Margin Notes

THE PASSING PLAYBOOK BY ISAAC FITZSIMONS 

Jan
25

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.” 

ALONE BY CHRISTOPHE CHABOUTE

Jan
18

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.

GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS All THE YOUNG MEN: A MEMOIR OF LOVE, AIDS, AND CHOSEN FAMILY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH BY RUTH COKER BURKS WITH KEVIN CARR O’LEARY

Jan
11

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.

RIVALS BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Dec
21

“Everyone thinks it must be totally awesome to be so good at something, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the greatest feeling in the world. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s too much. Too much attention, too much pressure, too many expectations. I mean, look what happened with the cheating thing – I don’t even love basketball that much, but even so, I did, like, this really dumb thing because I thought I had to. I literally thought it was the only choice, that if I couldn’t play basketball then everything would be ruined. I mean, I like basketball, I really do. Maybe I even love it. But sometimes it felt like I had to LIVE it. And I didn’t want that.”

Tommy Greenwald’s newest release, Rivals, takes us back to the town of Walthorne, but this time readers are embedded in the across-town rivalry between the north and the south middle schools. Based on the real-life experience of watching his son play basketball, Greenwald’s story serves as a warning of what happens when sports become something they were never meant to be for a kid: their job.

Once again using different formats students loved in Game Changer: social media posts, interview transcripts, newspaper articles, and flashbacks, this story is both powerful and relevant. Two young basketball players used to meet up on Saturday mornings and love every second they were on the court. Fast forward a few years, and we have Austin Chambers, from the north, who is so busy trying to live up to his parents’ expectations of him to be the best player, he impulsively jeopardizes the safety of a teammate. The other young player, Carter Haswell, from the south, is trying to perform under the pressure that his athletic ability is his ticket out of financial hardship, and makes a risky decision that could cost him more than just his place on the team.

Interspersed throughout the story we hear the voices of many young students caught up in the “win at all costs” mentality that is pervasive in youth sport culture and shows us who really loses out: the kids. While I recommend this title for many readers – sports fans, realistic fiction fans, readers who like a page turner they can’t put down, readers who recognize the impact of social media – I also recommend it to their parents. The message of this author is one we can all learn from.

GAME CHANGER BY TOMMY GREENWALD

Dec
14

After reading Tommy Greenwald’s latest book, The Rivals, we had to return to recommend the first companion novel, Game Changer.

You may recognize the title from a craft studio you can find here. The craft studio post highlights the modern storytelling that allows readers to piece together the story from dialogue, texts, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, a social media page and inner thoughts. The modern format and compelling narrative will appeal to all young readers navigating the world of social media, secrets, and friendships.

What do you do when team loyalty means going against your own values? With so many different stories, whose will be heard? And who is telling the truth?

This fast-paced storyline is engaging as readers follow the mystery of 13-year-old Teddy Youngblood fighting for his life in a coma after a football practice at Walthorne high school. It quickly becomes apparent that the accounts of what happened to Teddy are not lining up and there are people who are working hard to keep the truth a secret and silence those who know.

Game Changers is an important read for any sports fan as it addresses the dangers of hazing rituals and the responsibility that parents, coaches, and teammates have in keeping the players safe.

Not only a recommended book for athletes, but this book also appeals to any suspense-lover as the different perspectives and text forms give subtle clues to the facts surrounding this injury. When enough people start talking and asking questions, the truth always comes out. The is an important book to have on a classroom shelf.

Stay tuned for our recommendation of The Rivals!

THANKS FOR THE FEEDBACK BY DOUGLAS STONE AND SHEILA HEEN

Dec
07

In Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it’s off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood), Harvard Law School lecturers Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define feedback in this way:

Feedback includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people—how we learn from life…so feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped. Feedback can be formal or informal, direct or implicit; it can be blunt or baroque, totally obvious or so subtle that you’re not sure what it is. (p. 4)

Although it is directed toward the feedback receiver, Thanks for the Feedback offers a wealth of information for educators to consider when creating the conditions for feedback to be both given and received effectively. Because they define feedback so broadly, and because we are all givers and receivers of feedback in various contexts, Stone and Heen, have written a resource that will help every reader improve their communication.

