Margin Notes



Linda Rief has been an educator and mentor-teacher for a very long time. She taught Grade 8 ELA in Maine up until her retirement a couple of years ago. Writing, and the art of teaching writing, are her passions.

Her latest book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students Thinking and Writing is simply a beautiful book. The text is divided into four sections: Seeing Inward, Leaning Outward, Beyond Self and Looking Back. In each section there are a myriad of text forms to use as mentors: poetry, cartoons, excerpts from YA novels, essays and short stories written by her former students, as well as examples from Linda’s own writer’s notebook. If you are looking for quickwrite ideas, this book has you covered. Each mentor text has an accompanying lesson idea.

If you are intrigued by the idea of quickwrites, but are unsure how to begin, the introduction of the book will answer all your questions. It gives a great summary of what a quickwrite is, the benefits of using them with your writing community, as well as ideas for teaching with quickwrites.

You can learn more about this book here.




This book is everything. The cover quote from Kacen Callender calls the novel “a simultaneous warm hug and a lightning strike of courage” and I couldn’t agree more. I was so invested in the lives of the main characters, Spencer and Justice, that I read the entire book in one sitting. To be transparent, I love a good romance; whether the romance is the main plotline or a subtle background story, I am hooked. And there is so much love in this book. There is love between friends, parents, siblings, support systems, coaches and, of course, romantic love.  

The synopsis of the book highlights the conflict Spencer confronts playing as a transgender athlete on the boys’ team. For his own safety, Spencer transfers to a new school where he believes it is safe to be queer but is hesitant to be out as trans. This repeated message is an important reality that safety comes first, with no one pressuring Spencer to risk that by coming out as transgender. This emphasizes the fact that maintaining your own safety does not mean you are living a lie. 

Although these events do take place in the story, it is not what makes up the bulk of the narrative. 

The Passing Playbook takes the reader to a new school with Spencer where he experiences acceptance by his peers, teachers and coach; support in a GSA and success playing soccer. It also parallels this experience with that of Justice, Spencer’s crush and teammate, who has the same acceptance at school, but is not open at home. Their relationship is the sweet and romantic love that was a delight to read. 

Alongside the budding romance, this book deals with trans rights at school and in sports. It gives a positive example of what an accepting team can look like without a grand coming out, but also what the support of a team looks like when faced with adversity. Spencer fits in easily as a queer player and that comradery never waivers as the eventual conflict of playing as a trans athlete is realized.  

Another important storyline is the juxtaposition of parenting between the families of Spencer and Justice. On one side the reader sees parents who are desperate to do the right thing, attend support groups and bond with their child. On the other side are parents who are homophobic leaving a child who is scared. Spencer’s story has a happy ending. While the book ends with Justice being safe and loved, I can’t say his ending is a happy one. Fitzsimons does an excellent job highlighting the positives and showing strong Allyship without ignoring the hard realities being faced in the LBGTQ2AS+ community.  

Although left with a heart-warming feeling, this book does not shy away from hard topics. Readers will see characters faced with homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, misgendering and references to school violence. This is Isaac Fitzsimons’ first novel. He captures the characters so realistically with a pace that feels natural and I can’t wait to read more from this author. 


“I think that the more people who are out and visible, the safer it is for everyone. BUT, and this is a big but, you need to make sure that you’re safe first. Physically safe, yes but also emotionally and psychologically.” 

“Whether you come out tomorrow or in five years, or thirty years, I guarantee that the fight will still be going on in some form or another. And I promise that when you join us, we’ll welcome you with open arms.” 



In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s new resource, 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they discuss using two-page spreads as a way to generate student thinking and prepare for discussions about their reading. They begin by giving students no more direction than to ask that students use the two pages to bring evidence of what they were thinking as they were reading. They then used student models to show different ways readers might show their thinking. 

Here are some examples: 

Students used lists and categories.

Students used sticky-notes in their books and transferred them to the two-pager. 

Students organized their thinking with different colors of sticky-notes. 

Students wrote notes and highlighted the main points. 

Students took the guiding questions and created their own charts of character, quotes and craft. Making thinking visible is an essential part of any classroom. I love that these authors discuss how this same thinking model can be used in other content areas, such as this one on anatomy.  

Some students may require support with such an open-ended activity and this resource provides other options that are more guided, while maintaining the goal of student-generated talk. Here are some guiding questions that might help students get started on their two-page spread: 

  • Find a gossipy moment in the book. 
  • Identify the turns in the book. 
  • Discuss a critical decision made in the chapter or book. 
  • Capture a shift in your thinking. 
  • Discuss a minor character of major importance. 
  • Pick a passage and read it the way the author intended it to be read. 
  • Identify and discuss the most important word in the passage, chapter, or book. 
  • Annotate poetry 

You can find more student spreads under “Book Love workshop handouts” on  

Kittle, Penny, and Kelly Gallagher. 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency. Heinemann, 2021.



