Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER ANGELA LARDNER RECOMMENDS DEAR EVAN HANSEN BY VAL EMMICH

Feb
19

“Dear Evan Hansen,dearevanhansen-thenovel
Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why…”

Well, not all of Evan Hansen’s days are amazing.

Evan has a letter mix-up with Connor Murphy, a troubled teen whom Evan barely knows. Evan wrote the letter to himself as part of his therapy; however, Connor picked it up off the printer and kept it. When tragedy strikes, Connor’s family finds the letter, thinking Connor wrote it to Evan.

Evan, not being able to tell the truth to the grieving family, plays along with the idea that he and Connor were best friends. Evan creates an imaginary world of memories and experiences of the “friendship”, all in the good-spirit of trying to bring peace and comfort to Connor’s family.

Soon, Evan’s lies start to get out of control. They start consuming his life, his friend’s life (as he assists Evan with the charade) and his relationships, especially the relationship he is developing with the girl of his dreams…Connor’s sister, Zoe!

When the “charade” becomes too much, Evan needs to come clean with what he has done. He needs to be honest with himself, the world and Connor’s family. How will he do this? What will be the consequences?

Today is going to be an amazing day…until it is not.

This book is about finding one’s voice and doing what is right, no matter the consequences. Life is not always easy, but by following our hearts and doing the right thing, it does get better.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches mostly high school English. When not at work, she spends her time with her fur babies and reading.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

Feb
07

When we meet Annabelle Agnelli at the beginning of A Heart in a Body in the World, she is running. She was accosted by a drunk at a local take-out and she took off. This isn’t something she planned—she started to run and didn’t stop.

“Where is she going? No idea.Why is she going? Well, sometimes you just snap. Snapping is easy when you’re already brittle from the worst possible thing happening. It is easy when you’re broken and guilty and scared. You snap just like that. Like the snap has been waiting around for the right moment.”

Annabelle runs until dark and then calls to tell her grandfather to say she isn’t going to stop. She’s going to run from their home in Seattle to Washington, DC. 2719 miles. A half-marathon every day.

Anyone who has run long distances alone knows that it’s just you and your thoughts. Annabelle has experienced a traumatic event, and as she runs she battles anger, fear, and flashbacks to what happened with someone she refers to only as the Taker. At first, Annabelle is quietly running for herself with the support of her road crew—Grandpa Ed driving the RV, and her logistics team—her younger brother and two friends. Soon, however, there is a Go Fund Me, a YouTube video, t-shirts, and interviews. Annabelle’s run attracts media attention and she is met by supporters who consider her an activist.

As Annabelle crosses the country, we accompany her on a journey that is both physically and emotionally unrelenting. She is haunted by guilt and anxiety, wondering if she is to blame for what happened. As she works through these emotions we learn, bit by bit, the details of the tragedy. She overcomes the grueling physical challenge of running 13 miles every day in the heat of summer and she finds the strength to see what the Taker did with new clarity.

This is a gripping story told through a unique narrative. I look forward to recommending it to high school teachers and students.

Guest Writer Malcolm Mulligan Recommends Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Feb
05

The first in the Arc of a Scythe series, Scythe is set on a future earth where science has eliminated death and hunger and the world is governed by a computer called the Thunderhead. People are free to lead their lives in whatever way they choose. Most citizens marry multiple times and have several families because they can make themselves younger whenever they choose, most often before they turn “too gray”. One of the consequences of this ability is an awkward family reunion since children can end up being older than their parents!

Since natural death has been eliminated, the Thunderhead has decreed that scythes are necessary to keep the population down to a level that can be maintained. Scythes have complete control over who, when and where they will “glean” their selected citizens. When a scythe announces to a citizen that they have been selected for gleaning, they willingly allow the scythe to end their life because if they resist, their entire family will be gleaned. Imagine!

The story focuses on two high school students who have been randomly selected by a scythe to be his apprentices. Once selected, they must leave their homes and families to go live in a home with another apprentice to learn “the art of killing” and become a scythe: a government agent that has but one role – to assassinate citizens.

