Margin Notes



What I Was Reading:Girl Made of Stars Cover
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake follows Mara as she navigates her way through her twin brother being accused of raping her friend, her broken relationship with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and facing a trauma from her past. Experiencing and dealing with these difficult situations leads Mara to question who she is and who she wants to be.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• Using a title (italicized): Her name, followed by a brief context for the thoughts that follow
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences: The first eight lines begin with the same seven words: “Maybe I’m the type of girl who…”
• The series of thoughts focus on exploring her identity through highlighting events, emotions, and realizations
• The last two lines move to be more definitive, as though she is coming to a conclusion about who she is and is okay with what she comes to understand about herself
• The excerpt ends with a simple drawing that reflects what she has realized about her identity

Possibilities for Writers:
• Using a similar format, explore a part of your identity:
o “Maybe I’m the type of __________ who…”
• In your last line, or few lines, see if you can draw some conclusions about the thoughts that came through your writing about who you are
• Write a title that includes your name, followed by context for what you are exploring about yourself
• Draw a sketch at the end of your writing that in some way reflects the part of your identity you wrote about



What I Was Reading:Saving Red

Saving Red by Sonya Sones is the story of what happens when Molly meets Red, a homeless girl only a few years older than she is, and becomes fixated on reuniting Red with her family. What quickly becomes apparent to the reader are two things: Red is suffering with some serious mental health issues and Molly’s family has experienced some type of trauma. This is a beautiful story, written in verse, that reveals how sometimes when we try to save someone else, we end up saving ourselves.

Saving Red Craft Studio

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

• Using a title to provide brief context to a conversation
• A conversation written in verse
• Spacing that provides time for the reader to consider the message of the conversation
• The use of italics for emphasis
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences
• Smooth pacing of writing that leads up to what makes this conversation necessary to write about

Possibilities for Writers:

• Think of a conversation you have had and try writing it out in verse, using only the essential parts of the conversation.
• Play around with italics to see how emphasizing different words in your writing impacts the way it is read.
• Play around with the organization of your stanzas to see how the line breaks speed up or slow down the conversation.
• Write a title that sets the stage for the conversation.



What I Was Reading: gnight

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks For Me & You is a collection of inspirational and encouraging words for the beginning and end of each day. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, compiled the best of his daily messages from his Twitter account for this book. Accompanied by artwork by Jonny Sun, these greetings challenge, inspire, and empower readers with their brief and honest bits of wisdom.

Here are three excerpts from the book:

GMorning GNight Excerpt 1GMorning GNight Excerpt 2GMorning GNight Excerpt 3


What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Each set of greetings begins with a variation of “Good Morning” and “Good Night”

* Each greeting directly addresses the reader.

* The advice uses verbs, insinuating that the advice is actionable and attainable.

* Each greeting is three to four sentences in length.

* The varying sentence lengths and use of punctuation for pause and intonation allow the voice of the writer to sound more relaxed and inviting.

* The illustrations are simple, black and white, and allow the reader to connect them to the greetings with their own interpretation.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Using Miranda’s greetings as a model, write your own Gmorning, Gnight! messages. They could be based on what you need to hear or what you want to tell someone else.

* Illustrate your greetings yourself based on what you think best represents your words.

* After writing your messages, ask a friend or a classmate to create an illustration that they connect to the greetings.

* Write about how one of the above excerpts spoke to you and may have been what you needed to hear.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a place that can be rewritten to address the readers directly. Consider varying your sentence lengths, using one-word sentences, and playing around with punctuation to create a voice that is relaxed and conversational.

Craft Studio: Hunger by Roxane Gay


What I Was Reading:

Roxane Gay opens Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by telling us exactly what it isn’t:

“The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover with me standing in one of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation, I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Roxanne Gay takes a unique approach to introducing her memoir. Instead of attempting to capture the reader’s attention by indicating what she will discuss in the pages to follow, she states very clearly what she will not. She clearly defines what this memoir isn’t.

* She acknowledges and addresses what readers might be expecting of a traditional weight-loss memoir: motivation, insight, success. Each is ruled out explicitly.

* The image she creates of herself standing in one leg of her jeans to display how much weight she has lost is easy for the reader to imagine because it has become a cliché. She seems to be letting us know up front that if we think it is that kind of typical weight-loss memoir, we are terribly mistaken.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Students can discuss the impact of beginning a piece of writing by addressing the reader directly and tell them what their writing isn’t going to be. They can brainstorm a list of possibilities.

