Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER JEAN ANNE GREEN RECOMMENDS THE BRIDGE HOME BY PADMA VENKATRAMAN

Jun
08

Padma Venkatraman was introduced to the plight of homeless children in India by her mother at an early age. Though a poor, single mother herself, she taught Padma to support charitable causes, especially those that provided education for children. Using a variety of true stories and characters as the basis for The Bridge Home, she creates a powerful look at what home and family looks like for the young and homeless.

Sisters Viji and Rukku do have a “traditional home” at the beginning of the book. However, when their abusive father starts beating not only the mother, who makes excuses and forgives him, but also the girls, Viji decides it is time to take control. The next morning Viji packs their school backpacks with necessities instead of schoolwork. Though the bags are heavy she adds the book her teacher had given her as a gift, unable to leave it behind.

The girls use most of their money on bus fare. Once they arrive at their destination, they struggle to avoid danger and find safety. Rukku is a special needs child and Viji has been taught all her life to keep her sister hidden, and avoid hospitals or schools where they would take Rukku away from the family. Viji worries about taking care of her sister, when in fact, Rukku finds many ways to take care of Viji. The girls meet up with two homeless boys when they seek shelter, eventually coming together as a family, complete with a dog that Rukku befriends.

This story shows how resilient and strong homeless children must be, and how trusting and working with others makes it better. However, they are children and need the support of good, kind adults to break the cycle.

This book is eye opening- examining poverty even beyond books like Paper Things, No Fixed Address, and Benefits of Being An Octopus. And yet, these children become a family and move towards a better life while enduring an incredible loss, together. Hope shines strong throughout.

Jean Anne Green is a middle school teacher in Florenceville, NB- the French Fry Capital of the World. She loves to read, watch hockey and talk books with her daughter, an aspiring librarian.

 

GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS DARIUS DESERVES BETTER BY ADIB KHORRAM

Jun
01

After meeting Darius for the first time a couple of years ago in the first installment of the Darius series, I was thrilled to hear of the second book. The first touched on mental health, the importance of speaking your truth, and understanding the importance of families. Khorram wrote about being in a multi-racial family and showed the beauty of learning about your own heritage and culture. While the second book in the series does have small parts that focus on microagressions and how they are dealt with (or not dealt with) Darius the Great Deserves Better reminds us what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. This book is about falling in love not only romantically, but learning to love yourself, too.

The best part of this book was what wasn’t there. We learn quickly that Darius has come out to his family and friends as gay – and what’s missing? There’s no fall out. There’s no dismissive or abusive parents. There’s no being kicked out of your church, family, or school. There’s support. And you know what? That’s needed. Books that show positive reactions to queer young people need to exist, and this novel is a fantastic example.

This is not meant to be dismissive of LGBTQ+ centered media that does shed light on the abuse and neglect that happens to queer people, but there is a serious lack of positive and affirming media that shows how being gay is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that your life will become dismantled in all ways, shapes, and forms. We are inundated with negative facts and statistics about LGBTQ+ youth, but so rarely is there a spotlight given to anything that may talk about the positives of being gay. There are times in Darius where there are characters that may say something homophobic, but there is not a central plot that focuses on any sort of abuse and this, sadly, is rare to see. Having three young male characters who are not heterosexual yet do not fall into stereotypes is fantastic and can often be a source of healing for many.

Daruis and his extended family are easy to fall in love with – his gifted younger sister, his workaholic but loving mother, and of course, his father. The real relationship that should be spoken of is the one between Darius and his father – both of whom suffer from depression. Having an adult character who is dealing with mental health issues in a realistic way is important for young readers to see. This novel sheds light on the fact that parents do not always have the answers, and that’s ok.

While I would suggest reading the first book in the series beforehand, you will be happy to have this novel on your shelf. Covering many relevant and current issues, this book is one that will inspire and encourage young folks to be their true selves – and what more could we ask for?

Laura Noble teaches English and Writing at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. She is an avid reader of true crime, realistic fiction, and feminist literature.

 

GUEST WRITER ANGIE GRAHAM DEBERTIN RECOMMENDS I AM EVERY GOOD THING BY DERRICK BARNES

May
25

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is a beautifully written picture book that celebrates the worth of every child. Vibrant illustrations capture the reader’s attention, and the lyrical text resonates with self-affirming “I messages.”  

