Margin Notes



In this debut novel, author Brittney Morris, follows 17-year-old Kiera Johnson, who on top of being an honour student and one of the only black kids at her prestigious school, is the secret developer of the virtual reality game SLAY. Played by hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world, SLAY is more than just a game. It’s an empowering space for the black community of players, free from the racism and judgement of the real world.  As Keira explains, “As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that ‘your black is not my black’ and ‘your weird is not my weird’ and ‘your beautiful is not my beautiful,’ and that’s okay.”

But the line between reality and game is shattered when a teenage SLAYer is murdered following an online currency dispute. Keira, already grieving the death of the young player, is now faced with accusations of racist behaviour, threats of a lawsuit, and the possibility of losing the game she loves.

Themes of identity, relationships, and belonging run through this fast-pace story that is both plot and character driven. SLAY is one of those books you won’t want to put down once you start reading and will be a welcomed addition to any classroom library – by both the gamers and non-gamers in your classroom!




Books act as both a mirror to self-reflect, and a window to unveil the lived experience of others. Stories allow us to broaden our horizons by perceiving other ways of living and being in this world. In this way, books become a mechanism for the social connection needed for dialogue to affect social change. I teach and learn through story. Books are a way to connect as we vicariously experience the world in a thousand lives from a thousand minds to broaden our perspectives. Books are the heartbeat that give learning life in my classroom.

In grade 2, we have been building our capacity throughout the school year to “respond critically to texts and to develop an understanding and respect for diversity” (ACELAC K-3, GCO7, SCO pg.31). We need to be mindful as book detectives to find and include books written from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of voices to foster empathy and affirm the history, culture, family background, and experiences of every child in our classroom. If we include books that wrongly represent the experiences of students or lack books that represent all students, we will never open our students’ hearts and minds to inclusivity and we will continue to teach them to judge others based on their isolated experiences and shallow reading identities.

Four Feet, Two Sandals, a collaborative work by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed is a portrayal of two fictitious refugee children based on past true stories and experiences from Mohammed’s work in refugee camps. By mid-2020, 80 million people had been displaced from their homes worldwide, including 26 million refugees and about half are under the age of 18. This individual story is just one out of millions of childhood refugee experiences. These stories have the power to foster empathetic feelings and impact the attitudes of how children in future host countries perceive child refugees. A single story on its own is not enough to foster or cultivate empathy. I recommend Four Feet, Two Sandals as part of a varied collection of childhood refugee stories for any classroom library.

Other recommended childhood refugee stories:

S. Jane Burke, grade 2 teacher at Townsview School, learning from and teaching through stories.






As a teacher and Literacy Coach I was recently challenged by elementary students to take a look at gender stereotypes in children’s literature and so I was thrilled to see this book on display when shopping for new titles at a local bookstore. I promptly purchased it and gifted it to a middle school teacher who plans to use it with her students on Monday! 

We all know the outdated role of women and young girls in need of rescuing in the traditional nursery rhymes. Little Miss Muffet is terribly afraid of spiders and the girls weep when Georgie Porgie kisses them. We love nursery rhymes because they are fun to chant, easy to remember and they make you laugh. Well, this new revamped collection of rhymes are fun to chant, easy to remember and will make you laugh as well as challenge your thinking about gender stereotypes. In Jeanne Willis’s version Miss Muffet sits down beside a giant spider and strokes their furry legs, and Georgie Porgie learns the meaning of consent before attempting to kiss girls. Doctors are female and girls can fix scooters, but it is not all girl power All readers can feel empowered whilst enjoying these non-traditional rhymes as we learn that both boys and girls are made of “sun and rain and heart and brain”.    

Isabelle Follath’s illustrations are bright and quirky and the perfect companion to these fun and enticing poems. A must have title for any classroom and teacher wishing to add fun as well as another perspective on gender stereotypes to their collection.  



