Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER DEVIN MCLAUGHLIN RECOMMENDS DRY BY NEAL AND JARROD SHUSTERMAN

Jun
25

DryScience fiction is always at its best when it reflects our societal or cultural anxieties. Great sci-fi leaves readers pondering the what-ifs of our own world and, more importantly, how we may respond to such events. This is the reason that this genre has always appealed to me, and Dry, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is no exception. This novel focuses on how society would respond to a major drought brought on by the effects of climate change. Spoiler: It is absolutely terrifying.

Set in southern California in the midst of a major draught referred to as The Tap-Out, Dry centers around Alyssa, a 16-year-old, and her family as they navigate their way through an unravelling society. Things go from bad to catastrophic as Alyssa’s parents go missing while trying to acquire water from government operated desalination machines. Now Alyssa is faced with decisions that could mean the difference between life and death for her friends and remaining loved ones.

Like all good science fiction, Dry will make readers begin to view the world differently. I found myself questioning what I would do in an event such as The Tap-Out and that idea alone can open up some undeniably great classroom discussions or writing prompts if the book was used as a read aloud. It should be noted that parts of Dry could be upsetting to some students. The novel doesn’t shy away from how animalistic humans could indeed get in such dire circumstances. With that said, I guarantee that this novel will leave you on the edge of your seat and unable to put the book down. The novel would be fantastic as a read aloud, as the story starts from the get-go and never really lets up. High school students will find a lot to connect with but even grade 8s who see stories of climate change on the news all the time will take something away from Dry. I would be hesitant to read this aloud to classes younger than 8th grade though, simply due to the intensity of some scenes and the mild language.

Overall, I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you have a bottle of water close by as you read it. You’ll thank me later…

Devin McLaughlin is a middle school teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School and teaches grade 7 and 8 Language Arts and Social Studies.

GUEST WRITER MEGAN YOUNG JONES RECOMMENDS SHOE DOG (YOUNG READERS EDITION) BY PHIL KNIGHT

Jun
18

Shoe DogAs I was reading this book for Margin Notes, a student in my grade 8 class was sharing the book with me, as he couldn’t wait for me to finish it to begin his reading. I found a note he had scribbled on a post-it and left within the pages. It said: “This feels like my grandfather is telling me a story.” I think this sums up Shoe Dog very succinctly and clearly. This book chronicles Phil Knight’s adventures, successes and near catastrophic decisions as he chases his “crazy” dream of creating and selling shoes. And it really does read as if someone close to you is telling you a story.

This isn’t just a book for the sports enthusiasts in your classroom. Yes, this is the story of a runner who sees value in creating shoes that improve speed and endurance. But this is also the story of an entrepreneur. The book is replete with business jargon with discussions of equity, loans, and the fight for the title of sole distributer, but it is also a story of relationships and how we treat people “on our team”.

I am excited about having this “window” book that explores the initial resistance of banks/society to take running shoes seriously, but who are forced to, because Phil Knight’s ability to “dream crazy” is something nobody can contend with.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 8 Language Arts at Nashwaaksis Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.

HEROINE BY MINDY MCGINNIS

Jun
11

HeroineI am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.

Mickey Catalan is famous in her hometown for being the star catcher on a softball team that is supposed to make history this year. But just before the season starts, Mickey is in a car accident that leaves her with three screws in her hip, intense pain, and a prescription for OxyContin. And so begins a story all too familiar due to the current opioid crisis.

Before the accident, Mickey thought she knew what pain was. Her father had an affair and now has a new wife and baby. She rarely felt comfortable with people and always struggled to find the right thing to say. But this pain is so intense that she starts to take more OxyContin than she should, and then more, and then more…because what she comes to realize is not only do the pills alleviate her pain, they make her feel good. And with them she can train harder and recover faster and get back to where she needs to be – crouched behind home plate.

The fact is though, OxyContin is expensive. And hard to find. And nobody wants to share their “stash”. But there is something less expensive, that is easy to find, and that many are willing to share. Heroine. As a reader, you wonder if there is any way to stop this downward spiral that so many find themselves trapped in.

