Margin Notes



the hate u give coverPublished in 2017, Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give is written from the perspective of a young black teenage girl who makes the brave decision to speak out against violence by police officers against black individuals and the aftermath and chaos this creates. The book’s main character Starr struggles with staying in line with her life at a posh private school and doing the right thing, not only by her friend, but her community. This book takes a look at racially aimed violence by police officers and the outcry it sparks within society and how speaking out, while it is the right thing to do, will not always get you the justice you deserve.

Thomas’ fearless ability to take this controversial topic and bring it into a YA fiction novel truly amazed me because as I read this, I felt as if I was living through this with Starr and the pain she was feeling as she watched a police officer kill one of her best friends. Though fictional, she provided an in-depth look at the aftermath of such a horrific event – an event we often read about within the media but do not personally experience. This book, as white female, opens a window to a situation in which I cannot imagine experiencing. She writes this book in such a way that you do not feel separated from the main character or her experiences. I think this may be why it continues to be  the New York Times top selling YA book, because Thomas created a story based upon an extremely controversial subject and writes courageously about it. I think Starr, despite the tragedy of watching her best friend die due to racial profiling, is relatable to many young people today. She knows what is wrong with society and wants to help be a part of that change, and I think that is something people want to read about. They want a story about bravery, and not in the typical way.

Katie Morgan is a current student at UNB completing her B.Ed. as a pre-service teacher in high school English. As a guest blogger she is reviewing a YA novel for her teaching secondary English class.





Girls with Sharp Sticks Cover

Girls With Sharp Sticks tells the story of Philomena Rhodes, a young girl studying at a mysterious academy meant to prepare her for her future as a wife and mother by teaching her the skills she will need for these roles. Philomena and her friends are sent to this school by their parents, and kept under strict control by their male teachers and guardians, with little to no contact with the outside world. Slowly but surely, the students begin to uncover the truth behind the academy, and, in order to survive, the girls must rise up and learn to fight against the forces controlling them. The book is a perfect mix of action, drama, and romance, but at the heart of the story is the importance and strength of female friendships.

This book contains mature themes and language and would be a great read-alike for any students that loved the Divergent or Matched series. Written by Suzanne Young (the author of The Program series), Girls With Sharp Sticks has just enough plot twists and drama to surprise any reader. Every time I thought I could predict what was coming next, Young’s story defied my expectations and hooked me even more. With the story ending on a cliffhanger, Girls With Sharp Sticks will most definitely become a series that will intrigue any reader and make the perfect addition to any classroom library.

Kristin Estabrooks is a Mount Allison University graduate, currently studying for her Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is an avid reader who is slowly but surely reintroducing herself to the world of Young Adult literature.




The Trail Cover

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto is the survival story of 12 year old Toby, a boy set on hiking the Appalachian trail solo. The power of The Trail comes from its relatability. Unlike some of the other great young adventure stories like Hatchet, middle school readers could realistically attain some of the same experiences that Toby does. Especially for students that are close to the setting geographically (anyone in southern New Brunswick), hiking part of the Appalachian Trail is a realistic goal. Mt. Katahdin, Toby’s destination, is a mere two and a half hours from Fredericton. In this same vein of relatability, the author introduces the equipment and processes involved in the world of hiking in very accessible ways, ensuring that all readers, regardless of background knowledge, become immersed in the daily realities of hiking and back country

Toby’s adventures, while set in the demanding physical environment of the Appalachian Trail, encompass the psychological, social and emotional as well. In the end, his battles with the elements, his past, and the people he runs into along the way, teach him how to trust himself so that he can move forward in spite of the pain the world throws his way and the uncertainty we all face in making decisions when there is no trail to follow, no clear answer to what we should do.

Students close to the same age as Toby will probably get the most out of The Trail, however anyone who enjoys outdoor adventure stories will enjoy The Trail. That being said, it is worthwhile to note that one of the strengths of The Trail is its ability to make hiking and back-country camping relatable and understandable to people for whom these things are completely foreign concepts, and may just inspire kids to get outside and see what experiencing nature through hiking is all about!

Michael Reeder is currently in the UNB education program, hoping to teach English Language Arts to high school students soon. He has always loved reading and believes that, since reading is one of the most powerful tools and individual can use to advance their lives independently, instilling a love of reading in students is one of the most important things a teacher can do.



