Margin Notes

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.

GUEST WRITER AMY BOURGAIZE RECOMMENDS EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER

Apr
02

EducatedTara Westover’s Educated is a must for your high school reading library. In this heart-wrenching introspective, Westover recounts her Mormon upbringing in the isolated mountains of Idaho. She is one of 7 siblings, many of whom have never stepped foot in a classroom or a doctor’s office. Westover is entrenched in a patriarchal world where women’s bodies are shamed for merely existing. As Tara ages, her interest in life beyond the mountain grows; she becomes interested in theatre, and ultimately discovers a thirst for knowledge. Her eventual enrollment in a college program catapults her on a journey of self-discovery from which there is no turning back.

Westover’s eyes are soon opened to a world beyond the fearful and paranoid one her father has constructed for her. She discovers feminism and experiences freedom through learning. Away from the mountain, Westover’s worldview is continually challenged and she soon finds that, despite the magnetic pull of the mountain calling her home, the ties that bind her to family are beginning to wane.

Educated enthralls readers, forcing them to the edge of their seat gasping in both shock and awe. Westover’s experiences are a testament to the power of learning, and will instantly allure any reader invested in education.

Let this be the next book you purchase for your classroom; be sure to put it in the hands of as many readers as you can.

Amy Bourgaize teaches at Fredericton High School. She read 51 books last year.

GUEST WRITER WILL MILNER RECOMMENDS DARIUS THE GREAT BY ADIB KHORRAM

Mar
26

Darius photo.jpgWhen reading, I love nothing more than the realization a couple of pages or chapters in that I have been masterfully beguiled and am now gladly under the spell of the author. Darius the Great is Not Okay, Adib Khorram’s beautiful debut novel, will warmly weave its way into your heart.

In a story about identity, and the assumptions we make about ourselves and others, Khorram deftly threads the needle in his use of oddly specific details – Star Trek and Lord of the Rings allusions, tea facts, and Iranian culture – to tell a story with almost universal appeal. Darius could be any one of us with his quirky interests and all-too-common insecurities: Who is he really? Where does he fit in at school, and even his own family? Perhaps Khorram is so successful in this instance because he seems to understand the lack of clarity in the human condition, enveloping his characters in the fact that life has very few clean answers.

Ultimately, Darius the Great is Not Okay should work for a wide array of readers in terms of ability (it’s a simply written story, although it does contain plenty of non-English language that is explained – Darius is learning too after all), and in terms of content as it can be read and enjoyed solely for the wonderful story, or peeled back one layer at a time to reveal characters and themes we all can relate to.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Pursuits teacher at Fredericton High School, where he also coaches soccer and track & field. When not teaching, or coaching, he can be found with his wife Jen outside with their dogs and playing with their 11 month old daughter Olivia.

Guest Writer Shelley Hanson Recommends Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Mar
19

Pride by Ibi Zoboi claims to be “a Pride and Prejudice remix,” and from someone who loved the original by Jane Austen, it clearly was, in subtle and not so subtle ways. Zuri Benitez, the protagonist, lives in a world that couldn’t be more different than Austen’s Victorian England-modern day Brooklyn, N.Y. In spite of that, it works. Zuri has the same spunky character as Elizabeth Bennet (play on the name), is proud of her roots, and demonstrates a stubbornness that plays out as willful pride! She is a compelling character that loves her family in spite of their humble lifestyle and of course, when a rich family (aka the Darcy’s) renovate an old crumbling house next door and move in, they have two handsome sons, Ainsley and Darius. The plot mirrors that of the original almost identically, with minor differences that work with a modern setting. Ainsley, the oldest, attracts the interest of Zuri’s sister, Janae right away, while Zuri hates Darius at first because he seems to be a snob, and in the end she finds out that her pride has caused her to misjudge him and they develop a friendship that deepens to romance. Janae and Ainsley also have snags in their relationship that cause Zuri to become very protective of her sister. In the end, Janae and Ainsley also find a way through the obstacles of their relationship and become a couple.

This book is character-driven, rather than plot-driven, much like the original, weaving a tapestry of the hum of daily life. Although this book provides a window into a cultural world that is colorful and warm, it is also a mirror into the world of the banalities of family life and the sense of community in a close-knit neighborhood. This book succeeds as a modern, slightly edgy retelling, while maintaining the nostalgia of the original in terms of family, community, and home. Its messages about pre-judging others and about the importance of family and community are presented in a fresh style and speaks to the intimacy and universality of the desire for human connection.

Shelley Hanson teaches grade 11 and 12 at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton, NB. When she isn’t inspiring teens to find their next great book, she enjoys the antics of her pet miniature goats, Peanut, Pepper, and Pippi.

GUEST WRITER MEGAN YOUNG-JONES RECOMMENDS NO FIXED ADDRESS BY SUSIN NIELSEN

Mar
12

No fixed addressIn a lot of ways, Felix Knuttson is your regular, run-of-the-mill 12-year old boy. He writes for his school newspaper. He loves goofing off with his best friend Dylan. He is struggling to navigate the murky waters of middle school dating. He is also homeless.