As with most picture books, this book has endless opportunities for classroom use at all grade levels. The easy-to-read text makes it accessible as an independent reading choice. This book can be used to open discussions around value, importance, empowerment, and resilience. My students naturally went to those discussions after I shared it in my classroom. If you are looking for a mentor text to introduce spoken word poetry, this book is a natural fit. “I am one eye open, one eye closed, peeking through a microscope, gazing through a telescope, checking out the spaces around me and plotting out those far-off places I have yet to go -but will.”  Writing opportunities could include students writing their own “I message” in the style of the book. 

This book needs a place in every classroom library. It will be a book that students go back to again and again, each time digging a little deeper to find new meaning. It will meet students where they are and nudge them to deepen their thinking. “I am a sponge, soaking up information, knowledge, and wisdom. I want it all, and I am allllll ears.” Our students need to know that they are “every good thing” and to look for that in everyone. Happy reading! 

 Angie Graham Debertin is a Grade 2 teacher at Centreville Community School. She has spent her career questioning and learning alongside her students and instilling a belief that anything is possible. Her passions include inspiring lifelong readers and writers, encouraging a love of science, using meaningful technology, and lifelong learning. 

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE BY RUTA SEPETYS

May
18

Author Ruta Sepetys, well known for historical fiction novels such as, Salt to the SeaBetween Shades of Gray, and Out of the Easy has once again offered readers a powerful and hauntingly beautiful novel entitled The Fountains of Silence. Set in 1957 post war fascist Spain, 18-year-old American, Daniel Matheson has come with his oil tycoon parents to Madrid.  His father’s company has hopes of inking an oil deal with dictator Franco, while Daniel hopes to learn more about his mother’s birth country, Spain, through his passion for photography. 

As a child of privilege Daniel is soon learns that not all Spaniards enjoy a comfortable and secure lifestyle.   Ana, an employee of the hotel at which Daniel is staying, and the young daughter of teachers who sided against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, slowly introduces to him another Spain. A Spain that encompasses hardship, hunger, and fear.  Fear of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s military force), fear of landowners, and fear of one’s neighbors. Daniel soon realizesSpain, its institutions, and its residents have many secrets. 

 Sepetys masterfully and slowly begins to peal back the layers of the secretthrough the short and fast paced chapters narrated by multiple characters.  Each narrator powerfully begins to shed light on the dark corners of Spain in eye opening detail. In addition, to the prose, Sepetys weaves primary sources throughout the story at the end of each chapter to provide a greater depth and context to a time in history previously unrealized by many western nations. 

 

The Fountains of Silence like other novels by Sepetys, explores heartbreak, love, and the lasting repercussions of hate and war. Once I began this novel, I was immediately invested in the characters and their journey. I didn’t want the story to end. 

GUEST WRITER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS THE INHERITANCE GAMES BY JENNIFER LYNN BARNES

May
11

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a fun, fast-paced, riddle-filled, Cinderella story, perfect for readers who like to crack codes and solve mysteries. With riddles that are reminiscent of the Truly Devious series, The Inheritance Games sees female protagonist, Avery, living in her car, when she is summoned to  the late billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s estate, just to find out that he has made her the heir to his fortune. Avery works alongside Tobias’ four disinherited grandsons, who believe this is all just some elaborate game by their grandfather, to try to solve years’ worth of clues and riddles, and to figure out why a complete stranger has named her as the main beneficiary on his multi-billion-dollar estate. However, the inheritance comes with a catch. Avery must also live in the house with the remaining members of the Hawthorne family that are certain she must have conned her way into the inheritance, and are determined to get the money back from her, whatever the cost.

This would be such a fun addition to a high school classroom library, especially if you have students who love mysteries and solving riddles. Perfect for readers who need a high-interest novel, Barnes does really good job of hooking the reader right away by immediately digging into the plot and mystery of the Hawthorne estate. So much so, that even after the short first few chapters, the reader will be trying to figure out what is going on. Another real strength in this book is the characterization of the Hawthorne House itself. The sprawling mansion and grounds are a twist of secret passageways, hidden clues, and dark secrets. Barnes brings the house itself to life and, in doing so makes it a major player in this book, and these sections could easily serve as a mentor for other descriptive and personification narratives. This book will get everyone who reads it trying to solve all the puzzles and readers will want to talk about them once they finish the book. I cannot wait to talk about this book with my students!

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.

