Margin Notes



Author Brandy Colbert best known for her YA novels The Voting Booth, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Little & Lion, Finding Yvonne and soon to be released Black Birds in the Sky has debuted her first middle grade novel The Only Black Girls in Town. Set in the small California surfing town of Ewing Beach, our protagonist Alberta is one of only a few seventh grade black students in her local middle school and while her long-time best friend Laramie is like a sister, there are still some things she doesn’t “get”.  To make things more complicated Laramie is striking up a new friendship with the “popular” eighth grader Nicolette McKee, who also just happens to be Alberta’s worst nightmare. So, when the bed and breakfast next door is bought Alberta is of course curious.  When she learns the family is black and has a daughter Alberta’s age she is beyond excited. Alberta and Edie (the new girl) soon become friends and of course this leads to misunderstandings and complications with Laramie.

As Alberta and Edie begin to navigate their new friendship they make an unexpected discovery of some long-lost journals in Edie’s new bedroom (the attic of the B&B). The journals belonged to the mysterious Constance. The girls soon begin to try and unravel the mystery of who Constance was and how her journals came to be in the attic of the bed and breakfast?

Against this backdrop the Alberta and Edie deal with microaggressions from classmates, first time crushes, and mean girl culture and begin to understand that while being the only black girls in town can be difficult, life for black people a few decades ago was much more difficult and even dangerous.

I loved The Only Two Black Girls in Town. It surprised me with complicated themes that I did not expect. I highly recommend this book for all middle grade classrooms.

To learn more about author Brandy Colbert visit here.









Try this tomorrow: Reading with Personal Goals 

Do you ever wonder how your own reading and writing life can transfer into your classroom? In Leading Literate Lives, Stephanie Affinito details reading and writing practices that will enhance your own literate life, and then explains how these practices can be transferred to the classroom.  

She emphasizes that the literate lives within a classroom should replicate the literate lives outside of the classroom. An important quote from her introduction is that “if consistently tasked with reading and writing that feels like work – for example, by reading books of someone else’s choosing and responding in artificial ways and by writing with little personal investment, with strict requirements and formats and for no audience other than the teacher – students may equate reading and writing with something to be completed rather than lived.” 

With that authenticity in mind, one way to inspire reading is through personal goals. These should be goals that you want to accomplish and are meaningful to you, the reader. Like the example in the image of the chart, you will want to pick a personal reading goal and brainstorm actionable ways to achieve the goal. 

When considering bringing this to the classroom, Stephanie asks some important reflection questions about reading goals: did you create them for your students? Or with your students? Of course, your reading assessment is going to be aligned with your curriculum and standards, but the goals can be personal expressions of what your students want/need to work on.  

Using the chart above as a model, create some mini-lessons on how to make personalized goals with actionable actions and give your students ownership over their reading life. 

Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. Heinemann, 2021. 



Kathleen Glasgow’s newest title, You’d Be Home Now, exposes the tragic outcomes when children feel unseen and unheard, and the lengths they will go to escape these feelings.

Emmie Ward is someone most would call privileged. White, wealthy, intelligent, and a dancer on the school team – she appears to have it all. But she also has two parents too busy to notice her, a brother struggling with addiction, friendships that have been broken, a neighbor who offers an escape that only leads to a broken heart, a body broken by a car accident and the grief of the death of an innocent bystander to all of this. So, while privileged in some ways, Emmie is carrying more than anyone should have to.

When her brother goes missing after a relapse, Emmie is determined to find him. Somehow her strength and determination and love for her brother awaken something in her parents and they finally seem to see what is happening to their family, and more importantly, what they can do to save it.

With themes such as parenting, addiction, slut-shaming, and the bond between siblings wrapped into a story that is deep and beautifully written, this title is one that will be passed from student and to student and leaves its readers with the understanding that just because you’ve heard stories about someone, it doesn’t mean you know them. In Emmie’s words…

I’m a girl on a stage and I have nothing beautiful for you.

I’m a girl on a stage and you think you know my story.

But how can you know my story

when I haven’t written it yet

When I haven’t had a chance to live it yet.

How can you know my story

When you don’t even know me



There is great grace in the teaching profession. Kind, giving, thoughtful, persistent, and devoted are some of the descriptive words that come quickly to mind about the many teachers I have worked with. It has been a privilege to work with so many gifted professionals and to watch what might be called love in motion, in the service of the many wonderful students in our schools.

