Margin Notes

Guest Writer Ryan Price Recommends Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Aug
28

Winter, 1945, Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. Readers follow the stories of four refugees from four different homelands, harbouring four separate secrets that have torn their lives apart akin to the physical destruction of Europe caused by World War II. Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred attempt to flee Eastern Europe in search of safety, family, revenge, closure and escape from their past.

Ruta Sepetys’, Salt to the Sea will certainly appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, specifically World War II history, but also any reader who enjoys texts driven by complex characters. The format of Salt to the Sea, with short, cliffhanging chapters rotating between the perspectives of the four main characters, makes it very easy for the reader to become engaged in the characters and their stories. It’s a novel that leaves you wanting to continue reading to find out what happens next.

Joanna, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred’s secrets, much like their safety, are made vulnerable by the events of war unfolding around them. They also place each character on a destined path that inevitably brings them together aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that is meant to transport the four ‘heroes’ and their friends to safety. As their rescue mission reaches its climax, their secrets are revealed causing an emotional impact that mirrors the physical impact of the war taking place around them.

Salt to the Sea would appeal to middle and high school students. As a work of historical fiction, it would be very easy for students to make cross-curricular connections with social studies courses. It tackles many themes that are prevalent in texts set during war, including but not limited to fate, survival, family, guilt, loss, and redemption. I highly recommend this novel!

Bio for Ryan Price:

I am a High School Literacy and Assessment Coordinator in Anglophone School District-South. While a large chunk of my time dedicated to reading is immersed in professional research, I feel it is extremely important to frequently return to what made me fall in love with reading in the first place, engaging stories with complex and dynamic characters.

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE BY RUTA SEPETYS

May
18

Author Ruta Sepetys, well known for historical fiction novels such as, Salt to the SeaBetween Shades of Gray, and Out of the Easy has once again offered readers a powerful and hauntingly beautiful novel entitled The Fountains of Silence. Set in 1957 post war fascist Spain, 18-year-old American, Daniel Matheson has come with his oil tycoon parents to Madrid.  His father’s company has hopes of inking an oil deal with dictator Franco, while Daniel hopes to learn more about his mother’s birth country, Spain, through his passion for photography. 

As a child of privilege Daniel is soon learns that not all Spaniards enjoy a comfortable and secure lifestyle.   Ana, an employee of the hotel at which Daniel is staying, and the young daughter of teachers who sided against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, slowly introduces to him another Spain. A Spain that encompasses hardship, hunger, and fear.  Fear of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s military force), fear of landowners, and fear of one’s neighbors. Daniel soon realizesSpain, its institutions, and its residents have many secrets. 

 Sepetys masterfully and slowly begins to peal back the layers of the secretthrough the short and fast paced chapters narrated by multiple characters.  Each narrator powerfully begins to shed light on the dark corners of Spain in eye opening detail. In addition, to the prose, Sepetys weaves primary sources throughout the story at the end of each chapter to provide a greater depth and context to a time in history previously unrealized by many western nations. 

 

The Fountains of Silence like other novels by Sepetys, explores heartbreak, love, and the lasting repercussions of hate and war. Once I began this novel, I was immediately invested in the characters and their journey. I didn’t want the story to end. 

Guest Writer Katie Prescott on Personalized Reading Goals

Jun
19

As an English teacher, I have always encouraged my students to read, but I had not found strategies that I felt “really worked”. After attending a PL Session with Jill, Melissa, and Kelly on how to increase the volume of reading in my high school English classroom, I set out with a mission. The very next day, I started showcasing a new novel with a small book talk at the beginning of each class. I made multiple trips to the FHS Library to take out books to bring into my classroom for these showcases. I pleaded (but it didn’t take much convincing) with one of our amazing librarians to order even more books that I heard about when Jill and Melissa came into my classes to give a “30 Books in 30 Minutes” presentation, which actually turned into an hour because once they start, they can’t stop!  Also, when I knew a student finished a book they liked, I had them tell the class about it too. I have never seen so many books flying out of my hands or from student to student. Simply just sharing books consistently, and with passion, was so effective. (more…)