Weaved within the narrative are several topics of interest for students to consider:

* Having no choice in your future career and being forced to learn something you have no interest in, or worse, something abhorrent to your values

* State-sanctioned murder as a way to control population growth

* The meaning of life

* The implications of everlasting life on earth

* The effects of having a constant companion

This series will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy and dystopian genres. The second book in the series, Thunderhead, is just as engaging, and I can hardly wait for the third book, Toll, to be released. In the meantime, I am flying through Shusterman’s first series Unwind.

Malcolm Mulligan has been teaching at Leo Hayes for the past eleven years. He enjoys scuba diving, photography, playing guitar, and travelling. His reading life includes an addiction to Science-Fiction and his new love for Young Adult Fiction.

Guest Writer Devin McLaughlin Recommends Wildcard by Marie Lu

Jan
22

Wildcard is the much-anticipated sequel to Marie Lu’s Warcross, a dystopian sci-fi novel set largely in the world of virtual reality. Wildcard begins almost immediately after the conclusion of Warcross, throwing the reader into a whirlwind of action, paranoia and technology. Emika Chen, our protagonist, is torn between the man she loves, Hideo Tanaka, with his controversial ambitions and the man she was initially hired to capture, Zero. Zero and his crew will stop at nothing to put a stop to Hideo Tanaka and his entire plan. Meanwhile, Emika finds herself as a target when someone puts a bounty on her head. This is just the beginning of the action-packed, adrenaline fueled adventure that serves as a worthy follow-up to the original.

In some ways I find myself torn with Wildcard. On one hand, the secondary characters take a bit of a backseat in this sequel. For example, a lot of what made Warcross compelling was the way Hideo’s character was established and later developed; readers would regularly be wondering what was going on in his mind and how his actions should be interpreted. Here, we see and hear very little from Hideo and unfortunately this simplifies Emika’s relationship with him in some ways. I found myself wondering why she still wanted to be associated with him. On the other hand, Marie Lu continues building Emika as an intelligent and skilled hacker/bounty hunter. We follow her through seemingly insurmountable situations that test her physical and emotional abilities, while further shedding light on her recklessness.

For students in upper middle school and high school, there is plenty to enjoy in Wildcard. As a true “sequel” it brings even more action, adventure, mystery, and intrigue. But where Wildcard truly excels is in its exploration of themes associated with online privacy, teamwork, the importance of free will and the responsibility that comes with having power over others. These are not only heavy issues in this book, but they play a role in the lives of youth today. As Emika determines where she stands on these issues, the reader follows along, likely challenging their own thoughts and perspectives. All in all, students who enjoyed Warcross will want to read Wildcard too, at the very least to conclude the story. Upon finishing it, they may find themselves thinking more about video games and social media and how those online platforms can affect the decisions we make in our day-to-day lives.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a middle school Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, NB. I love reading and my favourite aspect of teaching is introducing students to new and exciting books and seeing their reactions as they make their way through them.

Book Recommendation: Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks For Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrated by Jonny Sun

Jan
10

Some of you know Lin-Manuel Miranda as the creator of Hamilton: The Musical, but if you follow him on Twitter, you will also be familiar with his Gmorning and Gnight tweets. Miranda has teamed up with author and illustrator Johnny Sun to compile some of his most popular tweets into this lovely collection.

The Introduction, appropriately written as a poem itself, tells the story of how the book came to be:

 

The greetings are sometimes flirtatious,

Or cheeky, or weirdly specific.

They’re pulled from my life or my brain or my thoughts,

Terrific’ly Twitter prolific.

 

I don’t have a book of quotations

Or wisdom I pull from my shelf;

Most often the greetings I wish you

Are the greetings I wish for myself.

 

So if I write “relax,” then I’m nervous,

Or if I write, “cheer up,” then I’m blue.

I’m writing what I wish somebody would say,

Then switching the pronoun to you.

 

Each double-page spread features a pairing of a Gmorning and a Gnight complemented by Sun’s illustrations. These short poems are witty, emotional, inspiring, and extremely relatable. This is the kind of collection you can read straight through or savor slowly over time. You can dip into it anywhere and get a quick fix of positivity.

