Margin Notes



9780525554561To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer will capture the interests, and hearts, of students that love realistic fiction.  I would argue that this title is also the perfect text to help transition a reader to this genre if it isn’t a typical choice for them. The book is a quick and engaging read, aimed at late elementary and middle level students. Presented in the form of emails and letters, students will need to draw on their reading and viewing strategies to comprehend the clever organization and text features. With a quirky cast of relatable characters, the authors have managed to skillfully blend representation and authenticity into the lives of two very-endearing protagonists.  Wondering if this book should become a permanent part of your classroom library?  The answer is undoubtably, YES!

In a nutshell, the book is a series of communications by, and about, the two main characters: Avery Bloom (Night Owl) and Bette Devlin (Dogfish).  Bette is an adventurous girl from California.  She loves surfing, thrill seeking, and keeping a watchful eye on her dad.  When Bette finds out her dad is in a serious relationship with a man from New York, and that the two plan to have their daughters meet at the prestigious summer camp, CIGI, Bette sees no option but to take matters into her own hands.  She puts her sleuthing skills to the test and tracks down Avery via email.  Avery is cautious, anxious, and clever, and although she is hesitant to believe Bette’s claims, soon comes to realize that she’s going to need to work with Bette if there is any hope of keeping their dads apart. Through their regular communication and experiences at camp, the girls from an unexpected bond, showing the reader that family is what you make it.

As I flipped through the pages, I felt like I was reading a modernized version of the Parent Trap, starring Hailey Mills—one of my all-time favorite movies.  The central focus of the novel is on the bond that develops between Bette and Avery. What I love most though, is the inclusion of  relatable and authentic characters representative of our world, particularly when it comes to skin color, ethnicity, age, family status, and sexuality.  While other texts I have read mention same-sex parents, or even had a central conflict relating to same-sex parents, none have celebrated it in quite the same way.  It wasn’t something a character was upset about, nor was it a side story. This book made it a focal point and made it beautiful and normal and worth celebrating.  While there were dissenting voices in the text, they were brushed aside, acknowledged, but not given power.  Despite some serious themes, this book was perfectly balanced with loads of lighthearted humor and zany antics.  I think that students will be able to interact with it on different levels, depending on their own experiences and prior knowledge.

Finally, the teaching potential in this book can’t be overlooked.  There are so many opportunities for mini-lessons and excerpts that would make great mentor texts.  I would focus on the text features, organization, context clues, inference, and voice (particularly in relation to word choice and expression).  While I feel that this book would make a fantastic read-aloud, I think that it would be important to discuss or find ways to help your students keep track of who is telling the story, as it does have alternating narration.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer is a delight.  In fact, reading it has inspired me to pick up other books by these authors.  Be sure to check it out!

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)





The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake tells the story of a twelve year- old girl named Sunny, as she begins her “new life” after a recent heart transplant.

Throughout the novel the reader learns that Sunny is unhappy with many of the decisions she made in her “old” life. (pre-heart transplant).  Secrets were told and friendships were broken, which causes Sunny to create a to-do-list that she wants to accomplish as the new Sunny.   Her list includes doing awesome amazing things that she could never do before including finding a new best friend and finding a boy to kiss.

As Sunny sets out to complete her list, she meets her mother who abandoned her 8 years ago. She feels confusion and has a lack of trust. Although she wants her mother to be a part of her life, her mother’s alcoholism, and new family are barriers to their relationship.

When Sunny meets Quinn, she instantly has a new best friend.  Together they look for boys to kiss so that Sunny can cross this off her list.  Sunny and Quinn’s friendship makes Sunny question which feelings are hers and which belong to her unknown heart donor as she finds herself attracted to Quinn.  In the end, they end up sharing a kiss and discovering that they have feelings for each other.

This novel would be a good read for many students as Sunny is a character that many teens could relate to.  There are themes of health, friendship, adoptive and biological parents, and romantic relationships.  Also, this novel explores the idea of trying to change who you are and whether this is possible.

Roxanne teaches grade 7 and 8 LA at Sunbury West School.