Reading To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy by Kari Yates and Christina Nosek suggests these qualities of an effective teacher as the authors gently scaffold the learner through a carefully constructed methodology of how to have an efficacious reading conference. It is apparent that they have spent thousands of hours thinking about and creating this method, and at the root of it all is the care and concern they have for their students and the desire to offer them the joy of becoming lifelong and passionate readers.

It struck me that this book could be taken both as a life manual and a methodology for how to hold reading conferences with students. Advice such as “Loosen up, have some fun and trust your instinct,” “Approach students with tenacity and heart,” and “It’s not helpful to be hard on yourself, so give yourself a little love,” create a hopeful and gentle space to learn or deepen the skill of working with a reader in the most effective way possible. It encourages the reader and supports the learner to take this risk.

There are many aspects of this book to like. The methodology these teachers have created appears straightforward on the surface but, like many skills worth learning, it has layers upon layers of complexity as one reads further into the skillfully crafted chapters. It is not overwhelmingly complex, however, with a careful learning scaffold that demonstrates master teachers and writers at work, spiraling back again and again to remind the reader of what has led to this point both with visual and textual reminders.

Teachers are presented with a decision-making map to follow while doing a reading conference with students. The first decision relates to determining what is going on with a reader (the know part of the conference) and whether it is related to 1) book choice 2) healthy habits 3) strategic process and 4) authentic response. More than ample details are provided on how to ask the right questions or use the right listening skills to determine what is challenging a reader. Once this information is determined, the teacher is encouraged to nurture the reader via their response which can be via 1) affirming 2) extending 3) reminding and/or 4) taking notes for future teaching.

Each chapter of the book delves into one of the eight aspects mentioned above with the first four chapters focused on the “how” of conferring, the next four on the “what” of conferring, and the last few chapters revealing the behind-the-scenes preparation work to bring it all together. The appendix provides reproducible templates to make the whole process easier. The authors remind us more than once that we are always dealing with the reader in front of us in this moment and of the consequences of over-teaching.

The book is explicit and provides very easy-to-follow questioning guides. It is so precise that it even has reflections on non-verbal cues that can be used by the teacher and what they might signal to a nervous student. It is repetitive in a helpful way when a lot of information is being provided. For example, the decision-making map is provided at the beginning of the book and reappears again and again with an intentional “you are here” arrow to help the reader move with ease throughout the landscape of the methodology.

“See it in action” videos, accessed via a QR reader, and previewing questions to focus the viewer help consolidate the techniques. It is reasonable to expect that a teacher new to readers’ conferences would be able to implement it successfully using this thoughtful manual.

“We want to be crystal clear that this is not offered as a checklist, a curriculum or sequence for teaching reading. It is simply a format for organizing all the complex and boundless possibilities, in a way that allows us to tidy up our thinking and proceed with more clarity and intention.” Reading conferences are challenging and sometimes it can seem difficult to record all that needs to be recorded. To Know and Nurture a Reader returns the focus to the heart of the matter.


Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in 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.



The Other Talk: Reckoning with My Our White Privilege takes the knowledge that BIPOC people (Brendan Kiely uses Tiffany Jewell’s term Global Majority) are forced to have “The Talk” about racism and survival in a way that white folks have the privilege of avoiding.  

In his author’s note, Brendan Kiely says that he “heard so many people of the Global Majority asking white people to get more involved – to listen more, learn more, and to speak up more about racism and white privilege – and [he did] not want to dodge that call [he’d] heard so loud and clear.” 

This book is one of his responses. 

Brendan uses a conversational tone that is welcoming to young people as he revisits his past and reflects on his learning about being anti-racist. He shares raw stories of when he got it wrong, so that his readers can see their own privilege and learn how to do better. His reflection invites the reader to think about their own experiences without shame or guilt, but with a desire to learn. 

Brendan weaves in history and information but tailors it to a YA audience by explicitly connecting the history and the narrative in a way that is easy to follow. The impact of systemic racism is continually referenced to clearly explain how it is rooted and continues to influence the present.  

He borrows a quote from Kyle Korver who says: 

As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so.   

But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are. 

And I guess I’ve come to realize that when we talk about solutions to systemic racism . . . it’s not about guilt. It’s not about pointing fingers, or passing blame.  

It’s about responsibility. 

This book belongs in your classroom library because it is accessible and guides the reader through the history and importance of anti-racism, using the lens of a white man examining his own privilege. Brendan covers the topics of systemic racism, stepping in vs listening, staying in the discomfort, guilt, white passing and more. 

We need to have “The Other Talk” about white privilege. As Brendan leaves the reader,  

Now is the time to take action! 

