests if her writing isn’t ruler straight and ceaselessly counts by four in order to obtain her idea of perfection. And topping her crazy tower of rituals is the nonsensical belief that if she stops, her little brother, Ian, will get hurt.

When Molly enters a slam poetry competition, she’s convinced that her winning will bring her mother home again. But as she progresses into the competition and her perfection compulsion worsens, Molly’s life is flipped upside down and no matter of measuring, counting or straightening can right it this time.

Finding Perfect was a very interesting novel. It showed the struggle to hide and put on a brave face that everybody just assumes is your normal. Molly’s story has the prospective to urge kids in similar conditions to seek help along with the potential to enhance awareness of mental health disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and Tourette’s Syndrome which are often overlooked as minor complications in our society.

I suggest this story to lovers of books such as Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Melanie Conklin’s Counting Thyme. Each of these books describes the medical struggles of unique, characteristic girls that are striving to both save something and escape from a difficult situation in their lives. Finding Perfect will make you remember Molly longer than you ever expected.

Bio:

Paige is a 13-year-old student at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Outside of school, Paige is involved in Highland dance and enjoys creative writing, drawing and spending time on her scooter. Paige is passionate about literature and is more than pleased to share her personal opinions on various novels so that other children like her can share in the joy of reading a good book.

Craft Studio: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu

Nov
13

What I Was Reading

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu explores the aftermath of a tragedy shared by a group of girls on a canoe trip at summer camp. It traces the threads of the experience and its impact on each of the girls—Nita, Andie, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan—through their teens and into adulthood.

The novel opens with a scene from camp, in 1994, with the campers on the dock singing the official camp song:

“They stood straight-backed and solemn-faced as soldiers in formation, even the ones who itched to squirm, to collapse into their natural posture, who were rolling their toes in their shoes and humming to themselves, squeezing their lips in their fingers to suppress a bubble of nervous laughter.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* I was immediately impressed by the complexity of this sentence and how, thanks to the skillful use of hyphens and commas, Kim Fu managed to pack so much detail into it.

* The pair of compound adjectives, “straight-backed and solemn-faced,” combined with the simile comparing the girls to soldiers in formation adds efficiency and precision to the description of the girls.

* The rest of the sentence, marked by the use of “even the ones…,” describes the girls who are struggling to stifle laughter and the careful organization of the details makes what might have been two or three separate sentences flow perfectly as one. The details are organized into a series of phrases and the use of repetition helps me as a reader link the individual phrases together and see the description as a whole: to squirm and to collapse, who itched and who were rolling, humming and squeezing.

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this sentence as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Use this sentence as a model to write one of your own, trying out some of the same moves Kim Fu has used.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a series of short sentences that can be combined into a single sentence using commas.

* Be on the look-out for other interesting sentence structures in your reading.