Margin Notes



Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a beautifully written middle level novel about two sisters who learn that speaking their truth may be what allows them to start healing from a childhood shattered by abuse and neglect. The story begins with Della (10) and Suki (16) being placed in foster care after an attempted sexual assault on Della by their mother’s ex-boyfriend, the one they were left living with when their mother was incarcerated. Fortunately for the girls, they are placed with Francine, who becomes the ally the girls so desperately need – even if they don’t realize they do.

This novel shines light on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the lengths siblings will go to protect one another. Although Fighting Words is not always easy to read, it is an important read. The characters and the story created by Brubaker will surely open up important conversations about topics often shied away from, and in doing so, will help with the stigma around sexual abuse while offering hope to survivors. Although this title is not a memoir, the author is one of these survivors.

My greatest hope after reading this novel is that it finds its way into the hands of the students who need it most.



In the introduction to Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life, Ashly Perez explains that she wrote the book as a remedy for her phone fatigue: “I wanted a quick and easy way to take a break from work, munch on a thought-starter, and get back to the business of being a human.”

Read This for Inspiration is bursting with “thought-starters” (and quickwrite gold)! Each “spark,” as Perez calls the entries, is a one- or two-page piece of wisdom and encouragement that combine anecdotes, interesting facts, personal reflections, and quirky artwork,

Perez provides three instructions for reading the book:

  1. You Are the Boss of This Book (read it however, whenever, and in whatever order you’d like)
  2. This Book Is Not a Checklist (use the entries for being, not doing)
  3. Inspiration Is Everywhere, For Everyone (look for and find the things that make you feel good in your own life)

Read This for Inspiration is a fantastic read-alike for fans of Mari Andrew, Haley Drew This, and Cleo Wade. It would make a cheerful addition to a high school classroom library and a writing teacher’s repertoire of writing invitations.



In this debut novel, author Brittney Morris, follows 17-year-old Kiera Johnson, who on top of being an honour student and one of the only black kids at her prestigious school, is the secret developer of the virtual reality game SLAY. Played by hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world, SLAY is more than just a game. It’s an empowering space for the black community of players, free from the racism and judgement of the real world.  As Keira explains, “As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that ‘your black is not my black’ and ‘your weird is not my weird’ and ‘your beautiful is not my beautiful,’ and that’s okay.”

But the line between reality and game is shattered when a teenage SLAYer is murdered following an online currency dispute. Keira, already grieving the death of the young player, is now faced with accusations of racist behaviour, threats of a lawsuit, and the possibility of losing the game she loves.

Themes of identity, relationships, and belonging run through this fast-pace story that is both plot and character driven. SLAY is one of those books you won’t want to put down once you start reading and will be a welcomed addition to any classroom library – by both the gamers and non-gamers in your classroom!




Books act as both a mirror to self-reflect, and a window to unveil the lived experience of others. Stories allow us to broaden our horizons by perceiving other ways of living and being in this world. In this way, books become a mechanism for the social connection needed for dialogue to affect social change. I teach and learn through story. Books are a way to connect as we vicariously experience the world in a thousand lives from a thousand minds to broaden our perspectives. Books are the heartbeat that give learning life in my classroom.

In grade 2, we have been building our capacity throughout the school year to “respond critically to texts and to develop an understanding and respect for diversity” (ACELAC K-3, GCO7, SCO pg.31). We need to be mindful as book detectives to find and include books written from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of voices to foster empathy and affirm the history, culture, family background, and experiences of every child in our classroom. If we include books that wrongly represent the experiences of students or lack books that represent all students, we will never open our students’ hearts and minds to inclusivity and we will continue to teach them to judge others based on their isolated experiences and shallow reading identities.

Four Feet, Two Sandals, a collaborative work by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed is a portrayal of two fictitious refugee children based on past true stories and experiences from Mohammed’s work in refugee camps. By mid-2020, 80 million people had been displaced from their homes worldwide, including 26 million refugees and about half are under the age of 18. This individual story is just one out of millions of childhood refugee experiences. These stories have the power to foster empathetic feelings and impact the attitudes of how children in future host countries perceive child refugees. A single story on its own is not enough to foster or cultivate empathy. I recommend Four Feet, Two Sandals as part of a varied collection of childhood refugee stories for any classroom library.