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. The following read-alikes for Refugee by Alan Gratz are a combination of titles written in verse and letter forms, graphic novels, pictures books, and biographies.


Refugee by Alan Gratz has been one of the most popular books in classrooms over the past few years. It is a historical (and present day) fiction novel that teaches us about what it was/is like to flee a country, seek refuge, and begin again. The novel tells three stories in three different time periods, all told through the eyes of three children. These children, Josef from Nazi Germany (1938), Isabel from Cuba (1994), and Mahmoud from Syria (2015) remind us to always, always have compassion and kindness for those around us, to not be ignorant, and to stand for what is right.

The Night Diary.jpgThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani tells Nisha’s story in India in 1947 when her country separated into India and Pakistan, creating division and violence between Hindus and Muslims as they fled their homes to cross the borders to safety. Nisha is half-Muslim and half-Hindu, leaving her feeling even more confused about where she belongs. When Nisha’s family decides to leave their home and become refugees, Nisha writes about her journey in letters to her mom, who died when she was born.


Other Words for Home.jpgOther Words for Home by Jasmine Warga follows Jude and her pregnant mother as they are forced to flee Syria and move to America, leaving her brother and father behind. As Jude adjusts to a new culture while also longing for her home, she realizes, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time.” She is so wise and brave as she begins to find her way to feeling a sense of belonging while also feeling deep fear about her family’s safety back in Syria.


Inside Out and Back Again.jpgInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a historical fiction novel in verse that tells 10-year-old Hà’s story as she, along with her mom and brothers, are forced to leave their home in Saigon in 1975 because of the Vietnam War. After traveling by ship and spending time in a refugee camp, her family moves to Alabama to establish a new home. Hà dreams of what her new home will be like, but when she is met with racism, bullying, and constant worry about her father, adjusting to life in America is more difficult than she had hoped.


Grenade.jpgGrenade by Alan Gratz is a historical fiction novel that takes place on the island of Okinawa during World War II. When the Americans arrive on Okinawa to fight the Japanese, a group of middle school boys, including Hideki Kaneshiro, are recruited and given two grenades: one to kill an American soldier and one to kill themselves. Ray is an American Marine whose first mission is on Okinawa. When Hideki and Ray meet in the middle of a battle, they have some difficult decisions to make.


Sea Prayer.jpgSea Prayer [by Khaled Hosseini] was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015. In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.” This picture book is a letter a father writes to his young son about their home before the war and during their journey to escape the terror that came. He writes of his memories, his fears, his hopes, his promises, his love.


White Bird.jpgWhite Bird by R.J. Palacio is a graphic novel about one young Jewish girl being separated from her parents and hidden away by another family during The Holocaust during WWII. This beautiful story reminds readers of the powerful and miraculous nature of kindness and courage.



Anne Frank.jpgAnne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation beautifully illustrates Anne Frank’s voice and spirit from her diary, which details her experiences and feelings while being hidden away in a secret annex in her father’s business building for two years during The Holocaust.




The Unwanted.jpg

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, a non-fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Don Brown, details facts, timelines, and world politics while also telling of the horrors, the losses, the pain and the hope many Syrian refugees have experiences and continue to experience as they have fled a war zone and tried to find new homes.



Escape from Syria.jpgEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit is a graphic novel that humanizes the current events in Syria and the realities Syrian refugees are facing today in camps and during resettlement in their new homes. The story is told by Amina as her family is forced to flee Aleppo, seek refuge in Lebanon, and cross the ocean to find a new home in the West.


Let me tell you my story.jpgLet Me Tell You My Story: Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage, and Humanity is the compilation of photos and stories collected by a group of photographers, filmmakers, painters, and writers over the course of two years as they documented the flood of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa to find a new home in the West. This collection is beautiful, haunting, and authentic.



This is Not a Love LetterThis is Not a Love Letter is not entirely truthful in its title; though it isn’t a love letter per se, it is most definitely NOT lacking in love, nor the many other emotions the reader is certain to feel while reading this book.

