Margin Notes



Just as we encourage our students to abandon books that are not working for them, as teachers we need the same encouragement to abandon literacy practices that are not moving our students towards becoming engaged lifelong readers. The use of reading logs is one of these practices.

There is an abundance of research to support the idea that reading logs do more harm than good and can actually decrease our students’ motivation to read. If our goal is to inspire and engage readers, then we need routines and practices that encourage students to choose books that are interesting to them, to talk about those books and their experiences with them with others, and to authentically share their joys, struggles, and the ways they are moving forward as readers.

If you are interested in ditching those reading logs and trying out a new practice, here are some ideas:

For additional reading and research, here are a few more articles to check out if you want to learn more:

Pernille Ripp: “Before You Assign a Reading Log”
Pernille Ripp: “On Reading Logs”
Pernille Ripp  “Let’s Talk About Reading Logs Again”
Allie Thrower: “Ditching the Reading Logs”
Erica Reischer: “Can Reading Logs Ruin Reading for Kids?”




Girls with Sharp Sticks Cover

Girls With Sharp Sticks tells the story of Philomena Rhodes, a young girl studying at a mysterious academy meant to prepare her for her future as a wife and mother by teaching her the skills she will need for these roles. Philomena and her friends are sent to this school by their parents, and kept under strict control by their male teachers and guardians, with little to no contact with the outside world. Slowly but surely, the students begin to uncover the truth behind the academy, and, in order to survive, the girls must rise up and learn to fight against the forces controlling them. The book is a perfect mix of action, drama, and romance, but at the heart of the story is the importance and strength of female friendships.

This book contains mature themes and language and would be a great read-alike for any students that loved the Divergent or Matched series. Written by Suzanne Young (the author of The Program series), Girls With Sharp Sticks has just enough plot twists and drama to surprise any reader. Every time I thought I could predict what was coming next, Young’s story defied my expectations and hooked me even more. With the story ending on a cliffhanger, Girls With Sharp Sticks will most definitely become a series that will intrigue any reader and make the perfect addition to any classroom library.

Kristin Estabrooks is a Mount Allison University graduate, currently studying for her Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is an avid reader who is slowly but surely reintroducing herself to the world of Young Adult literature.

Creating Space and Time for Book Talk


While visiting literacy classrooms this year we have noticed that students have an intense desire to talk about their reading lives. As literacy teachers we understand the importance of knowing our students as readers and the importance of peer talk around reading, so we love that Megan Young-Jones intentionally builds this time to talk when planning her literacy classes.

MYJ3This week Megan hosted a Book Café for the readers in her classroom. Students brought their books and food (and even blankets!) to the student lounge and formed groups in which they could share their reading. Because this was their first round of talking about their reading in small groups, Megan set them up for success in the following ways:

  • Students were involved in the creation of an anchor chart on what good listening looks like.
  • Teachers from various subject areas were invited to the class to model authentic reader to reader conversations and how you can join a conversation about a book you haven’t read.
  • Pulling lessons on what they might choose to include in their small group conversations from Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book (titles, themes, plot, etc).
  • Providing prompts on cue cards that could be used if needed to facilitate the conversation because this was their first meeting in small groups.

MYJ1As the groups discussed their reading, Megan circulated and gathered assessment on reading and speaking and listening using two checklists she had made using the curriculum outcomes and Provincial Achievement Standards (Formative Assessment Tools are available – login at and then click here .). After reviewing these checklists, she made a list of students she didn’t have the chance to hear talk and plans on conferring with these readers during their next class. Additionally, Megan provided time for students to reflect and provide feedback on this experience in order to inform future reading talk.

The Social Side of Engaged Reading for Adolescents  by Gay Ivey reveals what happens when the space and time is intentionally created for students to talk about the books they are reading. Here are a few of the many points explored in this article:

  • “Because there is collective expertise around books and reading, students come to view each other as resources.”
  • “…(students) often recruited peers to read a book they want to continue thinking about, and students agreed to read the same book so they could talk about it.”
  • “Students even reported making new friends over books. What is more, they begin to see themselves collectively as ‘smarter’.”

Both research and practice are telling us that promoting talk among readers leads to further engagement which then leads to an increase in the volume of reading. It is this volume of reading that improves student achievement. So we urge you all to create the time and space for this to happen.






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.