Other recommended childhood refugee stories:

S. Jane Burke, grade 2 teacher at Townsview School, learning from and teaching through stories.






As a teacher and Literacy Coach I was recently challenged by elementary students to take a look at gender stereotypes in children’s literature and so I was thrilled to see this book on display when shopping for new titles at a local bookstore. I promptly purchased it and gifted it to a middle school teacher who plans to use it with her students on Monday! 

We all know the outdated role of women and young girls in need of rescuing in the traditional nursery rhymes. Little Miss Muffet is terribly afraid of spiders and the girls weep when Georgie Porgie kisses them. We love nursery rhymes because they are fun to chant, easy to remember and they make you laugh. Well, this new revamped collection of rhymes are fun to chant, easy to remember and will make you laugh as well as challenge your thinking about gender stereotypes. In Jeanne Willis’s version Miss Muffet sits down beside a giant spider and strokes their furry legs, and Georgie Porgie learns the meaning of consent before attempting to kiss girls. Doctors are female and girls can fix scooters, but it is not all girl power All readers can feel empowered whilst enjoying these non-traditional rhymes as we learn that both boys and girls are made of “sun and rain and heart and brain”.    

Isabelle Follath’s illustrations are bright and quirky and the perfect companion to these fun and enticing poems. A must have title for any classroom and teacher wishing to add fun as well as another perspective on gender stereotypes to their collection.  



Saving Red is a powerful novel in verse that makes reading poetry accessible, even for kids who may be skeptical of the genre. The book follows Molly, who as part of her school’s community service credit, helps with the local homeless count. While out volunteering, Molly comes across Red, a girl not much older than herself who lives on the beach. Feeling guilty from her own past experiences, Molly decides to make it her mission to help get Red back to her family before Christmas. However, that proves to be difficult because Red will not speak of her past, talks to voices in her head, and continually runs off from Molly. But Molly knows what its like to run from yourself and giving up on Red is the last thing she will do. Told entirely in verse, Saving Red tackles difficult issues like homelessness, mental illness, PTSD, grief, and broken families, in a poetic way that does not shy away from the hardship of it all.

Saving Red would be a wonderful addition to any high school classroom library. The verse in this book uses a lot of figurative language that sounds wonderful but is also not so excessive that a teenager could not have come up with it. There was a perfect balance between imagery and action so that it all flowed beautifully and naturally.  The use of similes throughout this book would make it a great mentor text for a craft study or while working on a poetry unit. This book also plays a lot with different themes throughout the story, using ones that are particularly relatable and intersecting. The idea of what it means to exist in a family dealing with tragedy and the notions of loving people with mental illnesses are so relatable that students would be able to use it as both a window into other’s experiences, and a mirror to their own. Saving Red is a book that will have a place on my shelf for a long time, and that will definitely be utilized as we explore poetry in my high school ELA classes.

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.



What does it feel like to move to a new school and be known as the new kid?  Perhaps many of us have experienced this particular form of anxiety and embarrassment.  I know I have.  In my case, I would have done anything to just blend in with my new classmates and not be seen as an outsider.

This is how Unhei feels in Yangook Choi’s poignant story, The Name Jar.  She moves with her family to a new country and starts school partway through the year.  Unhei worries that no one will be able to pronounce her name properly and faces teasing from the other children, which leads her to decide to choose a new name.  The next day, she finds a glass jar on her desk filled with name suggestions from her new classmates.  Unhei shows courage and strength of character when she decides to keep her own name and share her culture and traditions.

The Name Jar is a beautifully written and illustrated story that highlights themes of acceptance, identity, and friendship.  This book would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library!

Katie Murphy is currently teaching Grade 2 at Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary in Fredericton.  She is an avid reader and is passionate about reading books, talking about books, buying books, and listening to books.