According to Stone and Heen, there are three kinds of feedback:

  1. Appreciation “is fundamentally about relationship and human connection. At a literal level it says, ‘Thanks.’ But appreciation also conveys, ‘I see you,’ ‘I know how hard you’ve been working,’ and ‘You matter to me.’” (p. 31)
  2. Coaching “is “aimed at trying to help someone learn, grow or change.” (p. 32)
  3. Evaluation “tells you where you stand. It’s an assessment, ranking, or rating…Evaluations are always in some respect comparisons, implicitly or explicitly, against others or against a particular set of standards.” (p. 33)

It is important for both the giver and receiver to be aware of three potential triggers that can block feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers “are set off by the substance of the feedback itself—it’s somehow off, unhelpful, or simply untrue.” (p.16)
  2. Relationship Triggers “are tripped by the particular person who is giving us the gift of feedback. All feedback is colored by the relationship between giver and receiver, and we can have reactions based on what we believe about the giver…or how we feel treated by the giver.” (p.16)
  3. Identity Triggers “are all about us. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or witless, something about it has caused our identity—our sense of who we are—to come undone.” (p.16)

Recognizing our feedback triggers helps us manage our reactions to feedback and approach it with a stance of curiosity. Knowing our tendencies to react to certain feedback in certain ways allows us to engage in feedback conversations as learners, even when we don’t agree with the feedback.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from Thanks for the Feedback for educators to consider when creating optimal conditions for giving and receiving feedback in the classroom:

  • It’s essential to align the type of feedback with its purpose and for both the giver and receiver to be aligned on the purpose for feedback.
  • Before we can determine whether feedback is right or wrong, we have to understand it.
  • Strong reactions to feedback often result in “extreme interpretations” of feedback (for example, a suggestion to change one thing is heard as “change everything”).
  • Identity is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and when feedback contradicts or challenges our identity, it can cause our identity to unravel.
  • Even if feedback is accurate, timely, and communicated well, if it involves too many ideas or suggestions for change, it’s unlikely to be received.
  • Feedback isn’t only about the quality of its content; the quality of the relationship between giver and receiver is just, if not more, important.

Thanks for the Feedback is not specifically for educators, but many of the ideas are very applicable to feedback in the classroom context. I found the information fascinating because it sheds light on strategies to make any interaction—professional or personal, formal or informal, planned or impromptu—more effective.

THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN BY BRANDY COLBERT

Nov
30

Author Brandy Colbert best known for her YA novels The Voting Booth, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Little & Lion, Finding Yvonne and soon to be released Black Birds in the Sky has debuted her first middle grade novel The Only Black Girls in Town. Set in the small California surfing town of Ewing Beach, our protagonist Alberta is one of only a few seventh grade black students in her local middle school and while her long-time best friend Laramie is like a sister, there are still some things she doesn’t “get”.  To make things more complicated Laramie is striking up a new friendship with the “popular” eighth grader Nicolette McKee, who also just happens to be Alberta’s worst nightmare. So, when the bed and breakfast next door is bought Alberta is of course curious.  When she learns the family is black and has a daughter Alberta’s age she is beyond excited. Alberta and Edie (the new girl) soon become friends and of course this leads to misunderstandings and complications with Laramie.

As Alberta and Edie begin to navigate their new friendship they make an unexpected discovery of some long-lost journals in Edie’s new bedroom (the attic of the B&B). The journals belonged to the mysterious Constance. The girls soon begin to try and unravel the mystery of who Constance was and how her journals came to be in the attic of the bed and breakfast?

Against this backdrop the Alberta and Edie deal with microaggressions from classmates, first time crushes, and mean girl culture and begin to understand that while being the only black girls in town can be difficult, life for black people a few decades ago was much more difficult and even dangerous.

I loved The Only Two Black Girls in Town. It surprised me with complicated themes that I did not expect. I highly recommend this book for all middle grade classrooms.

To learn more about author Brandy Colbert visit here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU’D BE HOME NOW BY KATHLEEN GLASGOW

Nov
23

Kathleen Glasgow’s newest title, You’d Be Home Now, exposes the tragic outcomes when children feel unseen and unheard, and the lengths they will go to escape these feelings.