This book is a gut-wrenching account of how addiction slowly builds and how, once it exists, feeding that addiction will cost a person everything.

GUEST WRITER KIM SKILLITER RECOMMENDS BROTHER BY DAVID CHARIANDY

Jun
04

BrotherIt’s not often that I come to the end of a novel and immediately flip back to the beginning, but I did just that with Brother. David Chariandy’s mesmerizing writing and gripping storyline kept me reading so quickly that, coming to the end of its 187 pages, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind me.

Readers who appreciate Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give will find a similar storyline. Chariandy’s characters are the marginalized immigrants of early 1990s’ Scarborough, Ontario. They are hardworking and hopeful, but the obstacles in the way of achieving their dreams of a better life in this country are overwhelming. Parents navigate lengthy routes on public transit to work backbreaking hours at minimum wage jobs, forced to leave their young children home behind locked doors- with strict instructions not to open them. Children face racism at school; they are feared and shunned by their fellow students, driven into alternative programming, and, often, out the door entirely, by the educational system. The police are an omnipresent threat.

The title refers to the narrator Michael’s late brother, Francis, an intelligent, sensitive, popular and well-respected member of the immigrant community in The Park- a low-income housing complex in Scarborough. The novel is an homage to Francis and to all those young lives ruined and-all too often- lost, by oppressive ideologies at play in what is supposed to be the most welcoming of countries. Chariandy’s characters are complex; he fleshes out stereotypes and we fall in love with people like Anton, a small-time drug dealer who “never had the right sort of clothes against the cold and rain. . . couldn’t hide the fact that at dinnertime he wouldn’t be going inside.” Chariandy’s imagery is astounding, and we sweat in the summer heat along with his characters, like Michael and Francis’ mom, who comes home from work off the bus in a catatonic state to a stultifying, airless apartment- and a bowl of cold water for her feet, provided by a young Francis.

Chariandy, himself the son of Trinidadian immigrants to Toronto, is an important voice in Canadian literature because we need to read the truth about our country, and we need to have empathy for all of its citizens. We need to reflect on the oppressive systems at work in what is supposed to be a welcoming place, full of opportunity for all. Students need to be given the opportunity to hear diverse voices and to reflect on these important messages in our classrooms.

Kim is an English teacher at Fredericton High School. She loves to read, read some more, and talk to her students about how awesome reading is 😊.  She hopes one day soon to resurrect the Canadian Literature course at FHS, and to pilot an Indigenous Literature course as well.

Book Recommendation: Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

May
14

Our literacy team recently finished a book study on Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This book is filled with strategies for creating and communicating ideas that will be “sticky” with an audience. Although not specifically directed toward educators, we found lots of applications to our work with teachers and students.

The Heath brothers define ideas that stick as those that are understood and remembered and that have a lasting impact on the audience by changing opinions or behavior. After studying countless examples of ideas that fit this definition, including everything from marketing campaigns to urban legends, they identified six principles of stickiness:

1. Simple

“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence (p 27).”

2. Unexpected

“Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprises make us pay attention and think. The extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories. Surprise gets our attention. Sometimes the attention is fleeting, but in other cases surprise can lead to enduring attention. Surprise can prompt us to hunt for underlying causes, to imagine other possibilities, to figure out how to avoid surprises in the future (p. 68).”

3. Concrete

“This is how concreteness helps us understand—it helps us construct higher, more abstract insights on the building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions. Abstraction demands some concrete foundation. Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air (p. 106).”

4. Credible

“We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have ‘internal credibility (p. 106).”

5. Emotional

“How can we make people care about ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also the people they would like to be (p. 203).”

6. Stories

“Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers—we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p. 237).”

One of the ideas that stuck with me as I read and discussed this book (see what I did there?) was the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we can’t unlearn it. The more expertise we develop in an area, the more challenging it is to remember what it’s like not to know. Our knowledge and understanding make it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the learner, which is critical if we want our ideas to stick.