Gmorning, Gnight! Is overflowing with possibilities for mini-lessons, craft studies, quick writes, and poems to read aloud for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Guest Writer Wendy Carlisle Recommends House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Dec
17

House Arrest by K.A. Holt is written in free verse poetry form which makes it an easy read for students; however, it does not take away from the powerful message of family responsibility and the will of one boy, Timothy, to take care of his sick baby brother and his mother. Timothy finds out sometimes doing the wrong thing can be the right thing to do, even if it has consequences.

Twelve-year-old Timothy is under house arrest for stealing a wallet and charging his baby brother’s medication on it. He is assigned a probation officer, James, and a court-appointed psychologist, Mrs. B., whom he talks to in the journal he must write for the whole year he is on probation. Through this journal, Timothy talks through his helplessness of having a sick baby in the house and the frustration and anger he feels for his dad who up and left their family after his brother, Levi, was born and needed a trach to breathe. Legally or not, Timothy already feels like he is under house arrest. Not having enough money for 24/7 nursing care and no father around to help, Timothy must step up to help his mother.

Timothy feels that they are too proud to accept help from charity until he finds a solution to cure his brother. He relentlessly writes letters to the doctor who can help his brother and the push is on when a new nurse encourages Timothy’s mother to put Levi in a long-term care facility. He is desperate to try to keep his family together and when relief is finally in sight, Timothy must once again break the law to save his baby brother.

I highly recommend this book as it is written in a way that students would find easy enough to read but powerful enough to make them think and reflect. Some students will be able to relate to the main character with his relationships with his family members and friends and trying to figure out his feelings.

In the acknowledgements, K.A. Holt reveals, she has had first-hand experience with a son who lived with a trach and successfully had his trachea reconstructed.

Bio:

Wendy Carlisle teaches grade 7 at Ridgeview Middle School in Oromocto.  When she is not busy chasing after her two daughters, Peyton and Kassidy, she can often be found reading or watching General Hospital.

 

Guest Student Writer Paige J. Albert Recommends Maybe A Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Dec
13

Maybe a Fox is a heartbreaker of a read, showing an eleven-year-old girl’s devastation at her sister’s sudden unexpected death and a fox hidden in the woods that will stop at nothing to help the young human.

Jules Sherman’s father had one golden rule, “never go near the Slip”. Her sister had one golden wish, “to run faster”. Jules still had the mitten that had slipped off Sylvie’s fingers when she tried to restrain her sister from running into the woods to toss her wish rock in the river. But Sylvie had gotten away. She had run too fast. And the Slip had taken her as a prize. They never found her body. Now Jules must find a way to keep hold of her sister, like the mother whose memory had dribbled through her fingers like water, leaving barely a wisp of anything for her to remember.

A parallel story develops alongside Jules’-deep in the woods, a fox is born. From the very first day, Senna, the young fox, knew that she was meant to find someone. She tingled with energy to track down the human girl she was destined to serve.

As the book progresses, Sylvie, Jules and Senna’s stories intertwine.  When Senna places a strand of the headband that Sylvie was wearing the day she died at Jules’ feet, Jules is plunged into a mystery and her burning desire to understand her sister’s wish intensifies. Jules will stop at nothing to solve her mystery, even if it means breaking her father’s golden rule.

Maybe a Fox is a beautifully structured novel that perfectly demonstrated the oblivion felt after a loss and the extreme measures to which people will go in order to do what they believe will heal them. Its burning display of characters driven by a dream is comparable to Beth Hautala’s, Waiting for Unicorns and Kathi Appelt’s, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Though it was a rather simple read, the raw emotions were crafted into words in a way that everybody can relate to. Maybe a Fox will keep you pressed between its pages long after you’ve finished reading.

Bio:

Paige is a 13-year-old student at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Outside of school, Paige is involved in Highland dance and enjoys creative writing, drawing and spending time on her scooter. Paige is passionate about literature and is more than pleased to share her personal opinions on various novels so that other children like her can share in the joy of reading a good book.

Guest Writer Meghan Lyons Recommends The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Dec
10

The fact that this book is about wolves, a girl who trains them, a rescue mission to save her imprisoned mother and that it takes place in the cold forest of northern Russia, makes “The Wolf Wilder” my favourite read of 2018.