Emmie Ward is someone most would call privileged. White, wealthy, intelligent, and a dancer on the school team – she appears to have it all. But she also has two parents too busy to notice her, a brother struggling with addiction, friendships that have been broken, a neighbor who offers an escape that only leads to a broken heart, a body broken by a car accident and the grief of the death of an innocent bystander to all of this. So, while privileged in some ways, Emmie is carrying more than anyone should have to.

When her brother goes missing after a relapse, Emmie is determined to find him. Somehow her strength and determination and love for her brother awaken something in her parents and they finally seem to see what is happening to their family, and more importantly, what they can do to save it.

With themes such as parenting, addiction, slut-shaming, and the bond between siblings wrapped into a story that is deep and beautifully written, this title is one that will be passed from student and to student and leaves its readers with the understanding that just because you’ve heard stories about someone, it doesn’t mean you know them. In Emmie’s words…

I’m a girl on a stage and I have nothing beautiful for you.

I’m a girl on a stage and you think you know my story.

But how can you know my story

when I haven’t written it yet

When I haven’t had a chance to live it yet.

How can you know my story

When you don’t even know me

THE OTHER TALK: RECKONING WITH OUR WHITE PRIVILEGE BY BRENDAN KIELY

Nov
16

The Other Talk: Reckoning with My Our White Privilege takes the knowledge that BIPOC people (Brendan Kiely uses Tiffany Jewell’s term Global Majority) are forced to have “The Talk” about racism and survival in a way that white folks have the privilege of avoiding.  

In his author’s note, Brendan Kiely says that he “heard so many people of the Global Majority asking white people to get more involved – to listen more, learn more, and to speak up more about racism and white privilege – and [he did] not want to dodge that call [he’d] heard so loud and clear.” 

This book is one of his responses. 

Brendan uses a conversational tone that is welcoming to young people as he revisits his past and reflects on his learning about being anti-racist. He shares raw stories of when he got it wrong, so that his readers can see their own privilege and learn how to do better. His reflection invites the reader to think about their own experiences without shame or guilt, but with a desire to learn. 

Brendan weaves in history and information but tailors it to a YA audience by explicitly connecting the history and the narrative in a way that is easy to follow. The impact of systemic racism is continually referenced to clearly explain how it is rooted and continues to influence the present.  

He borrows a quote from Kyle Korver who says: 

As white people, are we guilty of the sins of our forefathers? No, I don’t think so.   

But are we responsible for them? Yes, I believe we are. 

And I guess I’ve come to realize that when we talk about solutions to systemic racism . . . it’s not about guilt. It’s not about pointing fingers, or passing blame.  

It’s about responsibility. 

This book belongs in your classroom library because it is accessible and guides the reader through the history and importance of anti-racism, using the lens of a white man examining his own privilege. Brendan covers the topics of systemic racism, stepping in vs listening, staying in the discomfort, guilt, white passing and more. 

We need to have “The Other Talk” about white privilege. As Brendan leaves the reader,  

Now is the time to take action! 

Join that tradition and be part of shaping that future. 

Show up. Speak out. 

Do something. 

You can. 

 

THE WRITER’S PRACTICE BY JOHN WARNER

Nov
11

As someone who struggles with developing a writing habit, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a book called The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in your Nonfiction Writing. Honestly, it sounded like work. And I was not expecting to be enthusiastic about reading it. But, because John Warner is also the author of “Why They Can’t Write”, which was a book I really enjoyed, I was willing to give this one a go. And I’m so glad I did!

Warner has written an entertaining and engaging book that is a roadmap for how to write non-fiction well. He developed this book through years of teaching freshman writers, most of whom couldn’t write anything beyond a five-paragraph essay.

If you teach high school ELA, I would highly recommend this book. I can envision it being a great addition to the writer’s workshop. And, at the back of the book, Warner gives you a possible sequence of the activities that you could use as mini-lessons and guided practice over 15 weeks.

As Warner says, “This book is for anyone who wants to improve their writing, which is everyone because everyone is a writer.”

You can find out more about the book here.