When we first meet Jessie, the protagonist of the novel, she is just about to hear some devastating news; her boyfriend, Chris, has gone missing, and it seems there are reasons to worry about his whereabouts. We travel with Jessie through her physical search for Chris, and also through her search into the past for clues as to what may have happened. Kim Purcell tells a tale of heartbreak and hope, love and loss, and, more than anything, created real characters for whom we both laugh and cry.

As an adult reader, I can feel Jessie’s pain as clearly as though it’s my own, and her questions about her past and her future remind me of my own adolescence. For the young adult readers in our classrooms, Jessie can be a source of comfort, as students see that they are not alone in trying to navigate the world around them and the multi-faceted relationships in their lives. Jessie’s story is both simple and complex, making it very relatable. This book may be just right for the reader who is interested in a story where race and/or mental health struggles are issues of concern.

You will wish that you could climb into the pages to redirect these characters on where they are about to go wrong, but be prepared for the heaviness of plot and atmosphere. This is Not a Love Letter is a read that will make you want to keep your tissues handy.

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.

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker


Since reading The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker, I have found myself approaching my environment and regular routines differently. My trip to Costco last weekend became a The Art of Noticingwriting opportunity as I found myself taking Walker’s advice and mentally creating a “Field Guide to Cart Behaviors at Costco.”

Walker explains that “paying attention, making a habit of noticing, helps cultivate an original perspective, a distinct point of view.” But paying attention isn’t easy. To help us develop a habit of noticing, The Art of Noticing offers 131 “opportunities for joyous exploration in all it’s dimensions,” rated by degree of difficulty from “So Easy—Anybody can do this right now,” to “Advanced—Noticing has become an adventure.”

The exercises are grouped into five categories: Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others, and Being Alone. They are designed to “serve that spirit of curiosity and joy, whether it’s in the service of productive aims or leisure.” Many of the exercises have been inspired by the works of writers, artists, filmmakers, researchers, and Walker’s own students. For example, “Start a Collection” is based on a poetry collection by Rob Forbes, the founder or Design Within Reach, and “Take a Scent Walk” is modeled after smellwalks organized by urban planner and writer Victoria Henshaw. Links to many of the works referenced are available on At the end of the book, Walker invites readers to invent their own exercise in noticing and share it with him on his website.

This morning I challenged myself to try out “Find Something You Weren’t Looking For” as I walked a common route in the neighborhood where I have lived for almost twenty years. At a house I have passed almost daily on my walks, I noticed three small brass horse figurines perched in a window. Not only had I never noticed them, I spent the rest of my walk wondering about them. Were they a gift? Something purchased as a keepsake on a trip? Were they placed there so the owner or the public could better admire them, or both? That led me to pay more attention to other items decorating window ledges and soon enough I found two white ceramic cats looking out at me.

The Art of Noticing is a unique and fascinating book. Readers can dip into it for a few pages or read it cover-to-cover.  Many of the noticing exercises would work well with writer’s notebooks to encourage writers to be more curious about possibilities for writing in the world around them. If I can find writing inspiration at Costco, I can assure you that The Art of Noticing will help you engage with your surroundings on a more creative level.



ShoeDog.jpgIt seems like the iconic Nike swoosh has been around forever, but how did this empire actually begin? In Shoe Dog, Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, introduces readers to the world of dreams, ideas, and struggles he experienced on his way to becoming an international sports equipment manufacturer.

This memoir is a raw account of the challenges Knight faced as he began to follow through on his dream to begin a company to import high quality, low cost running shoes from Japan. From that awkward moment of asking to borrow fifty dollars for his first shipment from his father, to quickly being notified that, “…the Bank of Dad, he said, is now closed…”, Knight reveals the challenges he faced as he pursued his dreams.

As a member of the University of Oregon’s track team, Knight began to dream about designing a better running shoe. Once an MBA student at Stanford University, he began to examine the prospect of having Japan manufacture running shoes. What seemed like a far-fetched idea began to take hold when he discovered that his shoe import business, Blue Ribbon Sports, was selling the shoes faster than the factory could produce them.

Knight does not sugar-coat his journey to success. He speaks candidly about the financial struggles he endured and the unconventional methods employed to establish his company. From hiring an art student for thirty-five dollars to design the Nike logo, to selling running shoes out of the trunk of his car, Knight’s methods may have appeared unconventional, but they established him as a no-nonsense businessman.

