Margin Notes

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.

GUEST WRITER WILL MILNER RECOMMENDS DRAGON HOOPS BY GENE YUEN LANG

Mar
25

Gene Yuen Lang’s 2020 graphic novel chronicles not only the journey of the 2014-15 O’Dowd Dragons varsity boys basketball team’s run at a state championship, but also his journey as an author documenting their season. This structure provides the reader with not only an intriguing sports story, but also allows Yang to delve into the conscience and process of a writer. Through its 430+ pages, Dragon Hoops weaves its way through various relatable and prescient themes, from the author’s own bias against basketball, through the assumptions and prejudice that bubble under the surface of many North American communities, to the unifying power of sport and bonding through a shared experience, no matter one’s role in the journey.

The O’Dowd Dragons have demons to hunt down and conquer at the beginning of the 2014 season. Alumnus, and current teacher/coach, Lou Richie is chasing an elusive state title. Having not only lost as a coach the previous year, but also fueled by experiencing a heartbreaking and controversial loss in the final as a Dragon himself 26 years earlier, Richie is hopeful that this is O’Dowd’s year. Yang (a teacher at O’Dowd High School himself during the 2014-15 season) uses Coach Lou’s personal story as the springboard into the lives of those invested in the team and their dream of hoisting the state championship trophy. Along the way, we get to ride shotgun with Yang as he learns the stories behind the team, its players, and its coaching staff. Slowly, but surely, we begin to get pulled in, just Yang did, to the Dragons’ team, understanding why this is more than a sport, and why it means so much to those involved.

Dragon Hoops is not a difficult read but demands the attention of its reader – it’s not a straightforward season documentary of wins and losses. Readers need to hold the pieces of the puzzle Yang is laying for a little while as he builds his narrative one section at a time. The finished piece is worth the work – like any story, fact or fiction, you must get to know the characters in order to truly care for their journey. Yang is as much a character here as those of the team. His journey, however, is just a little different, leaving the reader to root for him in a slightly different way.

Yang, as an author, pulls few punches in addressing issues he and his subjects grapple with. Themes can be mature, but not graphic, and language can be explicit, but is written in typical comic grawlixes leaving the reader aware of the intended word, without the full impact of seeing it written out on the page. Yes, this is a sports book. But it so much more. A reader may be turned off by the athletic side, but once they meet Yang – both author and character – those doubters that give it a chance will see that Dragon Hoops, like sports, is really about the people involved in the game, and the lives they live with, through and for each other.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Education teacher at Fredericton High School. Taking advantage of a break in coaching forced upon him by the pandemic, he is presently working on finishing his MEd thesis on Outdoor Education. Whenever possible he likes to spend time reading and playing outside with his young daughter Olivia, who is looking forward to their new puppy arriving later this spring.

GUEST WRITER KATIE PRESCOTT RECOMMENDS WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE BY RENEE WATSON

Mar
23

Renee Watson’s Ways to Make Sunshine is a sweet story following Ryan Hart, a young girl working though the struggles of life. When her Dad loses his job, and her family needs to move to a smaller house due to money being tight, Ryan is disheartened and worried about what her new life might look like. While navigating her new normal, Ryan comes to understand what her mom means in her reminder, “Ryan, we’ll all still be together. This is just a house. We are the ones who make it a home. Home is wherever we go” (p.16). Ways to Make Sunshine celebrates family, friendship, and home.

Throughout her fourth-grade year, Ryan struggles with new realizations around race, class, gender, and social injustice. Her wit, determination, and kind heart guide her journey towards self-identity and always finding the joy – the sunshine – in hard times. There may not have been a better year for this publication!

I couldn’t agree more with the comparison the publisher and other reviewers make between Ryan Hart and Ramona Quimby. Ryan Hart, with her independence, spunk, and integrity, is sure to steal a piece of each reader’s heart with this first book in Renee Watson’s new series. I am already looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Ways to Grow Love, which will be published this year.

Katie Prescott is a believer in the power of story and a lover of family, food, and the outdoors.

BUTTS ARE EVERYWHERE BY JONATHAN STUTZMAN

Mar
16

What child doesn’t lose it when they hear the word “butt”? Jonathan Stutzman is sure to capture any student’s attention with his triumphant celebration of the tushee. 

Although the subject matter of this book is comical, children will learn more about their “hind-end” than they realize!  Who knew these powerful muscles had such purpose or that, as Jonathan would suggest, “The gluteus really is the maximus!

This over the top hilarious book is sure to bring a smile to anyone that reads it and evoke much followup conversation.