Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS FINDING JUNIE KIM BY ELLEN OH

Jun
14

From We Need Diverse Books co-founder, Ellen Oh, Finding Junie Kim is a powerful and important middle grade book that focuses on family, hope, and survival, all while delivering a punch. Based on the author’s own family stories from the Korean War, this is an eye-opening and candid look at a piece of history that is underrepresented in both the middle grade and young adult genre.

Finding Junie Kim follows our young protagonist, Junie, who struggles with her own demons, friendship issues, and acts of racism in her school. She is then assigned an oral history project, for which she interviews her grandparents and learns about their struggles and experiences growing up during the Korean War. Taking inspiration from her grandparents’ courageous stories, Junie finds ways to overcome her own personal struggles and make changes in the world around her. The story beautifully connects the trauma of war with modern hate crimes, while also including conversations around bullying, depression, & friendship dynamics. It does all of this with sensitivity and without diminishing any of the topics, keeping it relatable and suitable for a middle school audience.

Finding Junie Kim was a very insightful middle grade novel and would make a great mentor text for many reasons. The book is split into sections told in part realistic fiction from Junie’s first-person perspective and in third-person historical fiction from both of her grandparents. It is also split into time periods, with different sections telling the stories from different years, which would lend well to practices around both framing a story and discussing point of view. The grandparents’ interviews are a wonderful way to provide many details about the historical setting that many students may not have much background information in and would make a great mentor text for how to weave background information throughout a story. Finding Junie Kim would also make an excellent class read aloud or book club book, as it is a fitting example of a window/mirror/sliding glass door book that any student or adult alike can learn from. Middle grade students need this book for many reasons, and I am so looking forward to all the ways I will incorporate it into my classroom.

 

Lauren Sieben is a Grade 8 ELA teacher at Perth-Andover Middle School. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.

THE COMFORT BOOK BY MATT HAIG

Jun
07

In the introduction to The Comfort Book, Matt Haig writes

It is a strange paradox, that many of the clearest, most comforting life lessons are learnt while we are at our lowest. But then we never think about food more than when we are hungry and we never think about life rafts more than when we are thrown overboard.

So, these are some of my life rafts. The thoughts have kept me afloat. I hope some of them might carry you to dry land as well.

This wonderful collection is a series of notes Haig wrote to himself to help him through hard times. Haig shares them in the hopes that readers will also find them helpful when things are bleak: “When times are hard, we need a deep kind of comfort. Something elemental. A solid support. A rock to hold onto. The kind we already have inside us. But which we sometimes need a bit of help to see.”

Entries range from a few words to a few pages. Some are presented as prose while others read like poems. Haig reflects on the truths the lowest points in his life have revealed: “Time disproves the lies depression tells. Time showed me that the things depression imagined for me were fallacies not prophecies.” He presents his thinking in a wide range of formats including quiet observations, thoughts to remember on a bad day, realizations, advice, a playlist, a book list, a list of don’ts, and recipes. As a whole, this collection works together to remind readers of one of the themes interwoven throughout the book, that “Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.”

The Comfort Book is one of those fantastic texts that you can read straight through in one sitting read slowly, stopping to savor each selection; you can read it in order or dip in and out as you like. It is also filled with mentor texts and quickwrite opportunities.

PINK: A WOMEN’S MARCH STORY BY VIRGINIA ZIMMERMAN

May
31

Picture books can be used in variety of ways in the literacy classroom and well-known author and educator Pernille Ripp believes,

there is no “too old” for picture books. In her July 2015 blog post she outlines five reasons why picture books should be in every classroom and available for every reader:

  • Picture books give us a common language.
  • Picture books can teach us complex matters in a simple way.
  • Picture books can make us feel successful when we have lost our way.
  • Picture books relieve stress.
  • Picture books can make us believe that we can read well.

To read the entire blog post you can click here.

Knowing that picture books can provide all these positives in the classroom, please take a moment to check out Pink A Women’s March Story by Virginia Zimmerman and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma. Told from the prospective of a young girl name Lina, the story provides the reader context and history for the January 2021 Washington D.C. Women’s March.  Lina learns that one small person can become part of a much wider and larger movement and that no one is ever too small to make a difference.

Beyond the lessons of perseverance and personal growth, readers will learn about taking a stand for one’s beliefs and that we all have a role to play in our democracy. Pink A Women’s March Story provides common language, makes a complex issue understandable, and is accessible for readers. To learn more about the authors and Pink A Women’s March Story click here.

THE INITIAL INSULT DUOLOGY BY MINDY MCGINNIS

May
24

I’ve been a long-time fan of author Mindy McGinnis, and her most recent publications, The Initial Insult and The Last Laugh left me an even bigger fan. This YA thriller duology features fast paced, plot driven page-turners that many readers will devour in a single read. Allusions to many Edgar Allan Poe stories are found in both titles, adding another layer of allure for many readers.

