Margin Notes



In Fashion Conscious: Change the World with a Change of Clothes, Sarah Klymkiw closes her “Letter from the Author” with this message to readers:

“It’s my hope that after reading this book you will continue to love clothes as much as I do, but with open eyes to the impact that our clothing choices have on people and our planet. I hope that you will feel empowered to demand answers to questions and take action. We have the power to collectively change the world with a change of clothes.”

Fashion Conscious raises readers’ awareness about the impact of “fast fashion” on the environment and on the garment workers making the items. It encourages shoppers to be aware of the “greenwashing” phenomenon in which companies claim to use environmentally and ethically sound practices but don’t actually deliver them. Until I read this book, I had no idea that producing just one white cotton t-shirt can use up to 2,700 litres of water depending on where and how the cotton is grown or that a single polyester item can take 200 years to decompose in a landfill.

In the UK, over a million tonnes of clothes are thrown away while 15 million tonnes of clothing make their way to landfills in the US. In light of these staggering statistics, readers are given actionable strategies for shopping more mindfully and for reducing the need for purchasing new items by mending, redesigning, organizing clothes swaps, and thrifting.

In addition to being incredibly informative, Fashion Conscious is a wonderfully illustrated information text that includes graphics such as decision trees, flow charts, timelines, step-by-step procedures, Q & A interviews, and useful resources.

Overall, the authors of Fashion Conscious remind us that we wear our values: “clothing choices matter because everyone’s individual actions collectively add up to make a big difference.”



What I Was Reading:

I purchased Rupi Kaur’s most recent collection of poems home body and have been making my way through the book. The collection is divided into four sections – mind, heart, rest, and awake. Each section contains raw conversations that Kaur has had with herself, and although some of these poems may bring you face-to-face with parts of yourself or of your life you may wish to ignore, a few pages later you are sure to be hugged in all the right places and reminded of your unique place on Earth. And so, I came across this poem on page 96 and I kept going back to it. I thought – this is really something students could do, and do well!

 What moves I noticed the writer making:

-Kaur writes short and direct lines that bleed into one another.

-Kaur uses italics to represent dialogue and authentic speech.

-Kaur uses quotation marks around phrases such as “real job” and “stay-at-home mom” to emphasize the problematic connotations that surround these words.

-Rather than titling her poems, Kaur often ends them with a dash followed by a single word or phrase. The dash and use of the single word “ – value” at the end of the poem, sums up the central theme. It could also signify “value” itself as the figurative author of the poem.

-What captured my attention the most was Kaur’s elaboration on the meaning of “full-time caregiver”. Her mother’s job as a full-time caregiver is followed by a list that elaborates on all the other unsung roles her mother took on. I call this move a list of truths – it’s vulnerable in its ability to elaborate on the truth, in this case, the underappreciated or uncelebrated duties that a person takes on when assuming a role.


Opportunities for writers:

-Write about a time when you lied to hide the truth. What did you really want to say? Use quotation marks around a phrase to emphasize your apprehension toward its connotations.

-Create a list of truths within a poem – or another piece of writing – unpacking the truth surrounding a single thought or idea.

-Conversely, pick a poem you’ve read and highlight a word or idea in which the writer ‘dances around’. Make your own list of truths to emphasize what you think the writer is wanting to communicate.

-Use Kaur’s signature move: end a poem or piece of creative writing with a dash followed by a single word or phrase to encompass the theme of the piece or the figurative writer.



My first interaction with the book Odder by Katherine Applegate (author of The One and Only Ivan) and illustrated by Charles Santoso, was listening to the audio version – the sweet voice of Otter 156 telling her story. This little otter will capture your heart and immerse you in a story about identity, friendship, family, loss, courage, rescue and rehabilitation and conservation. Odder is inspired by the work of The Sea Otter Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works to protect and conserve sea otters and their habitats. Throughout the story we learn about sea otters’ charismatic and playful nature, swimming abilities, strong family ties, fascinating abilities to use tools in their habitats and the joyful but threatened lives they live. The emotional impact of the poetic form will help readers connect with Odder’s character and themes through a memorable experience. After my listening experience, I knew this was a book I had to get my hands on. Whether you listen to Odder or read the words, I promise you will fall in love with her story.