I'm Not Dying With You TonightWhat would you do if a riot broke out right in front of you? Would you freeze, scream, hide, or run? For Lena and Campbell this situation throws them into a life-changing situation where the only goal is to survive.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight places the reader into the situation where they may ask themselves, “What would I do?” Lena and Campbell represent two very different worlds. Lena is the high school student who is noted for her sense of style, her devoted boyfriend, and her well planned out future. Campbell, on the other hand, is the “newbie” at McPherson High School, who just wants to get through the school year at a new school.

Narrated in alternating chapters, Lena and Campbell recount the evening that should have been a routine high school football game. Managing the canteen for the event, both characters are expecting an evening of preparing hotdogs, pop, and snacks for the crowd. But, this game is not an ordinary event; it is a match against McPherson’s biggest rival, Jonesville. Tensions within the crowd heighten; customers waiting in line at the canteen become impatient; first a soft drink cup is thrown over the crowd, and then it all breaks loose.

Page after page, Jones and Segal take readers on a journey of survival. When the outbreak of violence expands to blockades throughout the city, both characters share a sense of fear: “…we have to get out of here. This is the most unsafe move I’ve ever made.”

From helicopters to SWAT members, this is certainly a page turner that is written for a variety of readers. Filled with wonderful mentor texts for vivid vocabulary, the authors have created a novel that makes the reader feel as if they are actually on the sidelines of all the action.

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.



25695640._UY630_SR1200,630_For some time now, the iconic movie, A beautiful Mind has been the standard portrayal of schizophrenia, but Julia Walton’s Word’s on Bathroom Walls is the new benchmark, conveying insight into what it’s like to live with such a disruptive mental disorder. Walton’s compelling protagonist, sixteen-year-old Adam Petrazelli, is coping with this extraordinary life challenge.  

To further enhance the awkward social position this puts Adam in, Walton mirrors this in the structure of her book by having Adam meet with his counsellor every week, but refuses to talk to him; so each session is an hour of uncomfortable one-sided conversation. Each chapter begins with the psychiatrist notes – succinct medical information about Adam’s diagnosis and meds – followed by a dated journal from Adam’s perspective to his psychiatrist, sharing his daily struggles and answering the questions he’s been asked the previous session. This is crucial to the success of the story as the reader anguishes with Adam at his social blunders specific to the challenges that accompany a mental disorder like schizophrenia when the medications stop working.  

From his inability to distinguish between reality and hallucinations, to his worries about dealing with a new stepfather, hiding his schizophrenia from his peers, and navigating a newfound romantic relationship, Adam is a sympathetic character and you will find yourself rooting for and sympathizing with when things don’t go as planned. This book is a must read for all those who want to understand what causes someone to behave a certain way and want to gain a unique and empathetic point of view about mental illness in 2020. 




Sunny Rolls the DiceSunny Rolls the Dice is the third book of the bestselling Sunny Series written by the award-winning siblings, Jennifer and Matthew Holm.

This funny middle-grade graphic novel addresses, with a light touch, some of the difficulties students have transitioning into middle school.

For tweenagers, the transition to middle school usually holds a combination of nervousness, fear and doubt, but Sunny Rolls the Dice approaches the challenge in a really amusing way through its main character’s humorous stories. For Sunny, the main character, middle school becomes a complicated transition, especially in terms of her appearance and relationships. In fact, while she tries to imitate whatever her best friend, Deb, does (only to keep her friendship with Deb), she still wants to maintain her own sense of identity and independence by making new friends and playing cool games with her male classmates, even if those games are not so “girly”!

Sunny Rolls the Dice is set in the late 1970s, when Sunny, who is in the seventh grade, takes the “Are You a Groovy Teen?” quiz in Teen magazine and obtains the lowest score possible. Unlike her friends, Sunny still wears galoshes on rainy days, which is scored as an absolute zero based on the Groovy Meter. She also plays Dungeons & Dragons with a group of boys, which is not something that “cool” girls at her age do. So many times she gets confused by the variety of messages she receives from her friends and also teen magazines about how girls should look and act to be groovy. These messages lead her to avoiding playing the game she loves.