The Initial Insult

Tress Montor wants answers and she’ll stop at nothing to get them, including killing her (ex) best friend Felicity Turnodo. When the girls were in grade 4, Tress’ parents were driving Felicity home late one night…and were never seen again. Felicity was found wet and unconscious and alone on the riverbank and claims to have no memory of what happens. Tress has a plan to “help” Felicity re member. It’s Halloween and the teens of Amontillado are celebrating in an old, abandoned house. Tress lures Felicity to the basement, ties her up, and brick by brick begins to build a wall that will be the last thing Felicity sees if she can’t give Tress the answers she is so desperately searching for. Add to all of this the fact that there is a black Panther on the prowl, making the situation more tense and dire.

Told in alternating viewpoints, we learn both the girls’ histories and their current realities, all while wondering, is Tress actually capable of killing her former best friend?

 

The Last Laugh

The story continues in The Last Laugh immediately following the final event in The Initial Insult. There is a search party organized to find Felicity, which Tress joins (even though she obviously knows where Felicity is). But Tress is barely hanging on. Her injury from the tiger is infected and she fears she is losing both her arm and her mind. She also knows there is no way she can tell a doctor what happened. Her best friends charm that she shared with Felicity suddenly seams to have it’s own heart beat and Tress is finding it more and more difficult to tell what is real. Her 18th birthday is approaching, and another twist comes into play. Tress’ cousin Ribbit simply cannot have her be alive for the occasion. As some secrets get revealed, many more are just coming into play. Prepare for some major twists and turns in the plot. Where The Initial Insult had readers wondering if there is any way Felicity could make it out alive, in The Last Laugh it is Tress’ life on the line.

 

Mindy McGinnis does not hold back for her audience of YA readers. There are dark and twisted plot lines, family secrets, and lives are lost. Readers who enjoy a good thriller are going to love this duology.

CARRY ON BY RAINBOW ROWELL

May
17

I’ve always been a fan of Rainbow Rowell. She’s recently been back on my radar for her compilation of short stories, Scattered Showers, due to be released in fall 2022. While her readers await the new release, it is a perfect time to recommend the Simon Snow series finishing last summer with the third book, Any Way the Wind Blows. This trilogy begins with Carry On which introduces readers to the world of Mages and Normals, magic and darkness, along with, in true Rowell fashion, a cast of characters that will keep the pages turning.

The exposition from several perspectives sets the stage to help the reader understand Simon, his best friend Penny and how they got to be at Watford School of Magicks. Simon’s nemesis, Baz, is mentioned often and missing in action. The pace of the story picks up when his absence is explained, and his voice is added to the narration. The three realize they have a common enemy and begin the challenge of working together instead of trying to kill each other. Woven into the plotline is a subtle political debate between the old vs new ways and parental influence in belief systems – bringing a contemporary twist causing reflection on who the “good” people are.

Sure, the book deals with magic, ghosts, vampires and monsters; but it also deals with human emotion. The reader sees characters battle their family history, their peer relationships, their sense of belonging and their sexual identity. The fantasy element will satisfy those looking to escape reality and the connections in the novel will appeal to those wanting to see themselves. This book has something for everyone; but don’t expect to leave completely satisfied because there are two more in the series to read after you finish Carry On!

GUEST WRITER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS THE SHAPE OF THUNDER BY JASMINE WARGA

May
10

From Jasmine Warga, the author of Other Words from Home, comes another must-read middle grade novel. The Shape of Thunder takes place months after a horrific tragedy and is told from alternating perspectives by former best friends Cora and Quinn. Cora’s sister, Mabel, was shot and killed by Quinn’s brother, Parker, in a school shooting. Both families are reeling from the loss, while Cora and Quinn are now also dealing with the breakdown of their friendship. Quinn, in a desperate attempt to make things right with her friend, comes up with an idea to try and prevent the violence of that unspeakable day. Neither wants to believe that things cannot be changed, so they embark on a seemingly impossible journey to make things right. Through their journey, they discover that confronting their pain may be easier than changing the past. This is an excellent middle grade story about the aftermath of a school shooting and how two former friends cope with guilt, loss, racism, and grief.

Right off the bat, one of the only things I can say is wow. What a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful book. This may be one of the best portrayals of loss and grief in a middle grade book. Cora and Quinn are both struggling in their own ways, but they often find themselves grappling with the same questions fueled by their grief. The dual perspective is a great insight into how two people can be dealing with the same situation in completely complex and different ways. Jasmine Warga does a great job of writing this book with care. There are no detailed scenes of the tragedy that took place for those who may be sensitive to the subject matter, instead only the emotional aftermath of the events and the people who are left to deal with them. Despite this, she remains honest in her storytelling, with her characters never shying away from asking the big questions, and the adults admitting they don’t always have all the clear answers.

