Margin Notes



I love it when my nightly scrolling is productive. Twitter can be a fantastic resource for inspiration and sharing ideas. Kate McCook (@KMcCookEnglish) so generously shared her idea of moody mentors. Here are the steps she outlines:

  1. I decided to focus on how to add mood to our pieces.
  2. I pulled out two favorite mentor texts, the openings to the memoirs The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls & Educated by Tara Westover, and called them “Moody Mentor Texts”
  3. I handed students a list of mood words & we defined new ones.
  4. We identified moods in each piece.
  5. We identified writing moves each author used to create the moods we noticed.
  6. We reassessed our drafts to see if we had established mood (and what mood)
  7. We chose two “Moody Mini Moves” to emulate in our own drafts.

I loved this idea so I tracked down the two mentors listed. Here are some excerpts:

Text #1

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom’s gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she’d been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I’d collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I’d had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I’d tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I’d tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn’t need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn’t see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom’s and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we’d had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.



Text #2


Educated by Tara Westover

After Dad took up preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there – two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold.

Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large square table and ate either seven-¬grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn’t mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we’d been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud.

It wasn’t long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma’s fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I’d slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I’d hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma’s side door.

On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, “How would you like to go to school?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” I said.

“How do you know,” she barked. “You ain’t never tried it.”

She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth.

“We’re leaving tomorrow for Arizona,” she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. “Get yourself up real early,” Grandma said, “around five, and we’ll take you with us. Put you in school.”

I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn’t. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn’t read because I didn’t go to school, and now none of them would talk to me.

“Dad said I can go?” I said.

“No,” Grandma said. “But we’ll be long gone by the time he realizes you’re missing.” She sat my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window.

Grandma was a force of nature – impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm.

“You should be in school,” she said.

“Won’t Dad just make you bring me back?” I said.



Text #3:

Here is a link to a blog post on mood with more moody mentor texts from poetry and pop cultures videos. The clip from One of Us is Lying could spark a book talk!

If you have another moody mentor, leave it in the comments!



On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a raw, tender reflection of being a newcomer, being a queer youth, and the complicated love between a son and his mother. This novel is styled as a letter written by a son to his illiterate mother; as you read, you feel as if you’d opened someone else’s mail on accident, as the narrator reveals intimate moments of his adolescence which he knows his mother cannot read. Vuong mixes prose with poetry, providing a large scope of opportunity for classroom discussion. The narrator explores his identity and the external social forces that shape who he is, a topic everyone, particularly high schoolers, may relate to.

Themes covered include masculinity, race, class, and intergenerational trauma. This novel is written quite accessibly and may be of interest to students interested in gender and masculinity, poetry, queerness, immigrant experience, and novels that are written as auto-fiction. CW: addiction, death, parental abuse.

Bradley Gamble (he/him) is a Bachelor of Education student at UNB. He is passionate about advocacy, harm reduction, and learning through dialogue. He is interested in poetry, postmodernism, and pop music.



The New York Times Magazine used the poem Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris as an invitation for teen readers to submit their personal responses to the question “What small kindnesses do you appreciate?” Danusha Laméris compiled some of the over 1300 responses into Small Kindnesses: A Collaborative Poem by Teenagers From Around the World.

Collaborative poems are a novel and creative way to curate students’ ideas and make their thinking visible. You might try compiling collaborative poems by:

  • inviting students to read Small Kindnesses and respond with their own small kindness or to the first line of the poem, “I’ve been thinking about…”
  • using another short text as an invitation to share thinking after a quickwrite
  • asking students to each share the line they are most proud of from their writing at the end of a craft or form study
  • collecting students’ favorite sentences from their independent reading


We’d love to hear your suggestions for collaborative poems in the comments!



There is no better way to spend a grey and rainy afternoon than with a thriller that at-once keeps you at the edge of your seat, while also exploring themes of identity, feminism, coming-of-age and the concept of survival in the young lives of teenagers. The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe follows the story of Nora O’Malley, the daughter of a con-artist, who finds herself trapped inside of a bank during a robbery. To make matters even more interesting, she is joined in this fiasco by both her current girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend.