Christophe Chabouté is a renowned author in France, known for his detailed black and white illustrations and storytelling style. Originally published in French, most of his books have now been translated into English.

His graphic novel Alone is one of my all time favourite books. It tells the story of a man who was born on an rocky island with a lighthouse and has never left its confines. He has spent most of his life alone. All he has to entertain himself is a goldfish, a dictionary and his imagination. As the tale unfolds, he receives a gift that opens up his world in unexpected ways.

Told through mostly illustrations. this book is one that will linger in your thoughts long after you finish reading it. I just “happened” upon this book by accident and decided to order it based completely on the cover art. I am so glad I did!

Add this to your TBR list! It would also make a great addition to your classroom library.



What I was reading:

Kathleen Glasgow’s You’d Be Home Now is a beautiful story told through the eyes of Emory Ward, whose brother is addicted to drugs. The story explores a variety of topics connected to youth today, specifically addiction and identity. Interspersed throughout the story is Instagram posts called Mis_Educated. These posts become another character of the story. Here are some examples:























What Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

  • through these posts, the reader also gets the chance to hear from other students in the town of Mill Haven (in the comment section) about what’s really happening and how they feel about their lives and all the messiness that comes with being a teenager.
  • These posts broaden the story from that of just the main characters
  • Posts are written as poems
  • How the hashtags used set a tone, for example #nightmare in one post and #itgetsbetter in another post
  • How the comments are not always connected to the post or to other comments, but reveal a great deal about the youth culture in Mill Haven

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read these posts as a writer and notice the craft moves inside each post
  • Read these posts as a reader. Write about your thoughts on what you are reading.
  • Write an Instagram post that would fit with the novel you are currently reading. Add in the hashtags and comments
  • Choose one Instagram post/poem and follow the format of the writing
  • Find a poem and write the comment section to depict the youth culture in your life
  • These posts discuss notable people in Mill Haven. Write about the notable people in your city/town/community.



I get a lot of book recommendations, all of which I write down and tuck away in my many hiding spots. The list gets longer, and the stack of books on the nightstand gets taller. I slowly work my way through books that are “for me”, books “for my students”, and professional development books for work. I tend to try to go through them in the order I buy them, because that’s just how my brain works.

This book, however, did not work its way to the top of the pile easily – it landed in my hands with a thud. From the front cover, I knew this book was going to be an emotional teardown. I knew it would rip me apart at the seams, but I was not expecting it to stitched me back together again with new knowledge, new insight, and new respect for allies and their efforts.

One of my most trusted friends dropped this book in my hand with a warning that sounded something along the lines of “I promise you’ll cry, but I also promise you’ll laugh,” and boy, was she right. Ruth Coker Burks’ memoir is a time-traveling machine, hauling its audience back into the 1980’s when the AIDS crisis was still known as GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Burk offers a new perspective as she was the main caretaker for the men whose families had given up on them. Not to mention, she was also a single mom with a young daughter. Ruth found herself in a position where she was one of the only allies for the gay community during a time of crisis, and she knew it was her calling as soon as she watched her first patient die.

Although she had no formal medical training, All the Young Men follows Burks into hospitals where she acts as the parent, friend, and partner that many gay men needed. She remembers the parents of young men she called, refusing to be by their child’s deathbed because of their sexuality. She recalls burying dozens of friends and acquaintances on her own property, turning her plot of land into a graveyard for the men who were shunned by their religion, their society and even worse, their own families.

I was hesitant going into this memoir, worried it would be another story of an ally (someone who doesn’t fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella) who saved the day – this trope is ubiquitous, exhausting, and unhelpful. However, this book does the exact opposite. Burks shows the importance of allyship and what true, real support looks like. Allyship looks like having difficult conversations with people you love, reaching out for help when it’s needed, and taking time to understand the systemic issues that inhibit people from getting the care, support, and love they need to flourish.

The highlight of this book is Burk’s best friend, Billy, a no-nonsense drag queen (before it was cool!) and the true star of the show. Ruth & Billy’s friendship is pure gold, and reading their story unfold is nothing short of beautiful.

This book is exactly what I needed – a historical memoir that sets the stage for just how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, and just how much is still needing to be done. It tells its audience the true power of change, love, and fighting for those who cannot.

Laura Noble is an English teacher at Leo Hayes High School. She is an avid reader of true crime, feminist literature, and realistic fiction.