Shoe Dog is not a list of “How To” steps, or a checklist for starting a business; it is simply an honest account of one man’s journey. It is honest and unapologetic. Knight concludes his memoir with a candid comment: “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick. She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.



Best FriendsBest Friends, a graphic novel by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham, tells Shannon’s story of transitioning from being a “kid” to being a “tween” as she enters middle school: balancing wanting to play and pretend with wanting to be accepted and cool.

Shannon’s story reflects her experiences with anxiety that are unpredictable and often unexplainable. As she grows older and becomes more aware of the world around her, and the possible tragedies it could offer, her anxiety becomes more difficult to understand and control. Thinking back to my own childhood, I could personally relate to her fears of her parents dying and her house burning down, while also battling the very real feelings of fear and irrational coping mechanisms: “Maybe she’s [her mom] okay because I worried. Maybe I need to keep worrying so that she stays safe” (p. 155). I think many students will be able to relate to these feelings too.

Shannon authentically tells her story of growing up and heading into middle school with her experiences of being left out, trying to fit in, what values she compromises for popularity, being preyed on by an older boy, not being ready to “like boys”, and being worried about what it means to say, “No.” One of her childhood coping mechanisms illustrated in this graphic novel is her use of visual art and storytelling as therapy and a way to process her experiences. This allows her the opportunity to try out ways of responding to situations, to fail without repercussions, and possible ways to find her inner truth and power.

As a teacher, Shannon’s story also reminds me of the power of our words. When Shannon tells her teacher that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, her teacher responds, “The evidence would suggest that you already are a writer” (p. 215). This simple, and maybe even unrecognized, encouragement empowers Shannon to stay true to who she is in all parts of her life.

In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Shannon tells her readers that she hopes we have room to make mistakes. This reminds me that whether we are going down a new, unfamiliar road, taking a risk, meeting new people, moving to a new city, or taking on an unexpected surprise, these experiences may be full of fear, but they are also full of possibility and hope.



Orphan.jpgAfter her mother gets shot and killed at a checkpoint, Sarah finds herself isolated and running for her life. Being a Jewish 15-year-old in Germany in 1939 tends not to grant you many allies, and Sarah soon finds herself desperately trying just to survive. But a chance encounter with a mysterious man gives her a completely new objective. This man of mystery needs Sarah to infiltrate a Nazi boarding school and become friends with the daughter of one of the top Nazi scientists, all to halt the production of a bomb the likes of which the world has never seen before.

Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy is a thrilling story of overcoming seemingly impossible adversity and staying true to yourself and your ideals. The story has both scenes of thrilling espionage and quieter scenes of contemplation, and neither ever seem out of place or forced. Orphan Monster Spy captures Sarah’s flaws and strengths in stride, taking the time to examine each one while still keeping the story alive and well-paced. Whether you enjoy grounded, bleak realism and historical fiction or brilliant and cunning spies, Orphan Monster Spy is the right book to read.

Zander Strickland is a student who enjoys reading, writing, and cracking jokes about his unparalleled egocentricity. Or, at least people think he’s joking.



Bea.jpgMiddle schoolers have one thing in common: they all want to belong and find their “people.” Who doesn’t? I think it’s safe to say adults also crave this security.

The Way to Bea is a fiction novel that explores important themes, such as belonging, self-confidence, and acceptance. Beatrix Lee is questioning who her true friends are when she returns to school after summer break and is devastated that her best friend isn’t speaking to her.

Bea has a passion for poetry and this passion is woven throughout the story. She writes poems in invisible ink and leaves them in a special portal in the woods, hoping to get a response. Despite the snickers from others, poetry is Bea’s one true thing. She can count on it to bring her joy.

Throughout the story, Bea spends much of her time waiting for others to bring her happiness. She eventually finds her own way and realizes that she is the author of her own happiness. By helping a new friend out of a “dead end”, Bea discovers her true self. The author, Kat Yeh, captures the beautiful “give and take” of friendships.

Bea’s journey will speak to many middle school students about true friendship. She reminds us to be true to ourselves. I hope our students set off on a journey of self- discovery and feel proud of who they are after reading this book.

Sara BeLong teaches grade six at George Street Middle School. Her favourite genres are memoirs and realistic fiction.