Join that tradition and be part of shaping that future. 

Show up. Speak out. 

Do something. 

You can. 




As someone who struggles with developing a writing habit, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a book called The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in your Nonfiction Writing. Honestly, it sounded like work. And I was not expecting to be enthusiastic about reading it. But, because John Warner is also the author of “Why They Can’t Write”, which was a book I really enjoyed, I was willing to give this one a go. And I’m so glad I did!

Warner has written an entertaining and engaging book that is a roadmap for how to write non-fiction well. He developed this book through years of teaching freshman writers, most of whom couldn’t write anything beyond a five-paragraph essay.

If you teach high school ELA, I would highly recommend this book. I can envision it being a great addition to the writer’s workshop. And, at the back of the book, Warner gives you a possible sequence of the activities that you could use as mini-lessons and guided practice over 15 weeks.

As Warner says, “This book is for anyone who wants to improve their writing, which is everyone because everyone is a writer.”

You can find out more about the book here.




Starfish by Lisa Fipps is the coming of age story of Ellie Montgomery-Hofstein who is dealing with a lot as she starts grade six. Her best friend moves away, she is being bullied by the same classmates as in Grade 5, and her mother only wants to talk about her needing to lose weight.

I loved everything about this book. Ellie Montgomery-Hofstein is such a compelling, beautifully written main character. You will root for her, identify with her struggles, and laugh and cry with her until the very last page.

I would recommend this book as both an addition to a middle school classroom library and as a read aloud. The fact that it is a novel written in verse makes it an accessible choice for many students and the subject matter will be relatable to so many!

I give Starfish by Lisa Fipps




What I Was Reading:

In 2019 Kyle Korver wrote a first-person essay called Privileged that was published by the Player’s Tribune. In it, he describes two racialized incidents involving his teammates that led him to recognize his white privilege:

What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color…I’m still in this conversation from the privilege of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice—I’m granted that privilege—based on the color of my skin.

Later in the text, Korver reflects on his responsibility to take action:

How can I—as a white man, part of this systemic problem—become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?

I have to continue to educate myself on the history of racism in America.

I have to listen. I’ll say it again because it’s that important. I have to listen.

I have to support leaders who see racial justice as fundamental—as something that’s at the heart of nearly every major issue in our country today. And I have to support policies that do the same.

I have to do my best to recognize when to get out of the way—in order to amplify the voices of marginalized groups that so often get lost.

But maybe more than anything?

We all have to hold each other accountable.

And I think we all have to be accountable—period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Korver uses an ask-and-answer technique to introduce this section of the text. It marks a turning point between his recognition of his white privilege and his responsibility to take action.
  • He builds on his first question with two short follow-up questions that mirror the wording of the first: “…in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”. This use of repetition highlights the way each question builds on the previous one.
  • The answer to the question is organized into a list of actions. Again, Korver uses a repeated structure: “I have to…”.
  • This pattern shifts within the list from “I have to…” to we have to…”.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Try the the ask-and-answer move to create a shift or introduce a new idea in your writing.
  • Find a place in your writing where you can incorporate a list of short sentences instead of a paragraph.
  • Experiment with repetition for effect in your own writing. You might also make a slight change in the pattern to draw your reader’s attention as Korver did by shifting from I to we.



Ernesto Cisneros’ debut novel, Efren Divided, is a must have for all middle level classroom libraries.  This powerful and moving, but often humorous story of undocumented immigrants in California sheds important light on the hardships faced by individuals striving to provide a better life for their children. Through the eyes of Efren Nava, the oldest son, Cisneros paints a vivid picture of Efren’s life in middle school with his best friend, David, and in the poor working-class neighborhood.

As the oldest son of the Navas, undocumented Mexican immigrants, Efren accepts and understands why his parents need to work as hard as they do to provide for himself and his twin siblings, Max, and Mia. He knows they do not have the resources to provide a great deal, but he is never hungry, and his mother’s love and affection is never in question.

It is against this backdrop that Efren must find the strength and resiliency to grow up much faster than either his Ama (mother) or Apa (father) wanted and when Ama fails to return home one day, the family eventually learns that she has been deported. This news sets in motion a chain of events that requires Efren to put family first, school second and embark on a dangerous journey in the hopes of reuniting his family.

Efren Divided is a heartbreakingly realistic depiction of life for many immigrant families.  I shed many tears as Efren shared his story and hope that Cisneros will soon provide the next chapter in Efren’s life.