Lester L. Laminack and Reba M. Wadsworth offer a practical, easy-to-follow manual on how reading can support writing and vice versa in Writers ARE Readers, Flipping Reading Instruction into Writing Opportunities. This focus, the authors write, “deepens our understanding of what we expect of readers, what we teach readers to do, how a reader’s insights can be the pathway into a more thorough understanding of writing, and how we as teachers can flip those insights to lead students into a more robust understanding of what it means to be literate.”

The authors contend and then demonstrate that the basic notion of “flipping” is a simple one. First a text is examined as a reader making sense of what is being read’ and then it is examined to determine what techniques or moves the author used to help the reader, modelling clearly and exploring the explicit connection between student as both a reader and a writer.

The book is organized into three sections covering text structure (ex. description, sequence and problem and solution), weaving meaning (ex. inferring, summarizing, synthesizing) and story elements (ex. character, setting, plot). Each subsection is organized in exactly the same format: definition of the teaching focus, scripted lessons for read alouds, scripted lessons for shared writing, and a list of additional texts that could be used to further supplement the learning.

This is a valuable resource for lesson planning. Easily skimmed to find specific lessons, short, succinct and filled with charming student exemplars, this is a worthy go-to book for any K-6 literacy teacher. “Leading the student to understand what he did as a reader can become a lens that brings into focus what the writer had to do before a reader ever saw the page,” write the authors.  Using well-known books, likely already in your library, the authors explore new ways to make connections between reading and writing that your students will be excited about and understand.


Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.




Saving Red is a powerful novel in verse that makes reading poetry accessible, even for kids who may be skeptical of the genre. The book follows Molly, who as part of her school’s community service credit, helps with the local homeless count. While out volunteering, Molly comes across Red, a girl not much older than herself who lives on the beach. Feeling guilty from her own past experiences, Molly decides to make it her mission to help get Red back to her family before Christmas. However, that proves to be difficult because Red will not speak of her past, talks to voices in her head, and continually runs off from Molly. But Molly knows what its like to run from yourself and giving up on Red is the last thing she will do. Told entirely in verse, Saving Red tackles difficult issues like homelessness, mental illness, PTSD, grief, and broken families, in a poetic way that does not shy away from the hardship of it all.

Saving Red would be a wonderful addition to any high school classroom library. The verse in this book uses a lot of figurative language that sounds wonderful but is also not so excessive that a teenager could not have come up with it. There was a perfect balance between imagery and action so that it all flowed beautifully and naturally.  The use of similes throughout this book would make it a great mentor text for a craft study or while working on a poetry unit. This book also plays a lot with different themes throughout the story, using ones that are particularly relatable and intersecting. The idea of what it means to exist in a family dealing with tragedy and the notions of loving people with mental illnesses are so relatable that students would be able to use it as both a window into other’s experiences, and a mirror to their own. Saving Red is a book that will have a place on my shelf for a long time, and that will definitely be utilized as we explore poetry in my high school ELA classes.

Lauren Sieben is a High School ELA teacher at John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.



What does it feel like to move to a new school and be known as the new kid?  Perhaps many of us have experienced this particular form of anxiety and embarrassment.  I know I have.  In my case, I would have done anything to just blend in with my new classmates and not be seen as an outsider.

This is how Unhei feels in Yangook Choi’s poignant story, The Name Jar.  She moves with her family to a new country and starts school partway through the year.  Unhei worries that no one will be able to pronounce her name properly and faces teasing from the other children, which leads her to decide to choose a new name.  The next day, she finds a glass jar on her desk filled with name suggestions from her new classmates.  Unhei shows courage and strength of character when she decides to keep her own name and share her culture and traditions.

The Name Jar is a beautifully written and illustrated story that highlights themes of acceptance, identity, and friendship.  This book would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library!

Katie Murphy is currently teaching Grade 2 at Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary in Fredericton.  She is an avid reader and is passionate about reading books, talking about books, buying books, and listening to books.