Made to Stick is an interesting and engaging read for anyone who wants their ideas to impact their audience, whether it is one person in a conversation, a class of students, or colleagues in a presentation. It offers practical and actionable wisdom that is illustrated by stories from many contexts where sticky ideas matter

Guest Writer Krista deMolitor Recommends Flying Lessons & Other Stories

May
07

Flying Lessons & Other Stories is the cure for the indecisive reader. This anthology of short stories is written by some well-known and lesser-known young-adult authors of this time, including one story by acclaimed writer of Booked and Crossover, Kwame Alexander.

This book starts off strong with a short story by Matt De La Pena entitled: “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium”. What a title! When the main character (whom addresses the reader directly throughout the story) has out-grown shooting hoops with his normal friends at the local court, he hears of a spot across town by his father’s work offering a higher calibre of play. He commits to waking up early on his summer vacation to go into work with his dad at 5am every single morning. His commitment to the game teaches him a lot about himself, his love for the game, and his father. It’s a great story for any reader.

The more I read, the more I appreciated the selection of short stories. Each story brought with it a unique perspective and new positive and negative stereotypes. The writing is fantastic and the selection of stories seamlessly flow through diverse topics with an array of characters. There are numerous opportunities for mentor texts in this book as well; whatever strategy you want to teach will have plenty of examples in these stories.

The characters are authentic and relatable which makes it an easy choice for a classroom lacking in that area. Race, sexual orientation, gender diversity, culture, and other topics relevant to today’s readers are explored tastefully and realistically through entertaining stories.

Not only would Flying Lessons & Other Stories make a great addition to any middle level classroom, it would also be a great choice for some variety with read-alouds. Book talking individual stories also proved useful as many students were asking me weeks later to borrow the “book about flying”. Students can easily pick it up and flip to the short story that interests them the most (or, find the story with the most captivating title!) and read as much or as little of it as they like.

Overall, it was a great read and an absolute necessity for any classroom.

Krista deMolitor is a grade 7 Language Arts teacher at George Street Middle School in Fredericton.

Guest Writer Elizabeth Andrews Recommends: You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Apr
29

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino may be aimed at middle level students but the complex ideas of family, ability, racism, and police violence are anything but juvenile. Using interwoven story lines, Gino challenges the reader to interrogate their own privilege and explore how they may be contributing to the marginalization of others—even if this was never their intention. This is done in a developmentally appropriate way that becomes the subtext of a heartwarming story.

The main character in the book, Jilly, is a white, middle class girl growing up in Oaktown. She lives with her mother and father, as well as a new baby sister. Her life has been safe and comfortable but as the book progresses, she becomes increasingly aware of how society marginalizes people (including her family and friends) because they are black, deaf, or LGBTQ+. Jilly learns that in order to change things, you have to first understand how you are contributing to the problem.

There are lots of moments that relieve the tension that Gino has created. From peanut butter sandwiches and online fandoms to best friends and silly secret codes, this book strikes the right balance to engage middle level readers (particularly grade 6 and 7) while challenging their thinking. There are many opportunities for mini-lessons, especially on form and text features but also for figurative language and how to use an appendix. It is the perfect book to use for a reading ladder that might also include titles such as Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.

There are two sections at the end of the book that are definitely worth exploring with students: The Author’s Note and the Acknowledgements. You might be tempted to overlook them—don’t. Gino uses this as an opportunity to ask forgiveness for sharing the stories of marginalized people through a white protagonist with hearing and explains the reasons behind this choice. They (Gino’s preferred pronoun) also take the opportunity to explain their personal connections to the topics and provide context. I might be tempted to look at these final sections first, as they will help readers build understanding and create anchors prior to engaging in the text. It will provide you with some really interesting mini-lessons as well.

If you are looking for your next quick read-aloud, or simply need a suggestion for students that love realistic fiction, I highly recommend You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino.

