Margin Notes



In Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities, Susie Wise explains the importance of belonging:

Belonging helps us to be fully human. It gives us permission to share our talents and express our life force. It enables cooperation, collaboration, and the ability to work across difference. It emboldens our creativity and our problem-solving abilities. When people feel like they belong, they are able to be their best and do their best.

According to Wise, we can all design spaces that help people feel they belong, and she represents this intersection of belonging and design as “belonging + design = new ways of bringing people together, or new ways of people being together.”

Belonging means that we feel accepted and that we can show up as our authentic selves; we also feel that as a member of the community we can raise issues and challenge ideas. In contrast, othering is treating people who belong to a different group or community as inferior.

We can shape belonging and avoid othering by using what Wise calls the levers of design. These levers are tools that help us move toward the goal of creating spaces where people feel safe to participate fully. They help us experiment with new ways of engaging with others.

  • Space: cues us to what, how, and who we can be
  • Roles: because they are designed as part of systems, they can be redesigned to create belonging
  • Events: designing an event is crafting the experience, so belonging must be a through-line
  • Rituals: help us focus on personal, interpersonal, and communal meaning-making
  • Grouping: to foster belonging, be specific about what you hope to achieve by designing group structures
  • Communications: be aware that all communications send explicit and implicit messages about who belongs and who does not
  • Clothing: can act as a symbol of belonging
  • Food: is sometimes an opportunity for coming together
  • Schedules and Rhythms: can play an important role if they are designed to support people and their needs.

No matter what role we play, we can be reflective about whether or not our interactions create belonging or othering. When we become aware of the levers of belonging in our own communities, we can begin to use them with intention. Although this book is not specific to education, there are countless spaces educators can apply these principles to design and redesign spaces within our classrooms and school communities to foster belonging.




What I was reading:

Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackwell is a collection of small and large joys. She acknowledges that there are many big long-term achievements to look forward to but we can also look forward to the everyday things. She describes these as “things that will buoy our spirits and make us laugh and help us feel alive and that will bring others comfort and hope.”


Moves I noticed the author make:

The moves can change with every selection! Here is one example:


If we are lucky, when the rain has stopped and a fine mist hangs in the air, sunlight might enter through tiny droplets, bend as it hits each surface, bounce off the back wall of the raindrop, and bend again as it exits. And if we happen to be standing facing away from the sun and raising our sights 42 degrees, that refracted, reflected, and dispersed light might form a shimmering rainbow. Then we can make a wish. 



  • Uses the “if, and, then” format
  • Descriptive wording – “tiny droplets/shimmering rainbow”
  • Repetitive sounds – “bend/bounce/back”
  • Uses tiny details – “raising our sights 42 degrees”
  • Rule of three – “refracted, reflected, and dispersed”

 Possibilities for writers:

  • Notice something in the text.
  • Name what it is that you noticed.
  • Talk about what impact of what you noticed.
  • Choose a symbol in your own life and try using this writer’s craft to write about any 
  • Using the “if, and, then” format, write your own passage of Things to Look Forward to.
  • Zoom in a moment to write in descriptive, tiny details.
  • Try out the rule of three in a descriptive writing paragraph.




“The Ivies” by Alexa Donne is a YA novel that follows five high-achieving students at Caflin Academy as they compete for admission into the most sought-after colleges. Told from the perspective of Olivia, a scholarship student, the story drops readers immediately into a web of both thrilling and unsettling manipulation, sabotage, and deceit orchestrated by her and the other four members of “The Ivies”:  Emma, Margo, Sierra, Avery.

Avery (the self-appointed leader) had dictated that the girls that they each pick a different Ivy college to apply to, both to increase their chance of admission and to avoid internal competition inside the group. Avery had claimed Harvard as her own however both Olivia and Emma applied in secret. Harvard rejects Avery but Olivia and Emma are accepted. Olivia stays quiet about her own acceptance, but Emma admits hers, and there is huge drama between Avery and Emma. The next day Emma is dead.

After Emma’s murder, Olivia starts to question everything she knows about her friends and the cutthroat world of elite college admissions. As she delves deeper into the investigation, she realizes that her friends may be willing to do whatever it takes – including murder – to get ahead. Although Olivia receives ominous threats, she refuses to leave the investigation alone, and as a reader, you are thankful she keeps digging!