* Invite students to borrow Gay’s technique in a draft. For example:

-This restaurant review is not going to tell you how excellent the food is. Instead, it will describe the stellar service.

-This essay is not going to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate. This is essay is about why you should vote.

-Most memoirs are about a lesson learned. I’m going to tell you about a lesson taught.

Craft Studio: Why America Is Terrible At Making Biscuits


What I Was Reading:

When I saw the tweet from The Atlantic linking to an article called, Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits, I was intrigued. I have only attempted biscuit-making a few times and the results were always underwhelming. They never seemed to turn out as well as my dad’s, but I suspect the magic of his biscuits resides in a combination of the specific juice glass he used to cut them out after rolling them and my childhood nostalgia for them.

In this article, Amanda Mull describes her experiences as a Southerner transplanted to New York in search of a good biscuit. In her words, “With every dense, dry, flat, scone-adjacent clump of carbohydrates, I became more distressed.” Mull decides to take matters into her own hands. Using her mother’s recipe, Mull makes a batch of biscuits that turns out to be “just as terrible as all the other ones in New York.”

This passage describing her process caught my attention:

“In subsequent attempts, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I worried about the buttermilk, so I bought an expensive bottle at the farmer’s market, which did nothing. I tried different fat sources, including butter and lard, which made small differences in flavor and texture but still resulted in a shape and density better suited for a hockey rink than a plate. I made sure all of my ingredients were ice-cold when I started mixing, which is a good tip in general, but did not fix my problem. I kneaded the dough more or less, made it wetter or drier. The only thing left was the flour, but I figured it couldn’t be that—wasn’t self-rising flour the same everywhere? We had just used grocery-store flour back home.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* We often give writers feedback along the lines of “vary your sentence beginnings and endings” and “avoid repetition.” This is a terrific example of breaking those “school writing” rules for effect. This paragraph reads more like a list of all the possible solutions the author tried and their results. The repetition of “I” at the beginning reinforces the image of her trying one thing after another after another.

* Most of the sentences follow a similar pattern: I __________, detail, description of how the attempt failed. As I read, I noticed my own investment in this biscuit project growing with each disappointment. I wanted, as I’m sure Mull did, the next one to work. This series of sentences, each following a similar construction, underscores the attempts as a process of elimination.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Examine one of the longer sentences and describe the role of the commas. Use the same structure to create an original sentence of your own.

* Organize a series of events or actions into a paragraph using similar repetition.

* Watch for other examples of effective repetition in your independent reading.

* As you read, find examples of writers breaking “school writing” rules and consider why they might have made those choices.

Craft Studio: Takedown by Laura Shovan


What I Was Reading

Takedown is a wonderful middle-grade novel about wrestling, friendship, and facing stereotypes. Mikayla “Mickey” Delgado is ready to start a new season of wrestling. This year she is excited to finally be able to compete with the Eagles, however, her coach has different ideas about girls wrestling competitively. Lev Sofer is determined to make it to State this year. He’ll have to defeat his biggest competitor and nemesis, Nick Spence, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes. After they are paired as practice partners, Mickey and Lev develop a friendship. Unfortunately, the reality is that only one of them can win.

In this passage, Lev is reflecting on his love for the sport of wrestling:

“Why do I love this sport? Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend? It’s cold enough to freeze the boogers inside my nose. But late this morning I’ll have a great match. I’ll feel my opponent hesitate for a second, my instincts will kick in, and the other guy will be on his chest and Slap! The ref’s hand will come down and I’ll be standing in the center of the mat, victorious.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* This short paragraph is organized as a question-and-answer. The first question is general, but the second one, “Who wants to leave the house before six a.m. on a holiday weekend?” acknowledges that Lev recognizes that the commitments required by his beloved sport might not hold the same appeal for everyone. He then answers his own question with the best-case scenario: a victory.

* The specific detail about the temperature being “cold enough to freeze the boogers in my nose” makes the early morning travel seem even less appealing. This small observation also adds authenticity and personality to the description.

* As Lev goes on to answer his own question, he begins the first sentence with “but,” signalling that he is transitioning from the negative aspects of his sport to the positive. He acknowledges the challenges, but he is going to tell us about the things that make them worth it. He envisions a victory that will compensate for all of the hard work and sacrifice.