Growing up as her mother’s protégé, Nora has assisted in her cons by embodying the perfectly constructed daughter to pair with each perfectly constructed con, never truly being able to be her true self, raising the question of “who is Nora O’Malley?”. Through her mother’s antics, Nora has become highly skilled in the art of con and combines her skills with her powers of persuasion in an attempt to free herself and her friends during the hostage situation at the bank. The book follows a non-linear format, primarily taking place over the course of a few hours in present-day. Additionally, it explores Nora’s past through the five girls that she has adopted as herself over the course of her life, shedding light on the lessons and consequences that arise from each.

Some content warnings should be mentioned for this novel, including violence, abuse, assault and death. This story will soon be adapted into a Netflix original thriller, starring Stranger Things actress, Millie Bobby Brown.

Taylor Floris is an aspiring English and Business teacher, currently completing her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of New Brunswick. On her spare time, she can be found cozied up, with a coffee in-hand, indulged into the life of fiction and poetry.



Grub Street’s Best of New York series has gotten me thinking about the many ways students could use this “absolute best’ structure in their own writing to describe a topic they are knowledgeable and passionate about.

Some of my favorite examples are:

The Absolute Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in New York City

The Absolute Best Veggie Burgers in New York City

The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York City

These absolute best lists combine description, analysis, and persuasion. I can see students creating their own lists of the absolute best books they read during the year, teams in the WNBA, episodes of Star Trek, cookie recipes…the possibilities are endless!



Picture books are delightful. I can’t get enough of them (which proves that there is no age limit for enjoying picture books). Here are some great non-fiction titles that are all available on SORA. I encourage you to read them aloud to your students. You never know what conversations might be sparked, and what insights might be found.



What I was reading:

Be a Good Ancestor by Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince; illustrated by Carla Joseph

“Rooted in Indigenous teachings, this stunning picture book encourages readers of all ages to consider the ways in which they live in connection to the world around them and to think deeply about their behaviors.” (Goodreads)

Available on SORA


What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • On each two page spread, the text follows the same format.
  • The first line is always “Be a good Ancestor with ________”
  • Each line begins with the word that ended the previous line.
  • Each line goes from individual, small actions to large systemic change.
  • The illustrations are symbolic of the text. (And completely stunning).

Here is an example from the text:

Be a good Ancestor with your neighbours

Neighbours become friends

Friends become communities

Communities become nations

Nations become allies

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Discuss/think about how small things can make a big impact in the world.
  • Write poems following the format “Be a good Ancestor with…, _______ become ______…
  • Write with the intention of the last word of a line/sentence being the first word of the line/sentence to show connectivity.
  • Create illustrations.
  • Share poems with another class/grade.



Two and a half miles down the pitch-black, flooded cave of Tham Luang, Thailand, a local boys soccer team (aged 11-16) and their assistant coach were trapped for 18 days (most of that time without food). They were found and rescued by being anesthetized and guided out individually by a team of cave divers.

Christina Soontornvat’s book All Thirteen reveals how an international team of experts and amateurs, Navy SEALs and local villagers, citizens and stateless people, came together in 2018 to make the impossible possible. Battling torrential rains, floods, stalagmites, darkness, cultural differences and skepticism, the team accomplished rescuing ‘all thirteen’ and doing something that had never been done before: a cave-diving rescue. This story shows us that when we work together, plan carefully, practice meticulously, act decisively and take risks instinctually, we can make miracles happen. Highly informative, All Thirteen also shares an in-depth analyses of professions like caving, diving, geology and search and rescue while also introducing the reader to Thailand, exploring its cultures, economy, geography and social issues.

Soontornvat weaves all of this into a thought-provoking, suspenseful narrative, following the dual perspectives of the rescuers on the surface and the boys’ experiences underground. What this does is not only humanize the event but also highlights the boys’ resolve, showing that we must never underestimate the will of children. An informative read covering many interests, along with a nail-bitingly engaging style, this book may appeal to the non-fiction readers in your class or students who want to learn more about world events. It’s worth noting that the book does contain mature subjects like suicide, xenophobia, death and starvation, therefore, it may be prudent to recommend this title to readers in your class who are ready for such content.