This story explores themes of ambition, competition, race, and privilege, and raises questions about the toxic culture of elite schools and the pressures that students face to succeed. It is a suspenseful and twisty thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. Fans of Karen McManus will surely enjoy this title.



What I Was Reading:

All My Rage by Sabba Tahir takes us from Lahore, Pakistan (then) to recount the story of Misbah and Toufiq (who are Salahudin’s parents) to (now) in Juniper, California to join the stories of Salahudin and his best-friend, Noor.

It is a fantastic YA novel told in three points of view– tackling issues of Islamophobia, alcoholism, and domestic violence; while also exploring the pressures of high school, the heartbreak of family, the beauty of friendship and the gift of forgiveness and compassion. Heartbreaking and tender, well worth the read.

What Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

Tahir makes some writerly craft choices worth exploring: using repetition, italics, and single word sentences that follow the rule of three.

  • The first repetition is the italicized “ Bang. Bang” taken from her reference to a song which is punctuated with the actual sound of gunshots. (Many young readers will likely get this reference.)
  • Her next paragraph employs the rule of three: the names of the three Universities that she has been rejected from in single word sentences, one after another– just like the gunshots. And, followed by yet another magic three: the repetition of the word rejection. Each letter, each rejection, are like gunshots to her hopes.

Here is the passage:

The letters come in hard and fast. Like the gunshots in M.I.A’s “Paper Planes.” Bang. Bang. Bang.

Yale. Columbia. Cornell.

Rejected. Rejected. Rejected.

  • The book itself is divided into six parts. Each part opens with a stanza from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art.” Noor selects the poem for her English analysis essay because she liked the first sentence. Or, she amends: “Well. Sort of. Mostly I picked it because it’s short. But it’s also weird. It’s about misplacing stuff, like keys and houses. How the hell do you misplace a house?” But the poem is really about accepting loss as inevitable. And so is this novel.

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

  • Tahir gives us Noor’s inner thoughts as she reveals the veneer of Noor’s college admission essays, juxtaposing the truth next to what she actually submits.

A problem I solved. (Truth: heartbreak. What I wrote: a poor English grade.)

A life-altering experience. (Truth: my entire family dying and the smell of their bodies rotting around me. What I wrote: working at Juniper Hospital.)

My biggest life challenge. (Truth: they don’t want to know. What I wrote: bullying in high school.)

  • Throughout the novel Noor is plugged into music or at the very least referring to it. Here is (a mostly complete) Noor’s Playlist. It already has some songs I do love, wonder what else I may discover? Check it out here.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Experiment with the rule of three repetition in your own writing.
  • Play with one word sentences and short paragraphs to create effects in your writing.
  • Use the stanzas of a poem to create an outline for a piece of writing.
  • Play with offering a character’s (or your own) inner thoughts. You can copy Tahir’s set-up of: Truth… and What I Wrote… or Truth… and What I Was Really Thinking…
  • Make a playlist inspired by a novel you are reading. What might the characters listen to? What songs would be perfect background for a scene? Or, do you characters actually refer to songs, movies or other texts that may help you compile a playlist?

Michelle Wuest is and English teacher & SPR at Leo Hayes High School with over 20 years helping students find the right book. When not teaching or reading you’ll find her tap dancing, practicing yoga, walking her Doodle, seeing live music with her husband, or listening to her son rattle of random NFL stats for the eleventy-billionth time.



”I think you can make a declaration in your heart about who you want to be. But then you have to reflect that in your actions. You have to make it real.”

You know the Nike ad that set shoes on fire and you have heard of the kneeling. What happened before? Colin Kaepernick’s memoir Change the Game tells his story of being a Black student, adopted by White parents and attending a largely White school. Everyone in his life is encouraging him to pursue baseball and accept one of the offers that come his way.  It’s the story of how it can be a challenge to go against the majority and listen to yourself instead.

Many readers will relate to the struggle of making a decision. Kaepernick says that “sometimes, one path seems easy. The sun in shining on it. It’s neatly paved. You could just take that path and go . . . but just because a path is easy, does that make it the right way to go? What if there’s something else waiting for you out there?” The surface story is about a young athlete choosing between two sports, but the messages are much deeper.

Beyond sports, it’s a story of a young Black man dealing with micro-aggressions and finding his voice. In one scene Kaepernick calls out a player for being racist and the coach tells him (Kaepernick) to back off. He narrates his reflection by saying “I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was so angry. If I didn’t speak up, it felt like something would eat at me inside. But when I did speak up, apparently I was doing the wrong thing.” This internal conflict of when to speak up is an important theme to understanding Kaepernick’s decisions but also a meaningful feeling to name for young people. Exploring how one person controlled their internal conflict can be a powerful example for readers managing their inner battles.