What I was Reading: 

“Happy Hour” tells the story of two broke but glamorous and charming party girls, Isa and Gala, who arrive to New York City for a summer of adventure and fun. Told in a diary format through the protagonist, Isa, Happy Hour opens in May as the girls embark on their adventure in NYC:

   Excerpt of  Happy Hour, by Marlowe Granados   

My mother always told me that to be a girl one must be especially clever.

Before landing at JFK, I had three Bloody Marys and an extra piece of cake that fell apart in my mouth. A person should never take on a city with an empty stomach, and I am always hungry.

Leaving London didn’t bother me much because one should always be making moves. When asked, “What made you come to London?” I would say, “I didn’t want to go home.” That, to me, is always enough.

People think coming to New York is an answer, that’s where they go wrong. It was Friday night and the sun had already set. At each subway stop, large groups of friends came on the train. Down the car, someone played a disco medley off a phone. I felt my own night stretch out before me.”

Moves I notice the author making:

  • Sensory language: Granados’s description of Isa filling her empty stomach with Bloody Marys and an extra piece of cake, as well as the sound of the disco medley playing down the subway car, add to the sensory experience of the opening scene and immerse the reader in the the novel’s surroundings.
  • Liminal Space: The first-person narration allows the reader insight into Isa’s inner thoughts and feelings. Isa’s rich inner dialogue makes an in-between space, like leaving an airport or taking the subway, feel like an important event.
  • Ambiguous Ending: “I felt my own night stretch out before me,” leaves the reader with an open-ended conclusion, suggesting that Isa’s journey is young and full of possibilities.
  • Irony: Isa’s declaration that “people think coming to New York is an answer, that’s where they go wrong” is a form of irony, as it contradicts the typical assumption that arriving in a big city like New York can solve all one’s problems.

Possibilities for writers:

  • Come up with a hook: Granados takes the cliched line “My mother always told me…” and plays around with it. Ask writers to come up with their own hook that could involve breathing life into tired life advice.
  • I” statements: Isa begins a paragraph with something someone else has told her, and then flips it into what she feels or believes with strong “I” statements. For instance: “A person should never take on a city with an empty stomach, and I am always hungry.” Have writers come up with their own “I” statements that contradict or react to advice that they have heard before.
  • Setting: Granados uses setting to add atmosphere and context to her story. The descriptions of the subway stops and the night scene in New York add to the story’s overall mood and help to create a strong sense of place. Have your writers come up with a location for their story that they know well and can describe in vivid detail.


What I was Reading:

Watercress by Andrea Wang, pictures by Jason Chin is an Caldecott award-winning picture book that tells “a story about the power of sharing memories—including the painful ones—and the way our heritage stays with and shapes us, even when we don’t see it.” (Publishers Weekly)

This book is available on SORA and there are many ways that it could be used as teaching points in the grade 6-12 ELA classroom. 

Text Form Analysis:

As Andrea Wang states in this interview with John Schu, “Watercress is like a slice-of-life memoir in picture book format – it wouldn’t exist without one specific memory. I’ve been unable to forget picking watercress by the side of the road as a child. It took me a long time to figure out why my feelings about that experience were so different from my parents – and that realization was based on my mother’s memories of her own childhood in China. Her memories changed how I saw my parents, the same way the girl’s attitude toward her parents and eating the watercress changed when the mother in the book shares one of her own memories. Memories are essentially stories, and just like fictional stories, they can transform people’s lives. Not only did I develop more empathy for my parents, I think I became a more compassionate person after they eventually shared their memories with me.”

This book would be perfect to introduce memoir writing, to use as a mentor text for the different forms in which memoirs are told, and to help students build a must/might chart for memoir writing (a sample lesson plan for building a must/might chart can be found here)

Additional suggestions are below:

Discussion questions to practice/model reading comprehension and text analysis and criticality:

  • What is the main character’s attitude toward watercress? Her mother explains that it is “free.” What does this reveal about the girl’s parents? What does “free” mean to the girl? What in the text or images makes you think this?
  • The main character compares the taste of watercress and her mom’s memories as “delicate and slightly bitter.”
    Discuss whether the mother is “slightly bitter” about her previous life. What do you see in the text or the images that makes you think this?  Why have the mother’s memories been difficult to share? What in the text or images makes you think this?