Newly published, this book will resonate with any parent of a child that turns into a monster when hungry. My younger daughter was once that child and now, at the age of twenty-three, still fights the wolf when waiting for dinner to be served. Inspired by Andy’s own children when hangry, Wolfboy is the hilarious story of a young wolfboy prowling amongst the hills, forests and streams searching for his dinnerHe becomes more and more hangry as the search drags on, until he spots a pair of long ears, “Rabbits, rabbits, where are you?.  Read to find out what happens when he is ready to feast! 

The illustrations are sculpted by hand using clay and are truly unique. The detail is exceptional and inspiring for any young author/illustrator looking to express their ideas using a medium other than paper and pencil. You will appreciate the author’s note on creating the artwork and a quick YouTube search will bring up a short clip of Andy demonstrating his artistic process. 

Young children will truly enjoy this gem of a book as well as searching for hidden bunnies throughout the illustrationsA fun read aloud with great word choice to delight readers, old and young.  

Also, of note is the wonderfully scary Book Trailer which, for horror movie fans, is delightfully enticing and worth checking out 



Charming as a Verb by Ben Phillipe follows Henri Haltiwanger a star student, debater, and charmer. Henri is a first-generation Haitian who lives to please his parents, his teachers, and his classmates. He is used to getting what he wants by charming his way into it, and he will do anything it takes to get into his dream school, Columbia University, so he can fit in with his wealthy New York neighbours and friends. When one of his most intense classmates, Corinne, discovers his dog-walking business is not exactly what it seems to be, she blackmails him into helping her become popular in their prestigious school. Soon their mutual agreement starts to turn into a friendship, and things start to get a little more complicated.

Especially relevant in a high school setting, this book explores the pressures teens experience during the college application process, and how the expectations of parents can add a layer of stress to an already tense situation. The book also addresses inequality in the education system and how wealthier teens have access to certain advantages whilst applying for colleges.

If you are looking for books with strong female characters, look no further. Corinne was a delight of a character that challenged the male lead and a lot of female character tropes. This book also had great conversations around what it takes to be yourself when you feel like you are being pulled in multiple directions and would resonate with teenagers in high school who are trying to find their place among their peers. It also would be a great springboard for conversations around the choices we make when we are faced with societal pressures. Though Henri is a character who makes some not-so-great decisions, the way the author deals with them could lend nicely to teenagers who are also struggling to make choices and be themselves. Overall, this was a great own-voices YA novel that would be a great addition to a classroom library.

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.



The long awaited and much anticipated sequel to Dread NationDeathless Divide by Justina Ireland does not disappoint. The continuation of this historical fiction with zombie twist and post-Civil War post-Apocalypse (as described in a July 2019 MarginNotes post by Jill Davidson) saga picks up where Dread Nation concluded.  Jane McKeene, her classmate Katherine Devereaux, and Jane’s past love Jackson have fled Summerland along with a rag-tag ensemble of characters in hopes of escaping the undead hordes by finding shelter and safety in Nicodemus.  Because Nicodemus is a fortified town founded by freed slaves and Quakers, they also hope to escape the racial inequality and cruelty they experienced in Summerland. Unfortunately, the road to Nicodemus is paved with danger and heartache for Jane and her companions.   

While the dangers and racial intolerance of Summerland follow Jane and Katherine to Nicodemusthey begin to forge deep friendship and mutual respect for one anotheras they continue to battle shamblersinjustice and unlikely foes until they are torn apart by tragedy. Jane and Katherine both continue west eventually making their way to California. One as a bounty hunter with a legendary reputation and the other working as security on a passenger steamship. Katherine continues to be driven by a chance of a better life in San Francisco and later in Haven, a small mountain town, and Jane by a deep-seated need for revenge against someone she thought was an ally and friend.  

Deathless Divide, like its predecessor, Dread Nation, continues the fast-paced and fascinating tale.  The unlikely blend of history, social commentary, and the undead continues the themes of racism, power, greed, and gender inequality. Once I started it, I did not want to stop listening and when finished, I could not stop thinking about the characters and what might come next.