No Fixed Address opens with Felix in a police station explaining to the officer (and the reader) the circumstances, bad luck and decisions that led to him and his mom becoming homeless and living in a van. Felix’s friends Winnie and Dylan are oblivious to his living situation and Felix struggles with the lies he needs to tell to keep this secret from them. In the midst of being homeless, Felix earns his way onto the trivia gameshow Who, What, Where, When and is convinced the prize money is the ticket they need to jump-start a new life.

For some readers, this book will be an excellent “window” into the realities of homelessness and the unfortunate truth that people around us may be in need of help and we may never know it. This book manages to walk the fine line of being humorous and light-hearted without minimizing the problems Felix and his Mom are facing. I am currently using this book as a read aloud for my Grade 8 Language Arts classes and it is sparking excellent discussion on everything from the ethics of lying to why families fear involvement from Social Services. I would recommend this book to students in Grade 7 and older. The chapters are short and the writing is uncomplicated but the content may be a bit heavy for those in Grade 6.

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.

GUEST WRITER JOANNE MCDONALD RECOMMENDS MONDAY’S NOT COMING BY TIFFANY D. JACKSON

Feb
26

Monday's Not ComingMonday’s Not Coming is one of the most engaging YA mystery books I have read to date. I literally could not put this book down, despite promising myself that I would turn out the lights in “one more chapter”!

The novel opens with Claudia, an eighth-grade student who returns home to Washington after having spent the summer at her grandmother’s in Georgia. Upon seeing her mother, she immediately inquires about her best friend, Monday Charles, who has not returned any of Claudia’s posted letters. Claudia knows that something is terribly wrong and sets out to find her beloved friend despite all the mixed messages she receives. Her mother appears unalarmed and aloof. Her father chalks it up to friends growing apart. Mrs. Charles nearly assaults Claudia and threatens her to never come knocking again. Monday’s sister April says that Monday is at her father’s…no, her aunt’s…no, her father’s. The school seems to think that Monday is being home-schooled. Only Ms. Valente, the girls’ former grade seven English teacher, seems disturbed that no one has seen nor heard anything about Monday. As the story progresses, the author flips between chapters titled with the months of the year, “The Before,” “The After,” and “One Year Before the Before,” and the reader is privy to the intimate nature of Claudia and Monday’s relationship, Claudia’s panic and search for her other half, and the devastation of a mental breakdown.

While the novel initially paints a picture of true friendship and acceptance, it is later revealed that perhaps the girls’ relationship has a few skeletons in its closet—at least for Monday. The reader sees glimpses of the abuse Monday endures, the squalor in which she lives in the housing projects of Edward Borough, as well as some half-truths told to Claudia. On the other hand, in Monday’s absence, Claudia finds herself bitterly managing a newly diagnosed learning disability and navigating the harsh environment of middle school without her closest and only ally.

And, all the while, the question remains: “Where is Monday Charles?”

This novel will interest any student who loves a good mystery and who is interested in delving into social issues such as poverty, abuse, and community responsibility; as well as exploring mental health issues and those who are marginalized.

Joanne McDonald teaches grade 9 English and Canadian Geography 120 at Oromocto High School. Over the past couple of years, she has become passionate about getting great books into the hands of her students and has reconnected with her old creative writing self.

READ-ALIKE BOOK TALK: ONE OF US IS LYING BY KAREN MCMANUS

Feb
21

As teachers of reading, we know the importance and the power of book talks to increase the volume of our students’ reading. One type of book talk you may want to try is the Read-Alike Book Talk, where you take a book that has been flying off the shelf of your classroom library and share titles that have similar themes or characters or are of a similar genre.

Here are some read-alikes for One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus: one-of-us-is-lying

Like One of Us is Lying, these books make the reader ask, “What really happened?”

The CheerleadersThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas: Five years ago, five cheerleaders in a small town died in three separate incidents. One of those cheerleaders was Monica’s sister, and now she knows that what happened isn’t the tragic coincidence most people want to believe.

 

SadieSadie by Courtney Summers : Fleeing from home after her sister’s brutal murder, Sadie is a missing teenage girl on the run, possibly looking for the person she believes to have murdered her sister. When her story is picked up by a well-known radio personality, she becomes the subject of a popular podcast. But, can he find Sadie before it’s too late?

 

people kill peoplePeople Kill People by Ellen Hopkins: One gun. Six teenagers. Someone will shoot. And someone will die. Written in a combination of prose and verse, this book will keep you guessing until the very end.

 

two can keep a secretTwo Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus: Ellery and her twin brother Ezra find themselves living in a small town made famous by the deaths of teenage girls, one of whom was their aunt. These crimes have never been solved. But now, Ellery is determined to uncover all of the answers—putting her own life in danger in the process…because someone wants to keep the town’s secrets hidden.

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.