Initially, Sunny struggles to change her self-image based on her friends’ comments, but eventually she stops trying so hard to be measure up to her friends’ standards and chooses to be cool in her own way: by being her true self! What I adore about this story is that Sunny, in the end, chooses to do what she really enjoys and sticks to it regardless of whatever her friends’ negative feedback might be.

This book will be most popular with middle school students who are facing the dilemma of remaining true to themselves or acting and looking groovy enough to be accepted by their peers.

The main reason I highly recommend Sunny Rolls the Dice is because of Sunny’s decision to go her own way and not really care about what her friends’ reactions might be. The story also offers parents and teachers the opportunity to discuss the significant issue of popularity with middle school kids. The following questions have been suggested by some of the readers of this amazing graphic novel:

  • Do you find it tough to make new friends while sticking to your own self-image
  • What does it mean to be popular in middle school?
  • What products do tween kids buy in order to seem more popular?
  • Can middle school girls play “boyish” games like D&D and still be cool? And is being cool really that important?

Rezvan Dehghani, originally from Iran, is an EAL/ ESL instructor at Devon Middle School in Fredericton, NB.



ComicsOur world is inundated with nerd-culture. We pay the expensive prices for movie tickets and wait in line to get the best seats on opening night. We travel far-and-wide to ride the superhero rides, for a chance to get our picture taken with leotard and cape-sporting characters. Many of us go as far as permanently inking our bodies with our ride-or-die favourite characters or our favourite alliances. In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find a young person who hasn’t at least passively watched a superhero movie or television show. Superheroes are just that – heroes. Extraordinary people who go to extraordinary lengths to do things for others.

Comics Will Break Your Heart shows its audience a side of comics that many people haven’t thought about before – the origin stories. Not of the characters within the books, but of those who create them. Who are the writers? The artists? Who chooses the colour of the capes and the distribution of the work itself? Faith Erin Hicks reminds us of something that we so often forget – we are all creators of our own worlds. We imagine scenarios in our heads – what could happen vs. what we want to happen in our real lives.

Mirroring a Romeo and Juliet type love affair, Hicks writes a coming-of-age story for wannabe-nerds and hardcore-nerds alike. Mir, a devotee of nerd culture, is conflicted about leaving her small-town life behind after high school. Weldon, a rich kid exiled to small-town Nova Scotia for a summer, is trying to get his act together. The unlikely pair try to overcome their family’s intertwined histories to make new lives for themselves, but their last names seemingly leave them suffocated. Their families battled against each other in an ugly, long-winded court case for the rights to the comic series, The TomorrowMen.

This YA novel will surely appeal to those who are familiar with the history of comic books and their worth on our current superhero culture, but also to an audience who loves coming-of-age stories. A simple love story about friends, family, and their interconnectedness, Comics Will Break Your Heart gives students a new romance novel for daydreamers, artists, and nerds alike.

Laura Noble is an English teacher at Leo Hayes High School and is currently finishing her Masters in Education. She is an avid reader of true crime, feminist literature, and realistic fiction.



Paris ProjectMiddle school student Cleveland Rosebud Potts has a dream: A dream to escape her life in Sassafras, Florida and travel to Paris, France where everything will be “parfait”.

Cleveland comes up with an idea – The Paris Project: A list of six items that will prepare her for Paris. There is only one problem: Life.

This novel follows Cleveland’s journey to deal with what life throws her way as she checks the items off her list to say “Good Riddance!” to Sassafras, Florida only to learn “C’est la Vie“.

The Paris Project is a great addition to any middle or high school classroom library. Students will connect and relate with Cleveland’s journey as she navigates her way through middle school.

Lindsay Perez teaches at Nashwaaksis Middle School.



What If It's UsArthur is in New York for the summer when he meets Ben at a post office. Ben is bitter at the world and is there to mail out his ex-boyfriend’s items when he notices Arthur’s awkward ways.

However, when a marching band and proposal at the post office separate Ben and Arthur before they can exchange numbers, let alone names, it seems like their stars are not aligned. But Arthur will not be deterred.

