Margin Notes

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.

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.