More discussion questions can be found here

Process/craft moves that students could notice, name and try:

  • Similes (“Mom’s eyes are as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s claw.”)
  • Repetition (the way the author repeats certain words like “free” and “ashamed”)
  • How the author goes between first person narration and dialogue to tell the story (this helps propel the story forward and helps us better understand the characters). 
  • Multiple meanings of words (using context clues – like the word “bitter”). 

Other books available on SORA that could be used as mentor texts for memoir writing include:



We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This is the first post in a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers.

Fluency is the ability to read text accurately and smoothly. Fluent readers read text with automaticity and prosody or expression. They also adjust their reading rate depending on the text.

Here are some suggestions for supporting fluency with First Chapter Fridays:

  • Reading aloud provides a model of fluent reading for students. You can enhance this by using a document camera to project the text for students to follow along while you are reading.
  • While reading, draw attention to places in the text where you monitored and adjusted your pace or expression.
  • Revisit portions of the text in a targeted fluency mini-lesson. Possible areas of focus include reading the punctuation, reading phrases smoothly, adjusting pacing to match form and purpose, and using dimensions of fluency (intonation, stress, pausing, phrasing, tone, & volume) to convey meaning.
  • Use a short section of the text for choral reading.
  • Invite students to reread a passage with a partner and discuss possible ways the reader’s expression could alter the meaning.



Iris Winnow’s brother is missing. Unable to reach him after he leaves to fight in the war of the Gods, she is left to care for her struggling mother and attempt to keep their lives afloat with her low-paying journalist position. Iris knows that if she can get the columnist position at work, things will start to turn around for her family. The one person standing in her way is Roman Kitt, a rival journalist vying for the same columnist position in the paper. With pressures building for Iris at home and at work, she finds solace in a mysterious pen pal connected by magic through her heirloom typewriter. Their connection grows, writing out letters each night and slipping them through their wardrobes. Until a heartbreaking event alters Iris’ trajectory to the front lines and thrusts her into the chaos, danger, and horror of war.

Divine Rivals is a YA book that has it all! Including elements of fantasy, romance, magic, war, rivals, and gods, this is a book that would be a great entry point to different genres for readers who might be stuck in their own preferences. With the blurring lines of genre, Rebecca Ross has weaved a story so wonderful that you can’t help getting sucked into the world and rooting for the main characters. Iris is a strong female character that has her own insecurities and struggles, forced to mature because of her circumstances and is perfectly balanced by Roman, whose tough exterior shields his own fears and anxieties. They’re surrounded by a world where the gods have pulled humans into the crosshairs. By writing through both of their perspectives, the author fosters this connection we have made to both characters, to their lives as journalists, and to the realities of war they are living in. With a heart-pounding cliffhanger in the final moments, this book will surely have readers wanting to discuss and share all their thoughts, long after the book has ended.

I would recommend this book to high school students who want to try out new genres and don’t know where to start. This would also be a great novel to introduce in genre studies as it might generate some interesting discussions about the must have elements of each genre and some of the ways in which they can crossover. Whether it’s about genre, cliffhangers, or predictions for what is to come, this book is sure to start some great conversations for readers!



What I was Reading:  

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is an experimental memoir following the theme of domestic abuse within queer relationships. This book is a uniquely written masterpiece, and Machado is a trailblazer not only in the genre of queer non-fiction, but for creative writing as a whole. From front to back this book is bursting with craft moves, making it hard to choose where to even begin. For this reason, I have simply chosen the first page.

Dream House as Not a Metaphor

I daresay you have heard of the Dream House? It is, as you know, a real place. It stands upright. It is next to a forest and at the rim of a sward. It has a foundation, though rumours of the dead buried within it are, almost certainly, fiction. There used to be a swing dangling from a tree branch but now it’s just a rope, with a single knot swaying in the wind. You may have heard stories about the landlord, but I assure you they are untrue. After all, the landlord is not a man but an entire university. A tiny city of landlords! Can you imagine?

