Margin Notes



This book combines two of my favourite things: poetry and quotes!

By using a wide range of poetic forms and addressing various topics such as: diversity, tenacity, hope, kindness, gratitude, and love, (and many more) the authors describe the world they want to see, by going through the alphabet.

Mixed in with each poem, there is also a quotation related to the word, an anecdote from one of the authors about a personal experience they have had, and a “Try It!” prompt for readers to take action.

And the artwork, by Mehrdokht Amini, is beautiful.

This book offers so much opportunity for discussion, writing, and personal growth. It could lead to change within in the reader and within the world; it could lead to a better world.



Gene Yuen Lang’s 2020 graphic novel chronicles not only the journey of the 2014-15 O’Dowd Dragons varsity boys basketball team’s run at a state championship, but also his journey as an author documenting their season. This structure provides the reader with not only an intriguing sports story, but also allows Yang to delve into the conscience and process of a writer. Through its 430+ pages, Dragon Hoops weaves its way through various relatable and prescient themes, from the author’s own bias against basketball, through the assumptions and prejudice that bubble under the surface of many North American communities, to the unifying power of sport and bonding through a shared experience, no matter one’s role in the journey.

The O’Dowd Dragons have demons to hunt down and conquer at the beginning of the 2014 season. Alumnus, and current teacher/coach, Lou Richie is chasing an elusive state title. Having not only lost as a coach the previous year, but also fueled by experiencing a heartbreaking and controversial loss in the final as a Dragon himself 26 years earlier, Richie is hopeful that this is O’Dowd’s year. Yang (a teacher at O’Dowd High School himself during the 2014-15 season) uses Coach Lou’s personal story as the springboard into the lives of those invested in the team and their dream of hoisting the state championship trophy. Along the way, we get to ride shotgun with Yang as he learns the stories behind the team, its players, and its coaching staff. Slowly, but surely, we begin to get pulled in, just Yang did, to the Dragons’ team, understanding why this is more than a sport, and why it means so much to those involved.

Dragon Hoops is not a difficult read but demands the attention of its reader – it’s not a straightforward season documentary of wins and losses. Readers need to hold the pieces of the puzzle Yang is laying for a little while as he builds his narrative one section at a time. The finished piece is worth the work – like any story, fact or fiction, you must get to know the characters in order to truly care for their journey. Yang is as much a character here as those of the team. His journey, however, is just a little different, leaving the reader to root for him in a slightly different way.

Yang, as an author, pulls few punches in addressing issues he and his subjects grapple with. Themes can be mature, but not graphic, and language can be explicit, but is written in typical comic grawlixes leaving the reader aware of the intended word, without the full impact of seeing it written out on the page. Yes, this is a sports book. But it so much more. A reader may be turned off by the athletic side, but once they meet Yang – both author and character – those doubters that give it a chance will see that Dragon Hoops, like sports, is really about the people involved in the game, and the lives they live with, through and for each other.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Education teacher at Fredericton High School. Taking advantage of a break in coaching forced upon him by the pandemic, he is presently working on finishing his MEd thesis on Outdoor Education. Whenever possible he likes to spend time reading and playing outside with his young daughter Olivia, who is looking forward to their new puppy arriving later this spring.



Renee Watson’s Ways to Make Sunshine is a sweet story following Ryan Hart, a young girl working though the struggles of life. When her Dad loses his job, and her family needs to move to a smaller house due to money being tight, Ryan is disheartened and worried about what her new life might look like. While navigating her new normal, Ryan comes to understand what her mom means in her reminder, “Ryan, we’ll all still be together. This is just a house. We are the ones who make it a home. Home is wherever we go” (p.16). Ways to Make Sunshine celebrates family, friendship, and home.

Throughout her fourth-grade year, Ryan struggles with new realizations around race, class, gender, and social injustice. Her wit, determination, and kind heart guide her journey towards self-identity and always finding the joy – the sunshine – in hard times. There may not have been a better year for this publication!