* The sound effect “Slap!” adds energy to this brief scene. Lev is imagining every detail down to the sound of the ref’s hand on the mat when he pins his opponent.

* The structure of the final sentence adds a nice element of sentence variety. It also ensures that the last word is the most important of all, “victorious.”

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Describe something you love (or maybe something you don’t) by trying out this organizing structure:

Why do I love (despise) __________? It’s… But…

* Find a place in your notebook where you can revise a description by adding a detail like “It’s __________ enough to __________” so that you also reveal something about the speaker through the comparison they are making.

* Add a sound or action detail to a description.

Craft Studio: 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow



What I Was Reading

I subscribe to the Literary Hub Newsletter.  It is a never-ending source of excellent information and inspiration.  On November 5, the day before the US Midterm Elections, they posted 12 Novels to Remind You What’s at Stake Tomorrow: “To remind you of just what’s at stake in tomorrow’s elections, we thought we’d do something a little different and turn to those contemporary fiction writers who have brought some of the most pressing issues currently facing this country to the forefront of their recent work.”

 What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

 Each of the twelve selections in this collection is accompanied by a very short summary followed by a brief review that combines summary, reflection, and analysis. (more…)

Craft Studio: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy


What I Was Reading:

Puddin’ is the much-anticipated and equally joyous companion to Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Puddin’ focuses on Millie Michalchuk and Callie Reyes, two characters we met in Dumplin’. Millie and Callie seem to have little to nothing in common, yet they are brought together unexpectedly when Millie identifies Callie on security footage taken the night her uncle’s gym is vandalized. Callie, who mistakenly blames the members of her dance team for turning her in, begins working with Millie at the gym to repay her debt. I loved this book as much as I loved Dumplin’, which tells you a lot!

The book opens with an introduction to Millie:

“I’m a list maker. Write it down. (Using my gel pens and a predetermined color scheme, of course.) Make it happen. Scratch it off. There is no greater satisfaction than a notebook full of beautifully executed lists. (more…)

Craft Studio: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu


What I Was Reading

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu explores the aftermath of a tragedy shared by a group of girls on a canoe trip at summer camp. It traces the threads of the experience and its impact on each of the girls—Nita, Andie, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan—through their teens and into adulthood.

The novel opens with a scene from camp, in 1994, with the campers on the dock singing the official camp song:

“They stood straight-backed and solemn-faced as soldiers in formation, even the ones who itched to squirm, to collapse into their natural posture, who were rolling their toes in their shoes and humming to themselves, squeezing their lips in their fingers to suppress a bubble of nervous laughter.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making

* I was immediately impressed by the complexity of this sentence and how, thanks to the skillful use of hyphens and commas, Kim Fu managed to pack so much detail into it.

* The pair of compound adjectives, “straight-backed and solemn-faced,” combined with the simile comparing the girls to soldiers in formation adds efficiency and precision to the description of the girls.

* The rest of the sentence, marked by the use of “even the ones…,” describes the girls who are struggling to stifle laughter and the careful organization of the details makes what might have been two or three separate sentences flow perfectly as one. The details are organized into a series of phrases and the use of repetition helps me as a reader link the individual phrases together and see the description as a whole: to squirm and to collapse, who itched and who were rolling, humming and squeezing.

Possibilities for Writers

* Read this sentence as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Use this sentence as a model to write one of your own, trying out some of the same moves Kim Fu has used.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a series of short sentences that can be combined into a single sentence using commas.

* Be on the look-out for other interesting sentence structures in your reading.

Craft Studio: For Those About to Rock: A Road Map to Being in a Band by Dave Bidini


What I Was Reading

You may know Dave Bidini from his career in music with Rheostatics and now Bidiniband, or you may know him as the author of Tropic of Hockey or Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972 (among other titles). For Those About to Rock combines Bidini’s passion for music with his skill as a writer. It is a combination of memoir, music history, and advice to aspiring musicians.

In the chapter, “The Myth of Making It,” Bidini explains, “There’s no rock-and-roll blueprint. It’s not like studying a manual and learning how to build a Battlebot. You can’t diagram it and watch it come to life.” Instead of a how-to manual, For Those About to Rock is a roadmap. When I opened the book to check out the Table of Contents, I appreciated how it was organized:


Let There Be Rock

The Mythology of Making It

And the Fickle Fruit of Fame

A Very Slow Hand

Your First Instrument

Playing in a Travelin’ Band (more…)