Feodora, or Feo, is a young girl growing up in the frozen forests of Russia. Both she and her mother rescue abandoned wolves that have been dropped off in the forest by their owners who no longer can handle their wild pets. Their job is to retrain them to be wolves again. How to hunt. How to sense danger. How to survive.

Their unique job attracts the attention of a local army general who shows up at their cabin and takes Feo’s mother hostage. He is well known for exerting his evil power on the people in the surrounding villages. Feo manages to escape, but not before injuring the general. With her pack of wolves, she embarks of a long, cold journey to rescue her mother with the help of an unlikely group of children who also want to stand against the oppression from the general.

If you like adventure, unique settings, and girl power, this book is for you…oh, and wolves are pretty cool too!

Bio:

Meghan usually teaches grade 6, 7 and 8 in Stanley, New Brunswick but is on deferred leave this year working on her Masters in Education.

Guest Writer Sarah Bacon Recommends Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Dec
03

Good Bye Days is a novel that will no doubt touch the hearts of all who read it but it is especially relevant to high school students.

“Where are you guys?” are the four words that forever changed Carver Briggs’s life. A simple text message results in a fatal car crash, taking the lives of his three best friends, Eli, Mars and Blake The novel follows that aftermath of the tragedy, and the impact that the death of his friends has not only on him but their families. Carver can’t help but feel responsible for the accident and does not know how to move forward. One can’t help but feel Carver’s pain, as it is so raw and real. This novel sheds light not only on the importance of not texting and driving but how to make a wrong right and move forward.

Unfortunately, Carver is not the only who feels that he is to blame for the death of his three friends. Mars’s father is an influential attorney who is making sure that the accident is investigated, and Eli’s twin sister is using her social status at school to make Carver feel even more alone.

Carver does not have many people in his life whom he can trust and find support. Blake’s grandmother reaches out to Carver and asks him to help her say goodbye to her grandson. She proposes that they spend one day together sharing memories and doing everything that she would do with her grandson Blake if she had just one last day with him. The other families learn about the “Good Bye Day” and want the same for themselves. Carver wants to help his friends’ families grieve, but at what cost?

Bio:

I am a grade 9 English teacher, wife and mother of a three-year-old. I do my best at keeping up with the latest young adult novels, as I strongly believe in knowing what my students are reading.

Guest Student Writer Paige J. Albert Recommends Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Nov
15

Finding Perfect is an emotional story arraying a twelve-year-old girl’s heartbreak at her parent’s separation alongside her struggling attempt to tame her unhealthy requirement of obsessive perfection. Molly Nathans isn’t just a hardcore perfectionist, for her, the need for perfection is absolutely quintessential. After her parent’s sudden separation resulting in Molly’s mother leaving in pursuit of her juice business in Toronto, Molly’s organizing fixation doubles. And now it is not only a strange mania but an actual neurosis. Molly thrives to perfect everything into the late hours of the night, fails to complete tests if her writing isn’t ruler straight and ceaselessly counts by four in order to obtain her idea of perfection. And topping her crazy tower of rituals is the nonsensical belief that if she stops, her little brother, Ian, will get hurt.

When Molly enters a slam poetry competition, she’s convinced that her winning will bring her mother home again. But as she progresses into the competition and her perfection compulsion worsens, Molly’s life is flipped upside down and no matter of measuring, counting or straightening can right it this time.

Finding Perfect was a very interesting novel. It showed the struggle to hide and put on a brave face that everybody just assumes is your normal. Molly’s story has the prospective to urge kids in similar conditions to seek help along with the potential to enhance awareness of mental health disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and Tourette’s Syndrome which are often overlooked as minor complications in our society.

I suggest this story to lovers of books such as Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Melanie Conklin’s Counting Thyme. Each of these books describes the medical struggles of unique, characteristic girls that are striving to both save something and escape from a difficult situation in their lives. Finding Perfect will make you remember Molly longer than you ever expected.

Bio:

Paige is a 13-year-old student at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Outside of school, Paige is involved in Highland dance and enjoys creative writing, drawing and spending time on her scooter. Paige is passionate about literature and is more than pleased to share her personal opinions on various novels so that other children like her can share in the joy of reading a good book.