I couldn’t agree more with the comparison the publisher and other reviewers make between Ryan Hart and Ramona Quimby. Ryan Hart, with her independence, spunk, and integrity, is sure to steal a piece of each reader’s heart with this first book in Renee Watson’s new series. I am already looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Ways to Grow Love, which will be published this year.

Katie Prescott is a believer in the power of story and a lover of family, food, and the outdoors.



What child doesn’t lose it when they hear the word “butt”? Jonathan Stutzman is sure to capture any student’s attention with his triumphant celebration of the tushee. 

Although the subject matter of this book is comical, children will learn more about their “hind-end” than they realize!  Who knew these powerful muscles had such purpose or that, as Jonathan would suggest, “The gluteus really is the maximus!

This over the top hilarious book is sure to bring a smile to anyone that reads it and evoke much followup conversation.



When Stars Are Scattered is the graphic retelling of author, Omar Mohamed’s, experience growing up as a Somalian refugee in a Kenyan refugee camp. After his father is killed, Omar and his nonverbal little brother, Hassan, get separated from their mother and are forced to flee their village to the camp where they are “fostered” by an older woman living there. Omar knows that their best chance to leave the camp and change their future would be for him to get an education. But with no money, no supplies, and a brother who needs his care, Omar must choose between surviving the present or changing their future. The story spans the fifteen years Omar and Hassan spend in the camp and weaves their own stories with the stories of the people closest to them, as they try to navigate the truth of growing up in a refugee camp.

This book is a necessary addition to any classroom library. It is a story of survival, heartbreak, and the human spirit. Omar’s storytelling, combined with Victoria Jamieson’s graphics, created a book so compulsively readable that I was unable to put it down. It made me laugh and cry, as well as consider the ways in which education can shape our lives. It is a perfect mentor text for in-depth discussions around refugees, disabilities, loss, access to education, sexism, family, and survival. Though this book deals with some heavy topics within the refugee experience, the overarching message is one of inspiration, hope, and compassion. It is a great book for having conversations around empathy and inclusion, all while making refugee stories extremely accessible to a middle grade and young adult audience. Every child and adult should read this book, and I can wait to incorporate it into my ELA classroom.

Lauren Sieben is a High School ELA teacher at John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.



In All Because you Matter, Tami Charle captures her audience with this heart felt story that serves to remind children that they matter.  While this story was written to tell, “especially those [children] from marginalized backgrounds, that no matter where they come from, they matter”, any child can benefit from this lyrical tribute.     

The pictures of this story by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier’s do not go unnoticed, with each page carefully illustrated.   

This is a must-have for your classroom library! 



New York Times best-selling author of The Reading Strategies BookJennifer Serravallo, has just released a new book called, “Connecting with Students Online (Grades K-8), based on her own and other educators experiences’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.   Jennifer’s book offers more than 55 step-by-step teaching strategies and videos showing conferring, small groups, messages for caregivers, student conversation and collaboration.  In addition, her book addresses deeper topics on assessment and progress monitoring, student engagement and accountability, supporting students’ social and emotional needs, getting books into students’ hands and avoiding teacher burnout. (Heinemann, 2020) 

Jennifer’s book gives educators a “how-to” not only in building relationships with students but also building relationships with caregivers during remote teaching environments.  Additonally, she offers a “how-to” in adapting to the new online setting, focusing on the social and emotional learning needs of students.   

This rescource also guides educators to consider priorities that matter most during online instruction and how to schedule the day to maximize the teaching and learning.  Also included are suggestions for highly engaging short lessons and tips for conferring with small groups of students.  

Whether you are in a home learning situation now or have the potential to move to a home learning situation, any teacher would benefit from the section, Connecting Goals Across Reading and Writing in Chapter #3, where she offers a side-by-side chart to give you a visual of how simple it is to connect goals across subject areas.   