GUEST WRITER KATIE PRESCOTT RECOMMENDS YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN BY LEAH JOHNSON

May
04

Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown is a trendy, quirky, endearing, and new, but also familiar, kind of story. After growing up feeling as though she never really “fit in”, losing her mom to a disease that now plagues her brother, and holding onto past hurts of abandonment, Liz Lighty is finally in her senior year of high school. With her sights set on being accepted to Pennington College to play in their orchestra and to study to become a doctor, Liz is ready to move out of her town and on with her life. This has been her plan for a very long time, and there is no backup plan.

When Liz is does not receive the scholarship she was counting on to pave the way to her future, she feels lost and confused. Refusing to give up on her dream, she decides to step out of her comfort zone and run for prom queen. If she wins, she will be awarded a scholarship that will secure her future plans once again. With a strong support team cheering her on, her determination to pursue her dreams, and a new love interest with the new girl who just moved into town, Liz’s life is about to get a whole lot more interesting, especially since she prefers to live in the shadows, unseen. Not only will running for prom queen force her to be in the school’s spotlight, both in person and online, but she will also need to find the confidence to face her fears, to live boldly, and to be open to love.

You Should See Me in a Crown reminds me of familiar storylines in many teenage television drama series, movies, or YA novels, such as Gossip Girl, The Fosters, Love, Simon, or even Dawson’s Creek (for those of us who are a little older!). Filled with friendship, struggle, and romance, this is sure to be a new popular title in your classrooms.

Katie Prescott is a teacher at FHS who loves reading, creating, and spending time with her family.

 

 

WISHES, LIES AND DREAMS BY KENNETH KOCH

Apr
27

 

Kenneth Koch was a professor of English at Columbia University and a celebrated poet. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and other published writings. His book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, was originally published in 1970. This book, which is co-authored by the students of P.S. 61 in New York City, documents his journey teaching students to write poetry.

I really enjoyed reading this book and, despite the fact that this book is 51 years old, it is charming and sweet. It would be a great mentor text to use with students. There are so many poems in this book!

His ideas for teaching students poetry certainly hold up in the present day. In fact, Anne Elliot and Mary Lynch, authors of Cultivating Readers, use his “I used to…Now I…” formula for an activity on p. 117 of their book.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great, quick lessons that would be easy to replicate in today’s classroom. I would recommend this book if you are a teacher who is always looking for new ways to incorporate poetry. I can guarantee that you’ll be inspired!

Find out more about the book here.

 

AFRAID OF THE DARK BY GUYLEIGH JOHNSON

Apr
22

Afraid Of The Dark by DartMouth, NS author Guyleigh Johnson tells the story of sixteen year old Kahula through short fiction and poetry. In her author’s notes, Johnson shares, “I created Kahula for the students whom I’ve supported in recent years that wanted material they could relate to, something they could understand and feel. I created Kahula for the little black girls who feel rejected and need reassurance that they are worthy and every bit of special.”

At a time when many teachers are considering the importance of representation in the classroom, this is a title I urge you to consider reading and sharing with students.

You can learn more about poet Guyleigh Johnson here:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/community/author/guyleigh-johnson-1.5622470

https://www.facebook.com/GuyleighJohnson/

https://writers.ns.ca/author-spotlight/guyleigh-johnson/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbqcCoADtembSWWyNoB-8xA/videos

 

HOW TO READ A BOOK BY KWAME ALEXANDER AND MELISSA SWEET

Apr
20

Did you know that Kwame Alexander, best known for his young adult fiction titles written in verse, such as Solo, Swing, The Crossover and Booked also writes picture books? Some of his works include The Undefeated, Animal Ark and Out of Wonder. I would like to recommend you take a moment of time to consider another of his titles, How to Read a Book illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Image from Alexander, K. (2019). How to Read A Book. HarperCollins Publishers.

 

In this text, Alexander writes a poem rich in imagery, vocabulary, and onomatopoeia that espouses the pleasures and sheer delights found in reading a book.  My favorite passage is:

Alexander, K. (2019). How to Read A Book. HarperCollins Publishers.

 

Powerful as Alexander’s words are, so too are Sweet’s illustrations.  A combination of watercolors, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers and found items blend to provide powerful representations that echo the author’s words.

Alexander will draw the reader in from the first page and leave the reader reflecting on their own reading experiences with his parting words…

“NOW, SLEEP, DREAM, HOPE. (YOU NEVER REACH) —THE END.” (25-27)

Learn more about Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet.

GUEST WRITER ANGELA LARDNER RECOMMENDS DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD: POEMS, QUOTES, AND ANECDOTES FROM A-Z BY IRENE LATHAM AND CHARLES WALTERS

Apr
08

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.