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)

Book Recommendation: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Apr
23

In Harbor Me, we meet Haley, a grade 6 girl with a secret she has only told her best friend and a handful of adults. At school, she is grouped with 5 other students to meet at the end of the day in an empty classroom so they can talk and share.  Everyone is reluctant at first but Haley breaks the ice with her hand-held recorder as her new friends realize they want their stories to be heard and remembered.  As the middle schoolers begin to trust one another, their words pour out stories about immigration, racial profiling, bullying, incarceration, and death, and these wounds are filled in return with poetry, music, love, trust, forgiveness, and friendship.

This is a beauty of a book.  The topics are big, and refreshingly, not dumbed down for middle school students.  Instead, they are given the respect they deserve and the author, Jacqueline Woodson, clearly believes that young people can handle these topics; age does not prevent tough situations in life from happening.  This novel is such a great example of literature being both a window and a mirror for our students and having this in your classroom library will be a game changer for some readers.

Book Recommendation: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Apr
16

The beginning of The Marrow Thieves quickly pulls you into the dystopian world of a Canada nearly destroyed by climate change.  On top of the environmental destruction, the colonizers have lost the ability to dream, but discover that Indigenous people still can and the secret is in their bone marrow.  Recruiters are deployed to hunt down all the remaining First Nations people and bring them to residential “schools” and “hospitals” that are set up to harvest the marrow from their bones that is then injected into the colonizers so they can dream again.  This backdrop sets the stage for meeting the main character, Frenchie, a Métis teenager who has lost his family and is fleeing north to escape the Recruiters.  Along the way, he meets up with more of his people and they decide to travel together to find a safe place to live. And maybe even stop the madness. 

What you really need to know is that this book is exceptional-Cherie Dimaline is a writer you will want to know more about and The Marrow Thieves deserves a spot on your bookshelf.  This novel pulls off being both beautifully written and very exciting-something not every book can make a claim to.  The development of the characters is deep-to the point where you will undoubtedly find yourself in tears a number of times because they have completely stolen your heart.  The plot moves quickly, which makes this an enjoyable page turner, but the depth of the story also causes the reader to reflect on their own views and to learn.  At the end of the day, I can’t recommend this book enough.

This book has some very mature content that needs to be considered for younger readers but as always, you know your readers best!

GUEST WRITER NOELLA JEONG RECOMMENDS WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES BY SUSIN NIELSEN

Apr
09

We are all made of moleculesIf you want an easy-to-digest, easy-to-love modern classic, we are all made of molecules by Susin Nielsen is the book for you!

I have to admit that at first I was wary of the multi-narrator novel, as it’s not usually my type of book, but I really enjoyed the perspectives of Stewart and Ashley. Not only was it necessary to understand that these two characters are from very different worlds (even though they live in the same one), but also to see that, in spite of their many differences, they really are both “made of molecules.”

Within the first few chapters of the book, I fluctuated from tears (on page 2…page 2!) to laughing out loud at the quote, “I am counting the days till I can become unconstipated!!” and this is truly representative of the broad range of emotions I experienced while reading this book. Before writing this recommendation, I also shared the novel with two students who had similar reactions. One of the students actually said, “Mrs. Jeong, the emotions in this book are exactly like my life; some days I laugh and cry on the same day and I don’t even know what will make me feel that way!”

So, on top of being enjoyable for a teacher to read, it is also relatable for teens, as it covers so many different topics/issues of interest to young people: love, school, friendships, and the many combinations of people who constitute a family.

The experiences of Stewart and Ashley, including learning to navigate their new family dynamic, make we are all made of molecules a must-read. Teens will find a story that both mirrors their own questions and insecurities AND models how to deal with said insecurities. Teachers will find a mirror into the minds of the students who sit in front of them every day, students who try to be the most well-adjusted set of molecules they can be (in spite of whatever might be going on in life.)

Noella Jeong is a grade 9 teacher, mother of 4, and avid reader. She loves to explore young adult fiction as a way to connect with her students, and to also help guide them in their choices.