I would recommend this graphic novel to readers ages 12 and up who enjoy non-fiction, activism and sports. It’s an accessible text that takes a reflective look at the story behind the athlete and activist we know, Colin Kaepernick.

To learn more about the work Kaepernick continues to do, visit Kaepernick Publishing whose mission is “to elevate a new generation of writers with diverse views and voices through the creation of powerful works of all genres that can build a better and more just world.”




The choices we make, make us who we are.

Choices are also bets we make with the future. And, the bet Poppy’s parents have placed weave a complicated tapestry of anxiety-level unpredictability, fear, paranoia and danger into their lives.

Poppy is a high school senior. But Poppy isn’t like most high school girls. She can’t be. She is likely the only person at Lincoln West High School without a smartphone. She doesn’t make future plans– she never stays anywhere long enough to see them through. She doesn’t even really know anything about her own parents. But when she sees her family parked outside of the school that May afternoon, she knows exactly what it means: for seventeen years they have been on the run, and they’re running again.

Poppy has no idea why her parents have them living like fugitives, she and her sister just abide the Winslow family rules: They don’t use their real names; they don’t stay in one place for too long; when something feels weird, you take one thing and run; they keep the family together at all costs; and you never ask about the past. In their last exodus, they head to California, and things feel different. Different enough that she is compelled to break some of the rules she willfully abides. What she discovers will force her to make her own tough decisions– and make a bet on her own future.

This Golden State is a gripping page-turner. The mystery surrounding Poppy’s family is a tightly-wound ball of secrets– and her bold decision unravels it all. The thrill and suspense of discovering who the Winslows are, along with Poppy, makes the book hard to put down. Her accidental romance with Harry, is both bittersweet and tender. He also struggles with his parents, their expectations, and how to navigate relationships in his life. As intense as their life experiences may seem, they are all too relatable: what teenager doesn’t feel that their parents just don’t understand them?

Weisenberg delivers a thriller, a mystery and a romance all in one. Sure to be a YA favourite!



Well, that went fast! It feels like we were just wishing you a wonderful summer, which we hope you had. As sad as it is to say goodbye to summer, we are very much looking forward to the year ahead. There are many new literacy teachers in our district, so we would like to take a minute to introduce the literacy team: 

Jill Davidson – Literacy Subject Coordinator grades 6-12, FEC & OEC 

Jane Burke – Literacy Subject Coordinator grades K-12, WEC 

Christie Soucy – Literacy Learning Coach grades 6-12, OEC & FEC 

Melissa Walker – Literacy Learning Coach grades 6-12, OEC & FEC 

Sonja Wright – Literacy Learning Coach grades 6-12, WEC 

Lauren Sieben – Literacy Learning Coach grades K-8, WEC 

Our typical blogging schedule includes a weekly Book Recommendation and another post that is a Try This Tomorrow, a Craft Studio, or a Literacy Reflection. We hope that you will subscribe to our blog to gather ideas, inspiration and new book titles. 

Looking forward to connecting, learning and celebrating with you throughout the 2023-24 school year.  



Tegan Quin and Sara Quin, identical twin songwriting duo of many indy-pop songs (including “Everything is Awesome” from the LEGO movie), are back again, following the success of their book NY Times best-selling book High School, with a delightful middle grade memoir entitled Tegan and Sara: Junior High.  Set in modern day, but based on their own childhood experiences, this graphic novel beautifully depicts the trials and tribulations of being 12. From friendships, to budding romance, to sibling rivalry, their story will be so relatable to so many.

This book takes the reader through Tegan and Sara’s Grade 7 school year. They have just moved to a new town. So, not only are the girls going to junior high, it’s with none of their old friends. They seem to make friends quickly, but it’s all more complicated than at first glance. The story highlights the importance of being yourself and standing up for what’s right, even when it’s hard.

I loved the way the kinship and love shines through with the sisters- even during the difficult times. Tegan and Sara explore issues of identity, queerness, puberty and finding your true passion with humor and grace. Tillie Walden’s illustrations add depth to the story. Highly recommend for middle/high school classroom libraries.





Click on the image to watch the book trailer



Click on the image to watch the book trailer