Margin Notes



What I Was Reading:

I have been slowly reading through One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This compilation of some of the best of Doyle’s writing, celebrates the wonder we can find in everyday moments when we stop, look, and listen. I’m trying to read only a few essays at a time and follow Doyle’s lead by using them as an invitation to look for the wonder (and the possibilities for writing) in my own surroundings.

“The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is one of my favorites from this collection. Written as a response to a question about how he became a writer, Doyle celebrates the impact of his father’s writing career on his own.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • The first thing I notice is that “The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is a mash-up of first-person essay, memoir, and poem.
  • Doyle uses repetition as he lists his reasons for becoming a writer by introducing each new idea with “Because.” At first, the responses come quickly, with each new sentence starting with because. As he progresses, elaborating more on each memory, the pattern changes and “Because” appears at the beginning of each new stanza.
  • The central focus is the typewriter, but Doyle uses his relationship with it to reveal details about his father: “Because his typewriter was a tall older model that he loved and kept using even when sleek electric typewriters came into vogue and tried to vibrate their way onto his desk.”
  • Doyle fills this piece with images such as “you could listen to it like a song,” and “you could see by the pattern of wear which letters he used more than others” that help us imagine the scenes through his childhood eyes and ears.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing. Begin with a why question and answer it with a list of reasons starting with “Because…”
  • Experiment with the technique of repetition to embed a list into another type of writing.
  • Use an object as a springboard for describing someone.
  • Try combining the elements of more than one form into a single piece of writing.
  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. Try some of them in your own writing.



What do two teen boys in Churchill Manitoba have in common with two girls in Miami and California? Two words: climate change. Each teenager is literally fighting for their life as they encounter a brush with death due to the devastating effect of climate change. Alan Gratz has created anther adventurous, page turning, on the edge of your seat novel with Two Degrees. Each chapter takes you through the harrowing adventure of each teen as they face the danger of each situation they are in. Owen and George, two boys from Canada, know all to well how their climate is melting the ice which is sending the polar bears closer to town. One night they have a close encounter with a polar bear and soon become a potential snack for the hungry bear. Will they make it out alive? You’ll have to read their story to find out.

Akira loves California and enjoys horse backing riding in the mountains with her dad. Suddenly the air around her becomes hot and fires are springing up around her. She is literally in an inferno and must use her instincts and trust her horse to help save her life and her fathers. Along the way they meet families who are also trying to escape the heat while their homes and cars are igniting into flames. This scary situation of  wildfires spreading and causing the destruction homes and habitats is one that is all too familiar.

Natalie Torres, a young teen from Miami has been keeping her eyes on the news as a hurricane is on the way inland. Instead of moving to higher ground with her mom, they decide to wait the storm out in their apartment. Once the storm hits, it becomes known as “The Big One”. Natalie and her mom can only do one thing and that is to fight to survive.

Alan Gratz has a novel that will be sure to keep readers turning the pages. This is a must read for students who love adventure and stories of survival. I enjoyed going between each characters’ story and felt like I was on a cliff hanger each time a chapter ended.

Tina Kelly teaches language arts at George Street Middle School. She has over 25 years of experience with middle schoolers and loves nothing more than recommending and sharing great literature. Inspired by Nancie Atwell, she believes in the philosophy of the Readers Workshop and the importance of giving students the choice to read what they want.



Stephen King’s forward to Castle Rock Kitchen: Wicked Good Recipes from the World of Stephen King by Theresa Carle-Sanders is delightful. This paragraph in particular caught my attention:

When I think of Maine cuisine, I think of red hot dogs in spongy Nissen rolls, slow-baked beans (with a big chunk of pork fat thrown in), steamed fresh peas with bacon, whoopie pies plus macaroni and cheese (often with lobster bits, if there were some left over). I think of creamed salt cod on mashed potatoes—a favorite of my toothless grandfather—and haddock baked in milk, which was the only fish my brother would eat. I hated it; to this day I can see those fishy fillets floating in boiled milk with little tendrils of butter floating around in the pan. Ugh.

King uses an array of punctuation to add variety and complexity to his sentences, making this excerpt a terrific mentor text for a punctuation exploration. Students can notice and name the punctuation moves King makes by following this adaption of Project Zero’s Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine:

  • Record each of the four sentences on a large piece of paper with enough space around each one for groups of students to capture their thinking. (I know sentence #4 only contains one word and one period, but there is a lot to discuss about this intentional stylist choice.)
  • Ask students in small groups to discuss the sentences one at a time and capture their thinking about these invitations:
    • What are the parts of this sentence? What are its individual pieces or components?
    • What is the purpose of each of these parts? What does each part contribute to the sentence?
    • How does the punctuation support the complexity of this sentence? How does the punctuation connect the individual parts to the whole?

Once groups have finished discussing and annotating the sentences, invite them into a whole-class discussion to share their noticings about Stephen King’s punctuation use.

Close by giving students time to try out some of these punctuation moves in their writer’s notebooks by drafting their own “When I think of __________, I think of __________” paragraphs.



Wild River by Rodman Philbrick is a thrilling survival story that follows the journey five children are forced to make through the Montana wilderness. The story takes place as the ‘Future Leaders’ white-water rafting group make their way onto ‘Crazy’ river after discovering their original route has dried up. All seems well until the nearby dam breaks and floods the beach the group has set camp on for that night. Acting quickly, the camp leaders secure the children’s safety before being washed away themselves, leaving the children alone to figure out how to survive. The only known surviving members of ‘Future Leaders’ group, students, Deke, Tony, Imani, Mia, and Daniel are left to navigate the Montana wilderness. Without the guidance of adults, or knowledge of when, or if, they will be rescued, the group is pushed to their limits and forced to lea­­­­­­­rn about embracing teamwork, overcoming obstacles, and facing who they are and what they stand for.