The recommendation’s author, Ryan Cormier, is currently a Bachelor of Education student, studying at the University of New Brunswick. He originally hails from Bathurst, New Brunswick but has hung his hat in many different places over the years.





What I was Reading: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

“In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.”


The novel starts with the following three paragraphs:

Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moon-driven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.

But here rise the stubborn continents. The shelves of gravel and the cliffs of rock break from water baldly into air, that dry, terrible outer space of radiance and instability, where there is no support for life. And now, now the currents mislead and the waves betray, breaking their endless circle, to leap up in loud foam against rock and air, breaking…

What will the creature made all of sea-drift do on the dry sand of daylight; what will the mind do, each morning, waking?

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The use of metaphor (the jellyfish) to set up the premise of the novel. I have to admit that this was a bit jarring when I read on and realized that the book was about a dystopian future society. However, I kept thinking of the jellyfish as I was reading – so it was a very effective lead.
  • The use of hyphens – current-borne, wave-flung (see our conventions inquiry on compound modifiers for more mentor texts to study)
  • The vocabulary in these paragraphs could be studied for days. (diurnal, radiance, insubstantial, for example)
  • Repetition – the use of borne, flung, tugged in both the first and second sentences. The use of hang, sway, pulse in two sentences as well. And the repetition happens in the sentence immediately following, not later on.
  • The first paragraph is describing the jellyfish, the second paragraph is describing the obstacles and the third is questioning if the jellyfish will be able to cope with such change.
  • The second sentence in the first paragraph has a semi-colon. It is a wonderful sentence to look at carefully.
  • The last paragraph is one sentence, in the form of a question. It includes a semi-colon that joins two sentences.
  • The sentence lengths are varied.
  • The second paragraph ends with an ellipse.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try the repetition of the words from one sentence to the next.
  • Try using the some of the vocabulary.
  • Try writing with semicolons, using the sentences in the first and last paragraphs as mentors.
  • Try to vary sentence lengths.
  • Try to use ellipses.



Lockhart’s new book is the prequel to her wildly popular We Were Liars and takes place decades earlier. Although it contains a few spoilers for We Were Liars, it is thoroughly entertaining and may engage both readers who are new to the Sinclair family, or readers who want to dive back into their family dynamics.

The Sinclair family dynamics involve pride, refinement, old and dirty money, tough-love, and the tendency to repress emotion after tragedy. We see this cause tension when the narrator, Carrie, is struggling with a recent death; she detests how everyone acts like they have already forgotten what happened. Thus begins her summer: alone with her pain and moving back for the next few months to the island her father and uncle own, which is also the location of the loved one’s drowning. However, despite her ideas of how the summer will proceed, the usual routine is disrupted when her cousin brings along a few boys that are Carrie’s age.

The novel has a satisfyingly dark ambiance and would be a good recommendation for students who enjoy plot twists and unreliable narrators. It is important to bear in mind while recommending it that the story contains one short mention of self-harm, a character with a narcotics addiction, and the death of a sibling.

Breaking away from the tougher subjects, I also believe that as someone who is not normally drawn to suspense-filled books, there are a multitude of themes within Family of Liars to engage many readers. For example, as a foodie I appreciated the author’s descriptions of flavours, scents, and textures. Lockhart makes one nostalgic for food memories that are not even one’s own. Moreover, tiny bits of poetry often end the chapters. This would be appreciated by students who love poetry or a nice little dose for more reluctant poetry readers, as it does not disrupt the overall flow of the novel and is used fairly sparingly but with great effect.

Finally, if there are any readers that are particularly fond of the recent Netflix series The Summer I Turned Pretty, based on the books by Jenny Han, this would be the perfect story to continue them on their reading journeys. There are gorgeous, grey-shingled houses, Fourth of July celebrations, and a Massachusetts beachy-feel, not to mention an overflow of romantic tension.

Chanelle Coates is a B.Ed student at the University of New Brunswick who loves reading, writing, and talking about both.