Arthur decides to go to extreme measures to find Ben; he wants the romance and the chance to see what the universe has in store for them. And Ben is curious about him, too. When they finally do find one another, it is a balancing act of getting the perfect first date (four or five times over), the disappointments of unmet expectations, and the realization that life is not a Broadway show, most of the time.

Ben has been in relationships before; this is Arthur’s first one. Together, they help one another find love and true friendship. They control their fate and destiny, with a few ups and downs along the way, in true teenage drama.

This book explores what it means to find your first love and to follow your heart. It makes you believe in love at first sight and takes you back to your teenage years of puppy love, crushes, jealousy, and suspicions. It has all the drama of balancing the fine edge of ending a relationship yet trying to remain friends with that someone, while also trying to start a new relationship with someone new.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.



StrangersAdmittedly, I was not ready for this book. I began with several others on the go and exams looming around the corner. I felt like it was going in fits and starts, and I was ready to give up. The thing is, once exams were over, I went back to it and finished it in a day!

David A. Robertson’s first instalment of The Reckoner Trilogy takes us to the (fictional) Manitoba town of Wounded Sky where we’re drawn into the lives of a community still reeling a decade on from a devastating school tragedy that claimed the lives of many of the town’s young people. We’re immediately thrown into the schemes of Choch, the coyote trickster of First Nations’ lore, as he plots to coerce Cole Harper back to the town that drove him away for his role as hero and scapegoat in the fire ten years ago.

After the tragedy ten years ago, Cole, along with his grandmother and aunt, moved to Winnepeg. As we see the broken and conflicted life that they have pieced together since leaving Wounded Sky, the inevitable becomes clear: Cole must return and face the demons that await him back home.

What follows is the beginning of a mystery that, while already well under way, really starts to unfold as soon as Cole touches down at the rural community’s airstrip. Cole is forced to face not only the conflicting emotions of his old friends and neighbours, but he must also try to reconcile his current life with his painful past.

Along the way, Choch is weaving his way in and out of Cole’s life, pulling strings, playing games and adding a supernatural level of uncertainty to Cole’s attempt to straighten his life, and his community, out. Trust is scarce, and suspicion is rampant – what really happened all those years ago, and why are people dying now that Cole has returned?

Strangers does contain violence, and mature language/content, so it is best suited to more mature readers. Its themes of family and friendship, and community and belonging ring with sufficient universality that most readers should find themselves drawn into Robertson’s story. Once hooked, as I was, it seems unfair that by the end of the book, Cole’s story has really just gotten started.

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 daughter Olivia.



Patron Saints of NothingPatron Saints of Nothing engages the reader in a journey of self-discovery with Jay Reguero, a high school student in his senior year, who lives in Michigan with his American mother and Filipino father. His father, having left the Philippines to give his children a better life when they were young, expects Jay to go to an Ivy League college to make the move seem worth the stakes it has cost him—great personal shame and grief from some family members who deem him a traitor.

Disappointingly, Jay has an estranged relationship with his father, who has few meaningful conversations with him, and a shallow relationship with his best friend, Seth, who only shares his love of gaming and playing basketball. It is only Jay’s cousin, Jun, living in the Philippines with whom Jay has a deep relationship with from a memorable vacation when he was ten and the subsequent years of letter writing, that is, before Jay stopped responding to Jun’s letters.

Early on in the story, the reader discovers that Jun had been living on the street for a few years and was shot by the police for doing drugs. While questioning his parents, Jay is introduced to President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh campaign on cleaning up crime in the Philippines, leaving him feeling ashamed for not knowing or understanding what his Filipino family has been enduring while he has lived a fear-free existence in the United States. When an anonymous person messages Jay from a fake account, indicating that Jun’s death was not related to drugs and that he didn’t deserve to die, Jay embarks on a journey back to his “other” homeland to clandestinely uncover the truth behind his cousin’s death since no one will talk about it. From there, Jay is faced with getting in touch with his Filipino roots; developing an understanding of his father; and coming to grips with the fact that people aren’t always what they seem, which has to be okay.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good mystery or coming of age story and/or who is interested in mixed-race identity, family bonding, social responsibility, and current issues in the political sphere of the Philippines.

Joanne McDonald teaches grade 9 English, Writing 110, 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.