Margin Notes

#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.



Orphan.jpgAfter her mother gets shot and killed at a checkpoint, Sarah finds herself isolated and running for her life. Being a Jewish 15-year-old in Germany in 1939 tends not to grant you many allies, and Sarah soon finds herself desperately trying just to survive. But a chance encounter with a mysterious man gives her a completely new objective. This man of mystery needs Sarah to infiltrate a Nazi boarding school and become friends with the daughter of one of the top Nazi scientists, all to halt the production of a bomb the likes of which the world has never seen before.

Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy is a thrilling story of overcoming seemingly impossible adversity and staying true to yourself and your ideals. The story has both scenes of thrilling espionage and quieter scenes of contemplation, and neither ever seem out of place or forced. Orphan Monster Spy captures Sarah’s flaws and strengths in stride, taking the time to examine each one while still keeping the story alive and well-paced. Whether you enjoy grounded, bleak realism and historical fiction or brilliant and cunning spies, Orphan Monster Spy is the right book to read.

Zander Strickland is a student who enjoys reading, writing, and cracking jokes about his unparalleled egocentricity. Or, at least people think he’s joking.



What I Was Reading:220px-Wintergirls.jpg

When I was reading Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was reminded of a technique I had seen this author use in Wintergirls, the story of two girls with two different eating disorders who compete with each other to be the thinnest, which turns out to be a deadlier competition than either of them could ever have known.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Throughout Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson uses the technique of strikethrough. Occasionally, words, phrases, or whole lines are written with a line through the middle. The words that are crossed through are the ones Lia believes to be the real truth, but they are never the details that she shares with anyone.


  • There are other places where strikethrough is used to express her hunger and desire to enjoy food again. The strikethrough in those situations represents Lia literally striking these thoughts from her mind. She does not let herself even fully realize these thoughts or desires she has; they must be crossed out as soon as they even briefly flit across her mind.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about a conversation you have had where what you said and what you were actually thinking were quite different. Use the technique of strikethrough to recount this experience.
  • Think about an internal conversation you have had in which you try to push certain thoughts out of your head. Use strikethrough to show this internal struggle.
  • Dig into previous writing or your writer’s notebook for places where the technique of strikethrough could be used.



Bea.jpgMiddle schoolers have one thing in common: they all want to belong and find their “people.” Who doesn’t? I think it’s safe to say adults also crave this security.

The Way to Bea is a fiction novel that explores important themes, such as belonging, self-confidence, and acceptance. Beatrix Lee is questioning who her true friends are when she returns to school after summer break and is devastated that her best friend isn’t speaking to her.

Bea has a passion for poetry and this passion is woven throughout the story. She writes poems in invisible ink and leaves them in a special portal in the woods, hoping to get a response. Despite the snickers from others, poetry is Bea’s one true thing. She can count on it to bring her joy.

Throughout the story, Bea spends much of her time waiting for others to bring her happiness. She eventually finds her own way and realizes that she is the author of her own happiness. By helping a new friend out of a “dead end”, Bea discovers her true self. The author, Kat Yeh, captures the beautiful “give and take” of friendships.

Bea’s journey will speak to many middle school students about true friendship. She reminds us to be true to ourselves. I hope our students set off on a journey of self- discovery and feel proud of who they are after reading this book.

Sara BeLong teaches grade six at George Street Middle School. Her favourite genres are memoirs and realistic fiction.



One trend we have noticed, and also fallen in love with, over the last few years are novels written in free verse. Students are devouring them, and we are too! This is what Pernille Ripp has to say about novels in free verse in her classroom:

“These brilliant books with their impactful, but shorter, text is one of the biggest tools I have in getting students reconnected with reading.  There are a few reasons for this; students who are building up stamina in their reading concentration can stay focused with a faster-paced story, students where “regular” books intimidate them do not feel as overwhelmed due to less text on the page, and finally; the stories are enchanting.”

We are often asked for a list of our favourite novels in verse, so we decided to compile them here for you! As always, you know your readers best, so reading brief summaries of each title will guide you to know which titles to recommend to your readers.

Happy Reading!