This book is recommended for a middle school audience, but you know your students best. The story encourages personal growth and shows readers that everyone can be a hero, and that courage is a choice and not a feeling. However, this story does deal with death, violence, and hard choices in survival situations, which will engage readers who love adventure stories such as Hatchet, but like every story, it is not for every reader. But it is for those described above.

Abigail is a pre-service teacher at UNB. She is an avid reader of fantasy and wilderness survival genres. Abigail is studying to be a teacher in order to ignite a love for reading in her future students.






Scrolling Twitter one night, I saw a post shared from a bookstore titled “I want to get back into reading, I’ve been streaming”. The image, found here, matches readers with titles based on shows they have enjoyed. I often use conversation about television as a gateway to recommending books to students and this took it to a new level.  Other sources have similar lists to promote books based on TV entertainment.


Penguin has a list of “What to Read Next Based on Your Fav Netflix Shows”.

Epic Reads has a list of “36 Books to Read After Binge-Watching ‘Never Have I Ever’”.

Teaspoon of Adventure has a list of “Book to Read After Your Latest Netflix Binge”.

Try it:

  • Have students come up with a list of popular TV shows and research titles that are similar.
  • Have students pick one TV show and brainstorm similar titles they have read.
  • Have students look at your classroom library and pair titles with TV shows.
  • Have students match their current read with a TV show or movie.



Olivia Prior was born voiceless. Left as a young child on the steps of Merilance, a school for girls, with only a mysterious journal to serve as a link to her life before, Olivia struggles to find connection and kindness within the stone walls. Her mother’s confusing words blend with abstract illustrations that decorate multiple pages in the green journal, fragments of home and belonging that barely sustain Olivia’s miserable and loveless existence at Merilance. After an invitation arrives from a relative, Olivia becomes entangled in the mysteries of Gallant and the strange role its inhabitants play as guardians of a door in the garden wall. As she struggles to find her place, Olivia’s sense of home deepens and she finds the courage and defiance to fight Gallant’s strange darkness beyond the wall, willing to do anything to protect those she has come to know as family.

V.E. Schwab’s Gallant is about love and belonging and a silent search for one’s place in the delicate space that exists between childhood and adulthood. It is a quiet book filled with quiet dead things and a non-verbal protagonist who finds family where she least expects it. Gallant’s slow pace makes it a great book for readers who want to take their time and enjoy every word. Gallant is for students who want to be heard, for those seeking identity and connection, and for those who don’t mind dead things that lurk in dark corners. It is for explorers of ghoulish places, for teens who love beautiful prose, and for anyone courageous enough to show quiet resistance within the shadowy places beyond.

Content warning: re-living the tragic loss of parents, brief mention of self-harm and suicide

Cristina Furey is a UNB student who loves sharing words and stories with people of all ages. She believes there is no better feeling than recommending good books to the readers who need them most and always hopes the magic of storytelling will capture attention and foster the joy of reading in all hearts and minds.



What I Was Reading:

Many English language Arts teachers are familiar with Mari Andrew’s illustrated memoirs Am I There Yet? and My Inner Sky and all the mentor text and quickwrite possibilities they offer. If you don’t already know, she also publishes a fantastic weekly newsletter called Out of the Blue.

In a recent issue, A day in the life (Or, moments in the life), Andrew explains that she is fascinated by the minutiae of other people’s days: “It astounds me how close I can be with a friend, only to stop dead in my tracks 10 years into our friendship and audibly realize, ‘I have no idea what you eat for lunch every day.’” She shares captured moments across a week to give readers a glimpse into her own life.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

These captured “moments in the life” are much tmore han a snapshot of Mari Andrew’s daily and weekly routine. The entries also offer a glimpse in her personality because they include backstory, explanation, and commentary.

For example, from Monday 7am we discover that Mari Andrew was once an intern hospital chaplain and that she is still impacted by that experience.

When I was interning as a hospital chaplain, I learned that hearing is the last sense to go as people are dying. That stuck with me, and I took comfort that people can still hear and understand even as their consciousness has seemingly slipped away.

Using that logic, I assume that hearing is particularly meaningful during our transition times: between sleeping and waking, for example. I try to stimulate my hearing before any other sense in the morning, so I turn on a song immediately. I go between this sweet Spanish prayer to Mother Earth, or the Maha Mantra. I lie in bed while I’m listening and either have some kind of half-awake inspiration journey or fall back asleep.

When she picks up her dry cleaning and does some shopping on Wednesday at 2pm, Andrew reflects on how New York City might lose its well-loved neighborhood business if people continue relying on delivery services.

Pick up dry cleaning and a few things from the bodega. These two establishments are so well-loved in my neighborhood. Both of them are covered in postcards and photos from customers, with sweet words like “We’re moving but we will miss you so much!” Another example of how important our community relationships are, and how much we lose if we head toward a city that runs on delivery.

Overall, Mari Andrew is giving us insight into much more than her typical routine. She is also showing us what her routine reveals about her as a person.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using Mari Andrew as a mentor, writers can capture a week’s worth of “moments in the life” and include commentary on the action/activity.
  • Writers can follow this model for specific reflections such as moments in their reading or writing lives.
  • They can incorporate this method of documentation during an individual or group project.
  • Reading like writers, students can identify other craft moves and brainstorm addition possibilities for writing inspired by Mari Andrew.



Picture books are delightful. I can’t get enough of them (which proves that there is no age limit for enjoying picture books). Once a month, during the school year, I am going to pull together some picture books available on SORA that are just a delight to read. I encourage you to share them with your students. You never know what conversations might be sparked, and what insights might be found.


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