The first day of school is always special: it is the start of a new year, new backpack, and new shoes. But this year is extra special as Faizah’s older sister, Asiya, gets to wear her hijab-made of beautiful blue fabric, just like the ocean. The first day of wearing a hijab is important. It means being strong. It is a thing of beauty.

But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful. Asiya faces hurtful comments at school about her hijab. However, Asiya remembers the words her mother told her, “Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.” This is how Asiya keeps strong, is able to keep her head high, ignore the bullies and carry on with her day.

Faizah overhears those comments and cannot understand how someone cannot see the beauty of the ocean-blue hijab and what it stands for. She cannot wait for the day when she, too, will wear a blue hijab, just like her sister.

This book is a story of family, love and faith. It shares the lesson that the parts of ourselves that might make us appear “different” are worth celebrating.


Angela Lardner, after teaching high school English for 13 years, is currently teaching Grade 4 at Stanley Consolidated School. When not teaching, she can be found reading, working on puzzles, or spending time with her two dogs, Apollo and Thor.



This debut YA novel from Carrie S. Allen, Michigan vs. The Boys, is so compelling that it rockets this author to the top of my automatic reads list. There are so many good reasons that you would want this book on the shelf in your classroom. In fact, it won’t stay on the shelf for long. The protagonist, Michigan, shows determination and strength of character as she grows as an athlete and a young woman. She learns what it truly means to be a brave.

I opened the cover of this novel tentatively, thinking it was a book about hockey. I’m not much into hockey. But by the end of chapter two, I was committed. While there is a central focus on the sport that will appeal to athletes in general, the familiar conflict of women needing to fight for equality in every aspect of life permeated the narrative. This, and Michigan’s tenacity, is what drew me in. Michigan just wanted what every talented and aspiring young athlete wants, a chance to play. Her team was scrapped due to budget cuts and after exhausting the other pitiful options, she chose to secretly try out for the boys team. She had the skill, the grit, and the determination; but, everything else seemed to be against her.

This book would appeal to a wide variety of readers, but I can’t wait to recommend it to the hockey players and fans in my classroom, as well as those students with a strong sense of social justice. I’m guessing that once one or two students read it, it will continue to get passed around. You might want two copies.

Debbie Grillo teaches English and Growth, Goals & Grit at Leo Hayes High School. If you are looking for her on evenings and weekends she can be found either walking the trails  of Fredericton while listen to her latest audiobook or reading in the comfiest chair in the house.



You may be familiar with Austin Kleon from his previous books, Steal Like an Artist, The Steal Like an Artist Journal, and Show Your Work. If you know Kleon’s work, you already know that his writing is a fantastic resource for the workshop classroom. He encourages writers and creators to surround themselves with inspiration and share their ideas with others.

In the introduction to his most recent book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, Kleon tells readers. “I wrote this book because I needed to read it.” He describes it as a list of 10 principles that have helped him sustain his creativity, many of which he has stolen (borrowed?) from others.

Don’t Stop is organized into 10 chapters with each one highlighting a strategy for finding, maintaining, and even jumpstarting the creative spark:

  1. Every Day is Groundhog Day.
  2. Build a Bliss Station.
  3. Forget the Noun, Do the Verb.
  4. Make Gifts.
  5. The Ordinary + Extra Attention= The Extraordinary.
  6. Slay the Art Monsters.
  7. You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind.
  8. When in Doubt, Tidy Up.
  9. Demons Hate Fresh Air.
  10. Plant Your Garden.

The chapters are filled with advice and encouragement to help readers discover (or rediscover) their passion. The suggestions range from simple: “Airplane mode can be a way of life,” and, “Keep your tools tidy and your materials messy,” to complex: “Your real work is play,” and “Leave things better than you found them.”

Keep Going is a quick read that invites deep and lingering reflection and would be a terrific addition to a secondary classroom library. It is also a resource I’d recommend for writing teachers because it’s filled with quickwrite possibilities and can be used as a mentor text for multimodal composition.