This is an important book to have for educators, librarians, and children alike. I would highly recommend this one for grades 5-9. This book will help kids find their way through dealing with tragedy, grief, and anger. Warga takes some heavy issues and makes them manageable and understandable for middle grade readers and ultimately provides a message of hope and understanding. There are many things in this book that would also make for great mentor texts, such as the dual perspective, some in-story letter writing, the descriptive nature of the writing, and the ways in which the author integrates flashbacks. This has quickly become one of favourite middle-grade novels to date and it will have a place on my shelf for a long time.

Lauren Sieben is a Grade 8 ELA teacher at Perth-Andover Middle School. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.

ESS SUPPORTS LGBTQI2S+ INCLUSIVE PRACTICES

May
05

If you teach Grades 9-12 in our district, this news is for you! To support LGBTQI2S+ inclusive education, the ASD-W Education Support Services Team has sent a combination of some of the following titles to all High Schools. If you haven’t seen them, reach out to your Administration Team. Many of these titles and others are also available on SORA.

ESS SUPPORTS LGBTQI2S+ INCLUSIVE PRACTICES

May
03

We are happy to share some wonderful news to Grades 6-8 teachers in our district! To support LGBTQI2S+ inclusive education, the ASD-W Education Support Services Team has sent a combination of some of the following titles to all Middle Schools. If you haven’t seen them, check with your Administration Team. Many of these titles and others are also available on SORA.

LAWLESS SPACES BY COREY ANN HAYDU

Apr
26

“[They] would never understand what I am finally

understanding, which is that

bodies aren’t lawless spaces

like mom said.

They are

cages,

places we are trapped inside,

and the world just gets to

look and

decide

who we

are”

                                                                                -Mimi, Lawless Spaces

Through the journals of four generations of women in the Dovewick family, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu explores the lasting impacts of living in a patriarchal society. The story starts with Mimi, in 2022, who, following family tradition, is gifted a journal for her 16th birthday. But because she has been emotionally (and at times physically) abandoned by her mother, this is all she receives – there is no celebration at all. It is as confusing for the reader as it is for Mimi to understand how her once loving mother has turned into such an unrecognizable stranger who, seemingly, feels nothing towards her daughter save the occasional bursts of anger. To understand this new “mother” Mimi turns to the journals of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

The stories, written in verse, that are shared by the different generations of sixteen-year-old include stories of sexual assault, harassment, and trauma. For Mimi, in 2022, it is an image posted on social media that she was coerced into taking. For Tiffany in 1999, it is the non-consensual relationship with a powerful man as she attempts to enter the world of acting. For Betty in 1954, it is the pressure to give up a child to maintain her family’s reputation. And for Virginia in 1924, it is living the life expected when you are the wife of a soldier sent to war.

The generational trauma of these four women leads to intergenerational family trauma where silence, repression, and hostility reign. While it is too late to amend some of these relationships, Mimi is determined to break this cycle of trauma, and salvage what relationships she can.

Ultimately, this is a book about women’s bodies, the ways they have been and continue to be consumed by men, and the power of women joining together and sharing their stories. The message for women to continue to tell their stories is an important one, and many students still need to hear it, and for that reason this novel is an important title to add to a classroom library.

AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT BY JASON REYNOLDS ART WORK BY JASON GRIFFIN

Apr
19

Ain’t Burned All The Bright is the collaboration of author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin. Set in the year 2020, during lockdown, the story consists of three sections, three breaths. The narrator is a young adult trying to make sense of lockdown, what is means to be black in America right now, and how both contribute to his lack of oxygen. The reader can feel the suffocation as he details his father’s battle with COVID quarantine, his mother’s paralyzed consumption of the news and his siblings’ distracted avoidance of all issues. He becomes every reader as he struggles to find oxygen and desperately searches for air, both literally and figuratively. The hope that comes when he does find that breathe is contagious and provides the promise that society can find the strength to move forward, make changes, and finally breath.

Reynold’s lyrical ability to play with words, combined with Griffin’s art, pair together to express the complicated emotions of our narrator, leaving the story, and the ideas expressed within, resonating with many young adults long after closing the book.

The beauty of this piece does not end with the rejuvenating breath. After the story, this book includes a little gem of a conversation between the two collaborators. In a final section titled, “is anyone still here?” Reynolds and Griffin share the journey of creating this piece of work together. This interview style closure is one that reveals the trust between the two creators, their trust in the writing process itself, and offers up some great advice for student writers and artists.