Most of your assumptions are correct: it has doors and walls and windows and a roof. If you are assuming there are two bedrooms, you are both right and wrong. Who is to say that there are only two bedrooms? Every room can be a bedroom: you only need a bed, or not even that. You only need to sleep there. The inhabitant gives the room its purpose. Your actions are mightier than any architect’s intentions.

I bring this up because it is important to remember that the Dream House is real. It is as real as the book you are holding in your hands, though significantly less terrifying. If I cared to, I could give you its address, and you could drive there in your own car and sit in front of that Dream House and try to imagine the things that have happened inside. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you could. No one would stop you.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • In the second paragraph she writes: “Most of your assumptions are correct: it has doors and walls and windows and a roof.” She makes us feel like she is reading our mind, strengthening our connection to the dream house. I related this to the way a bogus psychic may trick their clients into thinking they can see the spirits of their loved ones by using vague terminology and making simple assumptions.
  • Machado connects the physical world of the reader to the words on the page. She writes, “I bring this up because it is important to remember that the Dream House is real. It is as real as the book you are holding in your hands.” Machado takes the tangible book (or e-reader) we are holding and ties it to the otherwise intangible story she is telling. The author is trying to show us just how real the dream house, and in turn, this story, is.
  • The third craft move is not necessarily one specific thing she has done, but something she has done multiple times, and ties into the previous two moves of ensuring we understand the Dream House as a real Machado writes the Dream House as a proper noun by capitalizing both the D and H, as opposed to referring it as “my old house”, or something along those lines. By doing this, we perceive the Dream House to be just as real as Disney World or Canada’s Wonderland. Additionally, Machado tells us that we could hypothetically drive to the dream house: “If I cared to, I could give you its address, and you could drive there in your own car and sit in front of that Dream House and try to imagine the things that have happened inside. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you could. No one would stop you.”

Possibilities for Writers: 

  • Read other excerpts from In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and see what other craft moves you can notice, name and try out.
  • Try to assume what the reader is thinking about what you are writing and reference their thoughts.
  • Try to write about a location using the moves you notice Machado using with the Dream House.





“Because to be funny is to be admired. And to be funnier than someone else is to win. The stakes keep going up. Be funny. Be funnier. And by all means, don’t be the person who complains about the joke. Because boy culture says that everything is funny.”

Fans of Dashka Slater’s award-winning book, The 57 Bus, will be equally captivated by her newest release that follows the true story of a high school student’s Instagram account and the overwhelming impact that was felt when the content was shared among the students, the school, and the entire community of Albany, California. Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed, is a timely and relevant story that serves as a reminder and a warning of what price will be paid when funny content leads to edgy content that leads to racist content, all for the sake of some laughs and likes for some, and heartbreak and trauma for others. Through the telling of this story, we see what price was paid by the student that created the account, those who followed the account, those who knew about the account, those who found out about the account, and of course, the victims targeted on the account.

The adults who tried to intervene were ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of the revelation of the account and the emotions of the students, staff and community. Rash decisions were made and an attempt at restorative justice turned violent. This is one reason why I highly recommend this book to educators and parents in addition to high school students, as although it doesn’t model what to do in situations such as this, it certainly details for the adults what not to do. And even high school students, who hold the understanding of the power of social media, need reminders of  the consequences of the content of their accounts, and the lasting impact it can yield.

What makes Slater’s writing and story-telling unique is her ability to elicit compassion and understanding not just for the victims who were targeted on the account, but also for those who followed, commented, and even created the account, reminding us that we are all better than our worse decisions. This book left me with more questions than answers, and kept me thinking long after the last page was read. Along with this is her unique take on the story is her writing craft, which includes poetic prose alongside hard-hitting factual narrative. Here is an example of one chapter:


Does it matter if you thought no one besides your friend would see it?

Does it matter if it was supposed to be a joke?

Does it matter if you laughed?

Does it matter if you never commented?

Does it matter if you never saw a post?

Does it matter if you knew it was wrong but you said nothing?

Does it matter if you said something but no one listened?

Does it matter if they bullied you?

Does it matter that they’re still your friends?

Does it matter that you’re a teenager?

Does it matter if you’re sorry?


Excerpt from Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed by Daska Slater